First opened in 1937, RAF Church Fenton is the former home of the first American Eagle Squadrons and was formally regarded as one of the UK’s most important strategic airfields, offering rapid reaction fighter defence to the industrial cities of Sheffield, Bradford and Leeds during the second World War. Now, after decades of faithful service in defence of the realm, the air station stands as a lonely hostage to both time and decay.
On 1 April 1937 the station was declared open and on 19 April the first station commander Wing Commander W.E. Swann assumed command. Within two months, No. 71 Squadron RAF had arrived with their Gloster Gladiators. During September 1940 Church Fenton became home to the first “Eagle squadron” of American volunteers – No. 71 Squadron RAF and their Brewster Buffalos and Hawker Hurricanes. The airfield was also home to both the first all-Canadian and all-Polish squadrons, No. 242 Squadron RAF and No. 306 Squadron RAF respectively.
As air warfare became a more tactical and technological pursuit, the first night-fighter Operational Training Unit was formed at Church Fenton in 1940 and some of the squadrons stationed there began to fly the famous de Havilland Mosquito. After the close of the war, the station retained its role as a fighter base, being among the first to receive modern jet aircraft, namely the Gloster Meteor and the Hawker Hunter. In later years, Church Fenton became the RAF’s main Elementary Flying Training airfield.
On 25 March 2013 it was announced that Church Fenton would close by the end of 2013 and By 19 December, all units had been relocated and the airfield was closed. Some equipment was be relocated to RAF Topcliffe and MoD security continued to secure the site until disposal. A NOTAM was issued suspending the air traffic zone at the end of 2013.
In February 2015, the airfield was sold to a private enterprise and renamed ‘Leeds East Airport’. Now divided into two, half of the site comprising of all the former military buildings is rapidly decaying and there are no plans to renovate it. The live side of the airfield is home to a private airport and a commercial flight training school.