Sculthorpe Training Area

Coordinates: 52°50′54″N 000°45′38″E / 52.84833°N 0.76056°E / 52.84833; 0.76056
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Sculthorpe Training Area
Royal Air Force Station Sculthorpe
Near Fakenham, Norfolk in England
A 1946 aerial photograph of RAF Sculthorpe, the main runway runs diagonally with the technical and bomb dump on the left.
1946 aerial photograph of RAF Sculthorpe depicting the class A airfield design. The main runway (06/24) runs diagonally (bottom-left to top-right), the technical site and bomb dump on the left. The bomb dump was subsequently relocated to a dispersed secure weapon storage area to the north-east of the airfield accessed from near the runway 24 threshold.
RAF Sculthorpe is located in Norfolk
RAF Sculthorpe
RAF Sculthorpe
Location in Norfolk
Coordinates52°50′54″N 000°45′38″E / 52.84833°N 0.76056°E / 52.84833; 0.76056
Grid referenceTF 85993 31439
TypeRoyal Air Force flying station (former),
relief military training airfield (current)
CodeSCTH (SPEC 024 Code)[1]
Area539 hectares (1,332 acres)[1]
Height65 metres (213 ft)
Site information
OwnerMinistry of Defence (MoD)
OperatorRoyal Air Force (1943–1952)
United States Air Force (1959–1964)
Royal Air Force (1964–1992)
Open to
the public
airfield closed to public, remainder of site full public access
Conditionairfield in continued use
Site history
Built1942; 81 years ago (1942)
Built byBovis Construction
In use15 January 1943; 80 years ago (1943-01-15) – 2 October 1992; 31 years ago (1992-10-02)[2]
  • airfield retained in military use by the MoD and known as the Sculthorpe Training Area[1]
  • technical and administrative buildings sold for civilian use and now form Tattersett Business and Leisure Park
  • former military housing refurbished to create Wicken Green Village
Airfield information
IdentifiersIATA: ZXE, ICAO: EGUP
Direction Length and surface
06/24 2,743 metres (9,000 ft) asphalt concrete
13/31 1,829 metres (6,000 ft) concrete
18/36 1,829 metres (6,000 ft) asphalt concrete

Sculthorpe Training Area,[1][3] previously Royal Air Force Station Sculthorpe and commonly abbreviated RAF Sculthorpe, is a training site owned by the British Ministry of Defence (MoD). It is approximately 3 miles (4.8 kilometres) west of Fakenham in the county of Norfolk in England. It forms part of the Defence Training Estate.

The training area is part of the former larger Royal Air Force Station Sculthorpe, a military airbase which officially closed as an RAF station on 2 October 1992; 31 years ago (1992-10-02). The airfield had been home to many visiting airmen and support crews of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Air Force (USAF). In 1997, the Ministry of Defence sold the entire technical, domestic and administrative site, including the married quarters site previously occupied by the USAF to the Welbeck Estate Group. After the sale, the airfield, along with the dispersed secure weapon storage area, was retained for military training usage.[4][5]


Second World War[edit]

RAF Sculthorpe was built between the villages of Sculthorpe (to its east) and Syderstone (to its west-north-west) as the second satellite airfield of RAF West Raynham (itself a few miles to the south), the first satellite airfield being RAF Great Massingham. Work began on Sculthorpe in the spring of 1942; 81 years ago (1942), and the airfield was laid out as one of only two Royal Air Force (RAF) heavy bomber airfields (the other was the nearby RAF Marham), with the familiar wartime triangular three runway layout expanded by 50 per cent, the main runway being 9,000 feet (2,743 metres) long (compared to the standard 6,000 feet (1,829 metres)) and the subsidiary runways being 6,000 feet (compared to around 4,000 feet (1,219 metres). The work involved construction of the concrete runways, dispersals site, mess facilities, and accommodation. Much of the work was completed by Irish labour working for the company Bovis Construction.

As work was drawing to a close in May 1943; 80 years ago (1943-05), the first aircraft squadrons started to arrive. The first was No. 342 Squadron (Lorraine) of the Free French Air Forces within No. 2 Group RAF from RAF West Raynham. This squadron operated two flights of the Douglas Boston aircraft, along with the related Douglas Havoc aircraft for training. No. 342 Squadron stayed until 19 July 1943, when they moved to RAF Great Massingham.

On 20 July 1943; 80 years ago (1943-07-20), the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) moved in with No. 487 Squadron RNZAF and No. 464 Squadron RAAF taking up residence, with their Lockheed Ventura aircraft having moved from RAF Methwold, before converting at Sculthorpe onto the de Havilland Mosquito. On 20 September 1943, 21 Squadron moved in from RAF Oulton, also with Mosquitos, to form the Sculthorpe Wing (No. 140 Wing RAF). The wing stayed at Sculthorpe, completing more than 100 missions, before departing for RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire on 31 December 1943.

In January 1944, No. 214 Squadron RAF of 100 Group RAF moved in with Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft for use in electronic warfare support of RAF Bomber Command, to be joined by crews from the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) 96th Bomb Group from RAF Snetterton Heath, known at Sculthorpe and thereafter as the 803rd Bomb Squadron of the USAAF. In April 1944, the 803rd and 214 Squadron departed for RAF Oulton, leaving Sculthorpe empty for its redevelopment as a 'very heavy bomber base', with the work not being completed until the spring of 1946.

A number of units were also posted here:[2]

Cold War[edit]

47th Bombardment Wing patch
Douglas B-66B-DL Destroyer, serial 55-0309, of the 84th Bomb Squadron, 47th Bomb Wing, at RAF Sculthorpe, circa 1958.
A KB-50J Superfortress of the 420th Air Refueling Squadron from RAF Sculthorpe refuelling two Republic F-105D fighter jets over Germany from the 36th TFW, Bitburg Air Base in West Germany, circa 1950s-1960s.

RAF Sculthorpe was refurbished for use by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the Berlin Crisis in 1949, and then later, in 1952, it became home for the 49th Air Division (Operational) (49th AD) and the 47th Bombardment Wing (47th Bomb Wg), who were to stay for a decade. The 49th Air Division maintained operational control of the 47th Bomb Wg and the 20th Fighter-Bomber Wing (20th FB Wg), which provided tactical nuclear weapons support to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Later, the 81st Fighter-Bomber Wing (81st FB Wg) was provided a nuclear capability and assigned to the operational control of the 49th Air Division.

The Soviet Union's enormous conventional force in eastern Europe posed a major problem for NATO, due to the Soviets' maintaining high personnel levels after World War II, when most of the American and British forces had demobilised.

To counter this Soviet threat to Western Europe, NATO decided to expand their tactical nuclear force by introducing the North American B-45 Tornado to the United Kingdom. The U.S. Tactical Air Command had about 100 of these four-engine jet bombers, each capable of delivering five tactical nuclear bombs. In the summer of 1952, The Pentagon decided to forward-deploy the 47th Bomb Wing to Sculthorpe in Norfolk, from its then home base of Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, USA. The movement of the 49th AD, 47 Bomb Wg and the 20th FB Wg was the first unit deployment since World War II.

47th Bombardment Wing squadrons and their aircraft based at RAF Sculthorpe
unit aircraft from to
84th Bombardment Squadron B-45, B-66 17 November 1952 22 June 1962
85th Bombardment Squadron B-45, B-66 17 November 1952 22 June 1962
420th Air Refueling Squadron KB-29, KB-50 25 September 1955 23 March 1962
86th Bombardment Squadron B-45, B-66 23 March 1954 22 June 1962
19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron RB-45C 7 May 1954 1 December 1958

Due to a shortage of space at Sculthorpe, the 86th BS operated from RAF Alconbury as a detachment of the 47th. In addition to the B-45 squadrons at Sculthorpe, the 47th's sister wing, the 20th Fighter-Bomber Wing with the nuclear capable North American F-84G Thunderjet were transferred to RAF Wethersfield in Essex.

From 1954 to 1958, the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (19th TRS) also flew the aerial reconnaissance version of the North American B-45 Tornado known as the RB-45. The 19th TRS was assigned to the 47th Bomb Wing from May 1954 to December 1958. When the 19th TRS began to re-equip with Douglas RB-66's in 1957, its RB-45's were transferred to other squadrons of the 47th Bomb Wing.

By 1957, hosting 10,000 personnel it was the biggest United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) base in Europe. In May 1958, the re-equipping of the 47th Bombardment Wing began and Douglas B-66 Destroyers began to replace the B-45s. With this equipment change, the 47th's squadrons were redesignated 'Bombardment Squadron (Tactical)'.

During 1960 to 1962, the 47th performed aerial refuelling missions assigning Boeing KB-50J tankers to the 420th Air Refueling Squadron from 15 March 1960 to 22 June 1962. The KB-50s were specially equipped with two General Electric J47 turbojet engines that enabled the tanker aircraft to match the speed of the faster jet fighters during refuelling; however most of the KB-50s were more than fifteen years old, and were too slow to refuel the faster tactical jets of USAFE. The 420th ARS was inactivated on 25 March 1964.

In 1962, Project Clearwater halted large scale rotational bomber deployments to Britain with Sculthorpe, along with RAF Fairford, RAF Chelveston, and RAF Greenham Common, being turned over to USAFE for tactical air use. As a result, the 47th Bomb Wing was inactivated on 22 June 1962. A number of the aircraft were reassigned to the 42d Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron (42nd TRS), 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing at RAF Chelveston, and modified with the electronic counter-measures tail system. With the inactivation of the 47th, Sculthorpe was put under the command of the 7375th Combat Support Group, the 7375th was later replaced by the Detachment 1, 48th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Visiting aircraft[edit]

In 1979, Handley Page Victor aerial tankers from 55 and 57 Squadrons, and Canberra target towing aircraft of 100 Squadron operated from Sculthorpe when the runway at RAF Marham was re-surfaced.

In spring 1982, units from RAF Coltishall in north-east Norfolk moved to Sculthorpe while the Coltishall runway was resurfaced.

During the spring and summer of 1983, units of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing deployed to RAF Sculthorpe because their home station, RAF Lakenheath was having its runway resurfaced.

During the summer of 1984, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II F-4E and F-4G squadrons from Spangdahlem Air Base, West Germany, operated from RAF Sculthorpe to allow runway re-surfacing at Spangdahlem to take place.

During most of 1988 and part of 1989, deploying Lockheed C-130 Hercules units from the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing (Dyess Air Force Base, Texas), the 314th Airlift Wing (Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas), and the 317th Airlift Group (Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina), were forced to operate from RAF Sculthorpe due to runway resurfacing at RAF Mildenhall.

In August 1989, the Lockheed TR-1A squadron from RAF Alconbury operated from RAF Sculthorpe whilst Alconbury's runway was re-surfaced.

Post RAF use[edit]

Royal Air Force Station Sculthorpe became inactive at the end of the Cold War, and was officially closed on 2 October 1992; 31 years ago (1992-10-02).[2]

The airfield, together with the dispersed secure weapon storage area, now known as the Sculthorpe Training Area since 18 October 2015, and occasionally known as MoD Sculthorpe, is retained by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), and forms part of the Defence Training Estate, in accordance with the Military Lands Act 1892(1).[3][4][6]

During the mid-1990s, the entire technical and domestic site was sold to Roger Byron-Collins' Welbeck Estate Group by Defence Estates. The domestic married quarters site included a number of single storey 'tobacco houses'. The housing estate was renamed Wicken Green Village and, after refurbishment, the houses were sold on the open market. The remaining technical site including barrack blocks, post exchange (PX), church, guardroom, gymnasium, community centres, and extensive storage and industrial units were sold to a single purchaser and there is now a fledgling industrial park. The Welbeck Estate Group went on to acquire the nearby technical and married quarters estate at RAF West Raynham.

During 2016, it was used by the USAF 352nd Special Operations Group (352nd SOG), based at RAF Mildenhall, to perform training in low flying, airdrops, and rescue and recovery missions. These exercises were conducted by MC-130 Hercules and CV-22 Ospreys.[5] In October 2022, a Westland AH1 Apache, military registration ZJ221, operated by the Army Air Corps (AAC) from Wattisham Flying Station (formerly known as RAF Wattisham) in Suffolk was witnessed conducting exercises, including ground refuelling on the airfield.[5]

The only military buildings on the airfield that had remained was the control tower, the fire station (next to the control tower), and a small half-moon concrete shelter,[where?] now used by a farmer for machinery and equipment storage. As of week commencing 21 February 2022, demolition of the control tower began.[7] The fire station is to be retained, for USAF use.

Heritage centre[edit]

RAF Sculthorpe Heritage Centre opened in a room at Green Park Rural Centre, Wicken Green Village, in August 2019. It features many Sculthorpe-related items, and has parts of a Douglas RB-66 Destroyer including its Allison J71 jet engine, which is the only known surviving example in the country.[8] Queen Elizabeth II made a private visit to the centre and met with the curator and volunteers in February 2022.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Defence Estates Development Plan (DEDP) 2009 - Annex A – Estate Baseline - 2009" (PDF). GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 3 July 2009. p. 16. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  2. ^ a b c "Sculthorpe". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. n.d. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  3. ^ a b Lancaster, Mark (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State) (18 June 2015). "The Sculthorpe Training Area Byelaws 2015 – UK Statutory Instruments → 2015 No. 1492 – Defence". Ministry of Defence, Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 22 August 2023.
  4. ^ a b Lancaster, Mark (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State) (18 June 2015). "The Sculthorpe Training Area Byelaws 2015 – UK Statutory Instruments → 2015 No. 1492 – Schedule – Byelaws maps and location map". Ministry of Defence, Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 22 August 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Into the Sky Aviation Videos (20 October 2022). RAF Sculthorpe - Apaches on base (October 2022). Sculthorpe Training Area. Retrieved 21 August 2023 – via YouTube. Whilst its usual purpose is to facilitate training for the USAF; primarily the CV-22 Ospreys and C130 Hercules' based at RAF Mildenhall, this week we have had the British Army Air Corps up at RAF Sculthorpe with their Apaches. The one in this video is specifically ZJ221, a Westland WAH-64 Apache built in 2002 and based at Wattisham.
  6. ^ "Military Lands Act 1892 – UK Public General Acts → 1892 c. 43 (Regnal. 55_and_56_Vict) → Part II → Section 14". Government of the United Kingdom. 1 February 1991. Retrieved 22 August 2023.
  7. ^ Nicholson, Mark (9 June 2022). RAF Sculthorpe. 'one last look.' May 2022. Retrieved 21 August 2023 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ Farmer, Matthew. "Former RAF base brought to life as heritage centre opens". Fakenham and Wells Times. Retrieved 14 July 2019.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Videos (YouTube)