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RAF Prestwick

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RAF Prestwick was formed on January 17, 1936, at an existing civil airfield which had been created in 1935 by aviation pioneers Group Captain David McIntyre and the Marquis of Douglas and Clydesdale (later 14th Duke of Hamilton, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton) on some 348 acres of land they had acquired in 1935, adjacent to Orangefield House, Monkton, near Prestwick.

Flying had been taking place from the site since c. 1913, and by the early 1930s Midland and Scottish Airlines were using the field for stopovers. The two pioneers founded Scottish Aviation Ltd in 1935, and developed the airfield by installing a small control tower, hangars, offices and lecture facilities. Operating Tiger Moth biplanes, they began pilot training for the RAF in 1936, and carried on to develop extensive repair, overhaul, and maintenance operations at the airfield.

World War II

World War II saw the RAF take over the airfield, and Scottish Aviation became part of the CRO (civilian repair organisation) which provided aviation facilities for the RAF.

From January 17, 1936 to March 1941, Scottish Aviation formed No 12 EFRTS (Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School) at Prestwick with Tiger Moth and Hawker Hart biplanes, renamed in September 1939, becoming No 12 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) with Avro Anson and Fairey Battle.

From August 1938, to July 1941, Scottish Aviation formed No 1 CANS (Civil Air Navigation School), renamed in November 1939, becoming No 1 AONS (Air Observer Navigation School).

The airfield originally operated from grass runways in the surrounding fields, but increasing traffic meant that the grass runways could no longer cope, and two long concrete runways were constructed to accommodate the growing number of aircraft operating from the airfield.

In 1941, the airfield became a transatlantic terminal and ATFERO (Atlantic Ferry Organisation) was formed to manage aircraft being flown from Canada and America to Great Britain, and recorded some 37,000 aircraft landing at Prestwick. By March 1943, ATFERO had been placed under the control of RAF Transport Command.

On July 1, 1942, the first B-17 Flying Fortress landed for the USAAF, and by September 1945, when the USAAF departed, more than 12,000 aircraft had arrived for the USAAF. USAAF Air Transport Command also flew mail services, and following the D-Day invasions, flew casualties back to the USA in Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport aircraft.

In 1943, a control tower was built through the roof of Orangefield House.


On April 1, 1946, the airfield transferred to State ownership and civil operation was restored, with flights being undertaken by BOAC, KLM, SAS, TCA and other airlines.

Scottish Aviation Ltd began to overhaul Douglas aircraft, and went on to build the Pioneer (1950) and Twin Pioneer (1955) for the RAF until 1962.

From 1951 to 1966, the USAAF base was reactivated and a Military Air Transportation Service (MATS) facility operated transatlantic flights to and from the USA. The secondary runway was closed to allow a large parking apron to be constructed, and the main runway was lengthened to 2,987 metres. A new cross runway was added to the east, extending southwest into the site formerly occupied by RAF Ayr, a site which has been almost completely lost to development.

In 1962, the old control tower on Orangefield House was abandoned in favour of a purpose built control tower on the airfield, and in 1966 the house was demolished, together with the surrounding complex of huts, to make way for expansion of the airfield and construction of a new taxiway.

From November 1971, RAF Prestwick has been home to HMS Gannet, a major Royal Naval Search and Rescue Station.

From 1973, the National Sea Cadet Engineering Training Centre, TS Fisgard has been located at HMS Gannet.

The abandoned Prestwick UNITER building (put up for sale in 2008), constructed in Scotland as part of a Secure Survivable Integrated Network (SSIN) for the RAF in the 1970s, lies to the east of HMS Gannet.

Air traffic control - civil and military

Prestwick airport is home to Scottish Air Traffic Control, rebuilt in a new and upgraded facility, due to open in 2010.

The new system, the Shanwick Automated Air Traffic System (SAATS) was developed in partnership with the Canadian air navigation service provider Nav Canada, and covers 630,000 square miles of the North Atlantic. The system is based at the Oceanic Operations Room of the present Prestwick Centre.

The Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre is under the control of Headquarters Military Air Traffic Operations (MATO) and is responsible for providing a radar service to military and civil aircraft.

The Scottish Air Traffic Control Centre (Military) provides en route air traffic services to operational air traffic flying within the Scottish Flight Information and Upper Information Regions. ScATCC(Mil) and its civil counterpart, the Scottish Oceanic and Area Control Centre (ScOACC), are partners in one of the most successful civil/military ATC collaborations in the world. The shared facilities at Atlantic House, Prestwick enhance the working relationships between civil and military controllers ensuring the increasingly busy skies of Northern Britain and its surrounding waters remain safe for all airspace users.

- RAF Station overview, February 25, 2009.

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