Brief History of R.A.F. Cranwell


Main Hall at R.A.F. Cranwell



Just over one mile to the west of the village, within the Parish of Cranwell, Brauncewell & Byards Leap, is R.A.F. College Cranwell, and R.A.F. Cranwell with its two associated airfields.  The northern airfield is the older, being used for light aircraft and airships from 1916 and remains as a grassed field used regularly by gliders and light aircraft.  The southern airfield is much larger with two paved runways and abuts the A17 road, this was first used as a flying training base in 1917.  The paved runways were built in 1954, to make way for the jet aircraft, Meteor and Vampire.

Cranwell's association with aviation began during World War I.  The Admiralty needed to establish a series of air stations around the south and east coasts to supplement the coastguard system and to alert our shore defences against sea and air invasion.  In 1915, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) sought to establish a single unit at which officers and ratings could be trained to fly aeroplanes, observer kite balloons and airships.

By November 1915, the Admiralty had requisitioned some 2,500 acres of farmland at Cranwell and in the following month, construction of a hutted camp and aircraft hangars began, as well as balloon sheds.  The Royal Naval Air Service Central Training Establishment Cranwell was commissioned on 1 April 1916, under the command of Commodore Godfrey M. Paine.

Cranwell later became known as HMS Daedalus.  In addition to flying training and airship operations, a Boys' Training Wing was also established at Cranwell.  Its task was to train Naval ratings as air mechanics and riggers.

With the amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps on 1 April 1918, ownership of Cranwell was placed in the hands of the newly established RAF.  The former Naval base title was replaced by the designation Royal Air Force Station Cranwell.

The Royal Air Force College opened on 5 February 1920 under the command of Air Commodore C.A.H. Longcroft.  The Chief of the Air Staff's message to the first entry of cadets left them in no doubt of his expectations for the College:

"We have to learn by experience how to organise and administer a great Service, both in peace and war, and you, who are present at the College in its first year, will, in future, be at the helm.  Therefore, you will have to work your hardest, both as cadets at the College and subsequently as officers, in order to be capable of guiding this great Service through its early days and maintaining its traditions and efficiency in the years to come."

In 1922, it was decided that the wartime Naval huts should be replaced by permanent college buildings. To save time and money, the task of designing the new college was given to the Ministry of Works.  The plans received were extremely disappointing, so the architect, James West was taken to visit Wren's Royal Hospital in Chelsea and the new design reflected this influence.  The result is the Cranwell of today which so gracefully reflects the best of Wren's ideas.

This prestigious building, known as College Hall, was completed in September 1933 at a cost of £321,000.  The building was officially opened by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, in October 1934.  In front of the College is its parade ground and a large circle of grass known as the Orange, where graduation ceremonies are still held today.

Sir Frank Whittle attended R.A.F. Cranwell in the late 1920’s and it was here that he stared to form his ideas for the jet engine.  It was at Cranwell on May 15th 1941 that the world’s first true jet engine flight took place.

In 1995 the Red Arrows had to temporarily move to Cranwell because R.A.F Scampton was closed as part of a Defence Cuts Study.  The Red Arrows returned home to Scampton in December 2000.

R.A.F. Cranwell is a busy station that fulfils many functions.  The R.A.F. College provides Initial Officer Training and the Royal Air Force College (RAFC) provides training for new R.A.F. officers on a 32 week course.  The No.3 Flying Training School trains navigators and non-commissioned aircrew.  It is the home for two R.A.F bands and is the centre for rigorous selection processes for R.A.F. pilot and aircrew training.  Various other smaller R.A.F..  units are based here too.