Bristol Filton Airport
|Airport type||Private, now closed|
|Owner||BAE Systems Aviation Services Ltd|
|Location||Filton, South Gloucestershire|
|In use||1910 - 2012|
|Elevation AMSL||225 ft / 69 m|
Filton Airport or Filton Aerodrome (IATA: FZO, ICAO: EGTG) was a private airport on the border between Filton and Patchway, within South Gloucestershire, 4 NM (7.4 km; 4.6 mi) north of Bristol, England.
The airfield is bordered by the A38 road at the start of the runway, and the former London to Avonmouth railway line to the left. It was also bordered by what some know as the Old Filton Bypass, to the right of the runways (a new major road dissects this former boundary, which now links across former airfield land, enabling a Filton and Patchway link to Cribbs Causeway), and an expansive housing development known as Charlton Hayes within the section of the airfield that is in the Town of Patchway.
The airfield 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. Several private jets had the airfield as their home.
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 for the maiden flight of the then record-breaking Bristol Brabazon airliner in 1949. Its size was also important in the late 1960s and early 1970s for development and manufacture of the supersonic Concorde.
Filton had a succession of owners. Following a review of its commercial viability, the last owners, BAE Systems Aviation Services Limited, decided to close the airfield for business effective 31 December 2012. BAE left the site and initiated major redevelopments, selling parts of the industrial buildings and land to Airbus, who have expanded their presence there. As of 2016[update], Airbus is the main company left on the site. Airbus have built major new offices, plus they redeveloped one of the original 'Aircraft Works' buildings, Pegasus House, as well as restoring the historic Filton House. Planning permission has also been granted for Airbus to build a new Engine Development Centre as well as a new Wing Building and Wing Development Centre.
The regional West of England Royal Mail letter sorting depot was built on part of the airfield site before it closed.
As of 2016[update] the only flights originating at Filton are from an area given to National Police Air Service for its helicopter and for an Air Ambulance helicopter operated by the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity.
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.
First World War
The company grew rapidly during the First World War, building thousands of Bristol Fighters and other aircraft. In 1915, as the Aircraft Works expanded over the original flying area, the Royal Flying Corps established Filton Airfield in fields at the bottom of Filton Hill. Access was via the hamlet of Charlton. The hamlet was taken over by the War Office, with people being re-housed and most of the houses demolished, though some survived up until the airfield was closed and the land readied for the Charlton-Hayes housing estate.
The First World War buildings on the military base were wooden huts, but eventually more permanent structures were erected, including Barnwell Hall. During the war, RFC Filton was mainly used as an aircraft acceptance facility.
Aero-engine production started close to Filton Airfield, 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.
Second World War
Before the Second World War 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. Following the heavy German raid in 1940, a squadron of Supermarine Spitfires were based at Filton. 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. Both a First World War and a Second World War aircraft hangars survived into the 21st century. These have been legally protected and are currently being refurbished for use by Aerospace Bristol, a new aviation heritage museum that will house the Bristol Aero Collection, alongside a new hangar for Concorde 216.
After the Second World War, 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 late 1940s and early 1950, 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, who owned a share in what became Airbus, were dominant on the Filton Airfield 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. Lined-up Boeing 747s would sit on the side strip of runway, awaiting transformation from passenger planes into freight transport planes; work done by BAE Systems before its decision to leave civil aircraft development and manufacture, to reorganise into a military manufacturer of aircraft, ships and in many other military products. Airbus as a separate entity thrives on the Filton Airfield site. Though the runway remains in the grips of redevelopment.
On 26 November 2003, Concorde 216 (G-BOAF) made her final ever flight. She journeyed from Heathrow, passing over the Bay of Biscay before making several low passes over Bristol, and swooping over the Clifton Suspension Bridge where crowds had gathered. Finally she returned to Filton where she is now maintained. A new museum, Aerospace Bristol, opened in 2017 to the south of the old runway. This followed the closure of a previous visitors centre in 2010 after a fatal accident involving a man falling from a walkway. Concorde is joined by other exhibits in the Bristol Aero collection.
On 21 November 2006, a public inquiry meeting was held with South Gloucestershire Council to discuss the building of 2,200 homes on the airfield (Patchway section). The first residents moved in to Charlton Hayes in October 2010.
All the aircraft interests of the formerly named British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) are now owned by Airbus, GKN and BAC rebranded as BAE Systems, whilst the aero engine facilities are part of Rolls-Royce. MBDA owned the guided weapons facilities.
An Airbus redevelopment plan for Filton House and Pegasus house, as part of the new major office complex, has been completed. Pegasus House was shrouded in protective polythene in August 2006, to reduce deterioration of the structure, but this initially had to be replaced due to airfield and area wind damage. Later, protection was abandoned before Airbus restored the buildings to their former glory, and officially reopened by the Duke of Gloucester after 20 years.
Next to the A38 road, Airbus UK purchased 26 acres (110,000 m2) of the former Rolls Royce Rodney Works (multiple companies 'then' sharing the Airfield site). This additional new building Airbus is planning, to replace the Rodney Works cleared area, is for wing development and manufacture. This has been given planning permission by South Gloucestershire Council. This will join other redeveloped areas of the airfield.
Sections of the land that made up Filton Airfield were sold by BAE Systems for £120 million, and many developments have gone on since 2012. In relation to other sold-off sections and redevelopment (noted above), it has cost Airbus millions of pounds. Final development on the runway itself will be delayed until the Aerospace Bristol museum is completed and the planes have been brought in.
In the autumn of 2017, the several hangars were re-opened as the Aerospace Bristol.
A Bell 206B Jet Ranger III is stationed at Filton for electricity pylon patrols.
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