Wednesday, August 05, 2015


It must be 40 years ago that West Malling Airfield finally closed.  It had had a long and distinguished career as an RAF Air Station and during World War 2 was, for a time, the home of 29 Squadron amongst whose pilots was Guy Gibson, VC, later to become Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron -  the Dam Busters.  He said of West Malling Air Station, "Of all the airfields in Great Britain, we have the finest."

After the War ended the station was used for a time by the United States Navy and various other aircraft related uses until it finally closed as an operational air station in 1963.  Then came the question as to what to do with it.  Various schemes were proposed including use as a prison, a young offenders establishment and a public consultation was held to gain the views of interested parties, not least the local residents.

I remember having to act in a purely private capacity to submit my suggestion for its future use  and it seemed to me that the obvious thing to do with an airfield was to fly aircraft from it.   It didn`t happen, of course, and today the site of West Malling Air Station is home to the Stepford-esque Kings Hill - a mixture of 2,000 houses, retail and business with only the old control tower - now a coffee shop - and a fitting memorial to those RAF days to perpetuate the history of the site.

And so to Manston in east Kent (pictured above), which has been the subject of much panic-stricken recent discussion as to whether it can be used to alleviate the slings and arrows of the outrageous Operation Stack which clogs up the highways of Kent.  Now Manston is another air station with a long and distinguished history arguably more so than that of West Malling.  It includes another reminder of the Dam busters, for it was Manston that Barnes Wallis used as a base for testing his bouncing bomb on the north Kent coast.

But in recent times, since commercial flying ceased to operate from Manston, there has been controversy about its future too and although the Operation Stack proposal is supposed to be temporary and limited, the long term future of the site remains uncertain. If there ever is a public consultation about that, I may be tempted yet again to suggest that the best thing to do with an established airport is to fly planes from it.  Maybe that`s too naive, too obvious, too simple for today`s over-complicated world, but it`s worth a second try.

1 comment:

Ray Turner said...

Good point Snopper. It seems silly that we build these facilities then discard them for trivial reasons. Southampton Terminus Railway station is another good example. That could be the basis of a good service to London and beyond now, if the planners had had a little more foresight in the 1960's...