Flying Weeks Images
At the end of the war, as well as the aircraft repair depots there were around 330 landing grounds in Britain. RAF Coal Aston was still operational and in August 1919, an RAF aircraft on delivery from Edinburgh to the airfield did not quite make it. The Avro 504, piloted by Lt Aldrett (stationed at RAF Coal Aston) had been collected on 26 August. Experiencing engine trouble, Aldrett attempted to land in a corn field at Darnall, to the east of the city, but a gust of wind caused the aircraft to nose-dive into the ground. Although the pilot was unhurt, the aircraft had to be dismantled and collected from the field at North's Farm, completing its journey to RAF Coal Aston by road.
1919: Flying Weeks & Early Discussions on the Future
The Department of Civil Aviation was created in February 1919 and this was followed, on 30 April by the issue of the Air Navigation Regulations 1919. The following day, 1 May, the ban on civil aviation in Great Britain was lifted. Just prior to the ban being lifted, the Air Minister announced the creation of seven aerial ‘trunk routes’, with Sheffield being included on the London-Manchester-Belfast route. Some of the first recorded local civil aviation activity took place on 19 May, when aircraft from RAF Coal Aston provided an airborne escort for King George V and Queen Mary on a visit to Sheffield. The press at the time speculated whether Sheffield Corporation would realise the importance of flying at the well-equipped airfield.
Flying Week at the Airfield, 23-26 July
This interest was borne out, and, with the encouragement of the Sheffield Development Committee, the Aviation Department of Vickers Ltd organised a flying week at the airfield. This was scheduled for the 23-26 July 1919 and readers of the Sheffield Independent newspaper were offered flights in a draw to be held at the airfield. Four Avro 504s which arrived from Joyce Green, London the previous Monday were joined by the Vickers Vimy Commercial prototype (the aircraft was marked with its Vickers Constructors' Number K-107, alter registered). The Vickers Vimy was flown by Cpt Stanley Cockerill who also flew the aircraft for much of the event. On the final day, the Vickers Vimy made the first delivery of mail by air between Sheffield and Doncaster. The event was well attended and it was 'noted that the working class element predominated.'
Perhaps the main attraction, other than the pleasure flights was the presence of Alcock and Brown. Sir John Alcock and Sir Arthur Brown had risen to fame as the first people to cross the Atlantic by air on 14-15 June 1919 in a Vimy. On Saturday, 26 July, they were treated to a reception at Vickers’ River Don works before arriving at the airfield in the afternoon, where John Alcock drew the winning tickets for the Sheffield Independent’s flight raffle. Later in the afternoon, he took the Vimy for a short demonstration flight. Pleasure flights on the Vimy (flown by Cockerill), were stopped when an order came through that they were not to carry passengers, causing great disappointment.
The Second Flying Week
In August 1919, The Air Ministry issued a list of RAF aerodromes available for civilian use, this included RAF Coal Aston. A few weeks later, it was reported that the Air Ministry had chosen RAF Coal Aston as a permanent home for aircraft repair. The Air Ministry however, stated that no firm decision had been taken about the future of this (or other) sites as yet. Simultaneously, the Sheffield Development Committee began inviting comments on the public's opinion of air services from the airfield. This not only included the Sheffield-Doncaster service linked to the horse-race meetings but also goods delivery within a radius of 40 miles. Vickers, again supported by the Sheffield Development Committee, arranged a second Air Week, this time lasting eight days from the 13-20 September. The Flying Week consisted of displays by the AVRO 504s and the visiting Vimy along with pleasure flights and for those who wished to travel further, pre-booked flights to 'any place in England'. The organiser Capt. C.A. Lewis was hopeful the flying week would demonstrate the value of flying and, that by April 1920, he would have a regular service up and running. His optimism was such that he stated 'Sheffield is the most encouraging city I have been in all over England … and the only one from which we have received any real co-operation from the local authority.'
In September 1919, Air Commodore R.P. Game issued the order regarding the reduction of aircraft and stations within the RAF as the new force restructured and amalgamated and prepared for peace. A provisional list of stations to be permanently retained was included in the order; this included RAF Coal Aston. By this time, the personal strength was around 1300, including WRAFs but was expected to rise to around 1500 should the plan go ahead. This would exclude women as the WRAFs were scheduled to be demobilised by 30 September. In November 1919, the Air Ministry offered the City of Sheffield Corporation the option of acquiring parts of the site already seen as surplus. However, by 1920 it was clear the RAF had no further use for the large site and it began to dispose of unwanted sections and further reduce staff , although in February of 1920, RAF Coal Aston became the home of 16th Group RAF Headquarters, with a staff of around 100. The 16th Group, RAF area encompassed Birmingham, Liverpool, Chester, Manchester, York, Nottingham, Derby and Shrewsbury. It was under the supervision of Commandant G.W.P. Dawes, DSP, DFC, who also transferred his headquarters of 7 Wing to RAF Coal Aston, as it was more convenient to administer from that location. This new administrative function meant a much reduced complement down from the immediate post-war peak of over 2,000 to now a little over 100.
Early Discussions on the Future for Civil Aviation
Despite being on one of the seven proposed trunk routes, Sheffield was not included on regular air mail services which began on 1 October 1919 in Britain. Vickers, after consultation with the authorities at RAF Coal Aston, inaugurated a daily service from Sheffield to London. Carrying a limited number of fare-paying passengers, aircraft also carried mail, using Coal Aston as a transfer between Barrow in the north and onwards to London.
In November, the Air Ministry asked Sheffield City Council whether it would be prepared to take over the airfield as a going concern as a municipal airport so The Sheffield Development Committee began to arrange meetings to discuss the possibility. Nottingham was on the same trunk route and due to an effort to reduce costs, a decision needed to be made on which one was to be closed. The process continued when, on 4 December, representatives from the Air Ministry visited Sheffield to discuss the future of the airfield. Members of the Air Ministry met various dignitaries, including Lord Mayor Alderman Samuel Roberts to discuss possibilities. As the Ministry were undergoing their post-War closure programme, the Council were keen to know their intentions. At the time, the Air Ministry did not suggest Sheffield City Council take over the entire airfield, just the aerodrome and hangars. The year was rounded off by a further conference at Sheffield Town Hall, at which Cpt Lewis gave an address in support of the proposal to create a municipal airport.