A CONCISE HISTORY OF THE AIRFIELD

World War I

The site for Old Sarum Airfield was requisitioned by the War Office in 1917 for use by the Royal Flying Corps. Initially know as Ford Farm, named after the nearby village, the Airfield provided a base for flying and fighter training.

During 1917, German prisoners of war and the Chinese Labour Corps constructed three pairs of large aircraft hangars and one large aircraft repair hangar. The style built were General Purpose Sheds with Belfast Trusses, as they were quick and easy to assemble. Three of these hangars can still be seen at Old Sarum, some of just a few examples in the UK. The first air units arrived in August and September the same year - three Day Bomber squadrons.

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Air Force was formed and the site was renamed Old Sarum Airfield, probably after the Iron Age hill fort close to its western end.

1918 to 1939

Old Sarum was one of the few airfields to remain open at the end of the war. In January 1921, the School of Army Cooperation moved to the Airfield. For many years, it ran mixed courses for Army and Air Force personnel, focussing on development of efficient air/ground communication under operational conditions.

During the 1930s, the Airfield was identified as being suitable for becoming a permanent station; one of many planned due to the increasing threat from Nazi Germany.

World War II

In early 1940, the first two Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons arrived in Britain and were stationed at Old Sarum. During the same year, more and more aircraft were brought to the Airfield to serve the expanding School of Army Cooperation.

The first of the Air Observation Post (AOP) units was set up at Old Sarum in 1941. Within three years, nine AOP units were formed and trained at Old Sarum. These aircraft were later to play a vital role in spotting targets for artillery and navel guns.

Old Sarum was attacked during the Battle of Britain but did not suffer significant damage. During the night of 11/12 May 1941 one hangar was burnt out in an air raid and two aircraft were destroyed.

The Airfield played an important role in the D-Day landings. In 1944, ahead of D-Day, flying was suspended. Around 1,000 fitters were posted in to waterproof around 25,000 invasion vehicles - Operation SNUG.

Post War

In 1956 the City of Salisbury gave the Freedom of the City to RAF Old Sarum. Later in 1962 the City conferred yet another honour on the Airfield and allowed the incorporation of part of the City's Coat of Arms into the station badge.

With the increasing interest in helicopter operations, in June 1961, the RAF element of the Helicopter Development Unit was formed at Old Sarum. However, just 10 years later, in December 1971 Old Sarum ended its life as an RAF airfield, although the last RAF flying unit, 622 Volunteer Gliding Squadron, didn’t leave until November 1978. The Airfield continued to serve with the Army until 1979.

In 1982 Edgley Aircraft Ltd took on the Airfield, together with the freehold of Hangar 1 (later destroyed by fire), Hangar 2 and several associated buildings. The buildings were used by Edgley for the design and manufacture of the Edgley Optica.

In 1986 the Optica business was purchased by Matthew Hudson. He renamed the business Brooklands Aerospace Group, and it continued the building and flying of Optica Aircraft. Matthew also acquired the Airfield itself and some surplus land adjacent. Brooklands obtained a CAA licence for the airfield which allowed flying training to be carried out.

Present Day

Since 1986, Matthew Hudson has met all the operating losses of the Airfield. In 2007, Wiltshire Council agreed that the surplus land could be developed if flying activity was restricted to limit noise. Matthew agreed not to exercise his rights to unconstrained flying, all types, all hours, even though this meant ongoing operating losses caused by eschewing noisy aircraft including helicopters, twin-engine aircraft and all night flying. Matthew also proposed that some of the net proceeds of development be invested to help safeguard future flying operations.

Despite the reduction in flying activity, paradropping operations started in 2009 and in 2012 the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection museum relocated from MoD Boscombe Down. The Collection includes many static aircraft exhibits, and several operational vintage aircraft are associated with the Collection.

In mid-2016 the investment costs, losses through repeated delays and obstructions from the planners, and forgone revenues became unsustainable for Matthew, so unconstrained flying, including night flying, was resumed to try to make the Airfield sustainable and guarantee its future.

For more information, see our Wikipedia entry or contact the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection