Southport flying sites - UK Airfield Guide

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A Guide to the history of British flying sites within the United Kingdom
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Southport flying sites


Note: This map simply shows the location of Southport within the UK.

 

SOUTHPORT: Beach landing ground and aerodrome (Aka FRESHFIELD? See seperate notes for FRESHFIELD plus entry below)
 

Location: At the top end of Hesketh Road which appears to place the site at the northern end of Southport, possibly beyond the confines of the town?

Period of operation: 1910 to 1912 only?

 

NOTES: Considering the other information regarding this region I was interested to read in ‘Taking To The Skies’ by Graham Smith that Mr C Compton Paterson ran the Southport Flying School, formed in 1911, but he also conducted trials at FRESHFIELDS.

 

According to Ron Smith in British Built Aircraft Vol.5 “Southport aerodrome was established in the summer of 1910 by Messrs Woodhead and Gaunt ‘at the top end of Hesketh Road’. A hangar was erected, and the aerodrome boasted of ‘40 square miles of hard sand’. Gaunt Aircraft built the 1911 Gaunt Baby which was reportedly originally flown as a monoplane, and later as a biplane.”

In his excellent book RAF Hendon Andrew Renwick mentions that Claude Grahame-White spent quite a lot of time flying in this area and he; “…..had first visited Blackpool and Southport in August 1910. He returned to Freshfield, Southport, in February 1911.” This certainly implies that FRESHFIELD and SOUTHPORT were one and the same, but, with ‘40 square miles of hard sand’ to operate from, were perhaps two or more separate organisations spaced out along the sands near Southport? This was definitely the case if you consider that ‘The Sands’ run virtually continuously from Hesketh Bank, (and possibly further up the Ribble estuary towards Preston), right the way round via Southport and Formby to just north of Crosby.

Mention of the FRESHFIELD site being used seems to taper off after 1912.
 

 

SOUTHPORT: Military airfield initially, later civil regional aerodrome/(airport?) (Also known as HESKETH PARK later HESKETH PARK AERODROME etc?)
 

Military user: WW1: RFC/RAF No.11 Aircraft Acceptance Park (1917 to 1918)

Storage Depot (for aircraft?) 1918 to 1919
 

Airline users: Between the wars: Was this the location that Northern Air Lines used on their service from AINTREE, via SOUTHPORT SANDS, MARYPORT and PORTPATRICK, to MALONE in/near Belfast from June to September in 1924?  

Post 1945: Lancashire Aircraft Corporation
 

Pleasure flights: Pre 1940: Giro Aviation Co

Post 1945: Giro Aviation Co
 

Flying club/school: Pre 1940: Liverpool & District Aero Club

Post 1945: Southport Aero Club,  Southport Flying Club

Note: In the 1957 'The Aeroplane' directory, it appears that the Southport Aero Club were operating one DH82A Tiger Moth and one Wicko G.M.1. The latter being a pretty rare aircraft in the UK at that time - and since. It appears that only one example survives, of the eight built by Foster Wikner at EASTLEIGH (SOUTHAMPTON AIRPORT), prior to WW2.

1959 ‘snapshot’. Southport Aero Club (Their base listed as HESKETH PARK)

Manufacturing: WW1: Used by the Vulcan Motor & Engineering Co
 

Location: Partly on Crowmoor (Crowmere?) farm and the old racecourse. About one mile N of Southport pier

Period of operation: 1917 to 1960s except for WW2 period?

 

Runway(s): ‘All-over’ grass airfield? Possibly the beach foreshore also?

 

NOTES: In 1920 Norman Giroux set up the Giro Aviation Company at HESKETH PARK and operated here until well after WW2.


ANOTHER VISIT
This visit by Sir Alan Cobham in his astonishing 1929 Municipal Aerodrome Campaign seems to make no sense at all? This was his 43rd venue in a punishing  'Tour' of 107 venues, which lasted from May to October, and included two venues in Wales and eight in Scotland. What did he expect to achieve? SOUTHPORT and surrounds had long been established for flying activities, and the prospect of establishing a regional airport here, which was presumably his aim (?), must have seemed marginal?

The aircraft he used for this Tour was the DH61 'Giant Moth' G-AAEV, named 'Youth of Britain'. Typically he would arrive in the morning and give the town 'worthies' a flight or two around the area. At some point he also flew fifty children, ten at a time, sponsored by Lord Wakefield. A slap-up civic luncheon was normally involved when Cobham would extol the benefits of having an established aerodrome/regional airport.

To round this off he conducted fare paying joy-rides until dusk, without taking a break. The idea being that the revenue earned would pay for the Tour. I can highly recommend reading his memoirs in, 'A Time To Fly'.

But, for the purposes of this 'Guide', is it known where he operated from in 1929?

 

FLYING CIRCUS VENUE
The 22nd June 1934 venue for Alan Cobham’s 1934 Tour of the UK was ‘HESKETH PARK AERODROME’. Was this also the venue when, on the 13th September 1935 Cobhams No.1 Tour displayed in/near Southport?



MORE NOTES
It appears the Southport Aero Club were operating, after WW2, the rare Foster Wikner ‘Wicko’ GM-1 G-AFJB, (built for the Midland Aero Club at WEST BROMWICH in 1938).

There is also an intriguing situation involving Martin Hearn Ltd mainly based at HOOTON who are reputed to have had an outstation at HESKETH PARK with a ‘Belfast’ hangar using the foreshore as a runway. This company obtained approval as a Civilian Repair Organisation in WW2 specialising mainly in Avro Ansons and D.H. Mosquitoes but also the Whitley, Halifax and Douglas Boston types. Presumably the Anson and probably the Mosquito would have little difficulty landing on sand but did any of these other types use this facility? Or, was the grass airfield in place?




A PERSONAL MEMORY
In July 2009 I had the privilege to move the Rutan Varieze built and flown by Tony Fairclough from BIGGIN HILL (KENT) to be exhibited in the Science Museum Collection at WROUGHTON (WILTSHIRE) and as a lad he had lived near and helped out at both HESKETH PARK and on SOUTHPORT beach and later became a member of the Southport Flying Club who moved to WOODVALE (LANCASHIRE) in around 1958.

He told me that Norman Giroux, (who was operating two Fox Moths after WW2), used to give any lads willing, (presumably during the summer holidays), to help laying out the strings and/or markers that ‘protected’ the runway and ‘apron’ on SOUTHPORT SANDS a quick flight to and from HESKETH PARK. During the day the lads used to ‘police’ the landing area warning any errant holiday makers intent on crossing the ‘runway’ that it was indeed ‘active’.

From memory he thought that prior to 1958 the Southport Flying Club were operating just one Tiger Moth.

 

 

SOUTHPORT SANDS: Civil ‘aerodrome’ and civic heliport (also known as BIRKDALE SANDS)
 

Operated by: 1933: Southport Corporation

2000: Comed Avation Ltd for fixed wing operations. For rotary wing operations co- operated it seems by Beach Aviation on behalf of Sefton Borough Council
 

Flying Club: Post 1945: Southport Aero Club

Pleasure flights: Pre 1940: Avro Civil Aviation Service, Avro Transport Co

Post 1945: BCI Airways, Giro Aviation
 

Location: O.5nm to 1nm SW of Southport pier (but, there were other sites nearby years ago)

Period of operation: 1919 to -

Southport in 2000
Southport in 2000
The area used in 2016
The area used in 2016

Note: This map is reproduced with the kind permission of Pooleys Flight Equipment Ltd. Copyright Robert Pooley 2014.

Runway(s): 1933: Max landing run   512   sand

2000: 03/21   880x110    sand for fixed wing operations.




Note.However, and very strange though it may seem, in a flight guide published in 2000 the helicopter landing area, (ostensibly in almost exactly the same place), is listed as being; 906x197m sand

 

NOTES: A.V.Roe & Co were making large numbers of pleasure flights in Avro 504K biplanes shortly after WW1 and it appears this set the scene for possibly the longest period for a beach based pleasure flying ‘aerodrome’ in UK aviation history? It appears that the first regular air services to SOUTHPORT SANDS started on the 26th May 1919 by the A V Roe company operating a regular service from ALEXANDRA PARK (CHESHIRE) via BLACKPOOL SANDS. It is claimed this was the first scheduled airline service in the UK!

In early August 1931 Aviation Tours visited during their ‘Tour of Britain’ returning on the 5th after a quick visit to Hedon aerodrome in Yorkshire on the 4th. (See Hedon for details)

 

PLEASURE FLIGHTS or JOY RIDES
This is probably a good time to celebrate the considerable achievements of many humble heros in British civil aviation - the pleasure flight pilots. This must surely be amongst the most demanding work any pilot can do , (crop-dusting pilots might disagree of course), when it gets busy with many flights of about fifteen minutes duration, hour in and hour out, day in and day out. Each one carried out in the most gentle fashion so as not to frighten the passengers many of whom would have never flown before. I certainly thought this until I learnt that some ‘pleasure’ or ‘joy-ride’ operations in the 1930s offered just five minute flights! I had my first flight in a light aircraft on a ‘pleasure’ flight. In the back seat of an Auster from WESTON-super-MARE in about 1960 or 61 and what a thrill it was! Probably fifteen minutes?

 


A picture of the Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16059
A picture of the Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16059
A view of the beach looking south
A view of the beach looking south
Another view of the noticeboard
Another view of the noticeboard
The sculpture on the Shore Road roundabout
The sculpture on the Shore Road roundabout

The beach looking north
The beach looking north
Merrill and Richmond admire the Vultee V-1A engine
Merrill and Richmond admire the Vultee V-1A engine
 










 


Note: Apart from my pictures of the beach here, and the sculpture to celebrate these flights on the roundabout, all taken in 2016, the others are from a noticeboard placed on the Shore Road roundabout.


THE STARTING POINT FOR SOME VERY FAMOUS FLIGHTS
In 2010 I discovered that SOUTHPORT had a very distinct claim to fame. It being the departure venue used at least twice for a trans-Atlantic return flight by ‘Dick’ Merrill in both 1936 and 1937. This seemed so unlikely when I first read about it, but, on reflection - it makes a lot of sense. I would highly recommend anybody to look up the history of Henry Tyndall ‘Dick’ Merrill who had a most singular flying career. Quite a character to say the least.

In 1936 Dick Merrill and Harry Richman flew from New York to land at Llandilo, (now LLANDEILO), in CARMARTHENSHIRE, on the 3rd September 1936. Setting a new record time for an West-East trans-Atlantic flight of 18 hours 36 mins. It then seems they later flew to London (where?), but elected to depart from SOUTHPORT in their Vultee V1A Lady Peace  NC13770 on what was popularly known at the time as the ‘Ping Pong Flight’.

See LANDEILO for more info. Using SOUTHPORT did I suppose, have two major advantages in those days. Firstly it had existing aviation activity with resource to fuel etc, and secondly offered an almost unlimited take-off run? It was well known in those days that using existing aerodromes or airports with a vastly overweight aircraft posed significant performance and safety issues.

It does appear that Merrill made three more trans-Atlantic return flights to the UK, all in 1937 it seems, the first being in the Lockheed Model 10E Electra Daily Express with Jack Lambie as his co-pilot. It is reported that he later warned Amelia Earhart of the dangers of refuelling the aeroplane well before the intended time of departure when, doing so at SOUTHPORT, they noticed a significant amount of fuel had vented overboard as the temperature rose during the day. I should note that this flight is sometimes confused with the earlier flight in the Vultee.



MORE INFO ON PLEASURE FLIGHTS
It appears the DH.83 Fox Moth G-ACEJ was conducting pleasure flights from this location in the 1950s, and a mention has been made of a Tri-Pacer operating here in the 1970s, a most unusual type for 'joy-ride' operations. And indeed, in the August 2016 edition of Light Aviation magazine, Paul Sistern recounts having his first flight in it, aged eight, and reckoned this was in the mid 1960s. Is any more known?

For the BBC programme ‘Coast’ in 2006 G-ACEJ once more visited these sands carrying the presenter and he was also filmed landing on a beach in a microlight from what appeared to be a different but nearby location?



SPOTTERS NOTES
In the late 1950s, possibly into the early 1960s (?) the Southport Aero Club were operating the rare Foster-Wikner Wicko G-AFJB and a DH.82A Tiger Moth G-ANOD. 



A HELIPAD

NOTES
:In a pilots flight guide published in 2000 it appears a helipad was being in use by Sefton Borough Council and operated by Beach Aviation Ltd. The location was 1nm SW of Southport Pier and the landing area was, Sand - 906 x 197. 

 


 
 

Nicholas Durkin

This comment was written on: 2017-07-06 17:09:53
 
I have a photo of my great grand father at Southport standing by the Lockheed 10 E NR16059 in 1937 would you like a copy ? thanks Nick Durkin.

 
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Nicolas, I most certainly would - that would be a great addition. Would it be possible to e-mail me a fairly low resolution scan? Best regards, Dick
 

 
 

Marcia Davies

This comment was written on: 2017-09-21 06:41:43
 
I remember going on a pleasure flight off Southport Beach 1956 with my Dad,Mum and brother.I was 8 yrs old and Julian was 3.All I remember was being held down by the safety belt which was across me and Julian so I couldn't see out of window,I loved the experience though.My dad was a navigator in theRAF and flew in Lancaster bombers.He loved flying and wanted us all to enjoy it too !!

 
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Marcia, Many thanks for the memory. Best regards, Dick
 

 
 

Mike Whittaker

This comment was written on: 2017-10-24 22:26:45
 
I had my first flight from Southport sands, must have been back in the 1940's as I was only about six at the time. I flew in an Auster although Fox Moth was there at the time. It must have made an impression as I went on to a career in the aircraft industry and also designed, built and flew seven light aircraft and am still at it. See MW series of aircraft.

 
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Mike, Many thanks for the memory which I shall keep posted. I have been surprised during my research by just how many people were inspired to rake up a career in aviation after a single joy-ride, especially during the 1920s and 1930s. Best regards, Dick
 

 
 

Ian Rimmer

This comment was written on: 2019-01-05 00:04:49
 
a) I worked part-time for Giro Aviation from 1955 to 1964 and wrote an article for publication by the de Havilland Moth Club with my memories. I would be happy to email a copy if you give me your email address. b) An excellent book on the subject is "Sun, Sand and Silver Wings" by John Mulliner, if you can get hold of a copy.

 
Reply from Dick Flute:
Hi Ian, my e-mail address is on the home page. I would be very interested to read your article. Best regards, Dick
 
 

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