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RAF Northolt
Station badge
Active May 1915 (as a RFC base) – Present
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Role Communications flying
Based in Ruislip, United Kingdom
Motto Aut Portare Aut Pugnare Prompti (Latin for Ready to Carry or to Fight)

RAF Northolt (IATA: NHTICAO: EGWU) is a Royal Air Force station located 2 NM (3.7 km; 2.3 mi) east by northeast[1] of Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon, in West London, UK. Approximately 10 km (6.2 mi) north of London Heathrow Airport, it also handles a large number of private civilian flights.

RAF Northolt is actually situated in neighbouring South Ruislip; most early RAF airfields were named after the nearest railway station, in this case South Ruislip which at the time of the airfield's commissioning was called Northolt junction (later Northolt Halt).



Opened in May 1915 for aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps, it was an active base for RAF and Polish Air Force squadrons during World War II. On 15 September 1940 during the Battle of Britain, No. 1 Squadron RCAF, No. 229 Squadron RAF, No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron, No. 504 Squadron RAF, and part of No. 264 Squadron RAF were based at the station. All except the No. 264 Squadron portion were flying Hawker Hurricanes; 264 Squadron was operating the Boulton Paul Defiant.

Soon after World War II, Northolt became a significant civilian airport, being a major base for British European Airways, also being served by Aer Lingus, Scandinavian Airlines System and Swissair. Airline flights ceased on the opening of the central area at Heathrow in 1954. It then wholly reverted to military use.

Communications aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the United States Air Forces in Europe, the United States Navy, and the French Air Force were based there in the 1950–1980 period. Today, it is an important RAF airfield and the home of No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron RAF. Since about 1980 movements of privately-owned aircraft, mainly corporate jets, have outnumbered military aircraft.

When the Fairey Aviation factory was situated in Hayes, Hillingdon, some of the company's newly-built aircrafts first flights were from Northolt Aerodrome.


A memorial to Polish airmen who lost their lives in the Second World War can be seen near the southeastern corner of the airfield; its presence is remembered by the name – "Polish War Memorial" – of the adjacent junction on Western Avenue.

Present day

RAF Northolt
Northolt Aerodrome
Airport type Military
Operator Royal Air Force
Location Ruislip
Elevation AMSL 124 ft / 38 m
Coordinates 51°33′11″N 000°25′06″W / 51.55306°N 0.41833°W / 51.55306; -0.41833 (RAF Northolt)Coordinates: 51°33′11″N 000°25′06″W / 51.55306°N 0.41833°W / 51.55306; -0.41833 (RAF Northolt)
Direction Length Surface
m ft
07/25 1,687 5,535 Grooved Asphalt
Sources: UK AIP at NATS[1]

RAF Northolt is operationally constrained by its proximity to the much larger civilian airport at Heathrow. On 25 October 1960 a Pan Am Boeing 707, heading for Heathrow, mistakenly landed at Northolt with forty one passengers on board.[2][3]

In days before such navigational aids as instrument landing system (ILS) and the global positioning system (GPS), the letters NO (for Northolt) and LH (for Heathrow) were painted on two gasometers situated on the approach to each airfield, one at Southall for the approach to Heathrow's diagonal runway (coded 23L) and one at South Harrow for the approach to Northolt's runway (then coded 26) in an effort to prevent a recurrence of such errors.

In August 1996, a Spanish Learjet overshot runway 25 and collided with a van heading eastward on the A40 Western Avenue; the aircraft was carrying an actress bound for Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

After some thirty years of protracted consideration, an ILS was eventually fitted to Northolt's redefined runway 25, and aggregate-filled safety pits were installed at each end of that runway to protect road users in the event of another bizjet's or military transport's failure to stop or ascend before the runway's end.

Due to its close proximity to Pinewood, the airfield has been used to represent several outside locations in feature films; several James Bond films such as Goldfinger, Thunderball and Octopussy, the TV mini series The Winds of War, the BBC shows Doctor Who and Red Dwarf and several TV adverts[citation needed] have used this location to represent various fictional airfields, the most recent filming took place in early 2010 for the BBC's final series of Ashes to Ashes. Media attention was also high when a seriously ill fugitive, Ronnie Biggs, was flown to the airfield and then arrested. The body of Diana, Princess of Wales, was returned the airfield from Villacoublay airfield, in Paris, France, after her death in a crash in that city on 31 August 1997.

The airfield has been extensively redeveloped under Project MoDEL, accepting activities once focused on RAF Bentley Priory and RAF Uxbridge.

Current units at the station include No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron RAF, No. 600 Squadron RAF (Royal Auxiliary Air Force), 621 EOD Squadron RLC (part of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment), Royal Logistic Corps BFPO main sorting office, including the Defence Courier Service (DCS), both of which relocated from Mill Hill and the "Northolt Station Flight", flying three Britten-Norman Islanders. Their role is electronic intelligence gathering - described as 'embassy and anti-terrorist surveillance'.[4][5] The turbine-powered Islanders are: ZF573 Islander CC.2A, delivered to the unit in the mid-nineties; ZH536 Islander CC.2, the first aircraft acquired in late 1991; and ZH537 Islander CC.2B, the third aircraft bought from the United Arab Emirates Air Force and delivered in April 2008.

The Headquarters of London and South East Region (L&SER) of the Air Training Corps is also located at RAF Northolt.

32 (TR) Squadron flies six BAe 125 CC.3 executive jets (serial numbers ZD620, ZD621, ZD703, ZD704, ZE395 and ZE396), two BAe 146 CC.2 four-engine VIP short range transport aircraft (serial numbers ZE700 and ZE701),[6] and three AgustaWestland A109E Power helicopters (serial numbers ZR321, ZR322, and ZR323).[7]

Units Based At RAF Northolt

    • Support Wing
      • Administrative Squadron
      • Plans and Business Squadron
      • Engineering Squadron
      • Finance Department
    • Operations Wing
      • Operations Squadron
      • Air Movements Squadron
      • Airfield Support Squadron
    • Lodger Units
      • 32 (The Royal) Squadron
      • No 1 AIDU (Aeronautical Information Documents unit)
      • 600 (City of London) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force
      • Naval Aeronautical Information Centre
      • 621 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Squadron

See also


  1. ^ a b Northolt - EGWU
  2. ^ Pan Am 707 taking off from Northolt:
  3. ^ List of 'wrong way' landings:
  4. ^ [1] Air Forces Monthly, May 2003
  5. ^
  6. ^ a third BAe 146 CC.2 serialed ZE702 was sold to a private operator in Indonesia in 2002
  7. ^ Aircraft and Equipment from the Station's official website
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