Airport and Early Flying
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
Malcolm Moulten GEC
Rochester Airport and
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
Malcolm Moulten GEC
John Luck Webmaster and