Bristol Filton Airport
|Bristol Filton Airport
|IATA: FZO – ICAO: EGTG|
|Operator||BAE Systems Aviation Services Ltd|
|Location||Filton, South Gloucestershire|
|In use||1910 - 2012|
|Elevation AMSL||225 ft / 69 m|
Bristol Filton Airport or Filton Aerodrome (IATA: FZO, ICAO: EGTG) was an airport on the border between Filton and Patchway, within South Gloucestershire, 4 NM (7.4 km; 4.6 mi) north of Bristol, England. It was closed in December 2012.
The airfield is bounded by the A38 trunk road to the east, the former London to Avonmouth railway line to the south and the Old Filton Bypass road to the north west. The aerodrome's main runway runs east–west. The aerodrome is also called Filton Airfield. Bristol Filton Aerodrome had a United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority Ordinary Licence (number P741) allowing flights for the public transport of passengers or for flying instruction as authorised by the licensee—BAE Systems Aviation Services Limited.
Companies within the boundary of the aerodrome are BAE Systems (which own the aerodrome), GKN Aerospace, Airbus, MBDA and Rolls-Royce, as well as a number of aircraft maintenance companies, flying schools and the South West of England Royal Mail letter sorting depot. It had passenger facilities for corporate flights. Filton's runway is wider than most, at 91 m (300 ft) and is a considerable length at 2,467 m (8,094 ft) long, having been extended first for the maiden flight of the Bristol Brabazon airliner in 1949 and again in the late 1960s for Concorde.
Following a review of its commercial and economic viability, the airport stakeholders decided to close the airport for business as of 31 December 2012. Lately the airport had been mainly used for corporate passengers, training flights and aircraft maintenance operations, as well as police and ambulance helicopters.
The manufacture of aeroplanes started in 1910, when Sir George White, the owner of Bristol Tramways, established the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company in the maintenance sheds of Bristol Tramways. A small 'flying ground' was set up opposite Fairlawn Avenue in 1911, at the top of Filton Hill.
World War I
The company grew rapidly during WWI, building thousands of Bristol Fighters and other aircraft. In 1915, as the aircraft works expanded over the original 'flying ground', the Royal Flying Corps established Filton Aerodrome in fields at the bottom of Filton Hill. In that year the Royal Flying Corps opened a base on the airfield, access being from Hayes Lane, which led from Gypsy Patch Lane to the hamlet of Charlton. The early buildings at the base were wooden huts, but eventually more permanent structures were erected, including Barnwell Hall. During World War I, RFC Filton was mainly used as an aircraft acceptance facility.
A flying school was located on the northern side of the airfield. This eventually became part of the West Works of the Engine Division of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. The West Works site was cleared in the late 1980s to make way for a Post Office Sorting centre.
Aeroengine production started north of Filton Aerodrome, with the acquisition of Cosmos Engineering in 1920. In the same year, the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company became the Bristol Aeroplane Company, often abbreviated to BAC. From 1929 the No. 501 (City of Bristol) Squadron RAF was based at RAF Filton. The squadron was equipped with Hawker Hurricanes by 1939 and formed part of the British forces sent to France. Following a heavy German raid on the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1940, a squadron of Supermarine Spitfires were based at Filton.
Second World War
Before World War II, there were only grass runways at Filton. The re-armament programme from 1935 to the outbreak of war saw further expansion of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. East Works on Gypsy Patch Lane and Rodney Works along Gloucester Road North were established for the production of aeroengines.
Before the war there was a belief that German bombers had insufficient range to reach Filton, however, the invasion of France by the Nazis in 1940 changed the situation. As war approached anti-aircraft guns were set up in a field pasture up on Filton Hill, adjacent to Filton Golf Club, to defend the aircraft factories. On 25 September 1940 German aircraft, based in France, raided Filton, causing extensive damage to the aircraft factories, as well as causing a heavy loss of life when several air raid shelters were hit. Shortly afterwards, a squadron of Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft was stationed at Filton Aerodrome, to defend the area. Before D-Day, US-manufactured aircraft were assembled at Filton Aerodrome, from assemblies imported via Avonmouth docks. Filton became a major port-of-entry for US casualties after the D-Day landings in June 1944. Most of the casualties were taken to Frenchay Hospital. Aircraft produced at Filton during the war included the Blenheim, Beaufort, Beaufighter and Brigand. Filton Aerodrome was upgraded to a concrete runway during 1941/42.
After WW2, the concrete runway at Filton Aerodrome was extended westwards by John Laing & Son to enable the huge Bristol Brabazon airliner to take-off safely. This extension required demolition of the hamlet of Charlton; it also severed the pre-war Filton bypass. The three-bay Brabazon Hangar was built in the late 1940s under the direction of T. P. O'Sullivan. At the time, the hangar doors and the railway level crossing for the aircraft were the largest in the world. After a worker was crushed and killed while taking a nap in one of the folds of the hangar doors, a siren was installed to warn employees when the doors were being operated.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, BAC branched out into the development and production of pre-fabricated buildings, plastics, helicopters, guided weapons, luxury cars, gas turbines and ramjet motors. The Bristol Britannia (Whispering Giant) airliner and Bristol Freighter were produced.
In 1948, 501 Squadron was equipped with De Havilland Vampire jets. These were a common sight in the skies around Filton in the early to mid-1950s. 501 was disbanded on 3 February 1957. As a protest, one of the pilots flew his aircraft under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, but he crashed into a hillside on the Leigh Woods side of the Avon Gorge, near Sea Mills, Bristol, and was killed.
During the early 1950s, British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flew their Lockheed Constellations and Boeing Stratocruisers into Filton to be serviced in the newly completed Brabazon Hangar, then the largest hangar in the world. Maintenance flights to Filton ceased when suitable hangars were completed at London Heathrow Airport. In 1954 BAC opened a technical college for apprentices and trainees at the bottom of Filton Hill. This was eventually absorbed by Filton (Technical) College, that had opened on the opposite side of Filton Avenue in 1961. In 1958 the aero engine interests of the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Armstrong Siddeley were amalgamated to form Bristol Siddeley Engines. Rolls-Royce purchased Bristol Siddeley Engines in 1966. On 4 February 1971 Rolls-Royce were declared bankrupt due to the burden of development of the RB211 engine for the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar jetliner. Due to the importance of Rolls-Royce engine division to the Royal Air Force, the Government nationalised the company. Frederick Corfield the then local MP, was then Minister for Aviation, and presumably had influence over what was an unusual decision for a Conservative administration.
In 1960 the British Aircraft Corporation took over the aircraft interests of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. In 1960, an RAF Vulcan bomber, approaching from the west, landed at Filton in heavy rain. The pilot braked, but started to aquaplane. He decided to abort the landing. Although he managed to take-off and eventually land successfully elsewhere, the jet blast from the aircraft's four Bristol Siddeley Olympus 201 engines severely damaged a filling station at the eastern end of the runway, sent cars spinning on the A38 trunk road and wrecked the boundary fence steel railings. Eyewitnesses claimed that the aircraft barely cleared the engine test beds next to the Bristol to South Wales railway embankment. Subsequently, the filling station was moved further north, to a safer location. In the early 1960s, a new Filton bypass was constructed, roughly parallel to the old one, and this later became part of the M5 motorway. The 1960s and 1970s saw the development and production of Concorde at Filton and a further extension of the Filton runway. The first flight of the Concorde 002 prototype took place on 9 April 1969 at Filton Aerodrome. All other British-built Concordes also used the main Filton runway for their first flights. Because of jet blast, gates and traffic lights were installed to close off the A38 road when Concorde took off. A few Lightning fighters were produced during this period.
The length of the runway and its closed-to-passengers status made it an ideal dispersion site for the nation's airborne nuclear deterrent during the Cold War. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in February 1962, Vulcan Bombers were stationed at the airfield, on short-notice stand-by. On 3 December 1962, Bristol Siddeley Engines were using Vulcan XA894 as a flying test bed for the Olympus 22R, which was designed specifically to power the ill-fated BAC TSR-2 bomber. On that particular day, the aircraft was positioned at Filton on an apron near the former RAF station, with the 22R discharging its exhaust into a de-tuner. The power was increased to maximum reheat. An LP turbine disc was ejected from the engine, rupturing two fuel tanks and starting a fire. A brand new fire truck positioned in front of the aircraft was quickly enveloped in flames. The fire took hold so quickly that there was little the fire crew could do. Both the aircraft and fire truck were destroyed. The test engineers managed to exit the aircraft so there were no significant casualties.
After the disbanding of 501 squadron, Bristol Siddeley Engine apprentices and British Aircraft Corporation apprentices used Barnwell Hall, the RAF Officers Mess, for accommodation. The Bristol University Air Squadron continued to use some of the RAF facilities. Nowadays, many of the RAF buildings are derelict and Barnwell Hall has been demolished. For many years a surplus Concorde, G-BBDG, was housed in one of the hangars and cannibalised for spares by British Airways; following the decommissioning of Concorde, it was moved to the Brooklands Museum and restored. A further downhill extension to the main runway was made for the Concorde project in the late 1960s. There was also a shorter concrete runway at Filton with a roughly north-south orientation, which was sometimes used by a Dakota to ferry key BAC personnel to Fairford during Concorde development in the early 1970s. This has now been demolished for the Charlton Hayes housing development.
In 1977 British Aerospace became the owner of the Filton site. Work undertaken included production of the BAe 146 and components for various Airbus aircraft. During the late 1990s and up to 2010 Douglas DC8 and Boeing 747-200 aircraft flew regularly in and out of Filton, as at the time Filton was the maintenance base for MK Airlines.
On 26 November 2003, Concorde 216 (G-BOAF) made the final ever Concorde flight from Heathrow, passing over the Bay of Biscay before making a low pass over Bristol and finally returning to Filton where it is now maintained on a temporary apron, although has not been open to the public as a visitor attraction since 2010. It is hoped it will be joined by all the aircraft in the Bristol Aero collection at Kemble Airport, in a purpose built museum.
On 21 November 2006, a public inquiry meeting was held with South Gloucestershire Council to discuss the building of 2,200 homes on the north side of the airfield. The first residents moved in October 2010.
The aircraft interests of BAC are now owned by Airbus, GKN and BAE Systems, whilst the aero engine facilities are part of Rolls-Royce. MBDA owns the guided weapons facilities. Bristol Cars are still produced at the Filton site. The production of helicopters, pre-fabricated buildings and plastics has long since ceased or moved elsewhere.
Next to the A38 road, Airbus UK purchased 26 acres (110,000 m2) of the former Rodney Works from BAE Systems with a view to erect new factory buildings. New office accommodation was also to be erected on the old 1910 BCAC site. Although both sites have now been cleared, the planned development has been delayed, because Airbus wished to offload the development/manufacture of composite wings for the A350XWB (intended for Filton) to another contractor. GKN was the successful bidder for the work and has taken over some of the Filton site. According to latest reports, GKN will also take over vacant warehouses in nearby Easter Compton for some of the composite wing work, whilst Airbus will continue wing design work at the Filton site.
The Airbus redevelopment plan is for Filton House and New Filton House (both listed buildings) to be fully refurbished as 'Pegasus house' as part of the new office complex under final planning review. New Filton House was shrouded in protective polythene in August 2006, to reduce deterioration of the structure.
On 14 April 2011, BAE Systems, the owners of Filton airport, announced that the airfield was to close at the end of 2012, and were seeking to redevelop the site, an announcement which attracted local press attention and public debate involving various local groups. A local non-party-political pressure group called the "Save Filton Airfield" campaign was formed to oppose to the plans. BAE's decision was due to the lack of economic viability in keeping the runway open for their interests.
During the autumn of 2012, BAE systems confirmed the closure of the airfield. All operations on the airfield ceased on 21 December with a final closure on 31 December.
Aircraft maker Airbus, having operated a design centre at Filton, reportedly remains committed to the site as it has decided to build a multimillion-pound business park and the continued investment in facilities such as the A350XWB Landing Gear Test Facility. In October 2012 BAE Systems had announced the sales of the airport's complete air traffic control systems comprising radar, navaid, airfield lighting and radio communications systems and airfield fire engine.
The police helicopter and the Great Western Air Ambulance are based at the airport. Both helicopters are remaining at Filton after the airfield closure.
The land of Filton Airport was sold for £120 million with intentions of building an aviation museum which will also house Concorde and a new housing development. Bridgehouse Capital Limited, a property developer, owns the site. The company expects to build 2,500 homes on the site of the former airfield. In January 2013, the runway's lighting was removed as part of the equipment sale, leaving large holes in the surface.
In July 2015 it was reported that planning permission had been granted for the construction of the museum to house G-BOAF the last concorde where it is intended to form a key exhibit of the new Bristol Aviation Heritage Museum.
A Bell 206B Jet Ranger III is stationed at Filton for electricity pylon patrols.
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