70-year milestone about to be notched up at RAF St Mawgan
RAF St Mawgan this year celebrates 70 years of service in Cornwall – and bosses at the base say it is looking forward to many more years to come in the county.
Activity first began after the original Trebelzue Airfield was officially renamed RAF St Mawgan although this was limited at first to glider towing. This soon changed when the newly constructed runway, the widest and longest in the country at the time, was opened for service on July 1, 1943.
In 2008 RAF flying operations at St Mawgan ceased, the runway and flying services such as air traffic control being transferred to Newquay Cornwall airport.
But while the station's day-to-day population is small – around 230 – it is now home to the Defence SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Extraction) Training Organisation (DSTO) which teaches survival skills to 5,000 personnel a year.
The DSTO is housed in a new £9 million building and a £2.4 million investment to replace the ageing guardroom is planned, along with upgraded infrastructure to support future deployments of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and units of similar size. There are also plans to develop the old Trebelzue site into a new training area.
Station spokesman, Flight Lieutenant Jeff Spencer, said: "Yes, RAF St Mawgan is still open – if I had a pound for every time someone asked me that, I would be a rich man.
"I know that the RAF St Mawgan-based aircraft, the obvious sign of an RAF station, have sadly departed but the base is now really busy. This year will see significant periods with more than 2,500 people using our base – which of course also has the positive side-effect of introducing many of them to Cornwall for the first time."
The base has welcomed many well-known visitors during the past seven decades, including Hollywood stars Elizabeth Taylor and Dustin Hoffman, and it was even graced by a royal visit in 1966, when The Queen visited to present 42 Squadron with their colours.
RAF St Mawgan has welcomed many iconic aircraft, including Spitfires, Mosquitos, and Lancasters.
A period of calm at the base following the Second World War was short-lived as the Cold War approached.
Mr Spencer, added: "1951 saw the start of 40 years of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), maritime and search and rescue operations, starting with Lancaster GR3s, until the last operational RAF Lancaster flew out of St Mawgan in October 1956, and that was quickly followed by the Avro Shackleton.
"The Nimrod era started in 1970 when the Mk 1 and MR-2 arrived just in time for the 1982 Falklands campaign.
"They served until the sad day in 1992 when both 42 (torpedo bomber) Squadron and 236 Operational Conversion Unit took their Nimrods north to continue operations from RAF Kinloss.
"For much of this period the base was also host to substantial numbers of US personnel, both US Marine Corps to guard weapons, and US Navy personnel to assist in the growing Cold War maritime surveillance task.
"For those who worked on the base, this was a challenging and satisfying time with weekend and overnight operational flights being the norm."
RAF St Mawgan's International air days would attract more than 40,000 people every year. The base was also nominated as a master diversion airfield and therefore accepted a massive array of aircraft, from Concorde to B52s.
Today, it is the only RAF station in the South West.
The base, whose motto is 'To Teach the Best to Survive the Worst', also supports and prepares thousands of UK and Nato personnel for operations in Afghanistan and across the world.
Station commander, Wing Commander Philip Lamb, said: "Our birthday is a celebration of our past, but the future is my focus. I am passionate about the idea that all who have a connection to the Royal Air Force in the region should feel that St Mawgan is their station."