Aviation In Doncaster 1909 to 1992
In 1909, after the world's first air display in Rheims, Doncaster racecourse was chosen as the venue for the second. All the world's leading aviators were present.
In an attempt to win a prize offered by The Daily Mail for the first British pilot in a British aeroplane to fly a circular mile, Samuel F. Cody, no relation to William F. (Buffalo Bill), signed British naturalisation papers in front of the crowd with the band playing both the Star Spangled Banner and the National anthem. Unfortunately, he crashed his British Army Aeroplane No.1 whilst taxiing.
During the First World War fighters were based, first from the racecourse then a temporary airstrip near Finningley and finally, in 1916, from a newly built airfield alongside the race course. They were deployed to defend the east coast against Zeppelins. On a number of occasions fighters took off to search for the intruders hut none was ever seen.
The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) station trained pilots for the war in France. Within months of the war ending, the entire station was put up for sale. Two of its three Belfast hangars were sold to a Sheffield motor manufacturing company for storage and assembly at Finningley. The same type of hangar now forms the basis for The Royal Air Force museum at Hendon. The third of the hangars stayed in place, mainly housing buses, until the seventies when someone thought that this historic building should be knocked down and replaced by a modern monstrosity.
In 1920 the Government asked local authorities to assist in the formation of a chain of airfields so that this country would not lack behind other nations in the provision of civil air services. Doncaster took heed and with expert advice from Alan Cobham on May 26, 1934 opened an 'aviation centre'.
Development of the airfield continued. On July 1, 1936 an international service was open to Amsterdam. On November 1, 1938, after long discussions with the Air Ministry, 616 (South Yorkshire) fighter squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force was formed. Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, the squadron went to its battle stations and played an honourable part in the Battle of Britain.
After the departure of 616 squadron, its place was taken by the formation of 271 (Transport) Squadron. This was composed mainly of requisitioned civilian aircraft and obsolescent twin engined bombers. In 1944 after being re-equipped with Dakotas the squadron moved south to take part in operation 'Overlord' and later in the airborne invasion at Arnhem during which Flight Lieutenant David Lord was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.
After the war the airfield reverted to civilian flying and finally closed in 1992.
Aviation in Doncaster 1909-1992 by Geoffrey Oakes
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