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RAF Benson is a Royal Air Force station near Bensonmarker in South Oxfordshiremarker, Englandmarker. It is home to the Royal Air Force's support helicopters, the Aérospatiale Puma and the AW101 Merlin, known as the Puma HC.Mk 1 and the Merlin HC.Mk 3 and Mk 3a.

Benson is currently home to 28 Squadron, 78 Squadron and 33 Squadron and also to Oxford University Air Squadron and 6 Air Experience Flight. In January 2008, 78 Squadron was formally stood up at RAF Benson to create, alongside 28 Squadron, a Merlin Force. Also included in the Merlin Force is the Merlin Force Engineering Squadron. 78 Squadron were previously a Sea King/Chinook Squadron based at RAF Mount Pleasantmarker in the Falkland Islandsmarker). Previous units once based there include the Queen's Flight.

The Thames Valley Police helicopter (a Eurocopter EC 135) and the Thames Valley and Chiltern air ambulance helicopter (a Eurocopter EC 135], call sign "Helimed24") are also both based at Benson as lodger units.

The airfield is a well-known frost hollow, often recording the coldest temperatures in the UK. In early 2009 the Met Office at RAF Benson recorded a temperature of -11.8 degrees.


Building work for RAF Benson began in 1937. RAF Benson was officially opened on 1 April 1939 and its first aircraft were two squadrons of Fairey Battle light bombers which began to arrive a few days later. No. 103 Squadron RAF started flying in on 3 April 1939, to be joined in the next few months by No. 150 Squadron RAF.

The Battles were replaced in December 1940 with Vickers Wellington medium bombers. At the same time the Spitfire of No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit RAF an RAF Coastal Command unit arrived. It gained considerable fame as the home of photographic reconnaissance for the remainder of World War II. In June 1943, No 1 P.R.U. was formed into No 106 Wing, with five squadrons (No’s 540 to 544 inclusive) and an Operational Training Unit. The Wing was elevated to as the No. 106 (PU) Group status in April 1944, with two Mosquito and two Spitfire Squadrons (No. 543 Squadron having been disbanded when the aircraft strength per Squadron was increased). The No. 106 Group was assigned to the Coastal Command's Photo Reconnaissance assets with the whole of Northern Europe as its operational area.

Its Supermarine Spitfire and de Havilland Mosquito aircraft flew missions over occupied Europe, for example bringing back battle damage assessment pictures after Operation Chastise. This period of the station's history is reflected in the use of a full-scale replica of a wartime Spitfire PR.Mk XI on the main gate - this having replaced a genuine Spitfire PR.MK XIX that has been restored to flying status. Vera Lynn, 'the forces Sweetheart', visited RAF Benson to entertain the troops, reportedly singing "The White Cliffs of Dover" at the station.

The station retained a reconnaisance role for some years after the war, with Avro Lancaster, Spitfire, Mosquito, Gloster Meteor PR.Mk 10 and English Electric Canberra PR.Mk 3 aircraft.

On 1 June 1962 No. 105 Squadron RAF reformed at the station, flying Armstrong Whitworth AW.660 Argosys as part of the RAF Transport Command fleet. In January 1968, 114 and 267 Squadrons were flying Argosys as a Wing on the station.

The King's Flight moved from RAF Hendonmarker and would stay (renamed as the Queen's Flight after the death of King George VI) until after the war, moving to RAF Northoltmarker in 1995.

The station is today the home to three squadrons of Support Helicopters (No. 28 Squadron RAF, No. 78 Squadron RAF and No. 33 Squadron RAF with Merlin and Puma helicopters) and to the Grob Tutor light aircraft of the Oxford University Air Squadron RAF. Massive investment has been made in a modern flight simulator facility for the Chinook (not based at Benson), Merlin and Puma. RAF Benson is now also home to a mobile Catering Support Unit and a Mobile Meteorological Unit, and the Thames Valley Police's Chiltern Air Support Unit bases one of its Eurocopter EC 135 helicopters at Benson. A yellow MBB Bö 105 belonging to the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust (headquartered at Grove Park), Maidenhead, moved from White Waltham to Benson in January 2007.

The future of RAF Benson was in doubt for some time, while Project Belvedere was looking into closing at least one of Joint Helicopter Command's airfields. These included Benson, Odiham, Aldergrove, Yeovilton, Middle Wallop, Wattisham and Dishforth; with the Support Helicopters based at RAF Benson being considered for a move to RAF Lyneham. Belvedere has been abandoned on cost grounds, and Benson's future is now believed to be safe.


Main runway at RAF Benson


  1. RAF Benson history
  2. Leaf, Edward, Above All Unseen: The Royal Air Force's Photographic Reconnaissance Units 1939-1945, Motorbooks International, 1997
  4. Coastal Command Group Dispositions - July 1945 [1]
  5. RAF, No. 114 Squadron, accessed November 2008

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