Chilbolton Observatory is one of Hampshire’s finest abandoned airfields. During World War II it was once home to squadrons of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Typhoons, and Vampires.
Opened in 1940 as a satellite airfield for RAF Middle Wallop it was used by the RAF and USAAF.
After the war it was used for flight tests before being closed in 1961. Today it is the site of Chilbolton Observatory, a facility that carries out atmospheric and radio research.
The footage in the video below was taken using a DJI Phantom Vision+ quadcopter drone in June 2014. You can clearly see that the car park of today was once part of the main runway.
Today, crop marks in the fields reveal the locations of two of its three runways while in this image the runways, dispersal points, and perimeter track can clearly be seen.
In 1941, with the Battle of Britain won the previous year, the airfield was designated a Care and Maintenance facility.
1944 saw the arrival of the USAAF in the form of Spitfires and Mustangs from the Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons of the 67th Reconnaissance Wing.
Between 1945 and 1946 it was back in the hands of the RAF. The airfield saw the arrival of several more squadrons of Hawker Tempests (a derivative of the Hawker Typhoon), Spitfires, and Mustangs.
(Note: In October 2016 at Goodwood Airfield the Hawker Typhoon RB396 Restoration was launched.)
For example, 247 Squadron’s Tempests F2 andTyphoon Ibs arrived on 20th August 1945, and departed on 7th January 1946. A few month’s later the squadron’s first de Havilland Vampire jets arrived.
When the RAF vacated in 1946 it was taken over by the Vickers Supermarine company and became the location for tests of their new aircraft which included the Supermarine Attacker, Supermarine Swift and Supermarine Scimitar.
The Folland aviation company also used it as a test area for the Folland Gnat and Folland Midge aircraft.
The airfield was also used for location shots for the 1952 David Lean film The Sound Barrier.
By 1961 all major flying operations had ceased and the site was transformed into the location for atmospheric and radio research. Civilian flying continues at the Chilbolton Flying Club grass strip.
The Chilbolton Observatory radio telescope is a prominent local landmark and it is still used as such by passing aircraft. It is on the edge of the Middle Wallop MATZ (Military Air Traffic Zone).
For many pilots and aviation enthusiasts the idea of being able to fly in a Spitfire is probably on their bucket list if not at the top of it. With the restoration of these thoroughbred warbirds at an all time high Spitfire flights are more easily obtained than at any other time since World War II.
There are three main ways in which you can enjoy this ultimate aviation experience:
This is now possible thanks to training schemes offered by the Boultbee Academy who are based at Goodwood Airfield in West Sussex.
Boultbee offer all kinds of instruction; starting with the appreciation of flying other vintage aircraft like the Chipmunk, Tiger Moth, and Harvard. Then going moving on to lessons to in Spitfire and conversion courses for experienced pilots.
The prerequisites are that you already have a current SEP PPL and at least 1,000 hours of time logged.
They also teach formation and display flying. Prices are what you would expect for being taught by talented instructors in rare and expensive vintage aircraft. If you want to know the price then you probably can’t afford it but if money is plentiful then pop along and have a chat with them.
If you’re not looking to be taught how to fly the aircraft and simply want to enjoy the experience then there are two main options.
The aforementioned Boultbee Academy offer several Spitfire flights packages; 30 minute or longer flights and flights for two people during which the aircraft fly in formation with each other. Flights are available from Goodwood and from Exeter and start at £2,750 for 30 minutes.
Another option is the two seat Spitfire ML407 which is based at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire. Email the owners for details. You may have a long wait but the sooner you get on the waiting list the sooner your name will reach the top.
If you’re based in London or the south east you could visit the historic airfield Biggin Hill in Kent. ‘Biggin on the Bump’ (because it’s on a hill) has a long history that dates back to the dawn of aviation. It was a strategically important and very busy fighter base during the Battle of Britain.
The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar provides all kinds of experiences including Spitfire pleasure flights. Other options are in the list at the end of this post.
There are plenty more opportunities for those who would like to fly alongside a Spitfire in another aircraft. There is a higher demand and therefore several companies offer this service. It is a very popular gift idea for special birthdays and other anniversaries, or just a treat for no other reason that it’s on your bucket list.
One of the more affordable options is to buy a seat on another aircraft. The Spitfire then flies alongside and in formation with your aircraft so that you can film and photography to your heart’s content.
This is an excellent opportunity to see a Spitfire in close formation and the footage and images you capture are unforgettable. They will form a lasting memory of an event that will delight you and friends for years to come.
So you see there’s an option for every budget. Make that dream come true and book the experience today!