RAF College Cranwell celebrates centenary year

RAF Cranwell, taken on May 2, 1916. EMN-160104-145550001
RAF Cranwell, taken on May 2, 1916. EMN-160104-145550001

Today (April 1) officially marks the formation of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) station at Cranwell, when the Admiralty decided to relocate its pilot and engineering training to the quiet and rural community of Cranwell village.

Cranwell has a long and distinguished history dating back to its foundation as a RNAS Central Training Establishment formed on April 1, 1916. However RNAS Cranwell was not fully set up until late 1916 when the East and West Camps were formed.

King George V and Queen Mary visit the newly formed station at Cranwell in 1916. EMN-160104-145529001

King George V and Queen Mary visit the newly formed station at Cranwell in 1916. EMN-160104-145529001

There were two reasons why aviation came to the Cranwell area. Firstly, the Admiralty had begun to establish a series of air stations round the coast to supplement the coastguard system to alert the defences of our shores against sea and aerial invasion. Secondly, it was linked with the desire of the Admiralty to open a central training establishment for its pilots that could support the new air stations being set up on the east coast.

Cranwell’s story first began on November 23, 1915 when the Admiralty took possession of Cranwell Lodge Farm. On December 16, 36 men arrived at Grantham railway station to begin construction of the naval station. They lived in the various outbuildings in the grounds of the farm, many of which remain to this day adjacent to the modern Motor Transport Yard; the first sod of earth was cut on December 28, 1915.

In late January 1916 the first aircraft, a BE2c flown by Lieutenant Maynard, arrived at Cranwell. By mid-1916 the camp was taking shape. There was a hospital, bakery, butchery and a series of boiler houses. A portable kite balloon shed was erected in March 1916 and the first ascent at Cranwell was made in a kite balloon on April 4, 1916.

Cranwell has always treasured its associations with the Royal Family. As early as summer 1916 King George V and Queen Mary paid a visit to the camp. They next visited in 1918 to see their second son, Prince Albert, who was an officer at the Station as “Officer in Charge of Boys”. HRH The Duke of York, later King George VI had his first flight at Cranwell as a serving officer of the RAF. In 1971, the current Prince of Wales spent six months at Cranwell learning to fly jet aircraft and obtaining his RAF wings. Son followed father and in April 2008, Prince William received his wings from his father at RAF Cranwell after completing an intensive 12 week flying course. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the Reviewing Officer for a College Graduation in 1960, returning again in 2009.

After the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the RNAS on April 1, 1918, the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell became the first military air academy in the world when it opened on February 5, 1920. Over the years RAFC Cranwell has evolved and is today a thriving RAF Station in the heart of Lincolnshire, selecting and training officers and airmen aircrew to become the leaders of tomorrow. The station also trains pilots and other aircrew before sending them to other RAF stations to finalise their training in operational service. Cranwell is also home to Air Warfare training and a host of other RAF and other defence units.

Deputy Commandant of RAF College Cranwell, Group Captain Sean O’Connor said: “The first of April is always a special anniversary for the RAF. Today, it not only marks the 98th anniversary as an independent service of the Armed Forces, but also marks the start of flying training at Cranwell as an air station 100 years ago. We are immensely proud to be the guardians of that heritage and ethos whilst at the same time training those that will be meeting the challenges of operating in the air and space for the next 100 years. It is difficult to predict what air power’s needs will be even 50 years from now; what is certain, is that RAFC Cranwell will be at the heart of preparing our people for what every treats and opportunities they may face. We are also honoured to be so well supported by our local community. It is a privilege to serve in such an auspicious location, a feeling I know is shared by all our service, civilian and contact personnel”.

To mark the centenary, activities and events are being held at Royal Air Force College Cranwell throughout the year including a 45(R) Squadron and 57 Squadron Centenaries in May and June. The station will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of Sir Frank Whittle’s first jet flight on May 15 this year.