The base was originally a grass airfield within No. 4 Group. In the early 1940s the airfield was entirely reconstructed with three hardened runways replacing the grass. The base was re-opened in October 1942 as a station for 77 Squadron RAF and along with RAF Melbourne and RAF Pocklington was known as "42 Base". The squadron had a strength of approximately 20 aircraft and initially used the twin engined Armstrong Whitworth Whitley medium bomber although this was quickly replaced by the Handley Page Halifax four engined heavy bomber which was being introduced. 77 Squadron suffered heavy losses during its time at Elvington with over 500 aircrew killed, missing or taken prisoner and almost 80 Halifaxes lost as it played a major part in the Battle of the Ruhr and the bombing of Berlin.
In May 1944 77 Squadron re-located to the newly opened RAF Full Sutton and was replaced at Elvington by two French squadrons, numbers 346 "Guyenne" and 347 "Tunisie" who both played a leading part in the bombing of Germany. Elvington was the only airfield in the United Kingdom used by the remainder of the Free French Forces, they also flew Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers until they moved to Bordeaux in October 1945 where they became the basis for the new air force of liberated France. In September 1957 a memorial was unveiled in Elvington village dedicated to the two French squadrons. After the war the 400-acre (1.6 km2) airfield was transferred to 40 Group Maintenance Command until 1952 when it was greatly enlarged and extended for use by the United States Air Force.
The United States Air Force built a new 3,094 m (10,152 ft) runway, which was the longest in the north of England, and a huge 19.8 hectare (49 acre) rectangular hardstanding apron as well as a new control tower to turn Elvington into a "Basic Operation Platform" which would have operated as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) dispersal airfield. After spending £4 million the airfield never became operational as a SAC base and was abandoned by the US Air Force in 1958. In the early 1960s the Blackburn Aircraft Company, now part of British Aerospace used the runway for test flights of the Blackburn Buccaneer. Elvington retained its status as an RAF relief landing ground and was used by the RAF flying training schools at RAF Church Fenton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse until the airfield was finally closed in March 1992.