Central Flying School History
The Beginning
Inter-War Years
Little Rissington
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RAF Little Rissington

RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire is seen as the home of the Central flying School. Building of the station began in 1936 on top of a hill which, at 750 ft above sea level, made it the highest airfield in regular use in the country. The unusual met situations this created was food for Examanier's questions to the would be A2 candidate over many years. The first unit to serve there was No 6 Service Flying Training School who were joined by No 8 Maintenance Unit which specialised in the preparation, storage and issue of aircraft. For a short period at the start of the war, the station supported the Accountant Officers' School and the Equipment Training School. In 1941 the runway was laid and as the demand for pilots increased, No 6 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Unit was formed in 1942. Although the unit was disbanded three years later, it trained 5,444 pilots who collectively gained 705 awards for gallantry, including 4 Victoria Crosses. At the end of the war No 6 Flying Training School was reformed on the station and then moved to RAF Tern Hill the following year in preparation for the arrival of CFS.

The Central Flying School opened again in 1946 at RAF Little Rissington and during the severe winter of 1946 - 1947, RAF Little Rissington was cut-off from the outside world by blizzards. After two days of digging, contact was re-established with the outside world in the shape of the Old New Inn at Bourton-on-the-Water, which was to become a second home for generations of QFIs. In 1948 the CFS task was to turn out 240 QFIs per year and this was increased by the end of the year to 360. Flying took place on the Tiger Moth, Harvard, Mosquito, Lancaster, Spitfire and one hour on the Vampire was included in the course, to give some jet experience. At this time RAF South Cerney was opened for the basic phase of the CFS Course. The Empire Flying School disbanded in 1949 and the Examining Squadron rejoined CFS. In response to Government calls for further economy, South Cerney was closed for about a year, the course was shortened and type flying was limited to the Meteor. The following year the Korean War broke out, the commitment rose to 750 students per year and South Cerney was re-opened. Things don't change much. In the early 1950s the first Chipmunks in RAF service were flown by the Oxford University Air Squadron; thereafter, the type replaced the Tiger Moth with all 17 University Air Squadrons, as well as equipping CFS and many RAF Volunteer Reserve flying schools. The RAF received a total of 735 Chipmunks which were manufactured in the UK.

In 1952 the Central Flying School Association (CFSA) was formally established. Membership of the Association is open to all past and present personnel on the posted strength of CFS and an annual reunion and dinner is held at CFS. It was at about this time that the first CFS Meteor aerobatic team began to make its name, led by Flight Lieutenant Caryl Gordon who was later to become the Duke of Edinburgh's flying instructor.

RAF flying training became a two-stage scheme in 1953, using the Piston Provost and the Vampire and the following year RAF Little Rissington became CFS (Advanced) and RAF South Cerney became CFS (Basic). The same year the Helicopter Development Flight was formed with 2 Dragonfly helicopters at RAF Middle Wallop and later moved to RAF South Cerney. In 1954 the first RAF Jet Provost students commenced basic training. Their instructors were experienced QFIs who had been previously converted to type. The first CFS course to graduate Jet Provost QFIs was No 199 Course; they left CFS in November 1959. In the same year the CFS helicopters took the public eye when they formed part of the winning RAF team in the London-Paris Air Race. In 1960 the Central Flying School received a further honour when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother accepted the appointment of Commandant-in-Chief.

Her Majesty receiving the sword from the Mayoress In 1962 Her Majesty received, on behalf of the School, the Cheltenham Sword when CFS was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Cheltenham, also in that year the first Gnat arrived at the school. Continuing the strong tradition of formation aerobatics at CFS, in 1964 the Red Pelicans were selected as the RAF Aerobatic Team. By 1965 the Yellow Jacks Gnat aerobatic team of RAF Valley reformed to become the Red Arrows and moved to RAF Kemble, near to Little Rissington, under the command of the Commandant. The team later became the official Royal Air Force aerobatic display team and their polished performance was recognised in 1966 by the award of the Britannia Trophy by the Royal Aero Club. For more information see "Formation Aerobatics"

Her Majesty the queen presented the Central Flying School with the Queen's Colour in 1969, after initial resistance to the proposal within the Service had been overcome by the interest of the Commandant-in-Chief. The Commandant had the honour of meeting Her Majesty while seated in a wheelchair, having broken both ankles in an accident only a few weeks previously. The early 70s were a period of relative stability for CFS. Some innovations were made to the content of the course and the Jet Provost Mk5 arrived. The Red Arrows travelled further afield, flying to the United States of America and Canada in 1972. This was also the year that saw the formation of the Vampire and Meteor display team the 'Vintage Pair'. In 1973 the Bulldog replaced the Chipmunk and the Jetstream replaced the Varsity in the CFS inventory, although following an accident the Jetstream was withdrawn from service for a few years. The fuel crisis resulted in the demise of the Red Pelicans and in 1974 the School lost its independent Group status and became part of 23 Group. In 1976 the long stay at RAF Little Rissington ended.


This window, which depicts the crest of the central flying school (CFS), is the remaining one of a pair which were installed in the foyer of the Officers' Mess RAF Little Rissington when the station became headquarters CFS in 1946.One of 2 windows bearing the CFS crest from the Mess at Rissington Headquarters CFS remained at RAF Little Rissington until 12 Apr 76 when it relocated to RAF Cranwell. Station Headquarters remained until 31 Aug 76. The next day the station was handed over to the army to be occupied by the Royal Irish Rangers and was renamed Imjin Barracks. The army moved out in late 1980 and on 15 Jan 81 the station became RAF Little Rissington again, and was transferred to the control of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). It was made available for use as the 30th contingency hospital detachment 1 of the US hospital Upper Heyford. The Officers' mess was earmarked as accommodation for walking wounded. HQ Support Command assumed overall responsibility for the Station which was overseen on a day to day basis by the RAF liaison officer at Fairford.

During the period of army and USAF use, the married quarters and messes were occupied by Army and USAF personnel. Some of the married quarters being used by personnel from the 30th fighter wing at Upper Heyford. The 30th contingency hospital was deactivated in Mar 91 following the end of the cold war in 1989. The USAF withdrew in early 1992, the site was handed back to the Ministry of Defence and offered for sale. Many of the domestic site buildings and hangars have been purchased for use by industry. The future of the Officers' Mess, currently the property of Country and Metropolitan Homes plc, remains uncertain whilst its owners decide whether to develop it into exclusive self-contained apartments or to demolish it and use the real estate for other residential development. By kind permission of Country and Metropolitan Home plc, this window was removed on 27 Jan 03 in order that it may be displayed in memory of the Central Flying School RAF Little Rissington 1946 - 1976.

Many thanks to Sqn Ldr Roger Wilkin for saving the window which will be displayed at HQ CFS.