2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of Blackbushe Airport in north-east Hampshire. Today the airport is a thriving centre for business and general aviation, but it has played important roles in military and humanitarian operations during its history. To mark this major anniversary, the airport plans to hold a major two-day event over the first week of July which will host a varied afternoon flying display supported by a host of activities on the ground.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from the press launch. All photography by the author.
Originally known as RAF Hartford Bridge, Blackbushe sits in the heathland just outside the leafy village of Hartley Witney. Though there were various aviation activities on the heathland before, it wasn’t until 1942 that RAF Hartford Bridge opened, initially supporting RAF Medium bombers. The airfield boasted all weather hard runway and for a time the runways were equipped with ‘FIDO’ which saw open oil lines constructed alongside the runways and lit during periods of fog in attempts to clear low visibility. 1944 saw the airfield name changed to Blackbushe which was also the name of a nearby farm.
The airfield also supported US Army Air Force C-47 Skytrains as well being a hub for medical evacuation flights from European frontline. Post war saw the airfield converted into a civilian airport supporting many different independent airlines. Though civilianised, the airport still played an important part in humanitarian operations. 1948 saw the airfield used as a base for aircraft supporting the Berlin Airlift and in 1956 Blackbushe gave refugees from the failed Hungarian uprising their first taste of freedom in the UK.
1960 saw the airport closed, only to be saved by Air Vice Marshall ‘Pathfinder’ Bennett who tactically bought land close to the airport preventing its destruction. It was subsequently sold on to Doug Arnold who established his ‘Warbirds of Great Britain’ collection at the airfield. More recently the airfield has passed through the hands of British Car Auctions before the current owners purchased the airfield. During these recent times the airfield has been greatly improved and is now home to various forms of general and business aviation.
The 2017 Festival of Flight will celebrate that history with entertainment in the air and on the ground. The event will support three great charities; Help for Heroes, The Lt Dougie Dalzell MC Memorial Trust and Aerobility. Aerobility are based at Blackbushe and under the leadership of Mike Miller-Smith help to give people of various abilities life-changing experiences through the medium of aviation. The charity will be out in force at the Festival with the support of British Airways staff. One of the fun activities they will be hosting will allow people to pull the cord on some expired life-vests alongside the traveling BA simulator and a Engineering exhibition.
Though the current Blackbushe Airport is quite a large facility, the event will be limited to just 8,000 spectators per day (16,000 overall) with the main showground area running along the southern edge of the airfield parallel to the A30. As per the ‘Air Day’ event last year, public car parking will be situated north of the runway with shuttle buses connecting to the public areas during periods outside of the flying displays.
The showground will play host to plenty of family entertainment with live music fro Rock Choir, the Military Wives Choir and ‘Champagne at the Blitz.’ Elsewhere on the showground there will be various children’s activities and competition, exhibitions highlighting Blackbushe’s history plus much more.
As with all civilian flying displays, Blackbushe is subject to regulations stipulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) who authorise and grant the permission for the flying display. Since 2016, the CAA has been defining display areas within which displaying aircraft can fly to display rules. Outside these areas, aircraft must comply with the standard ‘Rules of the Air’ and avoid built-up areas. Like its near neighbour, Farnborough, Blackbushe finds itself tucked in between various built-up areas which restricts display area (a provisional version is illustrated above) and ultimately the design and make-up of the flying display. The display area is too small for solo jet displays and some of the fast, more potent aircraft. It does however lend itself well to aircraft which can fly slower and therefore closer to the crowd. The land under the display area must be kept sterile so access to the car parks will be restricted and surrounding footpaths will be subject to local closure orders and patrolled by security staff.
Blackbushe are being supported by the Air Display management company TSA Consulting Ltd who are working closely with both the CAA and the various displays to provide the best possible display for the 75th Anniversary celebrations. As the time of writing, organisers were expecting to the display to be around three hours in duration with mixing together full displays with flypasts. Highlights announced at the time of the Press Launch include the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Avro Lancaster, the Breitling Wingwalkers, O’Brien’s Flying Circus, P-51D Mustang, Supermarine Spitfire, the Army Air Corps Historic Aircraft Flight and the OV-10B Bronco. Some of the larger flying display aircraft such as the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina and Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B will also be on the ground offering the public tours too. Supporting the flying display will a very varied static display which will see a RAF Chinook from nearby RAF Odiham, a British Antarctic Survey DHC Twin Otter, Hawker Hurricane and numerous civilian aircraft. A full listing of participating aircraft can be found in our PREVIEW.
Tickets for the Festival of Flight are on sale now at discounted rates from the event website:
- Adult = £20 (£25 on the day) – Includes two child tickets free if bought in advance.
- Child/Carer = £5 (£8 on the gate)
The outline event timetable for each day is as follows:
- Car Park Opens – 0900
- Showground Opens – 1000
- Shuttle Bus – 0930-1200 & 1600-1800
- Pleasure Flying – 1030-1130
- Air Displays – 1200-1600
- Showground Closes -1700
- Car Park Closes – 1800