RAF Church Fenton was opened on 1st April 1937, while it was still being constructed. It was built as a result of the RAF’s massive pre-war expansion programme, in response to Hitler’s move to increase the strength of the German armed forces. The base was designed as a fighter base from the outset, with the task of protecting the industrial regions of Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and Humberside. It had decoy fields at Hambleton and Kelfield, both of which have long since vanished. It also had a scatter field at Sherburn-in-Elmet. The runway is still there, but its’ use has now changed to a brake pad test-track. Sherburn Aero Club is on a grass strip next to the old wartime runway.
Initially, there was a grass strip runway, and only two shortened ‘C’ type hangars (the two main hangars which remain). The first residents of the airfield were 72 and 213 Squadrons, flying Gloster Gauntlets and Gladiators. An early “claim to fame” for Church Fenton is that the Gladiators that moved in shortly after opening were the first to be delivered to the RAF. These were the front line fighters of the RAF at the time, yet they were still biplanes (albeit fast and reasonably advanced) – the RAF was only just beginning to move into the monoplane era.