Once known as RAF Kemble, the base was built in 1936 with its first operational unit, No.5 Maintenance Unit which operated here between June 1936 and 1966. Two other units that were also based at RAF Kemble were No.4 Service Ferry Pool and No.1 Overseas Aircraft Preparation Units throughout its active career.
However, RAF Kemble was and still to this day is most known for being the former home of the RAF’s Aerobatic Display Team, the Red Arrows who first operated the Folland Gnat up until 1980 when they converted to the British Aerospace Hawk. Sadly the decision was made that the Red Arrows would relocate to RAF Scampton in 1983. Today, Folland Gnat XP502 can be seen on display next to the control tower representing Red Arrow XR540 to commemorate the Aerobatic Display Team.
In October 1975, the last operational Britannia XM496 ‘Regulus’ retired to Kemble after several low passes along the runway. The airframe was looked after by several dedicated volunteers and even span up its engines once in a while too. Although XM496 no long runs anymore, it is still well looked after to this day by volunteers who have recently treated it to a repaint! XM496 can be seen today on display at C Site.
In March 1993, RAF Kemble closed and all military flying was ceased, however, the MoD leased some of the buildings on site to private tenants once realising it could make some money.
In 1995, the aviation company Delta Jets was formed at Kemble by Ronan Harvey who had gotten involved with the management of the airfield around the same time. Delta Jets were based in the former Red Arrows hangars opposite G-Site who were well known for their collection of flying Hunters, Gnats, Jet Provests and even the restoration to flight project of Buccaneer XW986.
Sometime in 1994, the Buccaneer Aircrew Association purchased Buccaneer XX901 who moved the airframe to Kemble for storage. XX901 then departed Kemble by road to Elvington around 1995.
Around the same time as XX901 left, TBAG’s very own XX894 arrived at Kemble being previously based at Bruntingthorpe (before moving back again). XX894 was looked after by a small group of volunteers but also contributed parts to XW986 such as her canopy. In 2002, XW986 (now ZU-NIP) was granted permission from the CAA for test flights, and later in the year she was flown to Thunder City based in South Africa. This made XW986 (ZU-NIP) the last ever Buccaneer to fly in UK skies. – Thunder City sadly collapsed in around 2014 or possibly later, however, XW986 gained a minor crack in her spar before this time and so was been grounded for good.
The airfield was brought by Ronan Harvey in 2001 who opened the AV8 café in 2002 and got the airfield a CAA license to that of an Airport, operating as Kemble Airfield and/or Kemble Airport.
In 2006, Delta Jets took on the preservation of the last three EE Canberra’s in RAF service, XH134, XH135 and XH131 being the last to touch down. However, XH131 was road moved to Ulster Aviation Museum in 2010 for display with XH134 and XH135 remaining at Kemble.
Sadly Delta Jets collapsed in the early 2000s, aircraft such as the Canberra’s then changed hands to the airport.
Another Buccaneer arrived at the airfield in 2007 from Staverton/Gloucestershire Airport to Kemble for static display, this one being XX889. This airframe was often found by the AV8 café alongside Canberra XH135. With the airfield expanding on light aircraft flying, in 2009, the airfield was renamed to Cotswold Airport. XX889’s stay was over sooner enough and moved on to Bruntingthorpe in 2011 where it became under TBAG’s care up until June 2018 when it moved on yet again.
Also around 2011 a company called Mid-Air took ownership of the two Canberra’s with the vision to restore one back to flight. XH134 was soon chosen to be the better airframe of the two, resulting in XH135 becoming the spares ship. By 2013, XH134 returned to the skies once again. Sadly XH134 didn’t have too long flying due to Mid-Air collapsing in 2014, leaving the Canberra’s in the hands of the airport once again.
The preservation scene at Cotswold Airport started to look very quiet and was soon better known for the large aviation company Air Salvage International (ASI) that stores and scraps airliners are the airport along with light aircraft movements.
In 2020, TBAG were eager to look for a new location for Buccaneer XX894 and XW544 after Bruntingthorpe was leased to Cox Automotive to became a car storage facility. By June 3rd 2020, TBAG decided its new home would be Cotswold Airport with XX894 and XW544 landing (by low loaders) at the airport on the 21st August 2020. TBAG also offered to cosmetically look after the airports two Canberra’s, Hunter and Gnat. By October 2020, Boeing 747 G-CIVB painted in the retro Negus scheme retired to Cotwold Airport with the hope of it being preserved. Thankfully British Airways kindly donated the airframe to Cotswold Airport where it became the centre piece of aircraft preservation at the airport.
In mid 2021, the British Phantom Aviation Group (BPAG) moved two of their airframes (XT905 and XT597) to Cotswold airport for long term restoration which can currently be seen by the Britannia awaiting to be reassembled. It is hoped that in 2022 their third Phantom, ZE360 will also relocate to Kemble for long term restoration, making Cotswold Airport the only place in the UK to see three Phantoms side by side!
At long last, aircraft preservation is on the rise at former RAF Kemble…!