2. Aircraft at Defford

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Having enjoyed an absolute priority in securing any aircraft deemed necessary for its research, the TFU had some 107 aircraft when the war ended in August 1945. Types used during the war which have not been mentioned so far, some in quite large numbers, include the Anson, Albemarle, Avenger, Battle, Beaufighter, Beaufort, Blenheim, Boston II and III, Defiant, Gladiator, Halifax, Hampden, Hudson IV and V, Hurricane, Lancaster, Liberator II, Lincoln (from March 1945), Lysander, Magister, Mitchell, Oxford, Spitfire, Stirling, Tiger Moth, Whitley, Typhoon, Vega Gull, Ventura, Wellington and York.

Other wartime residents at Defford included the Controller of Research and Development (which operated Halifaxes HX166, LV999 and LW196); and Mosquitos, Lancasters (including JB355, JB402 and JB412) and Mitchells (including FL691, FL699 and FV915) flown by the Signals Intelligence Unit.

Very few non-resident aircraft appear to have crashed at Defford during the war, possibly reflecting the secret nature of the airfield. On 20 March 1943 Beaufighter VIF X8004 of 406 Squadron swung on landing and its undercarriage collapsed, and on 15 September 1943 the undercarriage of Master W8766 of 16PFTS (Tollerton) retracted while taxying.

Wartime aircraft of the TFU which survived into the peacetime years included Wellingtons, Lincolns (until December 1948), Halifaxes and at least one Dakota and a York. After the war, Devons and Dominies were used for communications. Other post-war types used included the Vampire, Venom, Sikorsky Hoverfly I helicopter, Avro Ashton, Shackleton, Tempest, Mosquito NF.38, Hornet, Avro 652A Nineteen Srs.2, Valetta and Hastings. An unusual resident but not popular with pilots was the prototype General Aircraft Hamilcar X, LA728, which was used for Airborne Early Warning trials. It last flew on about 10February 1948 and was blown up as part of a Battle of Britain Display at Defford on 18 September 1948 during a simulated strafe by a Beaufighter. From 1946 to the spring of 1958 two Bristol 170 Freighters were used as flying laboratories for the development of AI, fitted with racks for underwing stores and various radomes. However, Meteors and later Canberras of various marks were the most common types with the unit.

Accidents to TFU aircraft after the war at Defford included Canberra VN828 overshot a single engined landing on 10 June 1953.


Airspeed Oxford: N6417 (Mk.II), R6345, R6385, T1208, V4204, X7285, X7286, X7294, X7297 (SOC 18.5.46).

Avro Anson: N4871, N9743, N9774, N9906, R3429, R3433.

Avro Lancaster: L7528, R5485, R5609, DS628 (SOC 5.12.44), ED350 (used for H2S Mk.III research, 6.43; SOC 1.10.44), EE187, HK804 (SOC 8.5.46), JA845 (H2S Mk.IV tests), JB375, JB544 (H2S Mk.VII trials; SOC 24.6.48), JB558 (SOC 4.10.45), JB705 (used for Window tests; SOC 31.7.47), KB805 (Automatic Gun-laying Turret tests; SOC 3.7.47), LL736, LL737, ND712 (for tests on remotely-controlled turrets), ND823 (H2S Mk.VI trials), NG408, NX618, PA417 (sold 24.11.49), PA976 (H2S Mk.VI tests), PB151 (SOC 21.5.47), PB532 (faired nose and Rebecca antennae, used for cloud-collision warning tests), PB641, PB912 (SOC 25.5.47), PB930 (SOC 9.1.47), RF238 (sold for scrap 7.5.47), TW661.

Avro Lincoln: (type operated 3.45-12.48): RE238, RE240, RE251, RE252, RE378, RE533 (H2S Mk.VIA, H2S Mk.VIII and Pye beacon tests), RF560 (crashed, killing crew, 1948), SX930

AW Albemarle: P1364 (in 5.43), P1438.

AW Whitley: N1370, P4949, Z6762, Z6763, Z6940, Z9428.

Boeing 247D: DZ203 (used for blind-approach experiments,  made world’s first automatic landing with ILS linked to Minneapolis Honeywell autopilot; flew about 300hrs on automatic approach and landing trials, flown by Sqn Ldr J Stewart; believed scrapped 1946 – P J R Moyes has photo).

Boulton Paul Defiant: N3308, N3488, T4051, T4055, AA321, AA323, AA357, AA372, AA407, AA409, AA415, AA419, AA420, AA549, AA581, AA666.

Bristol Beaufighter: R2139, R2195, R2347, T3356, V8252, V8259, V8262, V8268, V8289, V8387 (shot down in sea by Spitfire, 31/2m NE of Cromer, Norfolk 23.12.42), V8490 (in flight, fire started around flap mechanism inspection panel and spread to cockpit; Flg Off W Devine abandoned aircraft which crashed, Malvern Wells 25.6.45; numerous items recovered from site by Severnside Aviation Society 1983), V8803, V8835, V8885, X7565, X7579, X7613 (two spells), X7618 (to Admiralty 29.3.44), X7624, X7630, X7712 (two spells), X7802, X7813, X7816, X7826, X7832 (two spells), X7836, X7840, X7926, X7962 (SOC 31.1.47), X8204.

Bristol Beaufort: L4457, L9971, AW217, AW271, AW314.

Bristol Blenheim: L1215, L1217, L1218 (dived into ground 3m E of Pembrey 24.5.42), L1220, L1221, L4839 (undercarriage collapsed on take-off, Defford 20.2.43), L4846, L6695, L6746, L9837, L9405 (ditched off Chesil Bank, Dorset 29.11.41), N3522, P4839, P4846, R3601, V6000 (first 10-cm AI flight 1.11.41), V6385, Z5909, Z6185 (SOC 11.6.45).

Consolidated Liberator II: AL507 (two spells), AL531.

DH Devon: XA880

DH Dominie: NR698 (flew to Ringway and back 9.6.47; until 3.48).

DH Mosquito: DZ301 (used for early attempts to project information on to windscreen – primitive ‘head-up’ displays), DZ345 (flew into Breedon Hill, Overbury 17.10.43), DZ401 (Mk.IV), KB551 (B.Mk.25, SOC 12.11.47), TW231 (hit by Lancaster NX618 while parked at Defford 29.5.47), VT676 (SOC 31.3.52).

DH Tiger Moth: R4947 (hit tree 1m NE of Bransgrove, Hants 26.5.42), T6367.

DH Vampire F.3: VT857 (sold for scrap 5.4.56), VT858.

Douglas Boston II: AH438 (to USAAF 5.4.43), AH443 (SOC 26.9.44), AH467 (overshot landing at Defford 13.9.44), AH495 (damaged beyond repair 14.5.43), AH502 (SOC 23.9.44), AH513 (SOC 5.10.44), AH515 (undercarriage jammed; swung on landing and nosewheel collapsed, Defford 28.2.43), AH522 (overshot landing and nosewheel collapsed, Defford 22.11.43), AH528 (SOC 21.6.44).

Douglas Boston III: AL479.

Fairey Battle: K9028, N2124 (to RAAF 12.3.42).

Fairey Swordfish: P4008 (used for ASV development).

General Aircraft Hamilcar X: LA728 (prototype; used for Airborne Early Warning trials; ceased to fly on about 10.2.48; blown up as part of Battle of Britain Display at Defford following simulated strafe by Beaufighter 18.9.48; letter describing this aircraft’s unappealing flying characteristics in Aeroplane Monthly Feb 1978 p87).

Gloster Gladiator K5200 (prototype; with TFU 27.10.41-8.4.42), K7898, K8049.

Grumman Avenger: JZ464.

Grumman Martlet: FN212.

Handley Page Halifax: R9490 (Del. to TFU 12.4.42; first flight with H2S 2.6.42; to 4455M 2.44), V9977 (Del. to TFU at Hurn 27.3.42; magnetron H2S installed; first flew with H2S 16.4.42; caught fire at 500ft and crashed 8m SSW of Ross-on-Wye, killing 11, 7.6.42), W1013, W7711, W7808, W7823(?), W7825, W7851, W7872-W7878, BB278, BB280, DT568, HR672, HR742, HR746, HR774, HR815/G, HX238, RG815.

Handley Page Hampden: P1216

Hawker Hurricane: P3585, V6557, V7709, V7726 (crashed in forced landing, Fordingbridge, Hants 25.3.42), V6694, Z2795 (engine cut on take-off, crashed 21/2m N of Hurn 27.4.42), AF975, AM311 (SOC 12.8.44).

Hawker Tempest F.2: PR802 (crashed on landing, Defford 28.3.47).

Hawker Typhoon: MM984.

Lockheed Hudson IV: AE610.

Lockheed Hudson V: AM714, AM819, AM907 (SOC 14.8.44).

Lockheed Ventura: AE682, FN956, FN957.

Miles Magister: N5414.

Percival Vega Gull: X9455.

Short Stirling: N3724, R9248, R9252, R9255, R9257, R9260, R9263, R9266, R9270, R9272, R9273, R9275, R9278, W7447, BK616, LJ516, LJ541, LJ595, LJ649, LJ651.

Sikorsky Hoverfly I: KK993 (3.46 until at least 2.48, photo in Air-Britain Digest 6.69 p162), KK995 (circa 1947, still bore 527Sqn code KX:R; photo in Aeromilitaria 1984 p99).

Supermarine Spitfire: W3377, X4845 (SOC 20.5.45), X4909 (SOC 25.11.44), X4918 (collided with Tiger Moth N9384 of 2EFTS near Perton – more likely Pirton, which is very near Defford – 26.2.43), X4933 (to 3596M 3.43), AR253, EN915 (complete loss of rudder control, pilot baled out, High Church, Glos 1.2.45).

Vickers Warwick: HG218 (overshot emergency landing, Shobdon 21.6.46 and not repaired).

Vickers Wellington: N2761, P9214, R1322, R1629, R1655, T2823, T2968, W5389, W5451 (two spells), W5480 (two spells), W5657, W5661, W5672, W6734, X3455, X3458, X3566, X3707 (crashed on experimental flight, Craiglockhart View, Edinburgh 14.12.42), X3994, X3998, X9678, X9741, Z1322, Z1568 (SOC 12.5.47), Z8440 (to 4169M 9.43), Z8581 (SOC 5.6.44), Z8705 (developed uncontrollable swing to left after take-off, crash-landed, Defford 29.6.42), Z8830 (SOC 19.3.44), Z8902 (two spells; SOC 24.8.44).

Westland Lysander: P9111, V9500 (hit tree in approach to forced landing, Woodgates Manor, Dorset 4.4.42), V9598.

On 28 July 1953 the Minister of Supply, Duncan Sandys, announced that as a result of a review of the functions of the two electronics experimental stations operated by the MoS at Malvern, one of which was primarily working on radar for the Army and the other for the RAF and Fleet Air Arm, he had decided to amalgamate them. From 1 September the new organisation would be the Radar Research Establishment. The RRE’s first director was W J Richards CBE BSc, formerly Chief Superintendent of one of the Malvern organisations, the TRE.


Part 2



Avro Ashton WB491, WB492.

Avro Shackleton WL748.

Bristol 170 Freighter VR380, VR382.

DH Devon XA880

DH Dominie NF880 (3.9.54-8.6.56).

DH Venom WR783, WX797 (sold for scrap 10.2.58).

English Electric Canberra VN828 (B.Mk.1 with Mk.8-style cockpit canopy and nose-mounted radar), VX181 (in use by RRE 1956; in 11.69 parked in open, Pershore; in 1970 moved from fire dump and parked on apron; in 2.72 reported destroyed), WD953 (in 11.69 in open storage), WE121, WE147 (PR.3, in 11.69 in open storage), WF917 (B.2, visited Cambridge 2.3.67), WF922, WG789 (B.2, in 11.69 in open storage), WH660, WH704, WH774 (PR.7), WH776, WH844 (T.4), WH854 (scrapped at Pershore 11.69), WH953 (B.6), WJ627, WJ646 (broken up at Pershore), WJ990, WJ992 (T.4), WK120, WK123, WK126, WK128 (B.2), WK129 (B.2, flew into summit of Carnedd Llewellyn, Caernarvon, no survivors, 9.12.57), WK163 (B.2), WT305 (B.6, about 7.73 – 1975), WT327 (B(I)8, 12.4.66 for radar trials, fitted with modified nose, housing laser ranger and marked target indicator, first flight as such Pershore 4.71, left 21.11.76), WT333 (B(I)8, 21.7.69-8.9.70 and 24.2.72-18.5.77 when moved to Bedford), XH132, XH567 (B.6), XH568 (B.6).

Fairey Gannet AEW.3 XL502 (coded 076, with RRE 1974).

Gloster Meteor VT340 (F.4, crashed during instrument flying 31/2m W of Bransford 13.4.49), VT342 (F.4, dived into ground, Bransford House Farm 21.12.50, WD744, WD790 (NF.11, with RRE 1971), WH284, WM366, WS832 (NF.14).

Handley Page Hastings TG503 (used by H2S Mk.9 trials 1951; still used 1956), TG514, TG583 (used on Passive Q-band and Red Cabbage tests from 25.8.54, returned 28.7.64), WD480 (modified for sonobuoy trials, with long nacelle under fuselage housing ASV radome amidships and stowages for sonobuoys fore and aft – Shorts have picture of it in flight – Putnam HP Aircraft p454), WD482 (joined RRE at Defford, in use 1956, rudderless at Pershore, late 1969), WD484 (took off with elevators locked, stalled and dived into ground, Boscombe Down 2.3.55), WD499 (C.2, last flight 29.9.74).

Handley Page Hermes II VX234 (joined 6.58; used for SLR – sideways looking radar – trials for the TSR2, equipment housed in long slender radome under fuselage; by 1.66 had logged 1,000hrs; the last operational Hermes; SOC and scrapped, Pershore 1969).

Hawker Hunter F.4 WV325 (sold 18.10.67).

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer XN964 (S.1, non-operational, arrived 1972), XK526 (S.2), XN975 (S.2, damaged in crash landing 7.6.78), XX897 (S.2B), XZ340.

Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.1 XV148.

Short SC.9 XH132

Vickers Valetta WF379, WG262 (loaned from 2ANS, Thorney Island 7.4.53-1.6.53), WJ475 (loaned from 6ANS, Lichfield 14.4.53-15.5.53), WJ913 (flew to Stansted and back 24.10.67), WL680.

Vickers Varsity T.1 WF379 (fitted with projecting nose radar).

Vickers Viscount XT575 (Model 837), XT661 (Model 838).

Westland/Aerospatiale Puma HC.1 XW234.

Westland Sea King HAS.1 XV651 (064, with RRE 1972 and ’74).

Westland Wessex HAS.1 XM926.

Westland Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ409.


Avro Anson W1706

Avro 652A Nineteen Srs.2 VM360 (on MoS charge).

Avro Lincoln RE229, RF329, RF561, SX924, SX976.

Avro York MW117, MW234, MW296, MW310.

Bristol 170 Freighter VR380 (prototype; fitted with racks for underwing stores; used for development of AI, converted to flying laboratory and fitted with various radomes, sold, delivered Defford-Blackbushe 14.3.58), VR382 (26.9.46-6.3.58 when by road to Blackbushe for scrapping; picture Air Pictorial 1957 p261).

DH Devon VP980, XA880 (visited Bovingdon 7.12.55)

DH Mosquito NF.38 VT657 (sold for scrap 19.11.53), VT659 (sold for scrap 22.4.54), VT677 (sold for scrap 7.9.54), VT703 (sold for scrap 7.9.54).

DH Hornet PX222.

DH Vampire VV446, WA172

Douglas Dakota FZ564 (15.3.44-17.9.45).

English Electric Canberra VN828 (overshot single engined landing, Defford 10.6.53), VN813, WD929, WD963 (two spells).

Gloster Meteor VT196, VT340, WD586 (SOC 5.9.57), WD587, WD686 (to MoS 29.11.55; photographed at Duxford), WD790, WD791, WH284, WM180 (SOC 16.6.58), WM373 (Fireflash trials; to Australia 13.4.55), WM374 (SOC 22.8.58), WS731.

Handley Page Halifax W7823.

NA Mitchell KJ599.

Vickers Valetta VX561, WJ491.

Vickers Wellington P9214, W5385.

Valiant WP200 of the Ministry of Supply Establishment was based at Defford. It made an emergency landing at Prestwick on 13 February 1956.

Military flying at Defford ceased in September 1957, when the RRE’s flying unit moved to Pershore. One occupant at the time of the move was the Tay Viscount VX217, operated by Boulton Paul, which later moved to Seighford.

Station aircraft have included Airspeed Envoy L7270; Oxfords T1076, T1208 and (?) NM785; Ansons N5017, N9774, VL335, VM360 and VM393; Tiger Moths N9240 and R4901; Meteor EE214; Typhoon MN254; Magister N5414; Miles Mentor L4403; Spitfire BL629 Supermarine Walrus X9527; and Wellingtons W5357 and BJ643.

Geoffrey Negus