London Stansted Airport’s runway turns 80 years old

London Stansted Airport's runway turns 80 years old
Photo Credit: London Stansted Airport.

This year, London Stansted’s runway turns 80 years old as the airport celebrates how far it has come since the days of World War II.

Opening in 1943, what was known as George Washington Field began operations as an American military base during the middle of World War II.

The airfield quickly became the 9th largest U.S. Air Force base in East Anglia, and it was home to four B-26 Marauder squadrons from the 344th Bomb Group, known as the “Silver Streaks”.

Interestingly, the airfield didn’t actually become fully operational until the Summer of 1943. However, it had already seen its first unexpected visitor back in February of that same year when an RAF Short Sterling bomber made an emergency landing due to damage suffered during an air raid.

George Washington Field went on to play a major part in the D-Day raids a year later when the Silver Streaks led 600 aircraft over the landing beaches in Normandy, France, as they participated in the mammoth operation.

The bomb group flew a total of 140 missions from the airfield until they relocated to France in 1944 after D-Day.

Once the war was over, the airport was handed over to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), and it became a civilian airport.

Post-War life until today


London Stansted Airport's runway turns 80 years old
Danielson8181 at English Wikipedia, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Between the end of the war and today, Stansted has grown to become a formidable airport in the region.

Indeed, the airport is now the third busiest airport in London and the 4th busiest in the UK.

In 1950, the runway was extended to its current length of 3,048 meters, and in recent months, it has recently undergone a mammoth maintenance overhaul, with over 50,000 tonnes of Asphalt laid and 700 runway lights replaced during the 5-month long project.

As far as operations are concerned, Stansted has grown to become what some may call a “low-cost hub,” with the likes of Ryanair, Jet 2, and TUI holding huge presences at the airport alongside a variety of other low-cost airlines such as easyJet, Wideroe, and Pegasus.

Despite this unofficial title, this hasn’t stopped Stansted from making full use of its capabilities as the Essex airport is also home to a double Daily Emirates flight to Dubai, connecting it to the world effortlessly through the middle eastern giant’s hub.

In addition, Stansted also has a significant cargo airline presence with the likes of UPS, DHL, FedEx, Asiana Cargo, China Southern Cargo, and others servicing the airport daily.

Still connecting with its former U.S Air Force past


Air Force One departing Stansted on its most recent visit to the airport on the 10th July 2023 carrying current President Joe Biden to a NATO Summit in Lithuania, Photo Credit: Lewis Chesworth/AviationSource.

Despite being a full-time commercial airport, Stansted has continued to connect with its former American self by holding host to the U.S. president and Air Force One on 7 separate occasions since 2008.

On top of this, London Stansted regularly sees military operations from not just the USAF but also from the likes of the United Arab Emirates Air Force, Kuwait Air Force, Royal Air Force, and more.

Gareth Powell, London Stansted’s managing director, was present to comment on the anniversary of the airport’s runway, “Stansted is very proud of its past and the critical role the airfield played during World War Two as a U.S Air Force base.”

“It’s amazing to now look back and acknowledge those early efforts have ultimately culminated in the Stansted Airport we see today.”

“Back then, US engineers would have been unaware that thanks to their skill and expertise, Stansted would 80 years later be one of the busiest airports in the country, serving over 26 million passengers a year through one of the world’s most iconic terminal buildings”.

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By Lewis Chesworth 5 Min Read
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