Conningsby

Conningsby Airfield

Conningsby is situated just south of the village of Conninsby and west of the B1192 road with the main entrance to the station being from the village side. Conningsby was first earmarked for airfield use during the 1930 s as part of the RAF expansion period. Preliminary work at the airfield started towards the end of 1937 but did not proceed quickly. It was not until November 4th 1940 that Conningsby opened as a bomber airfield in 5 Group bomber command. Along with many other airfields at the time it was a simple grass airfield with two J type hangers in the North West corner. It was however provided with substantial expansion period style barracks and accommodation. Its first flying unit arrived in February 1941 when 106 Squadron arrived from Finningly with Hampdens and began gardening operation in the Baltic.

As with so many of the grass airfields of the period, heavier bombers quickly churned the grass up and made it dangerous. In March 1941 Avro Manchesters arrived and this problem quickly manifested itself. As a consequence 97 Squadron moved to Woodhall Spa and 106 remained but converted to the even heavier Lancaster. Soon after however it was moved to Syreston and Conningsby closed for the construction of concrete runways. In August 1943 the airfield reopened with additional hangers including a B1 and a row of 3 T2 s. In its new form 617 Squadron were the first flying unit at the airfield. In January 1944 the Squadron moved to Woodhall Spa possibly to give them greater security and 619 squadron which had been based at Woodhall replaced them at Conningsby. 61 Squadron joined 619 Squadron in February 1944 and both units left in April 1944. 97 Squadron returned to the airfield in April 1944. Both 97 and 83 Squadrons were pathfinder squadrons and carried out their trade until the end of the war. The last operation was an attack on an oil refinery at Thomsberg in Norway on April 25th and 26th 1945.

Once peace had broken out both squadrons remained at Conningsby although the station was transferred to one group (HQ at Mildenhall). Both squadrons were equipped with Lincolns during July and August 1946 before moving to Hemswell in November. 16 OTU moved into the airfield with Mosquitoes and carried out its training role along with several other conversion units, 109 and 139 Squadrons. In March 1950 both squadrons moved to Hemswell to prepare to receive Canberra s. The piston engine Lincoln was being phased out and Conningsby received the Boeing Superfortress (Washington) with 149 Squadron who arrived in October 1950. XV Squadron, 44 Squadron and 57 Squadron also arrived making a four squadron Washington airfield. In 1953 XV, 44, 57 and 149 Squadrons all rearmed with Canberras. 40 Squadron joined them in 1953 staying until February 1954. The station then closed for reconstruction and a runway extension with a 9,000 ft long 200 ft wide runway giving ample space for V Bomber operations. Over the next few years Conningsby housed several squadrons of Canberras as a back up to the RAF Nuclear strike force. These were 57 Squadron, 9 Squadron, 12 Squadron and 35 Squadron but most had been disbanded by 1961. In 1962 35 Squadron reformed as a V bomber unit with Vulcan B2 bombers. In November 1964 the airfield was closed. Closure was not to be final but for work to be carried out to make the airfield suitable for the TSR 2 bomber which was being developed at that stage. When TSR 2 was cancelled Conningsby reverted to care and maintenance until 1966. It was then chosen as the first base for the Phantom Fighter bomber and 5 School of Technical Training arrived to train the ground crew in this aircraft. In February 1968 No. 228 OCU formed to train Phantom air crew. 654, 41, 111 and 29 Squadrons have all operated Phantoms from the airfield but in mid 1984 the Tornado operational conversion unit took up residence. In March 1976 the RAF battle of Britain memorial flight arrived at the airfield.

RAF Coningsby has been home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) since Mar 1976 :: website. The visitor centre is open to the public Mon – Fri between 10:00 and 17:00 but is closed on Bank Holidays. BBMF have one of the two flying Lancaster bombers, 5 Spitfire, 2 Hurricane and a Dakota. The aircraft all regularly display. One of the Spitfire is the oldest flying model in the world, dating from 1940. Lincolnshire s Lancaster Association continues in its unique position as the official public support group for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

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