Unit History: RAF Bocsombe Down
Aircraft testing at the airfield started when the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) moved from RAF Martlesham Heath in August 1939, as World War II hostilities commenced, when the airfield was known as RAF Boscombe Down.
The site has witnessed many significant developments in the British aviation industry, including trials of many aircraft flown by the British armed forces since the Second World War, such as the first flights of the English Electric P 1, forerunner of the Lightning, and the BAC TSR.2. It was also formerly home to the School of Aviation Medicine.
In 1992 the site was renamed the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment when experimental work moved to the Defence Research Agency. Responsibility for the site passed from the MoD Procurement Executive to the Defence Test and Evaluation Organisation (DTEO) in 1993, and subsequently to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in 1995.
Following the creation of QinetiQ in 2001, a 25 year Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) was established with the MOD. Boscombe Down remains a government airfield but operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the MOD. The Joint Test and Evaluation Group was established under the control of RAF Air Command and together with QinetiQ forms the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre (ATEC). This unique partnership is charged with the test and evaluation of future and in-service military aircraft. The military personnel of the JTEG play a central role in the test and evaluation process alongside their QinetiQ colleagues.
A small part of Boscombe’s history is being preserved in the USA. The Anglo American Lightning Organisation are returning to flight the former EPTS English Electric Lightning, XS422. The voluntary group, made up of RAF and former-RAF engineers, as well as civilian volunteers, has been carrying out a ’floor-up’ restoration and are now around 80% (current spring 2008) mechanically complete. It is hoped, funds permitting, that XS422 will be ready for flight within the next 12 months. The project is currently seeking investors and supporters.
The site has two runways, one of 3.2 km in length and the second 1.9 km. It is home to Rotary Wing Test Squadron, Fast Jet Test Squadron, Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron, Handling Squadron, and the Empire Test Pilots’ School. It is also currently home to the Southampton University Air Squadron .
Boscombe Down has been associated with rumours concerning U.S. black projects. One notable incident[who?] is reported to have occurred there in 1994, although evidence is patchy and unreliable.
In October 2007 it was announced that RAF Boscombe Down will become a quick reaction alert airbase from early 2008, offering round-the-clock fighter coverage for the South and South West of UK airspace. Contrary to media reports QRA aircraft will only be based at Boscombe Down if and when a specific threat to the region is deemed to exist.