Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
United Kingdom England: Cumbria
This collection of airfields is ©
2010-2012 by RonaldV
Silloth Updated 29 Dec 2012 - Kirkbride Revised 5 Aug 2012
Anthorn Updated 21 Nov 2011 - Great Orton Added 7 Dec 2011 -Spadeadam Added 6 Jan 2012
runway: 04/00 - 1440x45m/4270x148ft - concrete (CLOSED)
runway: 09/00 - 1040x47m/3410x154ft - concrete (CLOSED)
runway: 00/36 - 1050x40m/3446x131ft - concrete (CLOSED)
Aerial reconnaissance photograph of Silloth aerodrome, taken by the Luftwaffe in 1941. They appeared to know everything:
Where the guns were, the hangars and other buildings. Follow the link to Mr. Barnes to find out how this photo was discovered.
(Luftwaffe, via Russell W. Barnes)
View from the south of RAF Silloth, Cumberland, ca. 1941
(Photo: ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. © IWM (MH 30769)).
Air field Silloth (also known as RAF Silloth) was an airfield 434kilometers northwest of London, England.
The airfield was built in the pre-World War II 'Expansion Period' and completed in 1939.
As a result of the period it was built is had to meet certain architectural criteria which differed greatly from what was later built during the war.
The airfield opened as a Maintenance Control Station (22MU) in June 1939, but was soon assigned to the Coastal Command Group Pool.
Ansons, Beauforts, Bothas and Hudsons were assigned as aircraft.
215 Bomber Sqn with Ansons and Wellingtons operated from the field.
When the Royal Aircraft Eastablishment (RAE) used the airfield to experiment with flares dropped by a HP Hampden in 1940, the airfield was promptly bombed by the Luftwaffe.
In April 1940 the unit was given the designation No.1 Operational Training Unit (OTU) (Lockheed Hudsons and Ansons).
It was also used for the film 'Yanks in the RAF' and suffered several air raids by the Luftwaffe.
In 1941 the airfields was expanded with 3 concrete runways and 18 hangars.
It got disperal areas to the north, northwest, southwest and southeast of the runway system.
The first USAF Liberators landed at the base too.
Between October 1941 and April 1942 the base was also home to a detachment of 320 (Netherlands) Sqn, flying Lockheed Hudson IIIs.
Blackburn Botha Mark I, L6162, of No. 1 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit, preparing for departure on a training flight at RAF Silloth, Cumberland, ca. 1940
(Photo: ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945.© Imp.War Museum (CH 1907)).
In 1942 Wing Commander Iles developed the 'Silloth Trainer', a forerunner to the modern flight simulator.
It was presumably built around parts of a a Hudson fuselage and fitted up with electrics and pneumatics to simulate engine sound, instrument readings, and movement.
Many US-built Hudsons had ended up in the Solway Firth (leading to the local nickname 'Hudson Bay') and one was presumably use to produce the trainer.
No.1 OTU was replaced by No.6 OTU in 1943 and around that time 311 (Czech) Sqn aircrew arrived for training on anti-submarine missions with Liberator bombers.
No.5 OTU moved to Kinross in 1945, leaving the base with only 1353TT flight (Spitfires) as a flying unit.
In the summer 22MU began dismantling surplus aircraft and storing Dakotas and Yorks.
Many Lancaster bombers, minus outer engines and wing sections, were waiting to be scrapped at the airfield.
1353TT flight left the base in 1946.
Stored Yorks and Dakotas were returned to service in 1948 to serve in teh Berlin airlift.
More aircraft were scrapped from 1950: Ansons, Oxfords, Mosquitos and Yorks al came to 22MU.
At the same time Neptunes were being prepared for sale to foreign goverenments.
In 1955 22MU began dismantling aircraft that were left over from the Korean War.
Manx Airlines experimented with an scheduled service to the airfield in 1956, using Bristol 170s.
In 1960 the airfields last military aircraft (a Dakota) took off and 22MU disbanded while the RAF put the airfield up for sale.
Silloth town and the airfield in the lower half, ca. 1950 (solwayplain.co.uk).
Ex-217 Sqn. Lockheed Neptune MR1 (P2V-5) WX528/AD stored at RAF Silloth pending sale, photographed on 27 August 1958
(Robin A. Walker, used with permission).
In 1962 the airfield was sold, in part to British Steel.
They used the airfield for executive flights.
The rest of the airfield was used for light industry.
According to Russell W. Barnes the airfield was used for an airshow as late as 1978.
During the show a Hawker Sea-Fury had landed and taken off from the airfield.
Since it has been used for a destruction-derby like event, and driving lessons.
Much of the original airfield remains, including (major parts) of the runways and taxiways.
Many buildings and hangars remain and in aerial photography dispersals are still easily recognisable.
RAF Silloth by Alexander Cunningham on Flickr
Overview of the complete complex at RAF Silloth (Google Earth). Notice the clearly visible
but overgrown dispersal areas North and Southeast of the airfield. A third area is less
visible Southwest of the airfield, and a fourth existed to the Northwest of the main hangar
complex, but is now occupied by a trailerpark/camping site.
Runway: 05/23 - 1100x..meters/...feet - concrete (CLOSED)
Runway: 10/28 - 1280x46meters/...feet - concrete
Runway: 16/34 - 950x..meters/...feet - concrete (CLOSED)
Kirkbride air field (formerly known as RAF Kirkbride) is an airfield in Cumbria, 430kilometers north-northwest of London.
Construction of the airfield began in 1937, when the MoD began acquiring lands for the airfield.
The airfield opened as 12 Maintenance Unit (12MU) in June 1939.
At the time the airfield had only a single grass runway and 15 hangars.
Construction of concrete runways began in Januari 1940, after the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany.
During the war Kirkbride served as a gateway between aircraft manufacturers and front line units.
Being out of reach of most enemy bombers it had no frontline squadrons assigned and a mostly civilian staff.
The only military units were 12MU and No.16 Ferry Pilots Pool of the Air Transport Auxiliary.
During the war 12MU handled just about every aircraft type in the RAF inventory.
Kirkbride officers quarters, presumably ca. 1945 (via Flyers.co.uk).
Kirkbride in 1946. I did not do a recount, but a local newspaper at the time reported there are about 1200
aircraft visible in this photo. Aircraft types vary from small observation aircraft and trainers to heavy bombers
(via RAF Association, York and Kirkbride airfield).
After the war 12MU/RAF Kirkbride continued to serve.
It became a storage site for the many surplus aircraft the RAF had.
At some point in 1946 it had about 1200 airframes stored on the airfield, ranging from Auster observation planes to Liberator heavy bombers.
Kirkbride served in this role until 1960.
That year the last RAF aircraft, a Meteor NF14, left the airfield, after which it was closed on 30 June.
Speculation about the future of the airfield followed.
In September NATO announced it was not interested in the airfield, and in November an attempt was made to let the United States use it as a missile tracking station.
In January 1961 it was hoped that Krikbride would become the home of the Missile Defense Alarm System (MIDAS).
That £12m project was cancelled in March 1963, however.
In June 1964 the MoD announced that Krikbride was to be sold off for industrial development.
The auction on 28 October 1964 attracted 100 buyers which bidded a total of £18,750, mainly for the hangars.
In 1968, £30,900 was paid for land on the former airfield and in January 1969 it was announced that the former RAF mess was to become a hotel.
Kirkbride control tower in 1981 (© Paul Francis, via Controltowers.co.uk).
The airfield did not close completely though.
The main runway remains in use to this day as a general aviation airfield.
It is used mostly on weekends.
The old control tower, which was derelect until about the turn of the century, was recently restored and returned to use.
The airfield is also home to Chris Jones Gyroplanes.
Kirkbride airfield in 2003, notice the distance of some hangars to the actual airfield (Google Earth)
The completely renovated control tower in 2011 (David Ambridge, click the photo for the original on Flickr)
Runway: 03/21 - 1080meters/3550feet - concrete
Runway: 09/27 - 1260meters/4145feet - concrete
Runway: 15/33 - 1050meters/3500feet - concrete
Anthorn air field (also known as RAF Anthorn, RNAS Anthorn and HMS Nuthatch) was an airfield approximately 430KM north-northwest of London
The airfield was built in february 1918 as a Fleet Air Arm (FAA) airfield.
It was abandoned after World War I ended however.
The RAF reinstated the airfield at the beginning of World War II as an emergency landing ground for nearby RAF Silloth.
The site was taken over by the Royal Navy in December 1942, and renamed the site RNAS Anthorn.
It was commissioned in September 1944 as 'HMS Nuthatch'.
The airfield served as No. ARDU (Aircraft Receipt and Dispatch Unit), a unit that accepts aircraft from their manufacturers and prepares them for operational use..
The last official flight took off from the airfield in November 1957.
It was then put on Care and Maintenance, before it closed down in March 1958.
In 1961 the site was chosen to become a NATO VLF transmitting site for communicating with submarines.
Construction of the site, by Continental Electronics of Dallas, U.S.A., began in 1962.
The station was accepted on behalf of the MoD in November 1964.
A ca. 1942 map of the airfield, showing the relative positions of the wireless buildings (circled) to the
air-station. Camps 1 and 2 were where the matelots and WRENS (Women's Royal Naval Service)
were billeted: Matelots in Camp 1; WRENS in Camp 2 (R.W. Barnes).
Since its installation the site has been constantly updated and expanded in functions.
Over the years an LF transmitter and a LORAN transmitter have been added.
On the terrain 13 masts, measuring 227meters (745ft) are arranged in two rings around a central mast.
for the VLF antenna 4 grounded antennas are hung on each mast.
The LF antenna is a T-shaped antenna spun between two masts.
The Admiralty homes of the former RNAS, constructed in 1952, were converted into regular homes, which now make up the village of Anthorn.
A January 2011 view of the aerial farm at ex-RNAS Anthorn. The layout of the airtfield is still clearly
recognisable (Flickr, click the image to go there).
The former airfield in 2011, showing the outlines of the airstation as well as the current radio antennas.
Locations of runways, taxitracks, hangars and dispersals can still be accurately located, the Admiralty
camp (today Althorn) can be seen on the right (Google Earth).
runway: 01/19 - 1250x46m - concrete
runway: 07/25 - 1800x46m - concrete
runway: 12/30 - 1250x46m - concrete
Great Orton airfield (also known as RAF Great Orton, and locally as Wiggonby airfield) was an airfield approximately 430KM north-northwest of London.
The airfield was opened in June 1943, but did not become operational until that October.
Great Orton served as a satellite airfield for nearby RAF Silloth.
Although larger than Silloth (it was to be capable of handling bombers) it had far less facilities.
It was used by Welingtons of No.6 Operational Training Unit and Hurricanes of No.55 Operational Training Unit.
Two air-sea rescue squadrons (281/282 ASR) flying Vickers Warwicks also operated from the field.
When World War II ended the airfield became a bomb storage facility, named 249 Maintenance Unit.
Both the RAF station and the Maintenance Unit closed in August 1952.
No photos have been located
Although closed the airfield remined property of the Air Ministry until 9 June 1964.
It was for some years considered to become a civilian airfield.
In 1955 it was announced that many disused airfields were tobe disposed off.
"Where land was aqcuired compulsory, claims of the original owners would be carefully considered" stated the memorandum.
The decision was not made until 1963 however.
Because of tresspassing (with all the dangers of the old control tower) and the se of the runways by learner drivers and high speed motorists, the landowners closed the ex-airfield to the public.
The farmers then began reworking the scrubland to fertile farmland.
In 1989 the airfield saw some renewed flying, when microlights began flying from the airfield.
That must have ended around 1992, when a wind farm was erected on the site.
Sections of the runway, the perimeter track (taxiways) and aircraft parkings still exist.
The outlines of more can be seen from aerial photography.
The skeleton of the control tower still exists on the northwest side of the former RAF station.
Great Orton became headline news in 2001, when 466,312 slaughtered animals (mainly sheep) were kiled and buried at the airfield in 2001.
The killing was the result of the Foot and Mouth crisis, and the ainimals were buried in 26 pits surrounding the runways.
Most of the terrain has been restored as the Watchtre Nature Reserve.
The remains of RAF Great Orton in 2003 (Google Earth)
RAF Spadeadam never was an airfield.
It is listed here because it has a history which is directly related to the British Air Ministry and British aviation industry.
Until 1956 the area had no activity at all and was simply referred to as the Spadeadam Waste.
That changed in 1957 when the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Test Centre was built for the Blue Streak Project.
The Blue Streak missile was a British medium range ballistic missile, designed in 1955 and the first example was built in 1957.
It was built and tested by a Rolls-Royce led consortium, which also included deHavilland and British-Oxygen.
This machine obviously needed testing and this is why in 1957 the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Test Facility was built on 9000 acres of the wilderness of Spadeadam.
The vast test site had large engineering workshops, resevoirs, pump-houses, kilometers of piping, control bunkers, even a movie and photographic department.
The most prominent structures were the static test-beds, enormous concrete platforms with long spilways to direct the engine exhausts during test-firing.
There were facilities for testing the engines alone and for the static testing of complete vehicles.
During testing (which could be heard tens of kilometers from the site) millions of gallons of water from the river Irthing were pumped into the spilways to cool the rocket engine exhaust.
The steam cloud this generated resulted in micro-climates over the wasteland.
People and vehicles giving scale to the size of the missile at Spadeadam (SpaceUK.org).
A non-flight test model on one of the Spadeadam test stands (SpaceUK.org).
Blue Streak was cancelled by the British government in April 1960.
Harold MacMillan's government was keen to find support in Europe and co-operation in the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) was one way to achieve this.
It also helped to obscure the fact that millions of pounds had been spent on an ultimately defunct weapon.
Blue Streak was to be converted into the first stage of a satellite launch vehicle called Europa.
It was intended to challenge the Russian and American launch monopolies in the 'Space Race'.
While stand-alone testing of the engines at the four stands at Priorlancy Rigg was halted, the vehicle static firing stands at Graymare Hills continued to operate.
In the early days of the uneasy alliance that would become ELDO, it was by no means sure that the launch site in Australia would remain available.
Therefore, serious condsideration was given to Spadeadam as a potential alternative.
Phase One of the Europa development program involved only the first stage and consisted of three vehicles (F-1, F-2 and F-3).
They were successfully ground tested at Spadeadam prior to shipment to Australia.
The test flight in Australia on 5 June 1964 was successful, but the political climate was changing.
The Labour Party, and new Prime Minister Wilson in particular, had been vocal opponents of both the original missile delivery system and latterly the participation in ELDO.
Over the next few years development of the launch vehicle continued, with static testing at Spadeadam followed by shipment to Australia for live firing at Woomera.
An Europa rocket on the test pad at Spadeadam (ReoCities.com).
Throughout this time Britain remained as an unenthusiastic member of ELDO, bound more by international treaty than scientific zeal.
At the same time the French were constructing a rocket launching facility at Kourou in French Guyana only 500Km north of the Equator.
That location would be much better suited to achieve geosynchronous orbit.
While the French won in influence, the Australians left the project in 1970 and Britain followed in 1972.
The consortium left the facility and all work on rockets at Spadeadam ended after only 15 years.
The entire site was handed over to the Proof and Experimental Establishment for static firing and range activities.
In 1976 the Royal Air Force took over the site and Spadeadam became the largest RAF Station in the country when in 1977 the first Electronic Warfare Tactics Range was created.
It has remained in use as such ever since, featuring targets on the range such as Russian SAM systems and even a fake airfield.
One of the engine test stands, which still exist at Spadeadam (bunkertours.co.uk).
The site's role in Britain's Cold War nuclear weapons programme was made public in 2004.
Although the development of Blue Straek at Spadeadam had been unclassified not all details were known.
In 2004 tree-felling uncovered remains of abandoned excavations for a missile silo.
A survey of the site by the RAF and English Heritage has attempted to record and interpret what was previously so secret that almost no plans from the period exist.
Spadeadam was chosen as a launch site because of its isolation, combined with nearby infrastructure capable of supporting it, such as a plentiful water supply, access to the National Grid and road connections.
Spadeadam seems to have been intended to be one of 60 launch sites along the east coast of England.
These were never built and this one was only to be used as a test facility for engine firings and testing electronics and ground installations.
While construction did take place, it was never completed.
It was located not too far from the engine test stands.
An extensive article on the silo and Blue Streak can be read on SpaceUK.org.
RAF Spadeadam in 2002 (Google Earth)
A. Dummy airfield
B. Engine test area
C. Component test area
D. Rocket test area
E. Administration, including assembly hangars
If you have any information about airfields (listed and unlisted) in England, email RonaldV.