Back in August last year, we were advised by our Sponsor, Urban & Civic, that we needed to move premises due to ongoing redevelopment of the Alconbury Weald Site. Urban & Civic continued its ongoing support of the group by providing us with a new storage facility, in the form of Liberty Lad, a 1950s aircraft hangar, used by the US Air Force during the Cold War. While this was a mammoth move over three weekends with some 50 volunteers, we are now well established in our new ‘home’.
Mark Harrington, one of our volunteers, decided to undertake some research regarding the history of our hangar and I am pleased to provide his extremely interesting article below:
Spotlight’s new home is Hangar 3058 at Alconbury Airfield. This is a third-generation Hardened Aircraft Shelter (HAS), which was built in the late 1970s to protect a single aircraft and its ground crew from Warsaw Pact air attack.
The hangar has the tag “Liberty Lad” on the sign outside, which is believed to be from one of the original B-24 Liberator heavy bombers (below) of the United States 8th Army Air Force’s 93rd Bombardment Group that once stood on a hardstanding near the hangar location.
Other neighbouring shelters also have monikers, or nose art, from similar Liberators, such as Blackie, I’ll Be Around and Oh Jonnie (which was demolished in 2000). On the following YouTube video, Hangar 3058 can be seen from the air at around 3:06 next to the two 1950s nose docking sheds (with a red bin outside).
The USAF 30th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing first used the hanger for RF-4C Phantoms – the photo reconnaissance variant.
The Phantom would have been towed backwards into the hangar using the winch (still in situ at the back of our hangar) until it stopped on chocks bolted into the floor. The bolts are still in place, but there are no chocks. When the aircraft was needed, the main doors would be opened. The rear doors would also be opened into the exhaust chamber to allow the jet blast to escape, and the Phantom would taxi out ready to take off.
Refuelling would have been completed inside the hangar using a tanker lorry driven in and cameras reloaded from stocks kept inside. A generator room behind the exhaust chamber meant the hangar could be self-sufficient. If required, a flight crew and support staff room would have been located in a small cabin, located in the back corner of the hangar. Ground-to-aircraft communication within the hangar was performed using the secure Telebrief system. This can be seen still hanging from the ceiling. This would have been hooked to the cockpit where the crew could have plugged it in, connecting it to the hangar communication systems. As the aircraft moved out of the hangar, it would be simply unhooked and automatically retracted upwards out of the way.
In 1987, the Phantoms were phased out and replaced with A-10 Thunderbolts. The 511th Tactical Fighter Squadron occupied the HASs on the north side of the runway (including 3058). The 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron operated out of Alconbury until 1992 (during which time the 511th Tactical Fighter Squadron deployed to the Middle East providing air support during Operation Desert Shield/Storm) until the post-Cold-War armed forces reduction meant they were decommissioned.
At that point, the 352nd Special Operations Group arrived from Ramstein, Germany. The 7th Special Operations Squadron was assigned to the area north of the runway. However, as they used specially-modified C-130 Hercules aircraft, which were far too large to fit inside an HAS, 3058’s active days were over!
The 352nd Special Operations Group remained at Alconbury until 1995, when it was relocated to its current home at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk. Alconbury’s flight line was closed, bringing to an end nearly 60 years as a front-line airbase.
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