RAF Upper Heyford Feature Report
For a good number of years now, Oxfordshire has been without a fast jet base. But go back in time to the early 1990's and there was RAF Upper Heyford - home to the 20th Fighter Wing, United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) who operated three squadrons of General Dynamics F-111E 'Aardvarks', alongside a squadron equipped with the EF-111A 'Raven'.
takes us on a nostalgic trip back to the heydays of this once active airbase. Photographs from the author and .
On June 1, 1970 the first personnel of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing started to arrive at RAF Upper Heyford. The Wing became a unit of the Third Air Force whose headquarters were at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. The squadrons based at Upper Heyford were the 55th TFS, 77th TFS and 79th TFS operating the F-100 Super Sabre.
On September 12, 1970 the first two F-111Es arrived at RAF Upper Heyford and the 55th TFS become the first squadron to convert to the F-111E. The principal mission of the Wing was to provide long-range all weather strike and attack capabilities and the F-111E was an aircraft ideally suited to meeting those requirements.
The wing gained a fourth flying squadron on July 1, 1983, with the activation of the 42nd ECS. On February 1984, the first General Dynamics EF-111A Ravens of that squadron arrived at Upper Heyford. Parental responsibility over the 42nd by the 20th TFW was short-lived, however, and on June 1, 1985, operational control of the squadron shifted to the 66th Electronic Combat Wing at Sembach AB, West Germany.
In March 1986, the 66th Electronic Combat Wing detached the 42nd ECS to the 20th TFW to take part in El Dorado Canyon, the raid on Libya. On 14 April 1986, 5 EF-111As and 20 F-111Es took off from RAF Upper Heyford as part of the attack force. They were used as an airborne reserve for the F-111Fs of the 48th TFW, RAF Lakenheath. Three EF-111s (two were air spares and turned back) formed up with the 48th's F-111Fs and provided electronic defence during the attack on Tripoli.
The 20th TFW had aircraft deployed to Incirlik AB, Turkey for a Weapons Training Deployment in August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and Operation Desert Shield started. As the start of the air campaign neared, the wing reinforced its presence as all US aircraft at Incirlik were incorporated into the 7440th Wing (Provisional), Operation Proven Force, for the duration of the war.
The wing also deployed four 42nd ECS EF-111As and 80 personnel to Taif, Saudi Arabia, to support Operation Desert Storm. On 25 January 1991, the wing was once again up to four flying squadrons when the 42nd Electronic Combat Squadron was reassigned to the 20th from the 66th Electronic Combat Wing. In the first 6 months of 1991, transient alert personnel, in support of Desert Storm, serviced and launched the largest number of transient aircraft in the history of RAF Upper Heyford - 1,408 aircraft most of which were C-141B Starlifters.
The 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, along with its associated 55th, 77th, and 79th Tactical Fighter Squadrons were officially redesignated the 20th Fighter Wing and 55th, 77th, and 79th Fighter Squadrons on October 1, 1991. With the collapse of the Soviet Union it was deemed that the presence of the 20th FW in England was no longer necessary and it was scheduled for deactivation.
So the beginning of the end had arrived and on July 10, 1992 the first squadron, the 42nd ECS, was inactivated and the last EF-111A departed from RAF Upper Heyford in August 1992. Six months later, the 79th FS was inactivated on April 23, 1993.
The remaining two squadrons continued operations and on June 4, 1993, the 77th FS participated in Exercise Excalibur '93 at RAF Lakenheath taking first place by beating all other USAFE units, including F-15Es and F16s. On July 9, 1993, the 77th FS was inactivated. The last squadron to go, the 55th FS, was inactivated on October 15, 1993. The last three F-111Es departed RAF Upper Heyford on the morning December 7, 1993.
In its last years at Upper Heyford, the F-111 finally showed that it was a mature system. The 20th's F-111Es had their best maintenance statistics in 13 years in 1992, and the best maintenance statistics in F-111 history in 1993. The fully mission capable (FMC) rate surged to 88.8%, while cost per flying hour dropped from $1,136 to just over $700. Also the wing scored an "Excellent" on its Nuclear Surety Inspections for 1991 and 1993.
Today the 20th FW is part of Air Combat Command and the 55th FS, 77th FS and 79th FS continue operations from Shaw AFB, South Carolina flying the Lockheed Martin F-16CJ "Fighting Falcon".