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Early Aviation
in Doncaster

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Early Aviation in Doncaster

Doncaster racecourse was the scene of the country's first aviation meeting during 18th to 23rd October 1909.

The meeting was subject to controversy as a similar event had been organised by the Blackpool municipal authorities to take place three days later than the Doncaster meeting. This one-upmanship led to considerable ill feeling between the two parties.

During the Doncaster event there were trophies and cash prizes for the various events. The American, self styled, "Colonel" Samuel Franklin Cody even changed his nationality by signing papers in front of the crowd in order to compete for the Daily Mail prize of £1000 for flying a 1 mile circular route by an all British aircraft and pilot.

Cody failed in his attempt and the prize was taken by JTC Moore-Brabazon a few days later.

Britain's first air display

During the Doncaster racecourse aviation meeting a Gnome powered Bleriot flown by Leon Delagrange completed a lap of the marked course in 1 minute 47 seconds (approx 50 mph) and it was duly announced, without justification, as being a new world's speed record.

Roger Sommer in his Farman covered 20 laps (a distance of 30 miles) in 45 minutes and at the close of the meeting he was presented with a cup for flying the greatest aggregate distance during the event. Over the complete event Sommer clocked up an aggregate distance of 136 miles & 280 yards.

World War I

During the war No.15 Reserve Squadron was formed at Thetford in December 1915 but came to Doncaster on 1st January 1916 and a flight of this unit became 46 Reserve Squadron.

A new aerodrome with a roughly square shaped landing ground was built on land just north of the racecourse in the area now known as Intake. This airstrip developed into an airfield with three hangars to house RFC Squadrons 41 & 49.

In addition to these two RFC units, Number 82 Squadron Royal Flying Corps was formed at Doncaster on the 17th February 1917 to fly Armstrong Whitworth FK8 aircraft leaving for France on 20th November 1917.

Post World War 1

On the 15th July 1918, 41 & 49 reserve squadrons were amalgamated to form No.47 Training Depot Station (TDS) for single seat fighter training. The new TDS was equipped with 24 SE5A and 24 Avro 504 aircraft.

Doncaster was one of 7 TDS's within the geographical area known as the North East Area, and it continued in this role for the remainder of WW1.

As the station was not on the permanent list held by the Air Ministry the site was closed down in 1919 and the Ministry sold the buildings at auction.

As the Air Ministry did not own the land the way was open for the development of civilian flying.

Civil airport development

In England and Wales in 1932 there were only 11 Municipal Authorities with licensed aerodromes and Doncaster was one of another 11 towns that had purchased sites for development.

The airport opened on 26 May 1934 on a 294 acre site and was equipped with concrete hangars, custom facilities and a control tower.

Doncaster Aero Club was formed and immediately announced their intention of taking part in the the Government sponsored Civil Air Guard Scheme.

The club started training pilots under this scheme in October 1934 with trainees being charged a flat rate for dual and solo flying of just 5 shillings, or 25p in todays money.

In 1938 and 1939 there was further civil use at Doncaster when the Dutch Airline KLM began to schedule flights via Doncaster. Also about this time North Eastern Airways began to make Doncaster an intermediate stop for their summer service from Croydon to Aberdeen and Perth.

World War 2

A new site on the opposite side of the aerodrome to the municipal buildings was constructed during 1938 to accomodate the formation on 1st November 1938, of 616 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force. This new site featured three Bellman type aeroplane sheds.

On 15 July 1939, No.47 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School was formed and managed by Nottingham Airport Limited. A single Bellman aeroplane shed (designated building 26) was erected and Air Ministry timber hutting was added to house the unit.

It is this Bellman hangar and sectional timber huts that SYAM occupies today.

Further expansion

With the outbreak of the war in September 1939, No.7 Aircrew Operational Training Unit flew from Doncaster under command of 5 Group, operating Hampden and Anson aircraft.

The Civil Aircraft Flight of the National Air Communications Flight were the next unit to be moved to Doncaster equipped with Handley Page Ensign, Fokker Tri-motor amd Handley Page HP42 aircraft. 271 Squadron, Royal Air Force, were formed from this flight on the 1st May 1940.

On the 6th December 1940 a fierce gale damaged many aircraft on the strip at Doncaster and a HP42 Harden and a Harrow Mk2 were completely destroyed.

The Handley Page Harrow, originally designed as a bomber, was converted by 271 squadron into a transport and they were used to move squadron personnel around the country and to France during the "phoney war" period. On one occasion a Harrow was shot down by a German Ju88 while delivering fighter pilots to an airstrip in the north of Scotland.

A conversion of the Harrow, the Sparrow aircraft, was used by 271 Squadron until 1944 when they were replaced with Douglas DC3 Dakotas.

From March to August 1941, 613 Squadron (City of Manchester) Royal Auxiliary Air Force operated from Doncaster after relinquishing its Westland Lysanders at nearby Firbeck and re-equipping with American built Curtis Tomahawk aircraft in the Army co-operation role.

1680 VIP Flight was detached to Doncaster during 1942 flying Albatross aircraft and in June 1943 Wellington aircraft of 18 OTU were using the airfield as a satellite.

More Dakotas were seen at Doncaster when they were modified for RAF use after being delivered from the USA. With Dakotas being flown for 46 Group as well as 271's transports, Doncaster was becoming a very busy airfield.

From the 7th to the 21st January 1944, Auster AOP Mk3 aircraft of 658 Squadron RAF, visited Doncaster.

In February 1944, 271 Squadron vacated the field, leaving it's Sparrow aircraft to be formed into an Air Ambulance Flight. These aircraft were used to evacuate the wounded from France after D-Day.

At the end of the war the airfield at Doncaster closed for a second time during 1945.

Post World War 2

After the war C L Surveys took over two hangars and used them to convert Halifax and Anson aircraft for civilian use.

In October 1947 No.9 Reserve Flying Training School formed at Doncaster to provide training for RAF Reserve pilots. Also around this time No.24 Gliding School arrived from Firbeck to train the Air Training Corps cadets. The Gliding School was disbanded in January 1954.

In 1960 civil aviation returned to Doncaster though this time only as a gliding club and in 1968 the Doncaster Gliding Club hosted the National Gliding Championships. The possiblity of the return of powered aircraft took a step closer by the formation of a company called South Yorkshire Airport Ltd, and in 1967 the South Yorkshire Airport Company signed a ten year lease of the airport.

With the re-opening of Doncaster airport the South Yorkshire Flying Club was formed flying mainly Cessna 150 and 172 aircraft. The club was formed in 1976 by members taking shares and running it on a non profit basis.

The club stayed until the airfield closed in 1992 and on Christmas Day 1992 Peter Skinner a Director of the Doncaster Aero Club flew the final flight from Doncaster Airport.

The Lakeside development

During the 1990's there has been considerable redevelopment of the Lakeside area. The 300 acre site has seen extensive landscaping and the introduction of numerous retail outlets and leisure activities.

Due to the Lakeside development very little of the original Doncaster airport has survived other than the buildings currently occupied by the museum.

In recent years the Bellman hangar and wooden sectional buildings were occupied by Yorkshire Water but following their leaving of the site the hangar and buildings were subject to considerable vandalism and other anti-social activities.

Following the successful application to lease the land from Doncaster Council, SYAM moved into the site in 1999 and immediately set about to bring the site up to a safe and suitable standard to house the museum and its exhibits.

Whilst a lot has been done to improve the site the Museum Committee and members have developed plans to improve the site even further.

Projects ongoing or planned for the future include:-

  • The repair of building 19 to provide extra exhibition areas, workshop, and educational areas.
  • Improvement of existing visitor toilets particularly for the disabled.
  • Improvements to the external hard standing areas, grassed areas and landscaped areas.

As all site improvements are undertaken by member volunteers and are supported by external sponsorship it is clear that improvements will not be made overnight.

However, it is also clear that every endeavour will be made by the SYAM Committee and its members to provide South Yorkshire with an aircraft museum of the highest standard possible.

Site Update December 2004

The museum continues to progress its policy of continual improvements to its buildings and exhibits, as funding becomes available.

All of our buildings are now renovated except for building 21 for which the museum has been awarded a grant from the Doncaster MBC Community Forum to renovate the building and restore the electrical supply.

Lloyds TSB Trust has helped us with a toilet for the disabled and our own members have just constructed a new wheelchair access ramp for the shop and installed new doors. Repairs to the worst of the damaged hardstanding area have been made and will continue to be repaired as resources become available.

The landscaping of the museum surrounds has continued with almost all areas requiring grassing completed and the establishing of flower beds andshrubberies. Also there are plenty of flower tubs around the site for summer-time plants.

Site Update December 2005

Site Update December 2005 ready for Ian's content

Site Update December 2006

Site Update December 2006 ready for Ian's content

Site Update December 2007

Site Update December 2007 ready for Ian's content

Site Update December 2008

Site Update December 2008 ready for Ian's content

Site Update December 2009

Site Update December 2009 ready for Ian's content

Site Update December 2010

Site Update December 2010 ready for Ian's content

Site Update December 2011

Site Update December 2011 ready for Ian's content

Unless other credit given photographs on this site are copyright Jim Keable 2002-2012