- ICAO Code: EGVW
- Location: Bedfordshire, England, United Kingdom
- Type: Operational Bomber
- Parent: USAAF 8th Air Force
- Current Version: 1.0
- Download link: Download
- Required Libraries: IJP, Ted Andrews
Depending on which source you believe, RAF Thurleigh may, or may not, be one of the most famous disused USAAF bomber stations of the Second World War. The reason for this may (or may not) be that it may (or may not) have been one of the filming locations for the Gregory peck film “12 O’Clock High”, which is still used today as a training tool for teaching command theory. Whether it was Thurleigh, as several sources state, or RAF Barford St John in Oxfordshire, as others state, Thurleigh was home to the B-17 Flying Fortresses of the real world 406th Bombardment Group (Heavy).
One of the first units involved in the USAAF’s daylight precision bombing campaign, it is undoubtedly the operations and life of the 306th that 12 O’Clock High is based on, with the film’s main protagonist, General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck) being based on one of the 306th’s Commanding Officers, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong.
Opened in 1942 and originally home to the ground element (but no aircraft) of a RAF Squadron headed for the Far East, Thurleigh became the base of the 306th BG shortly afterwards and they remained there for the rest of the war – the longest duration any unit stayed at one airfield in the 8th Air Force.
Following the return of the 306th to the United States, Thurleigh – now renamed Bedford – became a site of the Royal Aircraft Establishment and continued in service right through until 1997, when DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, the successor of the RAE) moved completely to Fanborough. Wind tunnels and other scientific test equipment that had been built during the post war years was still in use by QinetiQ up until the early 2000s, although that is in the process of being wound up and closed, too. When QinetiQ finally depart, it will end the life of one of the most interesting sites in UK aviation.
The site is still clearly visible in overhead imagery, although the later-war additions have been constructed over almost all of the WW2 station. The longer runways, built for aircraft such as the Bristol Brabazon, do not match the layout of their WW2 predecessors and the majority of the WW2 runways and taxiways, plus most of the dispersals, can still be seen in situ. Thankfully, the planned massive test runway all the way to a neighbouring ex-WW2 station was never built, or you’d probably be able to see the place from space!
Note: The aircraft included in the screenshots is the A2A Simulations B-17G. Additionally, to see the vehicles visible in some images, refer to the included readme file for 3rd party library details.