BITTESWELL: Military aerodrome later civil aerodrome. (Then private airfield named BITTESWELL AIRPORT in 1984)
Military user: WW2: RAF from 1942 and also Armstrong-Whitworth facility from late 1943 to 1982.
Activities: WW2: Opened as a satellite station for Bramcote. Operated by several OTU squadrons
Operated by: 1975: Hawker Siddeley: Overhaul centre (Gnats, Hunters & Vulcans)
Flying training: Post 1945: Used by RAF Flying Training Schools plus the civil CSE Oxford and College of Air Training, (Hamble), companies
Gliding site: 1960s only?
Location: NE of the A5, N of the A4303 (previously the A4114?), 2nm W of Lutterworth town centre and about 6nm N of Rugby town centre
Manufacturing: Armstrong Whitworth assembly and flight testing centre, later to become part of the Hawker Siddeley group of companies. Midland Ultralights Ltd
Period of operation: 1940 to 1983. Privately owned until finally, in November 1987 the Spitfire IX G-MKIX took off , signifying the very last aircraft movement from this very important airfield in UK aviation history
Runways: WW2: 1940 originally all-over grass airfield.
From 1943 17/35 1280x46 hard 04/22 1828x46 hard
10/28 1280x46 hard
NOTES: In WW2 the runway surfaces were given as concrete with wood chippings.
It appears that the OTU (Operational Training Unit) based here took part in the 1000 bomber raids during April/May 1942. Presumably flying Whitleys?
INTO THE JET ERA
From 1947 BITTESWELL became an important flight development centre especially for jet and turbo-prop engines and much testing was done for many years. After WW2 Armstrong Whitworth built many aircraft under sub-contract deals including Gloster Meteors and Javelins, Hawker Sea Hawks and Hunters. From 1959 the AW.650 Argosy freighters were built here and lastly the BAe Hawk T.1.
A RED ARROWS CONNECTION
At one time BITTESWELL was the maintenance base for the Red Arrows, when they operated Folland Gnats. AWA, (later Hawker Siddeley), had a contract for overhauling the type here as well as many other military aircraft of the period.
In 1977 the only aircraft listed as being based here was the Cessna F150H G-AWEO belonging to the Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth Flying Group.
Note: This small picture was scanned from the July edition of Flypast magazine 1987.
THE DOUGLAS ARNOLD EPISODE
Before BITTESWELL finally closed in 1987 the aerodrome was purchased by Douglas Arnold in 1984 who renamed it as BITTESWELL AIRPORT and based his fleet of WW2 aircraft here including several Spitfires, a P-51D Mustang and a B-17G Flying Fortress.
SOME EVIDENCE REMAINS
Today any evidence of the aerodrome has disappeared completely beneath a huge commercial manufacturing and distribution centre known as ‘Magna Park’. But, all the roads are named after famous aircraft types - so the history lingers on. On show in the estate management building are an extraordinary display of aerial photographs taken over several years depicting exactly how the aerodrome was swallowed up. You can literally see the runways, taxi-ways and aprons gradually disappear over the years.
MAGNA PARK PICTURES
Note: Pictures by the author unless specified.
David GrimaThis comment was written on: 2017-07-14 19:30:59
As a boy in 1963, living in Ullesthorpe, I saw a Vulcan take off from Bitteswell. Quite unforgettable.
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi David, Many thanks for the memory, which I shall keep posted. Best regards, Dick
MikeThis comment was written on: 2018-09-24 16:34:27
In the early 1970s I had a holiday job at the grass drying plant just outside the South side of the aerodrome. We loaded wet grass cuttings (from the airfield) into a huge oil-fired drying plant and out of the other end came a fine green powder that was sold to be incorporated into animal feed. I learnt a lot, including how to drive a tractor.
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