Discovering our aviation history, and double listings
A MISSING HISTORY?
Perhaps the single biggest personal discovery I have made in researching this Guide concerns ballooning. How many books about aviation history relate that we in Britain started doing this shortly after the Montgolfier brothers made their first person carrying flight in October 1783. The first recorded ascent in the UK being in Edinburgh, in June 1784, less than one year after the Montgolfier brothers first launched a man into the air. However, by the 1820s, a few brave people in the UK had embarked on an almost nationwide programme of planned public balloon ascents which lasted for decades. I suspect that few people today appreciate the impact that just one balloon ascent could have on the local population with crowds of often several thousands gathering to witness the event. These really were the first air shows and often very risky for the aeronaut, who sometimes preferring to launch in highly unsuitable weather conditions rather than face the wrath of the crowd. A public lynching was, it seems, often a distinct possibility if the meek excuse of the wind being too strong was made for delaying a launch .
I have therefore spent some time trying to track down some of these early ballooning sites. It all came about on the back of the 'Industrial Revolution' when gas works, fuelled by coal gas, started lighting the High Streets and town squares and the homes of the rich and influential. Almost from the beginning of ballooning in the UK it was realised that coal gas, although a far less effecient as a 'lifting gas' compared to hydrogen for example. was steadily becoming easily more available and considerably cheaper.
Because so many flying sites, including nearly all our airports, have been known over the years by various names, it was inevitable that some sites have been listed twice under their different names. It was my intention to merge these into a single listing and several have already been completed. However, as the project progressed I decided in many cases to include two listings, especially for some WW2 airfields, simply because the character of the site was entirely different. There is no 'hard and fast' rule and both listings refer to each other. If you know of alternative names that I have failed to include, please let me know.
For example BOOKER and WYCOMBE AIR PARK are listed seperately. And of course, many people even today still refer to Wycombe Air Park as Booker. And, the Booker Gliding Club at Wycombe Air Park is a good example of how previous aviation history continues to live on.
Because the UK has been so heavily involved in both of the two great World Wars during the 20th century, the creation of airfields to pursue victory forms the backbone of this 'Guide'. Putting aside the politics and much other intellectual baggage the very personal aspects of this side of military aviation is, to say the least, fascinating. Find an airfield involved in war and nearly every aspect of human nature, behaviour and endeavour, from the most base to the most exalted, can usually be found. To discover so much of this history - and then have to neglect or ignore so much of it, in order to produce this Guide did cause, as I hope you can imagine, quite a struggle of conscience at times. However, the fact is that most, (if not nearly all?), of this history has already been expertly recorded in much detail. But you will need to be discerning if you seek the truth of what really went on. A awful lot of sentimental and utter claptrap has been published over the years.
A SUBJECT FOR CONFUSION
A lot of people get confused, (as I was when starting this research), between the terms United Kingdom and Great Britain. Indeed I met a few people (English mostly) who seem to think ENGLAND is the UK! As did many of our enemies throughout history. I do so hope I now have it correct? Great Britain is the island situated off north west Europe with many subsidiary islands, not including Eire or Ireland. For a long time all of Eire (Ireland) was part of the United Kingdom although since the establishment of the Republic of Ireland in 1949 only Northern Ireland remains within the UK. However, The Irish Free State came into being in 1922, effectively making it independant of the UK.