Rochester Airport and Early Flying History.

 

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Table of Historic Facts

Did You Know ?

Early British aviation landmarks in Kent

  • 1909 JTC Moore - Brabazon made the first authenticated British powered flight at Leysdown Isle of Sheppey in a Voisin this was verified by the Aeroclub of Great Britain and he subsequently held pilot's licence number 1.

 

  • 1909 - 10 Short brothers based on the Isle of Sheppey built six Wright flyers under contract. This marked the beginning of the British Aviation manufacturing industry. The aircraft were supplied to the Royal Aero club.

 

  • 1910 the Royal Aeroclub and Shorts moved to Eastchurch Isle of Sheppey an airfield associated with such illustrious names as Brabazon, Sopwith, Rolls and Maclean. During the First World War it became an RNA's station. It reverted to RAF use as the armament and gunnery school in 1922.

 

  • 1912 The first take off of an aeroplane from a warship took place at Sheerness when Lt Samson took to the air in a Shorts 538 from HMS Africa.

 

Sources:

Kent Airfields in WW2 Robin J Brooks

Malcolm Moulten GEC archives

 

 

Did you know ?

Rochester Airport and British Aviation.

  • Rochester Council purchased the land at Rochester Airfield in September 1933 from the landowner as the site for a municipal airport. One month later Short brothers, who had started building aircraft in 1909 on the Isle of Sheppey, asked for permission to lease the land for test flying and thus began the privileged relationship between the local authority and the aviation industry.

  • In 1934-5 Short brothers took over the Rochester Airport site when they moved some of their personnel from the existing seaplane works. The inaugural flight into Rochester was from Gravesend, John Parker flying their Shorts Scion G-ACJI. It was powered by a Pobjoy engine.

  • Pobjoy Air Motors Ltd moved to Rochester at the same time to be closer to Short brothers to whom they were contracted for production of aircraft engines for the Short's Scion. Financial difficulties led to a capital investment by Shorts in Pobjoy and the eventual assimilation of Pobjoy.

  • The Air Ministry licensed Short Brothers in 1936 to design and build a four-engined high wing monoplane. An initial half scale model S3, serial M4, flew at Rochester on 19th September 1938. The first prototype S29 came out of its hanger on may 14th 1939. The flight was perfect but the landing gear collapsed on touch down. Later developments led to the first 4-engined bomber to serve in the RAF. The Shorts S29 Stirling.

  • In 1938 No 23 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School (No 26 group RAF) came to Rochester. No 1 hanger was built for the RAF and for the Navy and to house Avro tutors. The school was managed by Shorts and they still exist fronting the Maidstone Road.

 

  • The civilian services started with flights from Rochester to Southend in June 1934 at a cost of 12 shillings (60p) for the return trip. Short brothers continued to build seaplanes on the Esplanade at Rochester supplying the growing market for flying boats. The name "Empire" and "Sunderland" flying boats will always remain one of the important contribution made by Medway to British Aviation.

 

  • Rochester airport was bombed heavily during the war by a wing of Dornier 17s on August 15th 1940. Many 100lb bombs scored hits on the factory and the runways. Spitfires of 54 squadron from Hornchurch successfully intercepted some of the marauders. Stirling production was put back by at least a year and in the end was dispersed to other parts of the country as well as Rochester.

  • Shorts concentrated their work in Belfast leaving the Medway towns in 1946. For six years 1947-53 the RAF 24 Elementary Flying School Training School was transferred to Rochester and was renamed "Reserve Flying School". The unit was disbanded in 1953. Previous employees of Shorts joined the Shorts gliding club at Rochester and developed a prototype aircraft called the "Nimbus", in an attempt to keep aircraft production at Rochester.

 

  • Services to and from the continent expanded in the 1950's and 60's using Dakotas and Doves but with stringent requirement of the CAA operators had to re-locate from Rochester.

  • In 1979 the lease reverted to the council and after giving thorough consideration to closing the airport GEC comprising Marconi and instrument makers Elliot Automation decided to take over management of the airport maintaining 2 runways as grass whilst releasing some land for light industrial expansion.

 

  • In 1999 a group of aviators at Rochester formed a company dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the long tradition of aviation at Rochester Airport, its service to the local community and for its longer term preservation. The historic site of Rochester Airport was saved from closure for the short term by the unstinting efforts of this group of local business people, in the face of extreme pressure by the Labour Controlled Local Council to re-zone the Airport site as Industrial Development land. Rochester Airport PLC, proposed to continue operation of the airport even though the timescale given for takeover was miniscule. They want to continue, as far as possible, the existing services provided for private, business and emergency aviation services and enhance them to bring increased economic benefit to Medway, its surrounding area, its businesses and its community. Significant voluntary work has contributed to the financial viability of Rochester Airport which has been operated on a care and maintenance basis in light of the difficulty in securing a proper lease. The Airport now has a five year lease, outside of the Landlord & Tenant act 1954, and enter a crucial phase of negotiation with Medway Council.

 

  • Since 2010 a renewed enthusiasm for running the airfield has emerged. This is due in part by the idea of returning to the grass roots of a community GA airfield. This has meant a resurgance  in the support and voluntary help given by enthusiasts to once again become a "place that people want to come to".
     
  • In 2013 the Conservative led Medway Council announced there wish for some of the airport land to be separated off and developed for Industrial use. This proposal would close one of the runways but allow some of the monies raised by development to pay for improvements to the infrastructure that would remain.

 

An invitation to tender was issued and the existing operator became the preferred bidder after the closing date of 12th March 2013. Precise details of how the council proposes to finance the scheme prior to the development plans being implemented is initially unclear.

 

Local ward councillors are very enthusiastic about the proposals and once they are implemented should see the Airport being available for use for a greater part of the year due to an all weather surface being planned for the 02/20 runway. It is hoped this will make the airport operation more sustainable and help finance some of the proposed initiatives.

 

 

Sources:

Kent Airfields in WW2 Robin J Brooks

Malcolm Moulten GEC archives

John Luck