|History :: A generic airfield layout|
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Updated: 10 Sep 06
The early days - the Great War
Typically the training airfields of the Great War consisted of a 2 000 ft x 2 000 ft grass square. There were three pairs plus one single hangar, constructed of wood or brick, 180 ft x 100 ft in size. There were up to 12 canvas Bessoneaux hangars as the aircraft of the era were constructed from wood and fabric and liable to weather damage. Other airfield buildings were typically wooden huts.
RFC Landing Grounds during the Great War were L-shpaed, usually arrived at by removing a hedge boundary between two fields, and causing landing runs in two directions of 400-500 metres. Typically they would be manned by only 2 or 3 airmen whose job was to guard the fuel stores and assist any aircraft which had occasion to land.
In 1916 there were 14 Landing Grounds in Lincolnshire, in addition to the Sqn home bases. These were categorised according to their lighting and day or night capabilities.
1930s and the RAF Expansion Scheme
A typical airfield required only grass runways as aircraft weights had not yet reached the heavy bomber proportions of the early 1940s.
RAF Expansion Scheme airfields, built in the rush to re-arm against the looming German threat which became unavoidable in the early 1930s, were well constructed and built to a standard design. In spite of the urgency the Royal Fine Arts Commission was consulted as to the aesthetics of the proposed building designs and layout. This included a standard airfield and domestic site layout including neo-classical red-brick residential blocks, standard mess layouts still evident at many airfields today, office space and hangars.
World War Two
The onset of war called for a massive expansion in the construction programme to meet the needs of the expanding air force. These war-time airfields were austere in comparison to the 1930s Expansion Scheme RAF stations and had many less permanent structures, not being intended for permanent use. Accommodation would have generally consisted of Nissen Huts, with more permanent hangars, brick operations block and perhaps Station HQ. The "standard" layout may include Expansion Phase buildings but would certainly have the components laid out below.
Early World War II runways showed few differences to those before the war, when the airfield symbol had simply been a landing circle marked in white. The hardstanding, pan or waterfront in front of the hangars was required due to the heavy traffic in these areas. Taxying around the airfield to and from appropriate start and finish points depended on the wind direction and this led to traffic on the perimeter causing ruts. To tackle this problem, perimiter tracks (peritrack) were built before concrete runways were required. The peritrack then defined the edge of the useable field.
Extensive concrete runways (3 for bomber stations) each between 1260 and 1800 metres long came later. In Dec 1940 the scale laid down for the standard bomber airfield was for a main runway measuring 4200 ft (1280 m) and two subsidiaries of 3300 ft (1006 m). In Feb 1941 the increasing bomber weights led to the the standard being increased to main runways of 4800 ft (1453 m). However in Oct 1941 the heavy bomber standard was established at main runway of 6000 ft (1829 ft) and subsidiaries of 4200 (1280 m).
An average base required over one million cubic yards of excavation, 603 000 square yards of surfacing, 242 000 cubic yards of concrete, 34 miles of drainage, 10 miles of cable ducts and 7 miles of water mains.
Peritrack. The peritrack ("perimiter track") encircled the interlocking A-shape of the three runways with a concrete surface of approximately 50 ft width.
Dispersals / Hardstandings
On Class A Bomber Command stations, there were 34 frying pan dispersals 125 feet in diameter. Spectacle type (loops) dispersals were 370 feet between the outside two flat sides and there were usually 2 of these.
Hangars. Up to 5 large hangars for servicing and repairs. The shallow crescent layout impeded attacking bombers' aiming. More information on hangar types can be found on the hangar page.
Control tower. Sometimes called the 'watch office'. The wartime standard for the control tower was standard 343/43, an update from 12779/41. Plenty of detail on control towers at sites all across the UK can be found on the ControlTowers.co.uk website.
Beam Approach Equipment. For instrumented landing when visibility was not sufficient for an unaided approach.
FIDO. This fog dispersal is described on the FIDO page.
Storage, training, eating and sleeping facilities
Water tower. These are still highly visible in many parts of Lincolnshire long after all other traces of former airfields have vanished. These water towers contained approximately 80 000 gallons of water.
Cost of construction. In 1942 a bomber station could be built for approximately £500 000; by 1944 the increased demands on infrastructure by the heavy bombers meant that the price had increased to around £1 million.
Training bases included RAFC Cranwell and Spitalgate.
Gunnery training was carried out, amongst others, at Sutton Bridge.
> RAF history in Lincolnshire
> The command structure
> Airfield information
> Other historical pages
History of the RNAS on the Fleet Air Arm Archive
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