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Chilbolton Observatory – Hampshire’s Finest Abandoned Airfield

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.

Chilbolton Observatory

Chilbolton Observatory, abandoned airfields, Hampshire

By assumed USAAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The airfield was an operational base for a squadron of Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain.  The image to the right shows the airfield in 1944 when CG-4As gliders and C-47s transports gathered there in preparation for operation Market Garden.

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.

Hawker Tempest, RAF Fritzlar, Germany, 1945

Hawker Tempest, RAF Fritzlar, Germany, 1945. © B Lovegrove

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).

Folland Midge during test flights at Chilbolton in 1954

Crop Circles at Chilbolton. Elaborate hoax or a reply from distant planet?

About the Author Ben

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