CHRISTCHURCH AERODROME 1926-1970, New updated(August 23rd 2013) edition of my book about Christchurch.Sections on the actual history, the Gliding School, 405FG USAAF, Airspeed, Resident and visiting aircraft. Available as a FREE download in PDF format at Hampshire Airfields or from Amazon as Kindle/Ipad file.
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Predating Christchurch Airfield by 13 years are these photos of Denys Corbett Wilson and his mechanic in their aircraft at Highcliffe .He landed on the cliff top fields(Where the cliff top car park is now) near Highcliffe Castle on 18th of June 1913 in a Bleriot XI-2 aircraft.
Volume 2:CHRISTCHURCH AERODROME 1926-1970, 80 more pages on Christchurch , mostly photographs of visiting and resident aircraft.. Available as a FREE download in PDF format at Christchurch Volume 2.
You can read an eyewitness account of his visit on the Christchurch Historical Society Website.
GAUC(till 1960),EGHA: Lat/Long 50 44 03N/01 44 53W. Grid ref SZ 186933 . 20 feet ASL. Ident "XC",later "CT". USAAF Station #416.
RUNWAYS .Originally Grass -:N/S 1000 yds,NE/SW 1000 yds,E/W 1000 yds,NW/SE 950 yds.
CHRISTCHURCH Airfield maps showing the various boundaries.
Key to Maps
A = 1926"Burrys Field"
D = 1930 F C Fishers airfield(Somerford Bridge)
A+B+C = 1933/34 Shamrock and Rambler Air Station
A+B+C+D = 1935 Bournemouth Airport
A+B+C+D+E = 1941 Christchurch Airfield.
1943 Steel Matting runway,QDM 245/065 1650x50 yds,
replaced by Tarmac over an earth & concrete mix base 4484x100ft in 1954.
By this time Airspeed's factory had been built on the northern part of area D
By 1943 the area occupied by the hard runway in
the lower map was being prepared for the arrival of the USAAF in March 1944
F = USAAF 405 FG HQ
G = Flying Club
H = Portsmouth Aviation Hangar outside airfield boundary,occupied post war by 89GS(later 622 GS)
As can be seen from the maps above ,the evolution of Christchurch Airfield was complex.The first beginnings were in July 1926 on the area known as "Burry's field"(part of Mudeford Farm - owned by Mr.Burry -area "A" on the map)which was used for pleasure flights.Among the users was " Surrey Flying Services". offering joyrides.In May 1928,the Bournemnouth & District branch of the Hampshire Aero Club operated from fields adjacent to the Somerford Grange.Initial operations were one day per week but this increased to two days (Wednesday & Thursday) after the closure of Ensbury Park Aerodrome. Instruction was by Lt Swaffer who would fly an aircraft in from Hamble for the purpose.The next step was when Francis Colborne Fisher(see photo above), a recently qualified pilot( he qualified for his licence on 16th May 1928 - licence no.8277) leased the area marked as"D" near Somerford Bridge from Grange Estate.He operated pleasure flights from there for four summer seasons using an Avro 504K,until his lease ran out.Meanwhile Burry's Field also continued to operate and was listed in the AA Aviation Dept "Register of Landing Grounds " with a landing run of 650yds and another of 400 yds.The aerodrome was also occasionally known as Somerford during the 20s/30s. On 30th April 1933 Alan Cobham's National Aviation Day display(generally, but unofficially, known as his Flying Circus) came to Christchurch and attracted over 8,000 spectators.However the noise of the display on the Sunday morning , which was audible in the Christchurch Priory during morning service , was to have repercussions the following year when a formal application for Planning permission for the future airport was made.
Click on thumbnails below for larger images.
G-ABSI - Airspeed Ferry used by Alan Cobham's National Aviation Day
In 1933 Burry started operating from areas "A+B+C" as the Shamrock and Rambler Air Station the manager was Mr C Fletcher and the landing run given as 650yds.An inaugural flight by a Western Airways DH Dragon on May 14 1934 was spoiled by the fact that the aircraft mistakenly landed at Fisher's Field.
The Fisher Aviation Company (formed by Francis Fisher and H Clive Smith) made a formal application to the Christchurch Council for planning permission to establish an aerodrome in 1934. The application was initially refused on the grounds that....
1:It would spoil the developement of an a residential area.
2:The noise would interfere with amenities and be injurious to public health.
3:Too far from Bournemouth(6.5 miles) and too close to Christchurch(1 mile).
4: would affect a nursing home at a distance of 1,000 yds.
5:Aeroplanes would be a danger to local historical buildings.
6:Aeroplanes would interfere with Divine Service.
On March 27th 1934 the application was allowed on appeal to the Ministry of Health at a public enquiry held in Christchurch.
The eventual outcome was that Fisher took over the running of the erstwhile Shamrock and Rambler Air Station . Bournemouth Airport Ltd was formed with Alan Cobham as Chairman and Francis Fisher as managing Director and from February 1935 Christchurch became known as " Bournemouth Airport"
encompassing areas" A+B+C+D".The 94 acre site was purchased for £17,000 in March 1935. Grandiose plans for a terminal building came to naught and what eventually emerged was a wooden hut.The pictures below (from Colin Richards and Christopher Balfour) show(TOP) Francis Fisher rolling the surface of the field and (LOWER) the terminal area of the airfield in 1936.
New services were operated by Cobham Air Routes to Guernsey and Croydon using Westland Wessex aircraft.A hangar was built to accomodate the aircraft overnight.
Over the next five years airline services were operated to Cardiff & Shoreham(Channel Air Ferries Ltd), and to Ryde(IOW) by PSIOWA as well as other minor airlines .By June 1935 full customs facilities were available although these were withdrawn the following year. For more information on airline operations see the Christchurch Airlines page.
In July 1935 Flight reported that "BOURNEMOUTH and Poole have decided on a joint purchase
of land near Bear Cross for use as a municipal airport—a project which will cost about £15,000." Although some land was purchased nothing came of the idea and Christchurch remained the Bournemouth airport until after WW2 when Hurn became available.
There was an active flying club , the Bournemouth Flying Club(also a brainchild of Francis Fisher) , which in 1938 had a fleet "which includes a Heron, a Martin,
a Swallow, a Robin, three Sparrows, and three Avis's"(from Flight March 1938)- a considerable rise from 3 Moths and a Widgeon listed the preceding year.The 1937 rates were given as: Instruction and advanced
dual, £2 an hour; solo from £1 10s. an hour; contract rate from
£1 7s. an hour.Members subscription was £2.2.0.Francis Fisher was the instructor and secretary.Capt the Rt Hon the Ear1 of Normanton was the President and Sir Alan Cobham was the Vice-President. In 1937 additional hangars were erected to accomodate the club's expanding fleet.By 1938 an additional instructor was available - this was David G Biggart. Other notable members were Roderick A F Farquharson
who owned BA Swallow G-ADJN (used by the club), Walter S Coates,(ex RAF), a farmer, who held B Licence No
1661; and Edgar K P Ince who qualified with the Bournemouth club. Looking after the aircraft was Mr. E D Whiting, the chief ground engineer . In March 1938 Airworthiness Company started up doing overhaul and repairs in a new hangar.
The Flying club remained very active over the following years and the March 10 1938 issue of Flight recorded that " Sideslips were barred in the landing competition held on Sunday
at Christchurch, and this was won by Mr. F. Sparrow—a particularly
good performance since, at the time, he had not made his first
solo. Four new members joined the Bournemouth Flying Club
during last week, and the names of two add to the steadily growing
ornithological collection—which includes a Heron, a Martin,
a Swallow, a Robin, three Sparrows, and three Avis's. Last week's
flying total was 31 hours 15 minutes."An Empire Air Day was held there was on 28th May and once again Flight recorded "
The Bournemouth Flying Club, with a fine day and a good flying
programme, assisted in the success of the aerodrome's Empire Air
Day display. Crazy flying was demonstrated by the club instructor
in the new Avro Mongoose, and the substantial cheque sent to the
Air League Benevolent Fund was proof positive of the reception of
The Flying Club joined the Civil Air Guard Scheme in Sept 38 and commenced training pilots for the RAF.This continued until the outbreak of war in1939 with the cost to pilots of 2/6d(12.5 p) per hour....
ABOVE:Luftwaffe photo of Christchurch , probably circa 1938 as the Airspeed factory is not visible.BELOW: A 1941 RAF photo showing aircraft dispersals along the western edge of the field (Mudeford Lane) and the camouflage painted roadways.
The War Years
During 1939 the Air Defence Experimental Establishment ( later the Signal Research and Development Establishment) was built on the North east corner of the airfield and opened in September 1939.The establishment was to be involved in the developmeof RDF/Radar in conjunction with a site at steamer Point and also at Worth Matravers (near Swanage).
In the early days of 1940 the Airspeed factory ,built on part of the original Fishers field ,commenced production .This factory , oficially opened on 22nd of March 1941, when fully completed produced Horsa gliders as well as Oxfords and Mosquitos during WW2. It is notable that the Christchurch factory was the only location where Horsas were produced, assembled and flown out. All other Horsa producers(Harris Lebus etc.) made only parts which were assembled elsewhere by RAF maintenance units.
After the war,as part of De Havillands,the factory produced the Ambassador airliner, Vampires,Sea Venoms and Sea Vixens before closure in 1962. The Luftwaffe reconnaisance photo below shows the field as it was in February 1941 with the Airspeed factory clearly visible at the northern end of the small grass field.
Luftwaffe photo of Christchurch 1941.
In April 1940 the airfield was taken on charge by 22 Group RAF with the HQ of RAF Christchurch initially in the Clubhouse on the northern side of the field.In May 1940 the government Air Defence Research and Development Establishment at the north eastern end of the airfield aquired the services of Special Duties Flight ,which,operating a very mixed bag of aircraft ,arrived to take part in the experiments with Radar.The SDF operated such diverse types as the Blenheim,Avro 504K,Scott Viking gliders,and eventually,3 Hurricanes for defence. Many of the SDF aircraft were flown out to Sway overnight in order to avoid damage from Luftwaffe attack.The Commanding Officer (CO) of RAF Christchurch was Wing Commander ‘Jackie’ Horner.
In addition ,the Fleet Air Arm sent aircraft for Radar trials from HMS Raven at Eastliegh,though these were only transient visitors. A Bellman hangar was erected the spring of 1940 on the land to the northeast of Dennistoun Avenue (between flying club area and the Somerford Road(previously known as Street Lane).During the following years between March 1941 and late 1943 ,5 more hangars were built . There were 3 Blister hangars , two on the northwest side of Mudeford Woods and one at the southwestern tip of the woods. At some point , a Bessoneaux hangar was erected to the east of the Bellman.Another large hangar was erected outside the airfield boundary at it's most southerly point , at the junction of Warren Avenue and Mudeford Lane.
The last-mentioned hangar (possibly erected as early as Autumn of 1942) was eventually used by Portsmouth Aviation who, in 1941,had become a contractor in the Civilian Repair Organisation for the servicing and repair of Airspeed Oxfords. They also had premises at Scott's Hill Lane(Amsterdam House) in Christchurch.Aircraft (minus wings )were towed along public roads between there and the airfield - frequently the towing was done by Francis Luxmoore(a director of Portsmouth Aviation).The Christchurch operation was overseen by Frank Dyson as works Manager. In 1943 the ADRDE was taken over by SRDE (Signals research and Deveopment Establishment)
The photo above(kindly provided by Christopher Balfour) shows the PS & IOWA(Portsmouth Aviation)works Fire Brigade - winners of the Emergency Services Organization Panel Challenge Cup on 26th Nov 1942.Click on the picture for a larger version. If you recognise anyone in the photo please E-Mail me.
Between 24 March and 8 April 1943 the steel mesh(BRC/British Reinforced Concrete Mesh )runway was compacted and laid by Company A of the USAAF 833Rd Engineers Aviation Battalion on land to the south of the existing airfield.They also constructed a shooting-in-butt and bomb storage revetments.In the spring of 1944 the airfield passed into the control of the USAAF who moved in in March 1944 when the 405th Fighter Group (Commanded initially by Col James Ferguson and then by Col Robert L Delashaw,from 26th April )arrived with 509/510/511 Squadrons,equipped with P-47D Thunderbolts.The 405FG was officially established at Christchurch on the 7th of March with an HQ in Bure Homage House and tented accomodation.The USAAF left soon after D-Day following a not uneventful stay and the airfield was returned to RAF control.The photo below shows 405FG tents pitched in the grounds of Bure Homage.A Horsa glider can be seen in the distance..Below that , a photo by J Clear of the Stars and Stripes that hangs in Christchurch Priory. It was presented to the Priory in June 1944 by Group Executive Officer, Edgar J. Loftus.
Vertical view above of the field in March 1944..
Aerial view above of the field in 1944 looking west.The red lines show the approximate location of the later hard runway."AS" is the Airspeed Factory,SRDE is the Air Defence Research Establishment(later SRDE),"G" is the Flying club location,"F" is the 405FG HQ and "H" the off-airfield Hangar used by Portsmouth Aviation and later by the Gliding School.
The two pictures below ( via Colin Richards and Geoff Kingman-Sugars ) show the field looking east- (TOP )in 1950 after removal of the wartime runway and (LOWER) in 1952 before the laying of the hard runway in 1954.See below for key to the notations(by Geoff Kingman-Sugars).
Key to photos above.
A: Original postwar clubhouse c.1951 B: Aircraft tie-down area north of woods .
C: Old RAF Officer’s Mess. D: Original buildings where maintenance was carried out on club aircraft.
E: Bure Homage stable Buildings .(Used as PX etc. by 405FG).
F: Site of new (1955)Blister Hanger.
G: Control Tower. H: Airspeed/de Havilland factory.
HFCP:Hoburne Farm Caravan Park.
J: SRDE. K: Portsmouth Aviation(WW2),89GS/ 622 Gliding School.
L: Site of new Clubhouse.
P1:Standard FW3 Type 22 hexagonal pill-box but with addition of corrugated asbestos fake roof to disguise its purpose.
P2:Standard FW3 Type 22 hexagonal pill-box but with addition of corrugated asbestos fake roof to disguise its purpose.
P3:Standard FW3 Type 22 hexagonal pill-box adjacent to derelict two story house.
P4:Standard FW3 Type 22 hexagonal pill-box.
P5:Standard FW3 Type 22 hexagonal pill-box.
P6:Pickett Hamilton Fort hydraulically-operated retracting Pill-Box.Retractable down to ground level to allow aircraft to be taxied/towed over it.
SRDE: Signals Research and Developement Establishment(originally The Air Defence Research and Developement Establishment.)
After the USAAF departed the airfield reverted to 11 group RAF control.The main activity were the repair by Airspeeds of Horsas which returned from the continent both by air and, in the case of badly damaged aircraft , by sea. In late 1944 Railway Air Services announced that services would resume in the spring of 1945 to Shoreham, Ryde and the West Country. However these services were never started.A further proposal by PSIOWA that Isle of Wight Aviation commence services to Ryde was stillborn. and the original Bournemouth Airport Company, still extant in February 1944, was wound up.In the spring of 1945 it is believed that Portsmouth Aviation at Christchurch were involved in the modification of 51 Ansons as ASH Radar trainers. confirmation of this would be most welcome.
In March 1945 control passed to Transport Command.The main activities continued to be production(Mosquitos) from Airspeed ,Radar trials,and Glider pick-up training.On 28th January 1946 control of the airfield passed to the Ministry of Aircraft Production.This became the Ministry of Supply on 1st April 1946..In 1945 the BOAC Gliding Club was formed - sharing the ex-Portsmouth Aviation hangar with the 89 GS..... Civil Flying after WW2
Operated by the Ministry of Supply, later the MoD and eventually the Department of the Environment.
T: Bellman hangar.....Bessoneaux hangar was to the east of it.
W: Compass swinging area finally used for winching site for up to two glider winches
X: Approximate crash-site of G-ACDI - no injuries other than dented pride for doing a ‘turn-back’ in a Tiger.
Y: Approximate crash site of G-AHVY (two occupants killed).
Bure Homage Mansion(see picture below) was used during 1944 as an HQ by the 405FG , USAAF, and later in the early 50s by the Royal Signals.
Civilian flying returned slowly to Christchurch after the war . In November 1946 Air Review reported that Francis Fisher, having been recently demobbed ,was seeking to re-open the Bournemouth Flying Club at Christchurch just as soon as the necessary permission to resume operations was granted by the Ministry of Supply.The MoS were at that time the controlling authority for the aerodrome.Mr Fishers intentions were to commence with a fleet comprising DH.60G G-AAHI,two BA Swallows G-AEGN & G-AEVA, the Avro Cadet G-ADFD, a Taylorcraft Plus G-AFJP, two ex-RAF Miles Magisters and two Mile Falcons.
Air Review stated that the aircraft were undergoing reconditioning at the firm's (Bournemouth Flying Club) own workshops under the supervision of the Chief engineer , Mr Whiting.
Once operational the club intended to charge £3 5s per hour for instruction with a cheaper rate for solo flights
A local newspaper report on the startup can be seen on Roy Hodges Christchurch website.
His first attempts were vetoed by the Ministry and it was not until 1948 that organised club flying resumed at Christchurch.In 1948, Portsmouth Aviation, by now doing non-aviation work, closed their premises in Scotts Hill Lane .Also in 1948 the South Hants Ultra Light Aero Club took up residence operating out of hut at the southern end of Mudeford Wood.Of note is that the club's president, Lord Ventry, was the man behind the building of the Bournemouth Airship G-AMJH, the gondola of which lingered on for many years in the 622GS Hangar.Other luminaries who were members included Sir Donald Bailey ( of Bailey Bridge fame) and George Errington , the Airspeed test pilot.A flying display was advertised in Flight for August 20th 1949 , photos may be seen here. However the club did not prosper and was dissolved on 13 October 1950
Flight reported in November 1950 "At a recent meeting in Christchurch, former members of the
South Hants Ultra-Light Aero Club agreed to dissolve that
organization and make a serious attempt to establish a new
club. It will be known as the Christchurch Aero Club and will operate from Christchurch airfield, where the S.H.U.L.A.C. has
been located for the past two-and-a-half years. It is the Club's
intention to give its members the opportunity to fly at the
cheapest possible rates and to step up considerably the amount
of flying done locally. The newly elected chairman is Mr. E. B.
The new "Christchurch Aero Club",founded by brothers John Hutton Marshall and Thomas Hutton Marshall along with Ted Gould , Capt.Francis Fisher and others came into being ,and on Saturday December 9th 1950 the Club held an informal dinner to introduce members to their new headquarters.
The club operated initially from a site in the centre of the field at the western end of Mudeford Woods.The initial instructors were Capt. Fisher, Sqn Ldr (Flt Lt at that time) Ron Hayter (RAFVRT) and later on John Pothecary.John Marshal was the Club's Chief engineer.A plan to use the fuselage of an Airspeed Horsa( possibly RN371-adjacent to Bure Lane on the south side of the field ) as a clubhouse was abandoned when the fuselage was vandalised and in June 1952 a reorganised club under the heading of Tom Marshall moved to the north side .Around this time the three original Blister hangars were removed.The new ‘club’ premises were in the western side of the old RAF Officers Mess building. The eastern side of that building was occupied by the Groundsmen (Airspeed/de Havilland employees) that kept the airfield in trim. It is probable that the club initially were using the old Besssoneaux hangar, but this was destroyed in a winter storm in 1954.Flight stated on August 15th 1952 "CHRISTCHURCH AERO CLUB, inaugurated on June 14th,
has now received Ministry of Civil Aviation recognition.
Headquarters are on the de Havilland airfield at Christchurch,
Hants, in accommodation made available by the company.
The venture has been financed, and is managed, by Mr. Tommy
Marshall, a Bournemouth business-man; so far, the club has a
fleet of two Tiger Moths and one Auster and membership of 25.
Sixty-four members of the air section of the de Havilland sports
and social club who have been flying at Thruxton, Portsmouth,
and Eastleigh under the " £1 an hour" scheme will also use the club.The three instructors are Mr. E. J. H. Thornton, Mr. R.
Hayter (commander of No. 89 A.T.C. Gliding School at Christchurch),
and Mr. Davis, a Wimborne schoolmaster.
The club has a licensed bar and facilities for catering. It is
hoped soon to arrange a dawn patrol, to which the nearby holiday
resort of Bournemouth should be an added attraction.By 1953 the CFI was John Pothecary assisted by Johnny Stone and occasionally, by Ron Hayter.
Left to Right:Tom Marshall,Frank Bellinger,John Marshall,Sue Marshall,John Stone,(unknown),Eric Thornton,(unknown),Gwyne Johns.
Tom Marshall and Ted Gould.
Ted Gould and G-AEKV,his Kronfeld Drone.(photo via Geoff Kingman-Sugars)
Late in 1955 a Vickers- Armstrong Works Flying Club was formed at Christchurch. The Club members were able to fly in the Christchurch Aero Club aircraft for 6 shillings per hour - the remainder of the cost(about 90%) being subsidised by Vickers-Armstrong.By July 1956 the club had 35 members with 85 on their waiting list.
In about 1956 the additional ‘clubhouse’ was built and the operational side of the club moved into that area with the social side of the club remaining in the old Officers Mess building. It was about this time also that Bert Hawkins took over as CFI and the Blister Hangar was built(varying dates - 1955-56) for the engineering side of the CAC.The hanger was not one of the three original blisters at Christchurch but was "imported" , parts possibly from Warmwell and one of the Lymington strips.<.p>In February 1957 the club was operating 3 Tiger Moths, a Gemini and four Austers.Flying rates for the Austers and Tigers was £3.15s per hour whilst the Gemini cost £7.15s per hour.Flying hours in 1956 totalled over 2,600(of these 826 hours were flown by the V-A Hurn Flying Club).This was at a time when fuel was rationed due to the Suez crisis.In 1957 the British Women Pilots' Association held a successful flying meeting at Christchurch on September 28-29.By 1961 CHRISTCHURCH AERO CLUB was offering instrument-
rating training and practice and advanced multi-engine
training using Airspeed Oxford aircraft previously belonging
to the College of Air Training. Flying rate for the type was £16 per
hour, with special contract rates for 20 or more hours.
The photos below (Left & Centre by J.W.Kitchenham, via Geoff Kingman-Sugars,Right by Dave Welch) show (left) The Flying Club bar with Tom Marshall behind the bar :(centre)John Marshall(on steps)overhauling a Tiger Moth:(right)Desford G-AGOS outside the new hangar.
The images below show a Christchurch Aero Club advert from the 50s (EXTREME LEFT), then the four pages of a Club Brochure from the same era(From Colin Richards).Click on the images to see a larger version.
.... The Gliding School
On the southwestern tip of the field the 89 Glider School(later 622 GS) operated for many years from a hangar just outside the airfield boundary in Warren Avenue.The concrete compass swinging circle visible in the photos above was used by the GS as a hardstand for their glider winches. The Royal Aero Club recorded that on 14th Jan 1945, George Bryant Podger was awarded an "A" Gliding Certificate No.2345.Click here to see a list of other Gliding A Certificates from 89GS during 1945.During the mid- 50s the CO of 622 Gliding School was S/L Ron Hayter and the Adjutant was F/O Keith Ball,( the then landlord of the Saxon Arms pub on the road to Hengistbury Head and later as the first landlord of the Somerford Hotel).In 1951 89GS achieved the best results from any A.T.C
School with 72 "A" certificates and 15 " B " '
certificates for 5,307 launches .The School was very active and in 1954 was second in the country in terms of the number of Cadets trained with a total of 75. Amongst the " customers " of 622GS were the cadets from No. 171 (Christchurch) Squadron ATC., one of whom(Geoff Kingman-Sugars) provided much of the information here. A detached flight formed at Homefield School near Tuckton in 1956.This later became No. 2330 (Homefield School) SQN ATC . The photos below show(left) the Detached Flight on a visit to Calshot on 10th August 1958 - the aircraft behind the group is the SARO Princess flying boat G-ALUN.(Right )A Summer camp visit to Duxford.Click here to see a list of those identified so far in these photos.
The 622 GS continued to operate from Christchurch until July 1963 when, with closure of the airfield imminent , the school moved to Old Sarum in WiltshireTheir hangar at Warren Avenue was demolished in July 1964.
A first-hand account of gliding here can be read on the Christchurch Historical Society website.
The picture below, from Colin Pomeroy(additional detail from John Pothecary),was taken during a visit by the Commandant Air Cadets (centre left , in battle dress).The Officer Commanding,622GS, Flight Lieutenant Ron Hayter is second from the left.Standing with arms folded is Johnny Allen - later a flight engineer on Concorde.The sergeant seated on the right is Peter Course - later deputy manager of Hurn.More photos of 622GS are on the Christchurch Residents page.
Postwar ( 1950) view of the airfield and the Airspeed factory.Clearly visible are two of the 3 blister hangars erected during the war.The third was at the extreme western end of the woods and can be clearly seen in the March 1944 vertical view .Also visible are the 4 grass runways and the wartime runway used by the USAAF and by De havillands thereafter.A Mosquito is visible parked by the Mudeford Woods.At the top right the Gliding School hangar is visible. The grass area immediately to the left of the hangar was fenced off and became a caravan park shortly after this picture was taken.
.... De Haviland
The control tower at Christchurch with a Sea Venom(Photo from Paul Francis).
Airspeed/De Havilland continued to operate their factory at the northeastern corner of the field , dealing initially with overhauls of Horsas, but later building Vampires,Sea Venoms, Sea Vixens and Ambassaadors.In the 1955 picture below two Ambassadors are visible outside the factory. Compare this picture with the 1950 photo above and the Council housing development on the north side of Somerford road is very apparent.The second photo below shows the airfield from the south at around the same date(1955). In 1954 the Military Experimental Engineering Establishment from Christchurch laid a hard runway on the site of the WW2 wire mesh runway using a revolutionary new technique combining concrete and soil.The runway, 4480 x 100 feet and 6 inches deep , was laid in a matter of weeks using 3 Howard Single-pass soil stabilisation plants. The surface was then topped off with various experimental tarmac finishes to a depth of 2 inches.
The main beneficiaries of this exercise were De Havillands who were by now turning out Vampires and Sea Venoms.Flight reported on the runway construction in October 1954.....
SOIL-STABILIZATION—i.e., the improvement of soil as a
"structural" material, usually by the introduction of a binding
agent such as cement—is being increasingly employed in runway
One of the largest runway stabilization projects to be carried
out in this country has recently been completed at Christchurch,
Hants, Airfield, which is operated by the de Havilland Airspeed
Division under lease from the Ministry of Supply. The project
has involved the replacement of a permanent grass runway by a
stabilized-soil runway 4,500ft in length and 100ft in width.
The subsoil was found to be of a satisfactory nature, but it was
necessary to remove the turf and topsoil to a depth of 6in and to
use gravel to regain the required level. Topsoil of a high organic
content, such as existed at this site, cannot be economically
The work was carried out without interruption of flying activities.
Soil stabilization to a depth of 6in was performed very
largely by Howard single-pass soil-stabilization plant, made by
Rotary Hoes, Ltd., of Horndon, Essex. Three complete "trains"
of this equipment were employed, usually working in echelon.
Two of the trains were hauled by crawler tractors designed and
made by the same company for this specific duty. The work
was completed at a rate of 270 sq yd/hr for each train, this time
included final rolling.
The final tar or bitumen surfacing added to the soil cement was
of the minimum thickness necessary to give protection from
mechanical and climatic damage.
Preliminary trials included stringent tests with Service aircraft
on seven different types of surfacing. As a result, three types
were selected for long-term test. Part of the runway will be
surfaced with tar and chippings, part with a 2in tarmac carpet,
and part with Jetcrete, a special emulsion developed to withstand
the effects of use by jet aircraft.
The work forms part of a Ministry of Supply experimental
programme and is being carried out by the Military Engineering
Experimental Establishment, Christchurch, with the co-operation
of Royal Engineer units of the Army.
The prototype Ambassador G-AGUA nearing completion at Airspeed Christchurch.
With the advent of heavier and faster jets such as the DH110 ( later to become the Sea Vixen) some thought was given to safety .A crude but effective arrestor system was installed near the western end of the new runway,This consisted of a cable across the runway ( for a naval type arrestor hook to engage) attached to two lines of heavy anchor chains laid along side the runway.
In addition a blast fence was installed at the eastern end to protect traffic on the Lymington Road. This consisted of wattle fencing which whilst OK for lesser things , proved to be unable stand up to the jetblast of the DH110(Prototype of the Sea Vixen).
BELOW UPPER:The first Sea Vixen XJ474 on the compass swinging pad at Christchurch in March 1957 .MIDDLE: Outside the Flight shed, date unknown(Photo via Colin Richards).BOTTOM: Map of the field as at August 1961 from a De Havilland brochure.(thanks to Fred Weeks)
However ,time was running out for Christchurch ,and following termination of De Havilland's lease and the closure of their factory in 1962,the airfield rapidly declined. A possible plan by Beagle Aircraft to take over the factory buildings failed to materialise.(They instead aquired premises in Stony Lane Christchurch where they have remained to the present day) .Beagle said that that initial costs
there would result in an increase in Beagle
prices at a time when they were striving for
Another prospective buyer was the British Oxygen Company . However , this possibility was stillborn , partly at least due to internal disputes between various government departments.
There was disagreement among the interested parties about the future of the airfield site with a period of discussion by the council. Accounts of the plans and objections from the local "Christchurch Times" may be read on Roy Hodges Christchurch historical website here, here , and here.
The Air Traffic Control departed in July 1963 and the Aero Club closed in 1964.The airfield officially closed at the end of 1964,although occasional aircraft movements took place for several years after that date. The Club hangar was removed in 1966.My last fixed wing sighting at Christchurch was early 1970- but even after that there were occasional helicopter arrival/departures at SRDE (located at the eastern end of the field).Although SRDE(Signal Research and Developement Establishment) used a helipad on their Sports Field (outside the airfield boundary)for civil visitors, military (mainly AAC) helicopters usually landed on the old airfield just outside the SRDE southeastern perimeter fence where an access gate existed .
However,eventually all activity ceased and the airfield , by now owned by the Ministry of Aviation, was sold off for housing, industry and schools.Today nothing remains of the original airfield except some of the Airspeed buildings,and streets named after aircraft.A downloadable file showing aircraft production by Airspeed/De Havilland is available here or at my other web site"Aviation in Hampshire UK 1900 to 2000.
By 1969 the Christchurch Council had at last got some kind of coherent plan for the airfield site. Details of this plan can be seen on Roy Hodges Christchurch history website.
The picture below,taken in 1967 from one of the new houses in the western corner of the airfield , looks northeast , with the De Havilland /Airspeed buildings in the distance .By this time those buildings were occupied by new businesses such as Revvo Castors and Shand Kydd(wallpapers). .(photo via Colin Richards)
The picture below - from the late 60s judging by the antenna tower, shows the view to the east towards the SRDE compound. The pillbox is P3 on the photos higher up this page.(photo via Colin Richards)
The two pictures(circa 1965) above show one of the few remaining buildings (left) and the encroaching housing(right). Pictures from Colin Richards.
The 1972 photo above shows that housing starting to cover the field in the north-western corner and also across the runway.
Venom NF.3 WX786 departing on delivery 5th January 1954
Above:Present day view of the airfield site with only a few of the Airspeed/DH buildings remaining to identify the location.Below:One of the remaining Airspeed buildings now in use by light industry.
Special Duty Flight,Types included Avro 504K,
Tiger Moth,Hereford,Hampden,Defiant,Lysander,Whitley,Harvard,Anson,Blenheim,Spitfire,Long Range Spitfire,
Autogiro(?),Harrow,Battle,Rapide,Vega Gull.SDF Defence Flight,Hurricane(3 aircraft)D Performance and Testing Flight,various types,arr 5/40Special Countermeasures Flight Anson(3 aircraft).595 Sq(detachment ) 4 x Spitfire,arr late 45,dep (?)420- Flt ,formed 25-09-40...moved to Middle Wallop almost immediately
Naval Air Radio Installation Unit- dep 1945.,/center>
H Flt/1 AACU & Battles, from Gosport , absorbed by SDF in June 1941
652 AOP Sq,Auster,arr 26/1/44,dep March 44
667 Sq,Defiants (TT) arr/dep summer 44
89 GS formed March 44 - renumbered(1955) 622 Gliding School/171 Sq ATC,Sedburgh Gliders,dep 7/63.
758 Sq ,Oxfords,.arr Oct 45, dep ?,/center>
405FG/509,510,511 FS(Aircraft codes:G9/2Z/K4)P-47D,arr 3/44,dep 22/6/44(Official date according to US sources .
In fact some aircraft were still operating from Christchurch as late as 29th June:
Combat Chronology of the U S Army Airforces shows 509 & 511 FS moving to Picauville on 29th
with HQ 405FG and 510FS following on 30th).
405th Fighter Group
509th,510th & 511th Fighter Squadrons
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