The British Royal Air Force (RAF) station located nearby the village of Upper Heyford in England was initially used by the Royal Flying Corps in 1916. The purpose of this base was to serve as a training ground, and it performed that task flawlessly throughout the second world war until 1950.
Then came the Cold War that roughly lasted from 1947 until 1991. During the period, this air force base was one of four UK RAF facilities where bomber aircraft under command of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) were stationed. The others were RAF Brize Norton, RAF Fairford and RAF Greenham Common.
During the United States Air Force use, a project was started to extend the airstrips. The job was undertaken by the 801st Engineer Aviation Battalion. They extended the runways from 6,000 feet to 8,300. They also constructed a type of surface for parking the weighty bombers called hardstand, plus a weapon storage for safekeeping the weapons.
The first of the American soldiers, 26 airmen and one officer of the 7509th Air Base Squadron, arrived in July 1950. The following year, control of the base was formally given to the 3rd Air Force of USAFE. Upper Heyford was then relinquished to the SAC in January 1952.
The first SAC airplanes brought to this station were 15 B50-D Superfortress bombers belonging to the 328th Bombardment Squadron and a further 45 B50’s arrived in September 1952 with the 2nd Bombardment Wing. Additional bomber units were deployed to Upper Heyford throughout the 1950s, including a few of the huge B-36’s in 1954, which at that time was the USAF number one choice for nuclear weapons delivery. USAF activity continued at the base for a full four decades.
This base is where another famous aircraft was housed, the “Dragon Lady” AKA Lockheed U-2. This was a famous single-jet engine that few at extreme heights of 70,000 feet. It was the top spy aircraft that the American Air Force was proud of. Their mission was to collect samples from the air in order to determine what was the last weapon that the Soviets might have used. Upper Heyford also housed a number of fighter airplanes. The 66th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing were transferred here from France in 1966, along with their contingent of supersonic F-101 Voodoo jet fighters, which were later joined for a short time by a number of F-4 Phantoms.
1991 was marked by both the end of the Cold War tensions, and the deployment of Operation Desert Storm. After these conflicts came to a close, so too did USAF’s time at Upper Heyford. By 1993, the last aircraft left, some of which are now on display at the Imperial War Museum Museum in Duxford.
The American forces packed everything they owned and returned to their country. Unhurriedly the base fell into ruin. Most of it was left abandoned, though some of the facilities at the base are still under active guard, which only served to fuel the rumors that nuclear warheads were kept at the base.
When the American air forces came, they brought a full package with them and that included a movie theater, a school, of course, baseball courts, supermarkets and sort of other things that they thought to be necessities. Upon their leaving, all the structures were left just as they were. And, as with so many spookily empty complexes, there are many stories that this place might even be haunted.
These abandoned structures were the perfect filming location of the zombie movie “World War Z” which had its premiere in 2013. It was the abandoned supermarket that the director Marc Forster chose to immortalize in his film.
But this blockbuster was the first to make use of this abandoned base. Director Patty Jenkins also thought that this base would be perfect for the filming of “Wonder Woman” and the director Colm McCarthy thought the same for his film “The Girl With All The Gifts”.
Next, the runway scene of “Fast & Furious 6” was also filmed at one the airstrips of this base. Even part of the movie “Children of Men” directed by Alfonso Cuarón made this base a filming location.
And the list goes on and it includes the “Muppets Most Wanted”, the series “The Woman in Black: Angel of Death”, the series “Fortitude” and more. Even though abandoned, Upper Heyford remains forever part of the silver screen, immortalized for future generations.