RAF East Fortune

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RAF East Fortune

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg
East fortune airfield.jpg
RAF-era buildings still stand on the airfield, now the National Museum of Flight
Airport typeMilitary
Owner Air Ministry
Operator Royal Naval Air Service
Royal Air Force
Location East Fortune, East Lothian
Built1915 (1915)
In use1915-1920, 1940-1947 (1947) [1]
Elevation  AMSL 0 ft / 0 m
Coordinates 55°59′06″N002°42′50″W / 55.98500°N 2.71389°W / 55.98500; -2.71389 Coordinates: 55°59′06″N002°42′50″W / 55.98500°N 2.71389°W / 55.98500; -2.71389
East Lothian UK location map.svg
Airplane silhouette.svg
RAF East Fortune
Location in East Lothian
Direction LengthSurface
00/000,0000,000 Concrete

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". [2]

Royal Air Force Aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the United Kingdom's aerial warfare force. Formed towards the end of the First World War on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world. Following victory over the Central Powers in 1918 the RAF emerged as, at the time, the largest air force in the world. Since its formation, the RAF has taken a significant role in British military history. In particular, it played a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign, the Battle of Britain.

East Fortune village in United Kingdom

East Fortune is a village in East Lothian, Scotland, located 2 miles (3 km) north west of East Linton. The area is known for its airfield which was constructed in 1915 to help protect Britain from attack by German Zeppelin airships during the First World War. The RNAS airship station also included an airship hangar. In 1919 the British airship R34 made the first airship crossing of the Atlantic, flying from East Fortune to Mineola, New York.

Edinburgh City and council area in Scotland

Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian, it is located in Lothian on the Firth of Forth's southern shore.


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.


Airships 'R34' and 'R29' in a shed at East Fortune (IWMART4086) 'r 34' and 'r 29' in the Shed at East Fortune Art.IWMART4086.jpg
Airships 'R34' and 'R29' in a shed at East Fortune (IWMART4086)

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. [3] 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. [4]

Airship type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft

An airship or dirigible balloon is a type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air under its own power. Aerostats gain their lift from large gasbags filled with a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air.

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. [5] No. 22 (Training) Group RAF is one of the few active Groups still operating within the RAF.

In 1918, a prototype Sopwith Snipe was trialled at East Fortune and after acceptance, the type was introduced to the Torpedo Aeroplane School at the base, which was opened in August 1918. [6]

Sopwith Snipe fighter aircraft

The Sopwith 7F.1 Snipe was a British single-seat biplane fighter of the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was designed and built by the Sopwith Aviation Company during the First World War, and came into squadron service a few weeks before the end of the conflict, in late 1918.

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. [7] The flight took 108 hours and 12 minutes. [3]

Mineola, New York Village in New York, United States

Mineola is a village in Nassau County, Long Island, New York, United States. The population was 18,799 at the 2010 census. The name is derived from an Algonquin word meaning a "pleasant village".

In February 1920, the airfield and associated buildings were closed and listed for disposal. [8] During the inter-war period the hangars and airfield buildings were demolished, while the domestic site was sold to the South Eastern Counties of Scotland Joint Sanatorium Board for use as a tuberculosis sanatorium.

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. [9]

Post-War Use

No. 132 OTU disbanded on 15 May 1946, and the domestic site was returned to the Sanatorium Board. Thereafter the airfield saw little or no use by the RAF, although it was allocated to the United States Air Force in 1950 as a dispersal base for strategic bombers during the Cold War. To accommodate such aircraft the main runway was extended across the B1347, but in the event East Fortune was never used by the USAF and the site was eventually sold by the Air Ministry in 1960. East Fortune enjoyed a brief revival as an airfield during the summer of 1961, when 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. [7] 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. [10]

After refurbishment East Fortune Hospital reopened as a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1949. As the number of TB patients was declining, from the mid 1950s spare capacity at the hospital was used for the long term accommodation of patients with learning disabilities and as a recuperation facility for general medical patients. Subsequently the hospital primarily provided long-term geriatric care, which became the sole use in 1985 when the last mental health patients left. The hospital was gradually run-down during the 1990s and finally closed in 1997.

Current Use

In 1976 the Scottish National Museum of Flight was opened on the site of the former RAF station's technical site. [3] [7] Each summer the museum hosts an airshow. [11] It is one of the few airfield-based airshows in the UK where fixed wing aeroplanes can't land at the airfield. [12]

The airfield is largely used for agriculture but the runways and taxiways are largely intact. Part of the runways are used for a car-boot sale each Sunday. The eastern end of the airfield is now used as a motorcycle racing circuit, and is home to the Melville Motor Club. The concrete extension of the main runway west of the B1347 is now used as a runway for microlight aircraft and as a scrap yard. 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 former domestic site / East Fortune Hospital remains largely vacant. In May 2016, it was revealed that there are plans for the latter part of the site to be redeveloped as a village. [13]

See also

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  2. Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1st publish. ed.). London [u.a.]: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 86. ISBN   0-7100-9339-X.
  3. 1 2 3 "East Fortune - Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust UK". www.abct.org.uk. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  4. Robertson, Bruce (1978). The RAF : a pictorial history. London: Hale. p. 15. ISBN   0-7091-6607-9.
  5. "RAF - Number 22 (Training) Group History". www.raf.mod.uk. Archived from the original on 26 June 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  6. Edwards, Richard (2012). "Thomas Sopwith and the Camels of Kingston". Heroes and landmarks of British military aviation : from airships to the jet age (1. publ. ed.). Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Aviation. p. 75. ISBN   978-1-84884-645-6.
  7. 1 2 3 "National Museum of Flight - Discover the museum". National Museums Scotland. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  8. Philpott, Ian (2013). "9: Airfields, landing grounds and seaplane bases". The birth of the Royal Air Force. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books Ltd. p. 273. ISBN   978-1-78159-333-2.
  9. "East Fortune Aerodrome". eastlothianatwar.co.uk. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  10. "ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 145236". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  11. "East Lothian flight museum celebrates with airshow". www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com. 8 July 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  12. "Flightline UK - East Fortune Airshow 2008". www.airshows.org.uk. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  13. Richie, Cameron (20 May 2016). "Plans to create new village on site of former hospital". East Lothian Courier. Retrieved 5 February 2017.