RAF Fairford, UK
RAF Fairford was constructed in 1944 to accommodate British and American troop carriers and gliders that would be used during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. After the war, the base experienced many transitions until 1950 when it was transferred to the U.S. Air Force for strategic bomber operations. Work commenced immediately to construct a 10,000-foot runway, which is today, the longest in the United Kingdom.
The runway and hardstands were completed in 1953 in time to receive the first Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" aircraft from Carswell AFB, Texas. On the heals of the B-36s came B-47s which were maintained in an armed and ready to deploy status because of the then increasing vulnerability from Soviet Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles.
After years of more transition, Fairford was chosen in 1969 as the British Flight Test Center for the Concorde. Concordes used the airfield until 1978. In 1979, the U.S. Air Force returned with a squadron of KC-135 Stratotankers which wound playing a major role in supporting the attack on Libya in 1986. KC-135s were withdrawn in 1990 and the base was reduced to a standby status.
The next claim to fame came when the base, again because of its runway, was designated as a trans-Atlantic abort landing site for the Space Shuttle.
Because of its strategic location and infrastructure, Fairford is now designated as a forward operating location for the U.S. bomber fleet. Eight B-52s from the 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale AFB, La., and almost 300 people representing 18 different U.S. air bases, deployed in mid-February 1999 to support potential NATO operations in Kosovo.
In the early years of the Cold War the British and American governments reached an agreement under which elements of the USAF Strategic Air Command (SAC) would be based in the UK. Bases had already been established in East Anglia -- at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath -- but they were considered to be too vulnerable to bomber attack and airfields further behind the RAF fighter defences were sought. Four RAF airfields were selected to receive SAC units -- RAF Brize Norton, RAF Fairford, RAF Greenham Common and RAF Upper Heyford. In 1948 the Americans occupied RAF stations including Fairford, Brize Norton, Burtonwood Greenham Common, Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Woodbridge to build up a deterrent in Europe against the Soviets.
Ostensibly an RAF station located near Cirencester, Glocestershire, this is one of the Airfields currently used by the United States Air Forces in Europe. RAF Fairford is approximately 60 miles from RAF Croughton and 54 miles from Bristol. Tankers from SAC, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve units rotate to RAF Fairford and conduct air-refueling operations in Europe under the European Tanker Task Force.
The population of the British base expanded three-fold in two months because of the influx of people supporting NATO's Operation Allied Force in early 1999. Troops deployed to the 2nd Air Expeditionary Group, validating the Air Force's bomber concept of operations. Forward deploying bombers is one of the initiatives identified by the Long Range Airpower Panel and included in the long-range plan for the entire bomber fleet. RAF Fairford's host unit is the 424th Air Base Squadron. The initial deployment of seven B-52s with aircrew and over 300 support personnel later grew to 13 B-52s, 5 B-1s and 5 KC-135s with over 1100 personnel.
The beddown of the additional 800 personnel from Ellsworth and Mountain Home was accomplished by resorting to the use of barrack type dorms, formerly closed dorms, and a newly erected porta cabin site with room for up to 450 persons. This was called Boom Town. This housed approximately 85 individuals. Rooms were large, open-bay style with approximately 8 people per room. Individuals were sleeping on cots. The rooms had no phones, television, refrigerators or microwaves. Bathing and restroom facilities were located in separate portable trailers anywhere from 10 to 75 yards from any individual port-a-cabin.
Certain service members, mostly of the lower pay grades, were moved 3-4 times during the deployment. Unfortunately this was always from one level of quarters to a lesser level of quarters. Many personnel were unsure why there was US involvement in this war in Kosovo. Numerous complaints were heard, sometimes bitter, as to the legitimacy of the use of NATO forces in this war, the specific US national interests, and specifically who were the "good guys" and "bad guys" during this conflict.
The first wave of airstrikes began on 24 Mar 99 and consisted of deployed B-52s flying CALCM missions. A total of 148 missions were flown by B-52s and a total of 350 plus sorties were flown throughout the operation. B-52Hs were at Fairford carrying out the initial strike of the war with ALCMS. Within nine days of hostilities, a tasking order was issued to the 28th Bomb Wing for deployment of B-1Bs. B-1Bs were launched in hostility within 24 hours of arriving at Fairford.
Fairford is undergoing a (pounds sterling)60m (US$90m) upgrading of its runway and fuel bunkers in the largest single military construction project within a NATO country since the end of the cold war. The US is planning to use Britain as a base for long- range stealth bombers. The Pentagon has chosen Fairford in Gloucestershire, western England as a possible base for the bombers when they were needed to be deployed forward. Alternatives, such as Moron and Zaragoza in Spain, could face local opposition.
The Royal International Air Tattoo 2000, held at Royal Air Force Cottesmore, Rutland, England, 22-23 July 2000. The Tattoo was forced to find a new temporary venue because of extensive runway resurfacing work at RAF Fairford. RAF Cottesmore, one of the Royal Air Force's frontline bases, is home to two squadrons of Harrier GR7s, serving as part of the British Joint Force 2000. Runway resurfacing work at RIAT's traditional home, RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, was not due for completion until late spring 2002.
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