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MOD Boscombe Down was originally conceived, constructed, and operated as Royal Air Force Station Boscombe Down. An airfield first opened on the site in October 1917 and operated as a Royal Flying Corps Training Depot Station, training aircrews for operational roles in France during the First World War. For two years following the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, the airfield temporarily became an aircraft storage unit before returning to agricultural use. In 1930, the site reopened as a bomber station in the Air Defence of Great Britain Command – the fore-runner of RAF Fighter Command.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) moved to the site from its former base at RAF Martlesham Heath in Suffolk. This marked the beginning of Boscombe Down’s long association with aircraft research and testing. For a number of years, the site was also the home of the RAF School of Aviation Medicine.

The site has witnessed many significant developments in British aviation history, including pioneering trials of many aircraft of considerable importance to British Armed Forces. These include the first flights of the English Electric P1 (the forerunner of the English Electric Lightning), the Folland Gnat and Midge, Hawker P.1067 (the prototype Hunter), Westland Wyvern, and the BAC TSR.2.

In 1992, experimental work moved to the Defence Research Agency (DRA) and the site was renamed the Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment (AAEE), with site responsibility moving to the Defence Test and Evaluation Organisation (DTEO) and then to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) in 1995.

Following the creation of QinetiQ in 2001, a twenty-five year Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) was established with the MOD. Since that time, the airfield and all of the infrastructure at MOD Boscombe Down have been operated by QinetiQ on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, with many of the buildings on the site now benefitting from a major transformation programme to improve and modernise on-site operations and facilities.

Boscombe Down in 1918