Bembridge Airport opened in 1920 on land owned by Bembridge Farm and in 1921 the airfield became licensed or "approved" by the then Automobile Association. Operationally in 1933 the available runways were three grass strips with the longest at 2340feet.
Spartan Airlines in 1934 built a terminal facility and the Isle of Wight heralded in one of the first airline services. During the next 5 years saw various other airlines, such as Portsmouth Southsea, Isle of Wight Aviation and Channel Air Ferries operating from Bembridge.
Flight to and from Bristol, Shoreham Heston and others were common place.
During WW II, the airport was stood down and closed and the landing area was obstructed by ditches to prevent its use in the event of invasion.
Just after the war in 1945 sadly the aviation world had changed and the pre-war passenger services were not restarted, however, the airport was still active for enthusiasts. In 1948 the Bembridge and Sandown flying club began activities at the field eventually amalgamating with the East Wight Air Charter (sadly struck off in 1958) offering charter flights to the mainland. Additionally, a company called Morgan offered daily pleasure flights during the summer months.
In the 1950’s various operators ran services from the airfield.
A then young seven year old Max Butcher recalls a pleasure flight service being operated during the 1950’s by the East Wight Air Charter Ltd. using a small fixed wing light aircraft. They would offer pleasure flights around the Island as recollected by Max Butcher, the picture below shows Max on the left with his younger brother standing in front of what looks like a De Havilland aircraft (please come back with any information you may have on it) .
’My recollection is quite vivid taking of from a grass field. I have a picture of my younger brother and me standing beside the airplane. During the flight my mother and brother sat on the bench seat in the back and I was in the right seat in the front with the pilot. I also have the ticket for the flight. Cost 10 shillings- a lot in those days.‘
1952 Silver City Airways operated one of the strangest routes being that of Bembridge to Southampton including your car!
The aircraft in question was a Bristol Freighter aircraft capable of carrying 3 average sized cars being of 12ft each. The passengers sat at the rear of the craft for the 15-mile trip at a cost of £4 per person and £6 for the car up to 12ft long.
The service ran for around a year and was then moved to a more profitable flying route from Southampton to the Channel Islands as can be seen from an extract from Flight magazine from August 1953.
In 1956 a company named Starways, operated a mainly weekend and summer passenger service from Liverpool to Bembridge using a Dakota aircraft, with coaches for clients to be taken on to Sandown and Shanklin hotels.
Further operators during the 1950’s were that of:
- Don Everall Aviation Birmingham using a Rapide aircraft
- Air Views Liverpool also using a Rapide
- East Anglia Flying Services using a Rapide and Dove aircraft
Britten Norman (BN)
A new company called Britten Norman in 1959 began operations in a vacant hanger, they initially looked at hovercraft under the name of Cushioncraft Ltd a devision of its parent company BN and began looking at hovercraft development, as the Island was a hub of hovercraft design ideas at the time. Between 1960 and 1972 a set of six designs were created of which five were produced.
CushionCraft Ltd - CC2
However, Cushioncraft Ltd. became somewhat of a side issue as the design of a new aircraft became more important and in 1979 after many finacial problems Cushiocraft Ltd. was eventually sold to the British Hovercraft Corporation.
BN's focus was now focused on looking hard at designing new fixed wing aircraft with good lift capability and substantial landing gear and in 1963/64 saw the birth of the now famous “Islander”
Islander - Paris Airshow June 1965
In 1967 a new hangar was constructed and the company went from strength to strength and what followed were 50+ years of design development and many variants of the aircraft but all having that distinctive “built like a tank” ruggedness that gets the job done. Latterly Fairey Aviation acquired the company and a further company issue led to another change to Pilatus Britten Norman who are still today building the Islander 50 years on with over 1280 having already been built!
Islander - 2010 Farnborough Airshow
Latterly the Islander became even more famous when its starred in the 007 film Spectre
Back on the airfield itself in 1980 saw the creation of a 1000ft concrete runway being added, giving an all weather strip as well as far better landing surface.
At the end of 2010 Britten Norman handed over the control of the airport to Bembridge airport Ltd.
Due to leasing issues a closure of the airport occurred in January 2011 as there was no operational ATC in play and thus became unlicensed under the CAA.
The runway is now again open for PPR or Prior Permmission Required operations. Further information can be had by following the link to Vectis Gliding Club Ltd.