The Bristol & Wessex Aeroplane Club originated through the efforts of a small group who arranged the first public meeting at the Victoria Rooms on 7th April 1927 with the aim of promoting civil flying in Bristol and its districts.
George Parnell offered the use of his aerodrome at Yate with the necessary ‘shed’ accommodation and a Parnell Pixie light aero plane although it was decided that Bristol Filton Aerodrome offered the required facilities.
Starting in 1927
Captain Broad, Chief Test Pilot of de Havilland, Flew a Moth into Filton and it was ‘towed’ to the Victoria Rooms to add publicity to the inaugural meeting. Broad addressed the meeting and gave details of the Moth which was the first practical club aeroplane with a reputed running cost of 2d per mile inclusive. The ‘Bristol Times and Mirror’ reported that at least 85 members had enrolled prior to the meeting and that the Duke of Beaufort had consented to be Patron. The first Committee Meeting was held on 13th May 1927, when sub-committees were elected it was decided to order two Moths at a cost of £730.00 each, subject to adequate funding, and organize a promotional flying display. It was hoped to have the display on Clifton down but this was not allowed by the Corporation. However, Bristol Aeroplane Company agreed to it being held at Filton. The display on 22nd June 1927 was very successful as a further 55 members enrolled and the Club found the site so acceptable that an agreement was reached with the Air Ministry who owned the airfield and Bristol Aeroplane Company as tenants to establish Filton as their first base. The newly appointed Chief Flying Instructor, Flying Officer Bartlett, negotiated the use of one of the old Royal Flying Corps hangarson Hayes Lane (used later by 501 Sqn R.Aux.A.F.).
Flying commenced on 28th July 1927 with the newly acquired D.H.Cirrus Moth G-EBSN and over 21 hours flying was completed in the first week. A Bristol Brownie, presented by B.A.C., was added next month.
Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club Became Official
The Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club was officially opened on 8th October 1927 by the Air Minister, Sir Samual Hoare, at a full flying display. Flying charges were 25 shillings per hour, rising to 30 shillings at peak times. Pilot membership was 3 guineas.
The Club had realised that Filton was only a temporary base as company test flying shared the circuit and also the R.A.F. wished to take over the club leased buildings. Satisfactory negotiations with Bristol City Council to establish a municipal airport resulted in the Council purchase of farm land (290 acres at a cost of £15,000) and the construction of a new hangar and club buildings on the cleared, leveled site at Whitchurch.
Move to new airport in 1930
The club fleet of four Moths and the Brownie moved to the new airport in February 1930. Whitchurch Airport was officially opened by Prince George (to be the Duke of Kent) on 31st May 1930, when he also opened Winford Orthopaedic Hospital. Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club was responsible for operation of the airfield and appointed Flt.Lt. Winters as Airport Manager/Flying Club Secretary.
Whitchurch rapidly grew as other buildings were erected. Airwork Ltd., constructed another hangar, privately owned aircraft moved in and emergency lighting was installed for night landings. Annual Garden Parties bought in many light aircraft visitors in addition to air displays. In 1936 the Club tenancy was secured for 21 years, but the Council took over the airport management. Meanwhile, the Club fleet had seen changes with the sale of the ‘gift’ Pixie and Brownie. Two Cirrus Moths were bought which were duly replaced by Gypsy Moths, a Spartan Arrow, a Moth Major, then a rather unusual machine, a Cierva C.30 Autogyro was bought as a result of an anonymous gift of £1200, but did not prove successful. An Avro Tutor biplane gave the first ‘blind flying’ capability to the Club in 1935. Meanwhile, the biplane era was threatened by the sturdier monoplanes and the 3 Gypsy Moths were traded in for 2 brand new B.A. Swallow monoplanes the next year.
Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club during WW2
In 1938 the Government announced the formation of the Civil Air Guard to provide pilot training beyond the facilities offered by the Auxiliary Air Force and the University Air squadrons. The Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club was one of the approved clubs who were to provide low cost government sponsored flying training. An ‘amazing’ 12,000 pilots obtained their ‘wings’ nationwide in the 11 months preceding the outbreak of war. The Club ordered 3 Moth Minor monoplanes, a Foster Wikner Wicko cabin monoplane and a second-hand B.A. Swallow to meet the demand. Three more instructors joined and a peak of 351 hours was flown in May 1939.
All club and private flying ceased at the commencement of World War 2. Whitchurch became the centre for evacuated airlines with Ensigns, Albatross and H.P.42’s, some transferred to the Royal Air Force. ‘Willie’ Williams continued throughout the war as Club Secretary to supervise the catering staff who provided canteen facilities in the Clubhouse for K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines who had moved in and operated the Lisbon Service.
World hostilities ceased and shortly after civil flying became legal on 1st January 1946. Bristol and Wessex quickly applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for permission to use the requisitioned airport and buildings. They bid at R.A.F Kemble for the purchase of 3 ex-R.A.F. Auster 1 two seat spotter aircraft, which were to serve the Club for many years. Willie Williams was appointed airport manager but remained Club Secretary as a vital link.
Flying gradually built up despite many problems, not lest of which was fuel rationing. Two second hand Auster Autocrats were bought in 1948 and were later fitted with Gypsy Major engines (renamed Alphas) which made them suitable glider tugs to assist the Bristol Gliding Club at Lulsgate.
Bristol City Corporation has realized the limitations of Whitchurch Airport in the developing civil air transport scene and after due consideration and negotiation the ex RAF airfield at Lulsgate was selected as the new City Airport. The Club moved into their new accommodation in the main terminal building at Lulsgate on 13th April 1957 and we have been on this airfield since then.
The Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club has an unmatched history and the future remains set in the original aim; to promote civil flying in Bristol and the surrounding area.