The History of Aviation in Berkshire

Berkshire today bears few traces of the historic part that the county has played in the formative years of military and civil aviation in the United Kingdom. Prior to the establishment of the Museum of Berkshire Aviation nothing had been readily available to the general public to identify the County's role in this sphere.

Of the 21 airfields sited in Berkshire during the Second World War, only one is regularly used for flying today. Most of the others have virtually disappeared and their individual histories are fast becoming difficult to trace, even for the dedicated enthusiast. Two of the last remaining airfields, Abingdon and Greenham Common were maintained by the RAF for flying until recent times but have now been closed down thus ending the important operational association with the County that began 70 odd years ago when the service was formed; the RAF Staff College at Bracknell is now the sole remaining unit within the county boundary. Greenham Common was one of the 4 airfields in Berkshire supporting the 101st Airborne Division, US Army, glider operations within the D-Day airborne assault on Normandy. The American link was most important with 2 other bases providing US fighter support for the invasion. Welford remains operational as a USAF logistics base today.

At that time the RAF also had 3 training schools and 3 bomber bases in the county. The only airfield still in operation is White Waltham which now serves as a flying club base but in no way commemorates its historic part in wartime aviation as the headquarters of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). The ATA organised a total of some 300,000 aircraft ferry trips during the course of the Second World War including the essential Atlantic bridge of reinforcement and replacement aircraft from the United States.

Similarly, on the civil side, there is virtually nothing left to identify Woodley airfield which, as the home of Miles Aircraft, played a notable part in the early growth of civil aviation and, during the war years, became a major aircraft manufacturing centre.

Many other aircraft manufacturers had links with Berkshire. Vickers-Armstrong Supermarine, for instance, built Spitfires in the heart of Reading and Newbury. Fairey and de Havilland were both associated with White Waltham and Handley Page took over from Miles at Woodley. At Langley airfield, more recently included in the county, Hawker built the famous Hurricane and other fighter aircraft. There were also lesser known manufacturers such as Chilton of Hungerford and Elliotts of Newbury. Major companies involved in the aviation industry, past and present include; British Aerospace, Ferranti, Sperrys, Racal, Adwest, C.F.Taylor and M. L. Aviation.

Berkshire has indeed a long and distinguished association with aviation that well deserves recognition. The Museum provides the setting for such commemoration and the facilities for the display of artifacts, photographs and information to serve researchers, historians and enthusiasts, not only in the field of aviation but also in local industrial, social and economic history.

Details of notable personalities in Berkshire's aviation history and the designated airfields since 1915 are given on other pages; this covers the county as it was before the local government reorganisation in 1974 and also within the boundaries applicable today.