THE FIRST ASPECT (Written in August 2014)
Note: An example of a picture taken by the author on an air-to-air sortie with Austin J Brown.
The inspiration to start this 'Guide' in or around 2000 came from three principal sources. In those days I was flying and driving around the UK and Europe and, in the UK especially, became more and more interested in the history of the many flying sites I was visiting and discovering. Ever since getting my private pilots license I loved to explore. When planning flights I really did like searching the aviation charts looking for new places to visit and the more I looked the more I found. I've flown into around one hundred and fifty land sites in the UK alone. Plus about 35 water sites (mostly in Scotland) in a floatplane co-owned by one of my best friends, and, to the best of our knowledge many of these had never been landed on before.
On the other hand I have both visited deliberately and discovered by accident a great many flying sites (mostly airfields of course) in a car. Other examples of flying sites are helipads, hang and para-gliding sites, balloon launching sites and 'farm'and private 'airstrips' some of which don't have a defined 'runway'.Plus, last but most definitely not least, when moving aircraft over twenty-five years in my specialised trucks before I retired in August 2014.
When flying for example I often found myself flying over disused aerodromes which are often the remains of what is left from military aerodromes built mostly during WW2. In fact these often make good landmarks to use when plotting a course over the country when flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules). Whilst doing this I had often looked down from my privileged seat in the air and wondered, but only in a casual way mostly, about what actually went on down there and over what period of time it had all happened. There were two principal sources of information - books and the internet - and both had problems for me in just one respect - nothing I could find was related to a general purpose 'Guide' covering the entire aviation history in the UK.
There is a saying in business that; "If you cannot get it but need it, and reckon others might too, do it yourself". It really was as simple as that, but so little did I know.
THE SECOND ASPECT
The second source of inspiration came many years later when I was flying with my wife from Huddersfield (Crosland Moor) to Wickenby in Lincolnshire. It was a short August Bank Holiday aerial 'run around the block' sort of job mainly for my benefit of course and living in London this wasn't a neck of the woods I was familiar with. The previous night in our hotel room I was very self satisfied having plotted what appeared possibly the simplest course ever, routing overhead several disused aerodromes in a row, the first being Lindholme where my (late) mother was stationed as a WAAF serving with a Polish Lancaster squadron during WW2. The idea was to circle around dipping a wing on each 'corner' in salute to my memory of her. It was a poignant moment as she didn't live long enough to know I'd since become a pilot, but I do know she'd have been absolutely delighted. I trust you get the general idea.
A very nice series of short flights taking two days with several new visits across Derbyshire and Yorkshire to Lincolnshire and back to Cambridgeshire with a large chunk of sentimental stuff for me thrown in. We found Lindholme very easily and I did my personal stuff but the problems arose very quickly after setting a course for Wickenby, and this was totally unexpected. Setting a course for Wickenby was much complicated by having a strong wind blowing from the north-east and needing to fly with a considerable degree of drift. I found I could see four or five disused WW2 airfields through the windscreen and about two or three at any time through the side windows, but I had no idea which of these were the sites I had selected to track across when plotting the course the night before. Fortunately the very kind lady operating the Flight Information Service at RAF Waddington had me on her radar and gave me a course to steer for Wickenby.
I have since learnt that glider pilots involved in a competition in this region, and equipped with a GPS device, still managed to land at the wrong 'aerodrome'. It is often said that in WW2 Lincolnshire and the southern and eastern parts of Yorkshire were covered in concrete but until you see this from the air it is probably very difficult to comprehend just how true this is! A very graphic illustration of just how many airfields were constructed. Plus of course there are many accounts of battle weary bomber crews, usually with damaged aircraft, landing at any convenient airfield and asking directions to their home base. I did of course know that many very fine books, and web-sites existed, giving very detailed accounts about these airfields, but once again they were mostly confined to a limited time period and did not relate to an oveview of aviation history throughout the UK.
THE THIRD ASPECT
The third source of inspiration was that I couldn't find a book even attempting to catalogue all the flying sites in the UK. It's obviously an impossible task but I really wanted to attempt it. Eventually I came to the conclusion that if I wanted it, and it wasn't available, I'd best try to do it myself. My basic qualifications for such a task were that I was a private pilot who had long been in love with aviation, especially British aviation history. I once thought I knew a lot about it too. Compared to many, (even a lot of pilots), this might well be the case but as soon as I got started I soon realised I knew next to nothing. From that point I embarked on a wonderful voyage of discovery and I trust this 'Guide' reflects this. Even years later when doing the research I was constantly delighted to find yet more fascinating details of amazing achievements, acts of incredible daring, and astonishing accounts, taking place from sites in the UK. In attempting to discover the flying sites used for over two centuries or more, I have included accounts of some of these events. I sincerely trust you will also be inspired to discover the incredibly rich aviation history, in many ways the richest aviation history in the world, that fate has seen fit to bestow on our little country.