Unit History: Operational Conversion Unit RAF Gaydon
An Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) is a unit within an air force whose role is to support preparation for the operational missions of a specific aircraft type by providing trained personnel. OCUs teach pilots how to fly an aircraft and which tactics best exploit the performance of their aircraft and its weapons. The Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force, among others, practice this method of training.RAF OCUs have their origin in the post-war period. Before the Second World War operational training was carried out in the squadron itself. With the coming of war, this method of training was no longer possible and some squadrons were reassigned to training duties. These were later renamed as Operational Training Units and in practice were larger than operational squadrons.
RAF Gaydon is a former Royal Air Force station in Warwickshire in the UK.
During World War II an RAF station was built near the village. This was a standard three-runway airfield similar to a number of other airfields nearby and was used mainly for training bomber crews, using Wellington Bombers or their training variants. Immediately after the war bomber training ceased and Gaydon became a training establishment for glider pilots and gliding instructors.
The airfield was then placed under care and maintenance until the early 1950s when it was designated as a future V-bomber training base. The airfield was therefore completely remodelled with one single massively long and wide runway. V bombers were then cutting edge technology and the teaching of pilots who may have trained on 200mph Wellingtons to fly the new much larger heavier and faster, nuclear capable, jet bomber was viewed with much apprehension, although in the event many of the more alarmist views proved unfounded.
On 1 January 1955 the first 138 Squadron operating Vickers Valiants reformed at Gaydon as the first V-bomber squadron and the airfield then settled down as the training unit for Valiant and later Victor squadrons. The airfield was used for operational bomber training until September 1965 at which point it became home to No 2 Air Navigation School, responsible for the initial training of all RAF Navigators.
The contrast between the V Bombers and the Vickers Varsity training aircraft cannot have been more pronounced. The Varsity was a direct descendant of the wartime Wellington with a very similar performance. When it first flew in 1949 it was reasonably advanced but by the mid sixties was definitely long in the tooth and had earned the nickname "flying pig" from the crews. Although older aircrew were quite happy to accept the slow pace of life younger ones considered flying elderly piston engined aircraft,at less than 200mph,on seemingly endless preset courses, to be less than exciting.
However although the base was ostensibly only a training establishment information released recently reveals that Gaydon was still part of the strategic plan and in the event of war it was one of bases to which Victor bombers would have dispersed ready to carry out nuclear strikes against an enemy.
The Air Navigation School moved to RAF Finningley, Yorkshire in 1970 and after a short period as a maintenance facility Gaydon was reduced to a Care and Maintenance Status until closure.
The station closed in 1974 and the airfield was bought in 1978 by British Leyland, and became a proving ground for its cars. This evolved into the Gaydon centre (where Land Rover has its headquarters) and the Heritage Motor Centre, a museum of many British cars. More recently Aston Martin built a factory here for its car production. The buildings that housed the troops were sold off and became the village of Lighthorne Heath.
The old runway has been transformed into an elliptical high speed test track laid out as a 5 lane motorway, at the centre of a much larger proving ground with many types of terrain. The old control tower is used to monitor and converse with the cars in testing.