Wings over St Athan
AS WITH GAYDON, the 1000-acre airfield at St Athan is a former Royal Air Force facility. In St Athan’s case, the RAF presence dates back to 1938, when a technical training centre was established, though its activities were expanded the following year with the arrival of a fighter group pool. During the Second World War over 14,000 personnel were stationed here and it was used for training both ground and air crew. After the war, St Athan also became an RAF driver training school where recruits who needed to drive (RAF police, etc) learned in a fleet of Morris Minors!
St Athan’s main role in recent decades has been as a maintenance base for fighters and bombers… Vulcan, Victor, Buccaneer, Phantom, Harrier, Tornado and others were all serviced here, as was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster. At one stage it was the biggest military aircraft repair and overhaul base in Europe, which at its peak employed over 6000 military and civilian personnel.
But over the years the UK’S air fleet shrunk, maintenance was taken on by the operating bases, and St Athan’s role dwindled. The last aircraft to be serviced at St Athan was a Vickers VC10. When it departed in February 2012, the remaining employees were made redundant.
Since then the hangars have stood empty, but their size and availabilty were two important factors that attracted Aston Martin. At the handover ceremony, CEO Andy Palmer said: ‘Due to its sheer size and scale, the St Athan super hangars represented an excellent opportunity for us to build our second manufacturing facility, within the envelope of an existing structure.
‘We have three hangars, one of which will handle the body in white, one will be the paint shop and one will look after trim and final assembly.’ He also hinted that there could potentially be a small test track on the perimeter of the airfield.
From the RAF wings to the similarly iconic wings of Aston Martin, the next chapter in the story of St Athan is just about to begin.