|Operator||Royal Air Force|
RAF Ballykelly was a Royal Air Force station which opened in 1941 in Ballykelly, County Londonderry. It closed in 1971 when the site was handed over to the British Army as Shackleton Barracks. A small part of the base has been used as a refuelling point by army helicopters and small fixed-wing aircraft usually operating out of RAF Aldergrove near the town of Antrim.
Second World War
RAF Ballykelly opened in June 1941 during the Second World War as an airfield for RAF Coastal Command. In 1943, the main runway was extended and acquired an unusual characteristic in that it crossed an active railway line. Rules were put in place giving trains the right of way over landing aircraft. The airfield was used for anti-submarine patrols and escort convoys over the Atlantic Ocean. At various times Consolidated B-24 Liberator aircraft flew from Ballykelly in the fight against German U-boats, ranging from the Bay of Biscay to northern Norway. By the end of the war, Ballykelly squadrons had been responsible for sinking twelve U-boats, sharing with other aircraft and surface ships in the destruction of several others, and damaging many more.
During the Second World War, an RAF bomber on a training flight clipped a telephone line behind a church in Ballykelly and crashed, claiming the lives of the crew.
The airfield was closed at the end of the Second World War, but re-opened in 1947 as the home of the RAF Joint Anti-Submarine School, a training flight flying Avro Shackleton aircraft. It closed briefly in 1951 to allow preparatory work to be done for the arrival of the Shackleton aircraft in 1952.
In 1955, RAF Ballykelly was home to three squadrons of Shackletons, 204 Squadron, 206 Squadron and 240 Squadron. These were housed in the huge Ballykelly Cantilever Hangar which was more than 700 feet wide and 130 feet deep. There was also a station flight with two Lockheed Hudsons, two Douglas Dakotas and an Auster. In 1957 and again in 1958, 240 Squadron was among those involved in Operation Grapple, nuclear weapon testing on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean.
By 1959, 206 and 240 Squadrons had been replaced by two other Shackleton squadrons: 203 Squadron and 210 Squadron. The three Squadrons were part of the ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) force. They also covered search and rescue (SAR) standby duties together with their counterparts at RAF Kinloss and RAF St. Mawgan.
Some Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm units including 819 Squadron moved onto the station in 1962 and the navy referred to it as HMS Sealion or RNAS Ballykelly. The main runway (the one which crossed the railway) was extended again in 1963 to 7,500 feet to allow for potential dispersal of the RAF's V bomber force. This included the addition of V-bomber Operational Readiness Platforms at the eastern end. In April 1968, 204 Squadron flying from Ballykelly suffered the loss of an RAF Shackleton. Sqn Ldr Clive Haggett and his crew, a total of 12 men, were killed when their aircraft flew into the Mull of Kintyre early one rainy morning.
During a transatlantic yacht race in 1967/8 a French competitor was lost. One of the Shackletons from Ballykelly found him by adopting search positions well before the expected search location. They dropped life preserving equipment to him and marked his position to enable pick up by surface vessels.
On 29 March 2006, an Airbus A320 aircraft operated by Eirjet on behalf of Ryanair landed at Ballykelly after the pilot mistook the runway for that of nearby City of Derry Airport. The 39 passengers who boarded the flight at Liverpool airport continued their journey to the airport by bus.
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- "Ballykelly". Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
- "Plane lands at airbase by mistake". BBC News NI (29 March 2006). 29 March 2006. Retrieved 21 June 2008.