Rochester Airport and Early Flying History.
Table of Historic Facts
Did You Know
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.
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
- 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
- The civilian services started with flights
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
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
Kent Airfields in WW2 Robin J Brooks
Malcolm Moulten GEC archives