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Compton Abbas Airfield: History & Attractions at this Grass Airfield

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Compton Abbas Airfield (EGHA) is one of those airfields that attracts many new visitors and which has a loyal selection of aviators who frequently drop in. It is arguably one of the most picturesque airfields in the South of England. I have a personal reason to be fond of the airfield as it was here that I completed my PPL in 1991.

The airfield is on top of a hill about 3 miles south of the Dorset town of Shaftesbury. The hill is one of the chalk hills known as Cranborne Chase.  The nearby village of Compton Abbas dates back to Saxon times and the literal meaning of the name is ‘village in a narrow valley’ near the ‘abbey’ in Shaftesbury.

This grass airfield is known for its warm welcome, social and aviation events, and of course, flying in various forms. It’s a popular meeting point for widely dispersed pilots who want to meet up before exploring the south coast.

Flight Experiences

There are several flight experiences available for anyone who wants a taste of flight in vintage aircraft or for aviators who want to try something new.

Compton is one of the locations in the UK where you can have a flight in a Harvard. The particular Havard at this airfield is a 1946 Marines At-6C Mk2a. Click here for more information.

If the Harvard Experience is out of your price range then how about a flight in an open cockpit biplane of the 1940s, the Boeing Stearman, used during WWII to train Navy Pilots, or the closed cockpit of a 1950s RAF trainer, the de Havilland Chipmunk, used until comparatively recently to train Army pilots at the Middle Wallop airfield in Hampshire. They would learn to fly on these fixed-wing aircraft before graduating onto helicopters at the Army Air Corps School of Flying.

If in vintage aircraft flying is not for you then there are two other options in more modern airplanes. You can try your hand at conventional flying in a light aircraft aboard a Piper Warrior or an Ikarus C42 which looks like an airplane but is in fact in the microlight category.

In December 2022, after the sale of the airfield to Guy Ritichie (see below), it was announced that Aero Legends would be providing Spitfire flights at Compton Abbas in 2023. This will no doubt be a smart move for this niche sector of the flight exeperience market. At the moment, all their Spitfire flight experiences are based in Headcorn, Kent and in North Weald, so making them available from Wiltshire will put them in easy reach of an untappe market. The nearest to anyone in Wiltshire and the surrounding area prior to this would be Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex.

Flying Club

Compton is the home of a busy and active flying club. As well as being a prime location at which to base an aircraft members can hire from of a fleet of Piper Warrior aircraft and an Ikarus C42 providing ample solo hire availability. Club members fly out to other airfields and enjoy other social and aviation activities.

Airfield Cafes

There are two cafes at the airfield, the Compton Cafe (for visiting pilots and customers attending for experience flights) and the Runway Cafe which is open to all. In fact, as with many picturesque airfields like this one, the Runway Cafe is frequented by many people who simply want to enjoy the view, watching the airplanes come and go, with the backdrop of the open country rolling away in the distance.

Compton Abbas Airfield
By Clive Perrin, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9191787
View from the patio outside the club house and restaurant. Looking NW across the landing strip, Melbury beacon between the aircraft and Shaftesbury on the right.

Flight Training

Flight training is available for the following licences at the Flying School at Compton which has been teaching people to fly light aircraft for over 30 years.:

They can also provide training for additional ratings including Tailwheel (essential if you want to fly vintage aircraft), Instrument Rating (Restricted).

My Flying Training At Compton Abbas Airfield

My Flying Training At Compton Abbas Airfield
GFT Passed! October 1991

I completed my PPL at Compton Abbas Airfield. I had some intial training at Southampton and a few lessons at Blackbushe. Then after a gap in training I chose Compton as the prices for flying training at the time were competitive with those at airfields closer to home, despite the longer journey time.

I completed on Cessna 150/152s having started training on Grumman AA5-A Cheetahs.

Opening Hours

The airfield is open all year from Tuesday to Sunday from 09:00-17:00hrs (local), apart from bank holidays. The Runway Cafe is open from 10:00-16:00hrs.

Compton Abbas really is a lovely place to visit, by road as well as by air.

Compton Abbas Airfield in the news

Compton Abbas may be a small airfield but it hit international headlines in the 1990s.

Asil Nadir is a Turkish Cypriot business tycoon who fled the United Kingdom in 1993 aboard a twin-engined Piper aircraft that took off from this airfield. The Piper landed in northern France where Nadir transferred to a private jet that took him to Northern Cyprus. He absconded after being charged with multiple counts of fraud and theft. He was later convicted in his absence and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In August 2010, he returned to the UK to stand trial, but was released on bail and subsequently absconded again. In 2013, he was finally brought back to the UK to stand trial and was sentenced to seven years in prison. Nadir is currently out on parole and living in Turkey.

Film Director Guy Ritchie Buys Compton Abbas Airfield

In October 2022 it was announced that the film director Guy Ritchie had bought Compton Abbas Airfield. Mr Ritchie owns an estate and a brewery that borders the airfield. He has assured aviators that flying training activities will continue at the airfield during a carefully managed transition period, and that planned events for the 2022/2023 seasons will go ahead

We are pleased to announce that Ashcombe Estates are purchasing Compton Abbas Airfield from the Hughes family. Compton Abbas Airfield is an important part of the local area and has been the heart of the flying community here for many years.

We will keep running the Airfield in the spirit that has been curated by the Hughes family over their years of ownership. We will make some improvements to the buildings and infrastructure, this will be done in a sympathetic manner, with the current community of users included in the planning.

We will continue to operate the Airfield for both resident and guest aircraft. Resident aircraft can continue to rent hangar space here. We will keep the café and bar running so that it will remain a regional destination for families.

We want to maintain flying training, but we cannot manage the flying school ourselves. We would like to discuss with those currently involved in the school ways that we could enable flying training activities to continue. Resident organisations which run independently of CAA will be welcome and encouraged to continue to operate.

We will move some of the storage and workshop activities which currently take place at Ashgrove Farm to the Airfield. This will not interfere significantly with current flying operations.

There will be a carefully managed transition period with the Hughes family to ensure that nothing is rushed. As discussions develop, we will keep you up to date with plans and ensure there is opportunity for regular dialogue.”

Guy Ritchie, On behalf of Ashcombe Estates LLP
Guy Ritchie talks to Ian Seager of Flyer magazine and TV about his plans for the airfield. August 2023.

The Future of Compton Abbas Airfield

Whenever a general aviation airfield is sold, a ripple of anxiety spreads through the flying community in the UK. Too many airfields and airstrips have been closed, never to re-open. Freshly built airfields are as rare as hen’s teeth.

Owning and operating a GA airfield is a labour of love and when the owners decide to sell it can be that they’ve reached a stage in their lives when they want to retire or make fundamental changes, so they may be selling to raise the funds for those projects.

Unless the airfield is sold to someone who loves aviation and who is willing to enable flying training activities to continue, to rent hangar space, and otherwise run the place as it was before with only minor changes, then there is a risk that the area could be put to some other use.

Compton Abbas Airfield is a regional destination for visiting pilots from far and wide, as well as the home of a flying school, resident and guest aircraft, and a source of employment for the local area. Long may it continue to be.

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