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Eastchurch is a village on the Isle of Sheppey, a mile east of Minster, England.

Eastchurch is styled the 'home of British aviation' - Eastchurch airfield witnessed the first controlled flight by a British pilot on British soil.

The Eastchurch airfield played a significant role in the history of British aviation from 1909 when Frank McClean acquired Stonepits Farm, on the marshes across from Muswell Manor, Leysdown, converting the land into an airfield for members of the Aero Club of Great Britain (see Ogilvie Flying School, Eastchurch), which he let to them at 1 shilling per year.

The Short Brothers, Horace, Eustace and Oswald, built aircraft at Battersea to be tested at the site; later John Moore-Brabazon, Professor Huntington, Charles Stewart Rolls and Cecil Grace all visited and used the flying club's services. Wilbur Wright and his brother Orville came to the Isle of Sheppey to visit the new flying grounds of the Aero Club.

In 1909, Moore-Brabazon made the first live cargo flight by fixed-wing aircraft, by tying a waste-paper basket to a wing strut of his Shorts-built Wright aircraft. Then, using it as a "cargo hold", he airlifted one small pig.

In 1910 Short Brothers moved from Shellbeach Aerodrome, along with the Royal Aero Club, to larger quarters at Eastchurch, 3 miles or so away

1911 February: Mr McClean offered The Admiralty the loan of aeroplanes for the purposes of instructing Naval Officers in Aviation, the basis for the Naval Air School. The Admiralty then asked for volunteers from Officers of the Fleet to undergo a course of flying instruction at Eastchurch. This resulted in over 200 names being submitted. Four Officers were selected to undergo the first course, which began on March 2nd 1911 - Lieutenants C. R.Samson, R. Gregory and A. M. Longmore and Capt. E.L. Gerrard RMLI.

Another Member of the Aero Club, Mr G.B. Cockburn, gave up a year of his time entirely free of cost to the Admiralty, to instruct these Officers in the art of flying. The initial course was satisfactorily carried out with only two minor crashes. In addition these Officers underwent a course of technical training at Short Brothers Works at Eastchurch, and also visited the principal French aeroplane factories and the French Military Aeroplane Trials held at Rheims, with a view to studying foreign developments.

The original agreement between Mr McClean and the Admiralty was that two machines should be lent in which the Naval pilots should be taught. In October 1911, Lieut. Samson R.N., the first Commanding Officer of Eastchirch, persuaded the Admiralty to buy two training machines and sent 12 Ratings as the basis of a Naval Flying School. This was agreed to by the Admiralty, with the result that on December 25th 1911, agreement was reached between them; the Royal Aero Club, the brothers Short and Mr F.C. Mc.Clean for the Admiralty to rent the Aerodrome for £150 per year with a proviso that they (the Admiralty) could if they so desired, purchase the ground at a rate of £16 per acre as from December 25th 1918.

The Eastchurch airfield was also the site, in July 1911, of the competition for the Gordon Bennett Cup for powered air racing, attended by flyers from all over the world, and won that year by the American pilot Charles T. Weymann.

WWI the Airfield was taken over under the Defence of the Realm Act early in the war and was purchased by the Air Ministry in December 1918.

See Also

  • [1] AviationMuseum

Sources of Information

  • [2] Wikipedia
  • [3] Aviation Museum