After 102 years of operations. flying from the World War One grass airfield came to a close on the 31st October 2019.
Flying at Old Sarum started in August 1917 as a training site for the ever growing Royal Flying Corps. The site was constructed by German Prisoners Of War and the Chinese Labour Corps including the Belfast truss hangar that nowadays house the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection. Originally named Ford Farm it wasn’t until formation of the Royal Air Forcd on the 1st April 1918 that the name of Old Sarum Airfield was taken up. Between the war the school of Army Co-Operation took up residence at Old Sarum likely chosen because of its proximity to Salisbury Plain, running courses for both Royal Air Force and Army personnel. The future of the airfield was secured in the 1930s when it was chosen as a permanent RAF station due to the increasing threat from Nazi Germany.
With World War Two now in progress, two Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons (110 Squadron and 112 Squadron) arrived in 1940. During the same year the the School or Army Co-operation grew massively due to wartime demand. Whilst mostly Auster aircraft were based there a small number of Harvard, Hurricane and Tomahawks. With D-Day fast approaching Old Sarum and the surrounding area played host to a large contingent of Royal Air Force ground units preparing for cross the Channel.
Shortly after the war the School of Army Co-Operation was renamed The School of Air-Land Warfare with its remit growing with training of personnel from all three services and the wider NATO community. and In 1956 the City of Salisbury gave the Freedom of the City to RAF Old Sarum. The for runner to the Joint Airborne Transportation Establishment then known as The Army Air Training and Development Centre made up of personnel from the Royal Air Force, Royal Engineers, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and the Parachute Regiment they’re job was to trial and standardise all aspects of airborne delivery. November 1978 saw the last military unit leave Old Sarum in the form of 622 Volunteer Gliding School with their Air Cadet Gliders.
In the early 80s the airfield very surprisingly became home to Edgley Aircraft Ltd designing and constructing the Edgley Optica Light Observation Aircraft. Quite fitting given the airfields AOP history.Civilian flying clubs have graced the skies above Salisbury for many years in the shape of the Wiltshire Aerospace Club, Old Sarum Flying Club, Old Sarum Flying School, Dorset Gliding Club, The Bustard Flying Club and more recently GoFly UK operating Piper PA-28 Cherokees. Sister company of GoFly UK, GoSkyDive have been operating as a parachuting school from the Wiltshire site since 2009 utilising the large grass expands as a Drop Zone. Aswell as these organisations a number of privately owned aircraft have always resided at Old Sarum. Another notable organisation operating out of Old Sarum was Vantage Aviation who utilised 2 Gumbial Cabri’s and a Bell Longranger to train Chinese Ministry of Transport Search and Rescue Pilots.
The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection moves into Hangar One in the Summer of 2012 allowing the collection to have regular public visitors for the first time in its existence. The collection is made up of a number of aircraft and cockpits related to Boscombe Down and the surrounding area. Stay tuned for a full Museum Review in the future.
In July 2019 it was announced that the Wiltshire airfield would close towards the end of the year due an ever increasing debt being picked up by the airfield owners. A proposal was previously put together to build a large housing complex on the land around the airfield to help fund much needed investment into the site, planning permission was sadly rejected by Wiltshire County CouncilDuring the final week of flying a number of low key celebrations were had including a fitting return of an Optica just one week prior to the airfield closing organised by The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection to celebrate not only the closure of the airfield but also 40 years since the first flight of the aircraft in 1979. On Friday 25th October saw the Historic Army Aircraft Flight fly into Old Sarum one final time to celebrate Army aviations long history with the Wiltshire airfield. Sunday 27th saw a number of privately owned aircraft venture from across the surrounding area many pilots wanting to get the airfield in their log books. The final movement on Thursday 31st October 2019 was G-OMIK Europa Aircraft Europa (Monowheel) departing shortly before 1645hrs when the airfield closed for the final time. Leaving Wiltshire with no licensed civilian airfields.
Report by Matt Sudol and Kev Slade with additional images kindly provided by Sean McRandle
© South West Aviation Photographers 2019