Stansted Airport is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its runway, which began life as an American military base during World War II.

Known as George Washington Field, it opened in 1943 and played a significant role in the war effort.

The airfield became the ninth largest US Air Force base in East Anglia, and was home to four B-26 Marauder squadrons from the 344th bomb group, known was the 'Silver Streaks'.

Despite not being fully operational until the summer of 1943, the runway had its first unexpected visitor on February 26 that year, when a battle-damaged RAF Short Sterling bomber made an emergency landing after returning from an air raid.

On D-Day, the 'Silver Streaks' led 600 aircraft over the beaches of France, which earned them the Distinguished Unit Citation.

A total of 140 missions were flown from the airfield by the bomb group before it relocated to France at the end of 1944.

After the war, the site was handed back to the Civil Aviation Authority and became a civilian airport.

Gareth Powell, managing director of London Stansted, said: "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."

The runway was extended in the 1950s to its current length of 3,048 metres, and recently underwent a full refurbishment, which took five months and saw 50,000 tonnes of asphalt laid.

To continue its American connections, Stansted Airport has welcomed Air Force One and US presidents for visits to the UK on seven occasions since 2008.

As part of the anniversary celebrations, the airport is holding a competition on social media with a chance to win £800 worth of travel vouchers.