RNAS Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus)

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RNAS Lee-on-Solent

Ensign of the Royal Air Force.svg Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Airport typeGeneral Aviation
OperatorRoyal Navy
Royal Air Force
LocationLee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire
In use1917–1996
Elevation AMSL30 ft / 9 m
Coordinates50°48′54″N 001°12′16″W / 50.81500°N 1.20444°W / 50.81500; -1.20444
RNAS Lee-on-Solent is located in Hampshire
RNAS Lee-on-Solent
RNAS Lee-on-Solent
Location in Hampshire
Direction Length Surface
ft m
05/23 4,295 1,309 Asphalt

Royal Naval Air Station Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus) was one of the primary shore airfields of the Fleet Air Arm. First established as a seaplane base in 1917 during the First World War, it later became the main training establishment and administrative centre of the Fleet Air Arm. Situated near Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire, approximately four miles west of Portsmouth on the coast of the Solent at grid reference SU560019, the establishment has now been closed down. The airfield hosts the Solent Enterprise Zone.


Naval aviation began at Lee-on-Solent on 30 July 1917 when the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) opened the Naval Seaplane Training School as an extension to the seaplane training station at nearby Calshot. The school's first commander was Squadron Commander Douglas Evill. Initially, aircraft had to be transported from their temporary hangars to the top of the nearby cliff, then lowered by crane onto a trolley which ran on rails into the sea. Permanent hangars, workshops, accommodation and a new double slipway were soon constructed, however.[1]

Royal Air Force use[edit]

On 1 April 1918, the RNAS combined with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Lee-on-Solent Naval Seaplane Training School became an RAF station. Naval aviation training continued throughout the 1920s under the RAF with both Calshot and Lee-on-Solent providing training in operating seaplanes - initially using the wartime Short Type 184s and, from late 1921, the new Fairey IIID.[2] On 1 April 1924, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force was formed, encompassing those RAF units that normally embarked on aircraft carriers and fighting ships (including those at shore bases such as Lee-on-Solent).[3]

In 1931 the first grass airstrip at Lee was constructed to the west of the town, Lee-on-Solent became HQ RAF Coastal Area, and a major rebuilding programme ensued.[4] On 14 July 1936, an expanded RAF Coastal Area became RAF Coastal Command, with the HQ remaining at Lee-on-Solent.[5]

Royal Navy use[edit]

With the expansion of the RAF during the 1930s, however, Parliament decided that the Fleet Air Arm should transfer to the Admiralty.[4] As a consequence, on 24 May 1939, HQ RAF Coastal Command moved to Northwood and Lee-on-Solent was commissioned as HMS Daedalus, becoming Headquarters of Flag Officer Air (Home).[5]

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War a number of Naval Air Squadrons were posted or formed here at some point.

Post war[edit]

4 SAR Flight Wessex airborne at once for a flypast of the Lee Tower. Westland Wesex HU.5, 781 Squadron, Lee-On-Solent SAR Flight. 1980.

Post war she continued to play a significant role, being renamed HMS Ariel on 31 October 1959 to reflect her electrical, radar and ground training emphasis; she took over the work of the Royal Naval Air Electrical Training Establishment, Worthy Down prior to its closure in 1961.[6] In 1962 the Joint Service Hovercraft Unit was formed with the aim of testing hovercraft in an operational military environment, and soon after the Air Station reverted to the name HMS Daedalus on 5 October 1965.[7]

She was home to the Naval Air Trial Installation Unit (NATIU), formed to install and test new systems in a variety of flying test bed aircraft including a Hawker Hunter and a De Havilland Devon.


The following units were here at some point:[8]

Post Royal Navy use (1996–2014)[edit]

In 2003 it was the subject of much controversy over the proposal to use a small part of it as a refuge for asylum-seekers.

In March 2006 the site was split, with ownership of the central area including the runways transferred to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who have continued to use it as a base for their air sea rescue helicopters. Hampshire Constabulary's fixed wing aircraft also continued to use the airfield. The outlying areas, including the former accommodation and technical area and surrounding land, hangars, and dispersals, were transferred to the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA).

In April 2006, Gosport and Fareham Borough Councils issued a Joint Planning Statement for Daedalus (PDF) stating that "There should be provision of leisure and community facilities which could complement existing facilities to the benefit of local residents" and "Future development should seek to maximise the benefit of the existing runways for general and private aviation use.".

In April/May 2006, whilst conducting repairs to the runway, building crews discovered an unexploded pipe bomb, of over 60 feet long, placed underneath the runway by the military, designed to cripple the airfield's operational capabilities in the event of a German invasion. The bomb (along with 19 others subsequently discovered) was scheduled to be removed in September 2006. The work was completed on 24 October 2006.

During its RN ownership the airfield had been used for a variety of groups, including the Portsmouth Naval Gliding Club (PNGC) The Lee Bees Model Flying Club, The Tigers Children's Motorcycle Display Team and two flying schools, and a number of privately owned aircraft were based at the airfield. When the RN moved out in 1996, operational management of the airfield was taken over by Hampshire Police Air Support Unit (HPASU). This management continued until October 2010, with HPASU being tenants of the MCA, which is an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport. In October 2010 Hampshire Police Air Support Unit was closed and its tasks taken over by the newly formed South East Air Support Unit covering Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey from bases at RAF Odiham and Shoreham Airport.

On acquiring their land SEEDA stated "The lack of availability of serviced employment land and new business space has been identified as an important requirement in South Hampshire. Our intention is that development of the site will focus on new aviation and marine related businesses, exploiting access to the existing runways and the Solent. Plans are to create a quality business location that will attract inward investment and provide accommodation for start-up, growing and established businesses". Aviation-related businesses, including an aircraft maintenance organisation, a microlight aircraft manufacturer and a flying school, became tenants of SEEDA in 2006, as did the owners of around 50 aircraft based on the site.

The aerodrome is strategically important. The growth of commercial air transport at Southampton Airport some years ago left it with no capacity for general aviation (GA) aircraft. This leaves Lee-on-Solent as the only airfield in southern Hampshire with a hard runway available for general aviation; the nearest alternative in Hampshire being Farnborough Airfield[citation needed].

On 18 October 2007, users were given 30 days notice by the Airfield Manager that the aerodrome would be closed to all existing users except MCA, HPASU and PNGC from 16 November 2007. The closure was successfully challenged by Lee Flying Association which worked with other agencies such as the Civil Aviation Authority and AOPA to develop new operating procedures, an Airfield Manual and an air-to-ground radio service and the airfield is now operating as a licensed general aviation airfield.[11] In May 2008 the closure decision was reversed.

From 1 April 2011, the airfield was leased to the British aircraft manufacturer, Britten-Norman[12] under its airfield operations subsidiary, Fly BN.[13] Britten-Norman established corporate offices at the Daedalus Airfield site as well as a manufacturing base for its subsidiary Britten-Norman Aircraft[14] and MRO facilities for two other subsidiaries, BN Defence[15] and BN Aviation.[16] In 2010 the Regional Development Agencies were abolished and ownership of the land owned by SEEDA was transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency Now managed by Fly BN on behalf of the airfield's new owner, the Homes and Communities Agency, the airfield was prepared for licensed operations.

In August 2011 the government announced that the airfield would host an enterprise zone named the Solent Enterprise Zone.[17]

In 2015 the area of land containing the runways and the surrounding land formerly owned by SEEDA, with the exception of the former technical area to the south of the operational airfield were acquired by Fareham Borough Council, who renamed the site "Solent Airport at Daedalus". The technical site remained in the ownership of HCA and is being developed for mixed industrial and residential use.

Current use[edit]

On 1 April 2015 the airfield owners, Fareham Borough Council, appointed Regional and City Airports Management on a 5-year contract to manage the airfield. New entrances have been constructed to eliminate the need for runway crossings by vehicles and redevelopment is underway. CEMAST (Centre of Engineering, Manufacturing and Advanced Skills Training), part of Fareham College is completed on previously undeveloped land in the south east corner of the airfield. Wartime Hangar A has been demolished to make way for a new Innovation Centre of business starter units to the south of the South Apron on the east side. The old MARTSU building together with hangars G, H, J, K, L M N and O have been demolished. This area is now known as Faraday Business Park and has been developed with new landside factory units that do not have access to the runway. Six new hangars (Nos 4-9) and a fuel farm have been built on the east side of the disused runway 17/35. The hangars are intended for corporate use and incorporate office space and domestic facilities. The former fire ground towards the north end of the old eastern taxiway has been developed as a new hangar complex with three hangars to the north (Nos 15, 16, 17) and two to the south (Nos 13 & 14) plus a facilities block and car park to the east. Hangars 13 and 14 are occupied by Bournemouth Avionics.

In September 2017 it was announced that Solent Airport (Daedalus) is to open up scheduled flights, with destinations possibly including Alderney, Cardiff, Swansea and Exeter. The Daily Echo reports that there may also be a small passenger terminal to accommodate the up to 20 seater planes.[18] By 2021 this had not happened.

In May 2018, Portsmouth Naval Gliding Centre announced that it would not be remaining at the site after its eviction notice on 31 May 2018. The charity stated this was because the airfield owners, Fareham Borough Council, had been unable to offer them a viable replacement to their current hangar, Belman 4, from which they had been served eviction notice for. On 31 May 2018, exactly 69 years to the day of the centre's formation, the last 'pure' glider flight from Lee-on-the-Solent flew. The centre is looking for a new home.[19]

In 2021 the newly built IFA2 converter station came on stream. Built on land in the north-east part of the airfield and south of the extended runway centreline it links to the UK electricity grid at Chilling, near Warsash to the French electricity grid via a similar converter station at Tourbe in France. The converter station converts between alternating current used in the UK grid and direct current used for the cross-channel link. It is connected to the UK and French grids by cables running across the airfield and entering The Solent to the west.

Land to the south of the eastern end of northern boundary of the airfield has been converted to public open space and is due to open for public use in 2021 after delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As well as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's search and rescue helicopters the airfield also houses a Coastguard Training Centre, a Driving Test Centre.

Fixed Based Operators (FBO) are at the airfield including:

See also[edit]




  • Howard, L; Burrow, M; Myall, E (2011). Fleet Air Arm helicopters since 1943. UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN 978-0-85130-304-8.

External links[edit]