RAF Benson is home to numerous lodger units which currently include:
Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF)
The MSHATF contains 6 full mission simulators and 4 computer based training classrooms. These are used to provide conversion and continuation training for RAF support helicopter crews. The facility is owned and operated by CAE Aircrew Training Services plc and training is provided through a Private Finance Initiative arrangement with the Ministry of Defence. In addition to being used in a stand-alone mode, the Puma, 2 Merlin and 3 Chinook Simulators can also all be linked to a Tactical Control Centre via a local area network to provide realistic operational training in a synthetic environment. CAE ATS plc also offer time slots that are not being used by the Royal Air Force to other worldwide Air Forces for training purposes.
The first meteorological observations were made in Benson as far back as 1915, in an observatory in Benson village. However, upon the opening of the airfield in 1939 a purpose built Met Office was built within the station perimeter – and they’ve been here ever since!
The staff, which includes a Senior Met Officer as well as several Forecasters and Observers, provide forecasts to various customers, including 28 Squadron, 78 Squadron, 33 Squadron, 230 Squadron, 6 Air Experience Flight, the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and the National Police Air Service amongst others, as well as 613 VGS at Halton and Martin-Bakers at Chalgrove Airfield.
Oxford University Air Squadron (OUAS)
There are numerous University Air Squadrons (UAS) across the country. Each is linked to one or more Universities and a nearby airfield. In this case, RAF Benson is home to the aircraft, officers and staff of OUAS. The role of the OUAS is to recruit high quality students from the nearby universities of Oxford, Oxford Brookes and Reading and give them an insight into the RAF. The OUAS mainly recruits and teaches pilots and navigators, although a good number of ground branch students are part of the Squadron. The role of the UAS has changed in recent years and in addition to providing free flying training, general military training and exposure to the military, the pilots on the Squadron complete their Elementary Flying Training whilst on the UAS, which can contribute to their formal training to become an RAF pilot.
No 6 Air Experience Flight (6 AEF)
There are numerous Air Experience Flights located around the UK mainland, usually co-located with a University Air Squadron. Number 6 AEF is commanded by a Senior Instructional Officer with Squadron Leader rank and is staffed by a mix of serving RAF and RAF Volunteer Reserve officers. The major task of Benson’s AEF is to provide an annual air experience flight of 20 minutes duration to every cadet in its allocated region. Cadets are drawn from Air Training Corps (ATC) and Combined Cadet Forces (CCF) from Herts & Bucks, Thames Valley, Surrey, Sussex, London, Middlesex and Kent ATC Wings, and 43 Schools with CCF RAF contingents.
National Police Air Service
A Police helicopter has been based at RAF Benson since 1998 as a lodger unit. Initially this was the Chiltern Air Support Unit which, in 2012, became part of the new National Police Air Service (NPAS).
The aircraft operates mainly in the central part of the South of England and is often seen on the south coast from Brighton to Bournemouth, and inland from Bristol to Bedford. As part of a national organization the aircraft could be deployed anywhere in England or Wales. RAF Benson’s central location within the south of England provides a strategic position for response to local Police Forces and beyond. Being on a military airfield brings many advantages, not the least of which is the security aspect.
The crew, of one pilot and two tactical flying officers, can be airborne in minutes of receiving a call and regularly respond to tasks such as searching for missing or vulnerable people, searching for offenders, managing high speed vehicle pursuits and on occasions assisting the Ambulance Service by evacuating a critically injured casualty, which is known as a 'casevac'.
Thames Valley Air Ambulance
Based at Grove Park, Maidenhead, the Thames Valley Air Ambulance Trust is a charity funded by donations from the public, largely from the Thames Valley area. The Air Ambulance started operating from White Waltham airfield in June 1999 and moved to RAF Benson in January 2007. The yellow and red helicopter carries life saving equipment and is crewed by a pilot and two paramedics. It can transport patients at speed to one of several hospitals in the area with landing facilities, or to a specialist hospital if required, and can also take emergency doctors to the patient at the scene. The paramedics are provided by the NHS; all other costs must be funded by the Trust so the Air Ambulance relies heavily on donations. Recent upgrades to facilities at RAF Benson have also enabled the Air Ambulance Trust to conduct essential paramedic training alongside their life-saving day-to-day operations.