London Hotels Articles

June 7, 2010

The Military Heritage Of Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport is one of the four airports servicing the capital; currently it is in third position of the London airports and fourth in terms of the UK. It lies in the area of Uttlesford, a small and scenically beautiful district in the north of Essex. Today it is an airport that accommodates a large number of budget airlines flying predominantly to European destinations although in the last few years, flights to both the US and the Middle East have been available. Naturally, like many of the airports around the world, the Stansted terminal is filled with shops, restaurants and car hire desks. But how did Stansted arrive at its current position, what is the fascinating history behind this unique site?

As with most UK airports Stansted can trace its early beginnings at the outbreak of the Second World War. Although the Royal Air Force used the site, it was predominantly the home of American squadrons. When the site was selected it was decided that it would be named after the close by town of Stansted Mountfitchet, a town more renowned for its medieval history than its aerodrome. The USAAF used the site as a home for bombers from the middle of the war. The site itself was constructed by American military engineers; travellers can still see some of the original huts at the extremities of the site although the current buildings complete with car hire provisions, shops and cafes would be unrecognisable to the original planners.

The USAAF force used the site for sorties flown by the 344th Bombardment Group. This group used the massive B-26 Bombers meaning that Stansted had to have a considerable runway and apron to accommodate the large planes. These sorties bombed sites in France, Belgium and the Netherlands and were instrumental in assisting the Normandy landings. This meant pilots had to bomb many of the fuel depots and bridges in Normandy to halt the escape of the retreating German forces.

Even after the war the military uses for Stansted did not stop immediately. Straight after the war it was used as a prisoner of war camp as well as a depot for RAF aircraft and equipment. It was not until the sixties that the site became a civilian airport, being purchased by BAA in 1966. As a civilian airport however the site has excelled. As it was smaller than both Gatwick and Heathrow, Stansted could offer travellers cheaper flights, helping with the growth of the package holiday to many different European tourist spots. It was during this period that Stansted was officially sanctioned to be the capital’s third major airport, although in recent years it seems as if transport ministers are not quite finished with the construction of the site.

Throughout the last decades of the twentieth century the terminal that now dominates the site was built. This terminal designed by renowned architect Sir Norman Foster is a modern, spacious and light building filled with car hire desks, shops, cafes and bars. Even though this terminal was large, it was expanded during the nineties to cope with increased passenger numbers. As well as the terminal building, Stansted has a large number of transport links to the capital and the rest of the country. By road the M11 motorway is a short distance away. A coach terminal allows travel to much of the country while the train station has regular trains to London as well as links to stations up the country such as Birmingham and Peterborough.

Due to the spacious apron space at the Stansted site it is the airport of choice whenever a terrorist situation arises. This is because planes can be landed and kept away from the terminal building. Subsequently Stansted has seen more incidents than expected for a site of its size. The most recent being in the February of 2000 when a Ariana Afghan Airlines plane was kept at the airport for four days while terrorists negotiated with police and members of the Special Forces.

Today the terrorist applications of Stansted give some respect to the site’s military heritage. It is thanks to the needs of USAAF bombing squadrons and their B-26 bombers that the site is so large and ripe for expansion. Currently airport chiefs are vying for a second runway to further increase passenger numbers as well as trying to expand auxiliary services such as car hire provisions, shops, cafes and restaurants. If they succeed, Stansted may become the UK’s second largest and busiest airport.

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