History of RAF Northolt
The history of Royal Air Force Northolt
The airfield at RAF Northolt is older than the RAF itself. Located in the London Borough of Hillingdon, the airfield opened in March 1915 and became operational in June 1915 when BE2c aircraft flew defensive patrols against Zeppelin raids over London. The Officers' Mess, built around 1920, is still operational, as is one hangars and several barrack blocks dating from the mid 1920s to the 1930s. In the 1930s, RAF Northolt was the first station to operate the Hurricane and during the Second World War was again one of the key airfields in the defence of London. During the Battle of Britain, northolt was 'home' to a series of allied and British Hurricane and Spitfire Squadrons, including a complete Polish Wing.
No 303 Polish Squadron clocked up the highest allied scores during the Battle of Britain, with Sergeant Josef Frantisek, a maverick Czech national and 'honorary Pole' becoming the highest scorer of the Battle. In 1943, RAF Northolt's Spitfire Mk IX Squadrons became the first Spitfire Wing as a unit to operate over Germany.
One notable flight took place in 1944 when liberator 'Marco Polo' flew non-stop from Washington to Northolt, taking a mere 19 hours and 46 minutes.
In 1946 the airfield was loaned for civil use whilst Heathrow Airport was under construction and by 1952, Northolt was the busiest airfield in Europe, handling an annual total of 50,000 air movements.
In 1956, No 1 Aeronautical Information Documents Unit moved from RAF Ruislip to RAF Northolt, where they still operate today. In 1957 the Metropolitan Communication Squadron moved to RAF Northolt and reformed as No 32 Squadron in 1969. In early 1990, No 60 Squadron disbanded from Germany and moved to join No 32 Squadron, making it the largest and most varied single Squadron in the RAF. The major role of providing VIP air transport continues today, with the amalgamation of the Squadron in 1995 with the Queen's flight from RAF Benson forming No 32 (The Royal) Squadron at RAF Northolt.
No 600 (City of London) Squadron, which formed at Northolt in October 1925, was reformed in 1999 from a merger of the then No 1 and No 3 Maritime Headquarters Units. It is a Royal Auxiliary Air Force unit comprising part-time volunteers who attend for training at weekends in addition to their week-day jobs.
In 2008 the British Forces Post Office moved to purpose built facilities at Northolt from Mill Hill as part of the MoDEL (MoD Estates London) project. The £320m MoDEL project involved the closure of RAF Bentley Priory and RAF Uxbridge and the consolidation of most of their units into Northolt. By 2010 the RAF Central Band, the Queen's Colour Squadron, the Service Prosecution Authority, the Military Aviation Authority and various other smaller units had all moved into new or refurbished facilities at Northolt.
In 2012 RAF Northolt was the forward base for Typhoon fast jets and Royal Navy helicopters which provided air security for the 2012 Olympic Games.
The Station will reach its centenary in March 2015. A series of events are being planned to commemorate this major event and details of public events will be published in due course on the events page of this site.
For further information regarding the history of RAF Northolt, please contact the Station Historian, Sgt Mark Bristow, Tel 020 8833 8215 or the Station Heritage Officer, Sqn Ldr Richard Willis, Tel 020 8833 8909.