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RAF Northolt

From Academic Kids

RAF Northolt is a Royal Air Force station in west London in the London Borough of Hillingdon which also handles a large number of civilian flights (IATA Airport Code: NHT). It is located roughly 10km north of London Heathrow Airport.

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, became a significant civilian airport soon afterwards, and reverted to military use upon the opening of Heathrow. Communications aircraft of the Royal Canadian Air Force, the USAFE, the US Navy and the Armée de l'Air were based here during the 1950 - 1980 period. Today it is an important RAF airfield, the home of 32 Squadron which includes the Royal Flight, although since about 1980 movements of privately owned aircraft, mainly corporate jets, have outnumbered military flights. Also home to the important Britten-Norman Islander aircraft of the Northolt Station Flight.

When Fairey Aviation had a factory in Hayes, Hillingdon some of their products - such as the Lysander monoplane - would have flown first from Northolt Aerodrome.

A memorial to Polish airmen who lost their lives in the Second World War can be seen near the southern corner of the airfield. A true-scale GRP replica of a Supermarine Spitfire is mounted alongside the formal entrance road, near to a group of historic hangars, once camouflaged as a suburban housing estate.

The urban setting of the airfield came to prominence when a Spanish Learjet overran the main runway to collide with a van heading eastbound on the busy, adjacent A40 Road; this was carrying an actress needing to reach the nearby Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. The airfield has been used to represent several more exotic locations in feature films, presumably due to that proximity. Media attention was also high when a seriously ill villain Ronald Biggs was flown here and arrested and when the body of Diana, Princess of Wales was flown here from Villacoublay airfield in Paris, following her death in that city.

Operationally constrained by its proximity to the much larger civilian airport at Heathrow Airport, at least two pilots have confused the two during their final approaches. Two pilots of Boeing 707 jetliners mistakenly flew approaches to Northolt's shorter runway after they had been cleared to land at Heathrow Airport. Luckily no casualties resulted from either the mistaken landing or the low "go-around". After some 30 years of protracted consideration, an Instrument Landing System was eventually fitted to runway 25 and aggregate-filled safety pits were installed at either end of that runway to protect road users in the event of another bizjet or military transport failing to stop or ascend before the runway's end.

The aerodrome is closer to Ruislip than to Northolt, but when it was founded the area was known as Northolt.

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