Base's special place in aviation history

Base's special place in aviation history

Tony and Bill King alongside the new 70th anniversary memorial

The Gloster-Whittle E28/39

First published in News by

THE vital role played by an Oxfordshire airfield in the development of jet aircraft has finally been recognised thanks to two brothers who grew up nearby.

RAF Barford St John was used as the base for top-secret tests of Britain’s prototype jet planes, powered by engines designed by Sir Frank Whittle, during the Second World War.

The airfield, used since 1951 as a communications base by the US Air Force, was once a playground for brothers Bill and Tony King, who lived in Bloxham.

Bill King, who now lives near Swindon, said: “When we were growing up in Bloxham in the late 1940s we played at what was then a mothballed airfield and used to get chased off by the guards.”

The brothers, members of the Military Vehicle Trust, came up with the idea of a memorial to commemorate the base’s special place in aviation history during a conversation in a pub last year.

The base gave permission for them to design and produce the memorial, a lump of iron stone with a marble plaque.

Mr King added: “The work carried out at Barford St John was absolutely crucial to the development of the British jet flying programme and also to the US’s development of jets.

“The jet engines used today are direct descendants of those developed by Frank Whittle.”

A ceremony held to unveil the memorial on Friday also marked the 70th anniversary of the opening of the airfield in 1941, initially as an RAF pilot training school.

After being used to train bomber crews before they were posted to squadrons in 1942, it was chosen for the jet testing programme in 1943, because of its secluded rural location.

It was also close enough to Coventry, where Sir Frank’s Power Jets company was based.

It tested the pioneering Gloster-Whittle E28/39 jet built by the Gloucester Aircraft Company and prototypes including the twin-engined Gloster F9/40, later the Gloster Meteor fighter.

These were used in 1944 to catch and shoot down German V1 flying bombs launched against London.

More than 150 people attended the ceremony, including representatives of the RAF and US Air Force, the Royal British Legion and Barford St John & St Michael and Bloxham parish councils.

The memorial can be seen just inside the main gate of the base, off Bloxham Road.

Later in the year, an interpretation panel, telling the story of the airfield and the planes which flew from it, will be installed alongside the road.

wcrossley@oxfordmail.co.uk l The Gloster E28/39 prototype flown from RAF Barford St John is now on display at the Science Museum in London, while the Midland Air Museum at Baginton, in Coventry, has an exhibition dedicated to Sir Frank Whittle’s development of the jet engine.

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