THE HISTORY OF BECCLES AERODROME
1942 When it all began..
In 1942 the United States Army Air Force began operations in the British Isles against Germany. A number of airfields had to be built, primarily in the East of England.
Work to build the Airfield in the then usual 'A' style began in 1943. Identified as Station 132 it was completed in 1944. The USAAF decided it was surplus to their requirements so it was taken over by the RAF Coastal Command for use for the Air Sea Rescue, mainly 280 squadron. They operated with Warwick aircraft similar in design to the wellington bomber but with an underslung rescue dinghy. They were kept very busy as many of the bombers returning had suffered damage and had to be put down at sea. Being very close to the coast Beccles became a natural first destination for a lot of the damaged aircraft.One such aircraft was a B17 'Thomas Paine' which had severe damage including loss of hydraulics and injuries to the crew including the nose gunner. The Pilot, Bob Macwhite, skillfully landed the aircraft, ground looping to avoid some children playing at the end of the runway. Bob paid a couple of visits to the Airfield and met the children he narrowly missed. The Owner of a wartime vintage aircraft took Bob for a short flight, replicating his flight into Beccles though this time with a less eventful landing.Perhaps Beccles airfield is most famously remembered for the short visit of the 618 Squadron. Sister to the 617 Squadron, famous for the Dambusters Raid. They were secretly testing a smaller version of the bouncing bomb which was to be carried by Mosquito aircraft launched from aircraft carriers. This was to be called 'Highball' Barnes Wallis, inventor of the larger version visited Beccles as did 'Winkle' Brown, a test pilot who still holds the record of having flown more types of military aircraft than anyone else. Brown had also taken off and landed a Mosquito on an aircraft carrier. This expertise was now required so the Beccles runway was marked out as a deck of a carrier for training purposes. Brown met Barnes Wallis but neither knew what the other was up too! Training was intensive and after 2 months 618 Squadron left Beccles to prepare for duty in the far East against the Japanese. In the event Highball was never operational as the war ended. The Fleet air arm also served at Beccles flying coastal patrols with Baracuda aircraft the establishment being called HMS Hornbill. As the war in Europe drew to a close the necessity for Air Sea Rescue diminished and 280 squadron was relocated to Langham. For a while the buildings on the Airfield were used to house German prisoners of war with the runways occasionally used by crop spraying aircraft. At the time there was talk of Beccles airfield being developed as an airfield for Lowestoft / Great Yarmouth but the construction of new a new road cutting the main runway in two put paid to the idea! Meanwhile the Gas offshore industry was expanding and support facilities were being built all along the East Anglia coast. Beccles was identified as a suitable helicopter base & British International Helicopters occupied the Easterly end near the large T2 hangar for the next 25 Years or so. After they had moved away a fixed wing flying school was established in 1997 making use of the remaining easterly 500 metres of runway. The flying school was joined by UK Parachuting in 2008 and Virage Helicopter Academy in 2010 and then 2013 by a microlight school. In 2019 Hornbill Aeroservices Ltd undertook the running of the aerodrome and commenced the much needed refurbishment. The COVID-19 epidemic complicated matters but nevertheless great improvements have been made. 3 new Hangars have been erected, the runway has been resurfaced and a quirky and stylish onsite Cafe has been built ; all of this drawing many compliments from visitors who fly in and locals too. The Airfield still retains a lot of the original construction, including 2 large T2 hangars, parts of the runway and many of the service buildings. Industry now occupies much of the 500 Acre site and a nice touch is that some streets in the industrial estate carry on the names of the wartime aircraft. The fact that flying is still taking place is something that pleases many local people. Hornbill Aeroservices along with their team are continuing to improve the aerodrome and its facilities. Another hangar and offices at the Western end EA One and so the North Sea Link continues...