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RAF Turnhouse

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RAF Turnhouse was located seven miles (11 km) west of Edinburgh and 46 miles (74 km) east of Glasgow.

The airfield began in 1915, as an aerodrome for Royal Flying Corps operating from grass runways, and became RAF Turnhouse when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) merged to form the Royal Air Force on April 1, 1918. In 1939, concrete runways were installed to handle heavier aircraft in greater numbers, and the airfield became a Sector Operation Room. After the war, civilian services quickly began to operate from the airfield, Edinburgh Airport, and these grew steadily over the years until commercial operations took over and the airfield was demilitarised in 1960. The RAF left Turnhouse in 1997. Edinburgh Airport has grown steadily over the years and was Scotland's busiest airport in 2007.

World War I

Turnhouse Aerodrome was the most northerly British air defence base of World War I, opening in 1915 for Royal Flyng Corps operations, and home to 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, which operated DeHavilland DH9As, Westland Wapitis, Hawker Harts, and Hawker Hind light bombers from its grass air strip. The location was close to the East Coast railway line, with a number of aircraft arriving in crates, and assembled on the field prior to service. Its operational status was reduced during 1917, and when the Royal Air Force was formed on April 1, 1918, the airfield was renamed RAF Turnhouse and ownership passed to the MoD.

World War II

World War II saw Fighter Command take control of the airfield, when it became a Sector Station as Turnhouse Sector Operations Room and Staff. By the end of 1939, the runway had been upgraded, concreted and paved, extending to some 3,900 feet to handle Spitfires. During the Battle of Britain, the following squadrons operated from the airfield:

  • 603 Squadron from May 5, 1940
  • 141 Squadron from June 28, 1940
  • 253 Squadron from July 21, 1940
  • 65 Squadron from August 28, 1940
  • 141 Squadron from August 30, 1940
  • 1 Squadron from September 14, 1940
  • 607 Squadron from October 10, 1940

Postwar development

The airfield remained under military control after the war ended, but began to share its facilities for non-military use. The first commercial services began in the late 1940s, and by 1947 British European Airways (BEA) was operating a civilian service between Edinburgh and London. The Vickers Viscount took to the air in 1948, the medium-range turboprop airliner, and by 1950 was in service with BEA. A number of developments took place in the following years:

  • 1952 The runway was extended to 6,000 feet to allow Vampire FB5s to operate.
  • 1954 A new passenger terminal was built to offer improved commercial facilities.
  • 1956 The airfield closed temporarily to allow reconstruction of the main runway and control tower.
  • 1960 The MoD transferred ownership to the Ministry of Aviation, demilitarising the airfield, allowing commercial services to be improved.
  • 1961 The recently built passenger terminal was extended to handle increasing traffic.
  • 1971 Ownership passed to the British Airports Authority (BAA).
  • 1977 New main runway and terminal completed.
  • 1994 The original 1954 terminal building was demolished.
  • 1997 RAF Turnhouse was finally closed.
  • 2001 Major extension and refurbishment completed on the 1977 terminal building.
  • 2005 The new control tower was completed.
Edinburgh Airport control tower, 2005
Edinburgh Airport control tower
© Thomas Nugent

One of BAAs first actions was to commission a new runway to the north west. The original 13/31 (now 12/30) 6,000 foot runway had served well, but suffered from severe crosswinds, having been built to suit the original airfield perimeter. The new 8,399 foot main runway 07/25 (now 06/24) was completed in 1977. A third, short runway operates for light aircraft. 1977 also saw the construction of a new terminal building, designed by Robert Matthew, to serve the new runway and additional traffic.

During the 1980s, the only international services from Edinburgh were to Amsterdam and Dublin, but in the following years links were opened to destinations in France and Germany. By the end of the decade BAA had been privatised and funds were used to extend the new terminal building and create parking aprons.

In 1994, the terminal building dating from 1954 was demolished, and the hangars converted into a cargo centre, and flying club facilities.

In 1997, the RAF base at Turnhouse was finally closed, and the remaining buildings converted to storage for air cargo.

In 2001, major extension and refurbishment work was completed on the terminal building.

In 2005, a new control tower was completed. Costing £11 million and rising to 187 feet (57 m), the tower's unique appearance has made it a notable landmark. In this year, almost 8 million passengers use the facilities, which employs some 2,500 staff, with 39 airlines operating there, making 112,000 air transport movements each year.

Edinburgh Airport, IATA: EDI, ICAO: EGPH.

Cold War

ROC Group HQ-Edinburgh

24 Group ROC HQ Edinburgh, 1997 © Charles Parker, Subterranea Britannica
24 Group ROC HQ Edinburgh 1997
© Charles Parker
Subterranea Britannica

RAF Turnhouse was also home the headquarters of 24 Group ROC, where information from the ROC's monitoring posts of nuclear blast and fallout data from East Central Scotland and the Borders would have been received, analysed, and distributed.

The facility consisted of a semi-sunken, two level bunker, located to the right of the entrance to RAF Turnhouse, with an administration block adjacent. Opened in October 1964, the end of the Cold War signalled its imminent closure in 1992. RAF Turnhouse also closed in 1997, when some of the surface building were converted for use as air cargo stores, with the remainder being demolished to level the site, including the bunker. All that remains is a large concrete slab on the bunker site.

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