The station's association with flying training goes back to June 1917, when No 29 (Flying Training) Wing and the Aeroplane Repair Section of the Royal Flying Corps were established, under the command of Major A W Tedder for a short period, on the site of today's airfield. Based at No 9 Training Depot Station, as Shawbury was then known, were Nos 10, 29 and 67 Squadrons operating Avro 504s, DH5As/5Bs, 130 Clergets, Bristol Scouts, Nieuports, Maurice Farman Shorthorns and, for advanced flying training, Sopwith Camels. By 1920 the site had reverted to its original agricultural use.
The Second World War
Darkening war clouds gathering over Germany in the late 1930s saw Shawbury once again activated as an airfield in 1938, under the command of Group Captain H P Lale DSO DFC, although the arrival of No 27 Maintenance Unit (MU) on 1 February preceded that of No 11 Flying Training School (FTS) from RAF Wittering by 3 months. Aircraft types seen operating at RAF Shawbury and its numerous relief landing grounds during these early days included the Hart, Blenheim, Audax, Battle, Gladiator, and Fury. By mid-1940 the FTS was consolidating the training given by civilian instructors to prepare pilots for operational squadrons. In 1942, now renamed as No 11 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit, the unit received its pilots for training from overseas bases - mainly in the USA. Although RAF Shawbury was relatively safe from any serious air threat from the enemy throughout the war (one incident occurred on 27 June 1940 when a German aircraft dropped bombs on and around the airfield) it is reported that one of the Chief Flying Instructors, Squadron Leader P H Maxwell, often flew a Hurricane in defence of the station!
Navigator Training Commences
In January 1944 Shawbury saw a major change of role with the departure of the 130 Airspeed Oxfords of 11(P)AFU to Calveley, Cheshire, to make room for the Central Navigation School (CNS), which moved in February from Cranage with its Wellingtons and Stirlings. During the early part of the Second World War the Air Staff found that very few bombers were getting anywhere near their targets, owing to poor navigation standards, particularly at night. Consequently, the primary task of the CNS, which had been formed at Cranage in 1942, was to raise the standard of practical air navigation and to train navigation specialists. By the time the CNS moved to Shawbury in 1944 bombing accuracy had improved fivefold.
Recognizing the need to be in the forefront of technology in navigation techniques, the school's remit was extended to "consider navigation as a science and to carry out research into the problems of world-wide navigation". This involved a series of long-distance navigation flights, the first and most famous of which was a record-breaking flight made from RAF Shawbury on 21 October 1944 when 'Aries ', a Lancaster bomber, under the command of Wing Commander D C McKinley, took off on the first round-the-world trip by a British aircraft. The purpose of the flight was to establish a practical liaison between the Empire Air Navigation School ( the CNS having been renamed while Aries was away) and operational units under the control of the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces. The following year Aries underwent significant modification in preparation for important research flights, in May 1945, to the geographic and magnetic North Poles. On 31 July 1949, the school's title reverted to the CNS, but only for a short while as the station was about to take on another important training role.
Air Traffic Control Training
The arrival in February 1950 of the School of Air Traffic Control (ATC) from RAF Watchfield saw the renaming of the CNS to the Central Navigation and Control School. Wellingtons and Lancasters were replaced by Lincolns, which were used together with Ansons and later, Vampire and Provosts for navigator and ATC training. The school was honoured on 21 June 1951 by being presented with the Shrewsbury Borough Flag, an occasion which was marked by a parade of some 700 officers and airmen. In 1963 the Navigation Wing moved to RAF Manby, leaving Shawbury the task of all aspects of ATC training as the Central Air Traffic Control School.
Helicopters Arrive from Tern Hill
The arrival of 2 FTS's Whirlwinds and the Central Flying School (Helicopter) Squadron's (CFS(H)) Gazelles from Tern Hill in 1976 signified a new training role for RAF Shawbury. By 1980 basic helicopter training was provided by 1 Sqn on the Gazelle and advanced training for pilots and crewmen by 2 Sqn on the Wessex, with search and rescue training being given by the detached flight at RAF Valley.
2 FTS was formally disbanded on 1 April 1997 when the new tri-Service Defence Helicopter Flying School was formed, equipped with the single-engine Eurocopter Squirrel and twin-engine Bell Griffin, supported by the resident Contractor, FRA SERCo, which had provided engineering and supply support for the station since 1991.
Farewell to Fixed-wing Flying
The progressive introduction of synthetic training within the CATCS and the expansion of RW training at RAF Shawbury saw the gradual demise of regular fixed-wing (FW) aircraft flying from the station. By 1989 the Marshall's Jet Provost fleet was disbanded and the Chipmunks of No 8 Air Experience Flight, which was re-located as part of the University of Birmingham Air Squadron at RAF Cosford, were dispatched to RAF Newton for disposal on 31 March 1996. Today FW flying is confined mainly to the requirements of the Aircraft Storage Unit, the occasional diversion to Shawbury and other operational tasks.