BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page was last updated in August 2009We've left it here for reference.More information

31 July 2014
Accessibility help
Text only

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Bournemouth Air Festival

You are in: Dorset > Bournemouth Air Festival > Bournemouth's aviation history

The Hon Charles Rolls flying his Wright biplane

The Hon Charles Rolls flying his biplane

Bournemouth's aviation history

Bournemouth is renowned for many things including its long sandy beaches and a world famous orchestra, but its other claim to fame is that it was at the forefront of aviation history.

Aviation historian Mike Phipp.

Aviation historian Mike Phipp.

Aviation historian Mike Phipp's love of planes started as a teenager in the 1960s when he used to cycle to Hurn airport to watch the prop planes land and take off.

After retiring he started writing books on Bournemouth's aviation heritage and giving talks to local groups.

He said: "I went from train spotting to plane spotting and have been fascinated with flying ever since."

Mike is an expert when it comes to the aviation history of Bournemouth but, as he explained, things did not start well.

Commemorative plaque to Charles Rolls.

Commemorative plaque to Charles Rolls.

In 1910 Charles Rolls (co-founder of Rolls Royce) was tragically killed in Southbourne while taking part in Britain's first international aviation meeting to celebrate Bournemouth's centenary.

In doing so he became the first airman to die in a flying accident in Great Britain.

The early years

In 1915 an aerodrome was built at Talbot Woods on the site now occupied by Bournemouth University's Talbot campus although it moved to a much larger 88 acre site in Ensbury Park two years later.

It was still used up until 1930 when the world famous aviation pioneer Amy Johnson landed her Gipsy Moth plane there on her way to open a fete in Meyrick Park.

In 1919 the seaplane competition The Schneider Trophy resumed after WWI and stared from Bournemouth Pier in very foggy conditions.

With one plane sinking and the eventual winner being disqualified, the race was declared void.

The first commercial flight

Also in May of the same year the first commercial flight took off from Ensbury Park aerodrome and racecourse.

Farman 'waterplane' Bournemouth 1912.

Farman 'waterplane' visiting Bournemouth in 1912.

It was piloted by William Sholto-Douglas (who went on to have a very distinguished career as the head of fighter command in the Royal Airforce and later became chairman of British European Airways which eventually became British Airways).

The Ensbury Park Aerodrome closed in 1928 when it was felt that an airfield and racecourse were incompatible and a few years later the area became the site of a major housing development.

When Ensbury Park closed, a grass airfield at Somerford in Christchurch was expanded and flights began operating in 1934. One of the directors was Sir Alan Cobham, well known for his epic return flight to Australia in 1926, and founder of Flight Refuling Plc.

In 1931 Cobham recommended to Bournemouth Council that they build an airstrip at Hurn but it took the outbreak of WWII for work to begin on a new fighter command airfield at Hurn in 1940.

The war years

In 1941 RAF Hurn began operating, it was then that Hurn played a significant role in the testing of radar which was being developed in the tiny Dorset village of Worth Matravers.

Radar sets were installed in a Blenheim bomber and with the beam pointing downwards instead of forwards scientists were able to map Bournemouth on their radar screens for the very first time.

During WWII Hurn was used to develop the glider and parachute airborne forces as well as being home to the USAAF as they prepared for D-Day and the battle of Normandy.

After WWII

At the end of the war Hurn became the main operating base for BOAC and was the starting point of the first England to Australia service which took three days in a modified Lancaster bomber.

By February 1945 Hurn was the largest civilian long haul airport in Britain.

Operators using the airport included Qantas, KLM and Pan Am who flew its first transatlantic passenger flight to Hurn.

But in 1946, Hurn lost out to Heathrow who opened up its major commercial development and became the main airport for the UK.

The future

Expansion plans are now on the horizon for Bournemouth Airport and a new chapter in the aviation history of Bournemouth could be about to take off.      


last updated: 21/08/2009 at 10:44
created: 28/07/2008

You are in: Dorset > Bournemouth Air Festival > Bournemouth's aviation history

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy