RAF East Fortune
RAF East Fortune
RAF-era buildings still stand on the airfield, now the National Museum of Flight
|Operator||Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Air Force
|Location||East Fortune, East Lothian|
|In use||1915-1920, 1940-1947 (1947)|
|Elevation AMSL||0 ft / 0 m|
Royal Air Force Station East Fortune or more simply RAF East Fortune is a former Royal Air Force station, just south of the village of East Fortune, a short distance east of Edinburgh in Scotland. It was used as a fighter station during World War I and for training and night fighters during World War II. The motto of the station was "Fortune Favours the Bold".
In the post-war era the runways have been taken over for local private aviation use, while the former RAF buildings have been used for the National Museum of Flight since 1976.
The foundation of East Fortune as a flying station pre-dates the creation of the RAF; East Fortune was established as a fighter and airship airfield in 1915 and becoming an RNAS station in August 1916. By early 1918, East Fortune was one of 66 Training Depot Stations (TDS). The function of the TDS was to train for flying and squadrons were often grouped together in threes at the TDS stations. East Fortune was TDS station No. 208.
In April 1918, when the Royal Air Force was inaugurated, No. 22 (Training) Group RAF was supposed to be formed at East Fortune. The group was established in July of the same year before moving to Stirling. No. 22 (Training) Group RAF is one of the few active Groups still operating within the RAF.
In 1919 the British airship R34 made the first ever return flight across the Atlantic and the first east-west crossing by air, flying from East Fortune to Mineola, New York. The flight took 108 hours and 12 minutes.
In February 1920, the airfield and associated buildings were closed and listed for disposal. During the inter-war period the hangars and airfield buildings were demolished, while the domestic site became a sanatorium. In May 2016, it was revealed that there are plans for the latter part of the site to be redeveloped as a village.
The airfield was reactivated during World War II, the land being requisitioned in June 1940 for use as a satellite airfield for nearby RAF Drem. However, it was subsequently decided to develop RAF East Fortune as a night fighter operational training unit (OTU), and on 4 June 1941 No. 60 OTU arrived from RAF Leconfield. This was a RAF Fighter Command unit which gave newly qualified pilots and other aircrew fresh from RAF Flying Training Command experience of operational aircraft types and tactical/technical training specific to night fighting, before they were assigned to operational squadrons. The OTU employed a mixture of trainer and operational aircraft types for this purpose; initially crews were trained on Boulton Paul Defiant and Bristol Blenheim night fighters, but from October 1941 the obsolete Defiants were replaced by the Bristol Beaufighter.
As the war progressed the majority of the Luftwaffe's bombers were assigned to the Russian Front and Mediterranean Theatre so the threat of night attacks on Britain diminished and the need for additional night fighter crews was reduced. From June 1942 part of 60 OTU was devoted to RAF Coastal Command daylight strike training on Beaufighters, and on 24 November 1942 the whole OTU was transferred to Coastal Command for this purpose. Re-designated as No. 132 OTU the unit initially employed Bristol Blenheim, Beaufort and Beaufighter aircraft, but by the end of the war the de Havilland Mosquito was the main type used. In addition to its training role, RAF East Fortune had also been available as an emergency diversion airfield for heavy bomber aircraft.
No. 132 OTU disbanded on 15 May 1946, and thereafter the airfield saw little or no use by the RAF. It was allocated to the United States Air Force in 1950 but not used. The site was eventually sold by the Air Ministry in 1960.
After the war the site ceased to be used by the RAF. The runway was extended across the B1347 to take American bombers during the cold war but was never used for this purpose. During the summer of 1961 Turnhouse Airport was closed for construction work and all civil and air force traffic was diverted through East Fortune with the airport recording just shy of 100,000 passengers. The extended runway at East Fortune was used for the summer of 1961 and on a very wet Sunday in April 1961 a BA Viscount from Heathrow overshot the runway and ended up in the grass at the end of the runway after a 180 degree turn. The aircraft was fully laden but there were no injuries. Also in 1961, a Percival Pembroke crashed at North Berwick soon after take off from East Fortune. One of the port engines caught fire and exploded. Everyone escaped from the crash alive.
The museum is now called the National Museum of Flight. It occupies the southern part of the old airfield. The northern side is given over to a car-boot sale each Sunday. The western side, across the B1347 is the microlight airfield. This is the only part of the East Fortune airfield that can now handle aircraft, and they can be no larger than a microlight. The east side of the old airfield is now used as a motorcycle racing circuit, and is home to the Melville Motor Club.
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