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RAF Biggin Hill

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Title: RAF Biggin Hill  
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RAF Biggin Hill

London Biggin Hill Airport
Biggin Hill Airport
File:London Biggin Hill.png
Airport type Public
Operator Regional Airports Ltd.
Location Bromley, Greater London
Elevation AMSL 599 ft / 183 m
Coordinates 51°19′51″N 000°01′57″E / 51.33083°N 0.03250°E / 51.33083; 0.03250Coordinates: 51°19′51″N 000°01′57″E / 51.33083°N 0.03250°E / 51.33083; 0.03250

Location in Greater London
Direction Length Surface
m ft
03/21 1,820 5,971 Tarmac
11/29 788 2,585 Asphalt
Statistics (2012)
Movements 49,830
Sources: UK AIP at NATS[1]
Statistics from the UK Civil Aviation Authority[2]

London Biggin Hill Airport (IATA: BQHICAO: EGKB) is an operational general aviation airport at Biggin Hill in the London Borough of Bromley, located 12 NM (22 km; 14 mi) south-southeast of Central London. The airport was formerly the Royal Air Force station RAF Biggin Hill, and a small enclave on the airport still retains that designation.

Biggin Hill is best known for its role during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War, when it served as one of the principal fighter bases protecting London and South East England from attack by enemy bombers. Over the course of the war, fighters based at Biggin Hill claimed 1,400 enemy aircraft, at the cost of the lives of 453 Biggin Hill based aircrew.[3][4]

Today the airport has a CAA Ordinary Licence (Number P804) that allows flights for the public transport of passengers or for flying instruction as authorised by the licensee (Regional Airports Limited). It specialises in general aviation, handling a spectrum of traffic from private aviation to large business jets. It currently has no scheduled airline service.[5][6]

History of the airport

The airfield was originally opened by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War. At first it was used for wireless experiments, but was then established in 1917 as part of the London Air Defence Area, responsible for defending the capital against attacks by Zeppelins and Gotha bombers. To this end, 141 Squadron of the RFC was based at Biggin Hill and equipped with Bristol Fighters.[7]

Between the wars, the airfield was used by a number of experimental units, working on instrument design, ground based anti-aircraft defences, and night flying. The base was closed between 1929 and 1932, during which period reconstruction work took place including the building of new hangars.[7]

During the Second World War the airfield was one of the commanding bases for the Battle of Britain, with both Spitfires and Hurricanes from a variety of squadrons being based there. The squadrons based at Biggin Hill claimed to have destroyed 1,400 enemy aircraft, at the cost of the lives of 453 Biggin Hill based aircrew. Because of its importance to the capital's defence, the airport itself became a target. Between August 1940 and January 1941, the airfield was attacked twelve times, the worst of which wrecked workshops, stores, barracks, WAAF quarters and a hangar, killing 39 people on the ground.[4][7]

After the war, Biggin Hill was briefly used by the RAF's Transport Command, and then became a base for both regular and reserve fighter squadrons, flying Spitfires, Meteors and Hunters. An infamous day in 1951 (see incidents and accidents below) caused the station's continued use by the military to be called into question. However in 1958 Biggin Hill ceased to be an operational RAF station, becoming the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre for the RAF. Due to the impending closure of the nearby original London Airport at Croydon, from 1956 much of the civilian light aviation from Croydon relocated to Biggin and it became a joint civilian and military airport. Croydon closed completely in 1959, at which time Biggin Hill became a mainly civilian airport with only occasional military flying taking place.[7]

Towards the end of 1963, the Orpington Urban District Council (within whose boundaries the airfield lay) was approached by the Board of Trade as to whether the Council would purchase (effectively from the RAF) Biggin Hill airfield. In 1964, on formation of the London Borough of Bromley, which absorbed Orpington, the offer to purchase was open to the new borough. Protracted negotiations were held with the Board of Trade and later the Department of Trade and Industry. At a special meeting on 15 June 1972 the Council decided to purchase the airport by a recorded vote of 41 to 9. The purchase was eventually completed in 1974.

In May 1992 the Department of Transport issued a direction to the Council under s.13 of the Airports Act 1986. The effect of this direction, which affected airports generating turnover of £1million or more (Biggin Hill just scraped into this limit), was to require the Council to set up a new company for the purpose of operating the airport as an independent commercial undertaking. To comply with the direction would have required the transfer of all the assets and liabilities to the company with a consequential loss of Council control over airport activities. In the circumstances, the Council decided that the granting of a 125 year lease would enable more control to be retained than an outright disposal of the freehold or by a transfer to a local authority company with an uncertain future. In May 1994, the airport was leased to Biggin Hill Airport Limited ("BHAL") for 125 years.[8] BHAL is a subsidiary of Regional Airports Ltd.

Meanwhile, the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre moved to RAF Cranwell in 1992, marking the end of active RAF involvement.[7]

In 2001, the London Borough of Bromley as freeholder of the airport succeeded in an action in the Court of Appeal. The court ruling prohibits the airport operators from allowing tickets to be sold for flights into and out of the airport, thus preventing its use for scheduled or holiday charter flights, but allowing business aviation and corporate shuttles.[9]

The airport today

The airport is located on a hill top, just to the east of the Bromley to Westerham road (A233) and about 1 mile (1.6 km) to the north of the town of Biggin Hill. The small village of Leaves Green lies adjacent to the north-western perimeter of the airport.[10]

The airport has two runways, aligned roughly north-south and east-west, which intersect at their respective southern and western ends, forming an L shaped configuration. The longer north-south oriented runway (03/21) is 1,820 metres in length, making it usable by aircraft up to Boeing 737/Airbus A320 size, and it has an Instrument Landing System. Radar air traffic control (ATC) services are provided by Thames Radar at the London Terminal Control Centre, while procedural approach and VFR ATC services are provided by the airport itself.[11][12][13]

Despite the effective ban on scheduled services, Biggin Hill is used by a large number of business flights by business jets and similar sized aircraft. The airport has a passenger terminal, located on the A233 road just south of Leaves Green, which provides facilities for such flights, including departure lounges, a licensed café bar, and customs and immigration facilities.[13]

The current RAF Biggin Hill is a small enclave on the western boundary of the airport to the south of the passenger terminal, and contains the headquarters of 2427 Squadron of the Air Training Corps. Next to this is St George’s Chapel of Remembrance. This brick built chapel was erected in 1951, to replace an earlier chapel destroyed by fire, and now serves as a memorial to all the aircrew who died flying from the Biggin Hill Sector. It is surrounded by a garden of remembrance and has gate guardians in the form of full-sized replicas of a Hurricane and a Spitfire, representing the aircraft that flew from the former airfield during the Battle of Britain. The replicas replaced genuine aircraft that formerly served as the guardians.[7][14][15]

Besides the passenger terminal and RAF enclave, other former RAF buildings still exist in the 'North Camp' to the west of the main runway, including the Sergeant's Mess of 1932, the Airmen's Institute of circa 1926, the former Station Headquarters building of 1931 and several barrack blocks. The buildings, which are Grade II listed, are in a redbrick neo-Georgian style typical of military airfields of the inter-war period. They have been vacant since the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre closed in 1992, and were added to English Heritage's list of buildings at risk in 2006.[4]

The 'South Camp', situated to the south of runway 11/29, was transferred to civil usage in the 1950s and now consists of a utilitarian collection of hangars and sheds, together with a modern office park. It now contains many aviation related businesses, flying clubs and flying schools. Many private light aircraft are based on the airport.

From 1963, Biggin Hill airport was the venue of the Air Displays International

Construction on a new state-of-the-art hangar alongside the Passenger Terminal commenced in October 2010. Excavations of the site uncovered underground war-time fuel tanks and associated pump rooms; these were re-covered during the same building works. Construction was planned to finish late in Spring 2011.

Biggin Hill is the location of one of the four "stacks" for aircraft landing at Heathrow Airport, and is used by aircraft approaching from the south east. It uses a VOR navigational beacon with the identifier "BIG". Noise from aircraft using this stack is often wrongly attributed to aircraft using Biggin Hill Airport.

Three model aircraft clubs operate within a three mile radius of Biggin Hill Airport. One site operates within its Aerodrome Traffic Zone (2.5 NM (4.6 km; 2.9 mi) radius)[16]

In the grounds of the airport an Air Scout centre can be found. The centre allows young people aged between 7 and 18 to take part in aviation activities with their scout groups.

The Airfield still retains its history by the continued restoration projects running at the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar. IntotheBlue experience days, a UK company within the airfield allows members of the public to fly alongside a Mk9 Spitfire in a 1950's Harvard. It's projects like this, which hold a timely reminder to how important the airport was during the First World War.

Airlines and destinations

No commercial airlines fly to Biggin Hill, as aircraft flying there are not permitted to carry fare-paying passengers.[17] An application by the airport to allow such flights around the time of the 2012 London Olympics was rejected by Bromley Council in March 2011.[17]


  • On 18 June 1951, three Meteors crashed and their pilots were killed in accidents, all three crashing in an area of about 100 yd (91 m). The first, a Meteor VIII piloted by Flight Lieutenant Gordon McDonald of 41 Squadron, crashed shortly after take-off, corkscrewing as pieces of structure fell from the aircraft. The aircraft hit a bungalow, killing the pilot. The jet wash of his flight leader was named as a possible cause. Within seconds of this accident two Mark IV Meteors of 600 Sqn, piloted by Sergeant Kenneth Clarkson and Squadron Leader Phillip Sandeman, both circling over the wreckage and preparing to land, collided at 2,000 ft (610 m) above the scene. Although Sandeman managed to bail out, he was killed when his parachute failed to open. Clarkson was killed in his aircraft. A week after this incident, another Meteor overshot the runway, narrowly missing passing cars. After these incidents, several residents stated they would be "selling up" and there were calls for traffic lights to be installed on the Bromley road for use during take-offs and landings.[18]
  • On 15 May 1977, during the annual International Air Fair, a Bell 206 was in a mid-air collision with a de Havilland Tiger Moth at the airport. The Tiger Moth landed but the Bell 206 crashed, killing all five on board.[19]
  • On 21 September 1980 a Douglas B-26 Invader (registered N3710G) crashed during an air display. The aircraft was attempting to carry out a climbing roll in front of the crowd when the nose dropped sharply, and the aircraft continued rolling until it dropped vertically into a valley. The pilot and seven passengers were killed. The Civil Aviation Authority subsequently introduced rules preventing passengers from being carried during air displays.[20]
  • On 2 June 2001 a vintage de Havilland Vampire jet crashed during an air display, killing both pilots. The Vampire had been flying a display in tandem with a de Havilland Sea Vixen aircraft, and the likely cause of the accident was that the Vampire's flight path had been disrupted by wake turbulence from the larger aircraft.[21]
  • On 3 June 2001 a 1944 Bell P-63 Kingcobra crashed during a display, killing the pilot. The American Second World War fighter aircraft had been flying an unplanned sequence, when the pilot lost control at the top of a climbing manoeuvre and was unable to recover from the resulting dive. The aircraft impacted the ground to the west of the runway in a steep nose-down attitude.[22]
  • On 22 October 2005 a two-seat Piper Tomahawk aircraft on a training flight crashed shortly after take-off from Biggin Hill, killing the flight instructor and his student. The aircraft came down in a residential street, Victoria Gardens, but there were no casualties on the ground. The cause of the accident was found to be a worn fuel filler cap that had allowed water to seep into the fuel tank.[23]
  • On 30 March 2008 a Cessna Citation 501 aircraft crashed into a housing estate north of the airfield, killing all five people on board. Shortly after take-off from Biggin Hill, the pilot had reported severe engine vibration and was attempting to return to the airfield when the aircraft crashed. An investigation concluded that both engines had been shut down (possibly inadvertently) during the course of the short flight. Among those killed were Eurosport commentator and former Touring Car driver David Leslie and ex-Le Mans driver Richard Lloyd.[24]

In popular culture

The airport is the scene of the landing of Sir Leigh Teabing's private jet in the bestselling book, The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown. One of the taxiways appears on the back cover of Pink Floyd's 1969 album Ummagumma.[25]

See also

  • List of airports in the United Kingdom


Further reading

External links

  • Biggin Hill Airport Official
  • Biggin Hill International Air Fair
  • Detailed historic record about RAF Biggin Hill

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