RAF Bentwaters, now known as
Bentwaters Parks, is a former Royal Air Force station about 80 miles NE of
London, 10 miles ENE of Ipswich, near
Woodbridge, Suffolk in England.
name was taken from two cottages (‘Bentwaters Cottages’) that had
stood on the site of the main runway during its construction in
It was used by the RAF
during World War II
, and by the United States Air Force
, being the primary home for the
81st Fighter Wing under various designations from 1951 to 1993.
years the 81st Fighter Wing also operated RAF Woodbridge, with Bentwaters and Woodbridge being known as the
Bentwaters is also known as the location for the alleged December
incident in Rendlesham Forest
The site, now known as Bentwaters Parks, is used for a variety of
purposes; there is a cold war museum on the site, there are offices
and warehouses to rent and the site is also used for television and
World War II
Bentwaters airfield's origins goes back to 1942 when construction
began on RAF Butley
as an RAF Bomber Command
base. On 28 January
1943 the base was renamed Bentwaters RAF Station
It was opened for operational use in April 1944. In December it was
transferred to RAF Fighter
11th Group. During World War
, RAF squadrons at Butley were: 64, 118, 126, 129, 165, and
In addition to its RAF use, United States Army Air Force
fighters flew escort missions for RAF Bomber Command from
Bentwaters beginning on 4 May 1945. The USAAF designation for
Bentwaters was AAF Station 151
During the postwar years, the RAF retained Bentwaters for flying
various aircraft, including first-generation jet aircraft before
finally closing the facility on 26 August 1949 when it was placed
into 'care and maintenance' status.
Control of Bentwaters was transferred to the United States Air Force
on 16 March
1951 by the Ministry of Defence
and the United States
Air Forces in Europe
designated it a primary installation of HQ
USAFE on 7 September 1951. Bentwaters was to play a key role in the
defense of Western Europe during the Cold
War when large numbers of USAF aircraft were assigned as part
of the air arm of NATO.
On 16 March 1951, the USAF 7506th Air Support
was assigned to Bentwaters. The 7506th's mission
was to bring the facility up to NATO
During most of 1951 and 1952 USAF construction
upgraded the operational facilities, as well as the construction of
support facilities. Early USAF units at Bentwaters were as
81st Tactical Fighter Wing
North American F-86A-5-NA Sabre, AF
48-0276 of the 116th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron
McDonnell F-101C-45-MC Voodoo, AF
56-0014 of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, taken on a rainy
day at Bentwaters.
Note the three color (Red, Yellow, Blue) tail markings,
signifying this as the Wing Commander's Aircraft with the colors
signifying each of the three fighter squadrons assigned to the 81st
After its service in the UK ended in 1965, this aircraft was
withdrawn from active USAF service.
It was converted to an RF-101H unarmed reconnaissance aircraft
and assigned to Air National Guard duty.
A-10A AF Serial No.
81-0991 of the 91st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 7 June
This aircraft is still in active service (2006).
General Dynamics F-16C Block 30C
Fighting Falcon, AF Serial No.
86-0229 of the 527th Aggressor Squadron, July 1989.
The 527th AS was the only USAFE squadron in the UK to be
assigned the F-16.
The 81st Fighter-Interceptor Wing
became the new
host unit at Bentwaters in September 1951. The 81st, in various
designations, remained at RAF Bentwaters for over 40 years during
the Cold War
era. The 81st FIW was an
F-86A "Sabre" equipped unit, being
activated at Moses Lake
AFB, Washington in May, 1950. In August 1951, the
81st flew initially into RAF Shepherds Grove, then in September transferred its headquarters to
The 81st FIW's operational squadrons were:
- 91st Fighter-Interceptor (Blue)
- 92d Fighter-Interceptor (Yellow)
- 116th Fighter-Interceptor (Red)
Markings of the 81st FIW's F-86s consisted of a blue vertical
stabilizer with three yellow lighting flashes, with the squadron
color painted with a lightning flash along the fuselage.
FIS was an activated Washington Air National
Guard squadron that remained at Shephards Grove while assigned
to the 81st.
In November 1952 when the squadron was returned
to state control, it was redesignated the 78th
FIS moved to RAF
Sculthorpe in May
1956. The 78th briefly returned to Shepherds Grove
in May 1957 before being reassigned to RAF Woodbridge in December 1958 when the USAF turned Shepherds
Grove to the Ministry of Defense.
mission of the 81st FIW was to provide air defence of the United
It performed this mission jointly with the
RAF, working with No. 11 Group RAF Fighter Command. The wing was
the first unit of F-86's assigned to NATO and the first foreign air
unit to participate in the peacetime air defense of Great
In October 1954 the mission of the 81st changed from
fighter-interceptor to fighter-bomber operations, carrying both
conventional and nuclear weapons. The wing was charged with
tactical operations in support of USAFE and NATO, with air defense
as a secondary mission. To reflect this change, the unit was
redesignated the 81st Fighter-Bomber Wing
traded in its F-86s for the F-84F
On 8 July
1958 Bentwaters was operated as "twin base" with RAF Woodbridge and as a single unit under the newly-designated
81st Tactical Fighter Wing.
Along with the
91st and 92d squadrons, the 78th Tactical Fighter Squadron was
transferred from RAF Shepherds Grove when the USAF returned
Shepherds Grove to the Ministry of Defense. The 78th TFS operated
from Woodbrige, while the 91st and 92d squadrons operated from
Beginning in the fall of 1958, the 81st TFW was requipped with the
McDonnell F-101A/C "Voodoo"
. The F-101
was configured as a fighter bomber, intended to carry a single
nuclear weapon for use against battlefield targets such as
airfields. The Voodos were equipped with Low Angle Drogued Delivery
(LADD) and Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) equipment for its
primary mission of delivering nuclear weapons at extremely low
altitudes. Pilots were trained for one-way missions into Soviet
territory to increase effective range at some cost in negating
In November 1965, the 81st received McDonnell F-4 "Phantom II"s
to replace the
Voodoos. Initially receiving the F-4C this was later upgraded to
the more capable F-4D during late 1972 and 1973. About 1970,
two-letter Tail Codes were used initially for squadron
identification. The tail codes for the 81st TFW F-4s were:
- 78th Tactical Fighter - WR (Red tail stripe)
- 91st Tactical Fighter - WS (Blue tail stripe)
- 92d Tactical Fighter - WT (Yellow tail stripe)
In 1972, squadron tail codes were abolished, and a standard "WR"
was used for all aircraft assigned to the 81st TFW.
The 81st began conversion to the Republic A-10
in June 1979. The A-10
being a single-seat, twin-engine jet aircraft designed to provide
close air support (CAS) of ground forces by attacking tanks,
armored vehicles, and other ground targets. With the A-10, the
wing's mission changed to close air support and battlefield air
interdiction in support of NATO ground forces.
It was decided to expand the 81st with six A-10 squadrons
distributed over both Woodbridge and Bentwaters as follows:
arrangement continued until June 1988 when the 10th Tactical
Reconnaissance Wing at RAF Alconbury became a Tactical Fighter Wing, and the 509th and
511th were transferred there on 1 June and 1 September,
- 78th Tactical Fighter (Woodbridge)
(Received A-10s 3 June 1979)
- 91st Tactical Fighter (Woodbridge)
(Received A-10s 24 August 1979)
- 92d Tactical Fighter (Bentwaters)
(Received A-10s 25 June 1979)
- 509th Tactical Fighter (Activated 1 October 1979) (Woodbridge)
(Grey tail stripe)
(Received A-10s 1 October 1979)
- 510th Tactical Fighter
(Activated 1 October 1978) (Bentwaters) (Purple tail stripe)
(Received A-10s 1 October 1979)
- 511th Tactical Fighter (Activated 1 January 1980) (Bentwaters)
(Black tail stripe)
(Received A-10s 1 January 1980)
With the transfer of the A-10s to Alconbury, the 527th
was transferred to Bentwaters. The
mission of the 527th was to provide dissimiar air combat training
for NATO pilots, using Soviet tactics. The squadron flew the
F-5 Freedom Fighter
Alconbury, however after 12 years of intense flying, by 1988 the
fleet of aggressor F-5Es was getting rather worn out as a result of
sustained exposure to the rigors of air combat maneuvering. It was
decided to re-equip the squadron with F-16C Fighting Falcons
squadron was assigned to Bentwaters.
The 527th AS flew its last F-5E sortie from Alconbury on 22 June
1988. On 14 July 1988 the squadron was transferred, transitioning
to F-16Cs by mid-January 1989 at Bentwaters. However, in 1990 with
the collapse of the Soviet Union, the decision was made to
terminate the entire USAF aggressor program. The 527th AS was
inactivated on 30 September 1990.
forward operating location was established at Sembach Air
Germany on 1 September 1978 when
Det. 1, 81st Tactical Fighter
was activated. Revetments and a dozen hardened
aircraft shelters were built and A-10A Single-seat forward air
control versions began operations at Sembach during May 1979.
Additional detachments were subsequently
established at Leipheim, Alhorn and Norvenich Air Bases in West Germany.
A-10's and support resources routinely
rotated to these Forward Operating Locations from RAF Bentwaters
for training and Tactical Evaluations. In the event of war
in the 1980s, the Bentwater A-10's were to fight from Germany, and
Bentwaters would host F-16's from Nellis AFB and from Myrtle Beach AFB, South
Post Cold War
With the end of the Cold War, the USAF presence at Bentwaters was
gradually phased down. It was announced that the base would be
closed and the 81st TFW would be deactivated. The Bentwaters-based
squadrons were phased-down as follows:
- 92d Tactical Fighter Squadron was inactivated on 31 March 1993.
Its aircraft were sent back to the United States to various
Air National Guard
The last A-10 aircraft departed Bentwaters on 23 March 1993, and
the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing was deactivated on 1 July 1993. With
the deactivation, the USAF returned control of Bentwaters to the
Currently, Bentwaters airfield is inactive as a military
was reactivated as the 81st Training Wing at
AFB Mississippi on 1 July 1993 and is one of Air Education and Training
Command's largest technical training wings.
is on high-technology training in a number of fields, primarily in
the electronics specialties. Avionics maintenance, radio and radar
systems maintenance, communications-electronics, computer systems
programming and maintenance, air traffic control, and weather
training are but a few of the main specialties taught at
With the handover of Bentwaters back to the UK Ministry of Defence
in 1993, the facility was closed. It is now known as "Bentwaters
War Operation Room
In 2003, work commenced on the Bentwaters Cold War Museum
(BCWM). The museum
had a successful public opening on Sunday 27 May 2007. The museum
is based in the former USAF hardened command post, believed to be
the only such building open to the public in the UK. The main “war
operations room” and “Battle cabin” have been restored to their
original condition; the BT telephone exchange room, decontamination
showers, and airlock have been similarly restored. Other rooms
within the building have been turned into exhibition rooms,
covering the history of RAF Bentwaters from WWII until the base
closed in 1993. Included in this are histories of the units that
operated from the airfield, particularly the 81 TFW. Another room is
dedicated to the history of the other airfield which was part of
the “twin base” complex, RAF Woodbridge, again covering the period from WWII until the
Other exhibition rooms featuring information on
the “Special Operations/Rescue Squadrons” that were based at RAF
Woodbridge, and also the “Aggressor” Squadron based at
The museum is run by volunteers from Bentwaters
, further information on the society and museum
project can be found on their web site.
Television and media
In 2001 many of the missions in paintballing game show X-Fire
took place in and around the
facilities in Bentwaters.
Later series of Channel 4's
motoring programme Driven
were based in
one of the hangers.
Additionally, in 2005, Bentwaters was used for the Space Cadets
TV programme, where it played the
part of a fake Russian space training and launch base.
In 2006 V4 Technical Ltd 
set up their headquarters on the site,
now in Woodbridge they design and develop websites and custom web
It is the site used for the BBC
program "Dog Borstal"
, and more recently for "Top Gear"
- Ravenstein, Charles A., Air Force Combat Wings Lineage and
Honors Histories 1947-1977, Office of Air Force History,
- Endicott, Judy G., USAF Active Flying, Space, and Missile
Squadrons as of 1 October 1995. Office of Air Force
- Menard, David W., Before Centuries. USAFE Fighters
- Martin, Patrick, Tail Code: The Complete History Of USAF
Tactical Aircraft Tail Code Markings, 1994