As some people may know I have over the last few years been researching the long lost 'Barton Aerodrome', its people, its planes and what happened. This is the first of several sections on the subject.
Part 1: You say Barton had an aerodrome?
Well yes we did, I become interested in the whole subject by chance really, whilst out walking with the dogs a few years ago I came across a WWII pill box lurking deep in the thick of a hedge and it got me wondering.
As child my parents had worked on the industrial estate with various companies and I often made the short walk from the village on a Saturday or during school holidays to one or other of them, for a small village the industrial estate was hive activity with people everywhere, trucks and cars moving around and buildings that just never fitted the scale of the village... now 25 years on it just makes so much more sense why.
Barton's airfield came in to existence on January the 1st 1935*, after the field had been acquired from Brookend Green Farm by the Luton Aircraft Company. Today we think of 'airfields' as big long tarmacked runways, a tall control tower and a terminal but back in 1935 'aircraft' and tourism flights was in its infancy... Barton airfield was in reality nothing more than grass field just over 500mts at longest point and nothing more!
The field was bounded on all sides with hedges, a large section to the east that bounded the Barton Brook was so boggy that it was deemed off limits, the only access was along Faldo Road where the field bordered the road leading to Faldo Farm. Location wise it was far from perfect the ground bordered by hills sweeping round anti-clockwise from Pulloxhill in the north as far as Hexton in the east, with the mighty Sharpenhoe clappers bearing down a mere 3/4 miles to the south with its canopy some 120 meters in height above the field.
I guess at this point it would be salient to talk a little about 'aviation' of the period, much like our perception of airports now and then aviation and aircraft were very much a preserve of limited few and not of the masses. In the years pre 1884 aviation was largely about lighter than air balloons which drifted with air currents and had no real human control once launched, but in 1884 La France was lunched... the worlds first powered and steerable hot air balloon which managed 5 miles of flight powered by its own electric motor.
Aircraft as we would know them appeared on the scene on December 17th 1903 with the Kitty Hawk flown by Orville Wright, this flight was just 12 seconds long and 37 meters but it changed the world!
So lets shuffle on a little too the 25th July 1909 when Frenchman Louis Blériot became the first cross a 'substantial body of water in a heavier than air aircraft' winning himself a tidy £1000 prize money to boot. Its also worth noting that Louis Blériot is the first person to make a significant flight in a monoplane... something that we would compare to modern layout of an aircraft with a single fixed wing.
Our next step in time is to 13th May 1912 and formation of the Royal Flying Corps (pounced 'core'), a section of the British Army that was responsible for 'above ground' operations. At first there seamed to be much debate on the use and purpose of the new fangled flying contraptions, engines were heavy and unreliable, tie this in with a aircraft made for linen and wood and you can see why at the time there was a little scepticism! Typical aircraft of this period were the Sopworth Pup and Bristol Scout .. all very Biggles. As the war drew to end aircraft had become more respected as artillery units were thankful for aerial reconnaissance, ground troops for bombing and other flyers for the ability to arm aircraft. The impact of war though greatly effected the availability of materials, there are many reports of crashed allied and German aircraft being robbed for materials to keep flying aircraft in the air.
The closure of WWI had led to the end of hostilities but for the next few years shortages were met with restrictions, so we are going to forward to 1920. The treaty of Versailles signed 6 months earlier had forbidden the use of engine powered aircraft in Germany, this meant that keen flyers had made a switch to non powered flight and the development of the modern gilder or sailplane holding the first formal gliding competition in the Wasserkuppe Germany the same year. Development of the glider in Germany is rapid with records for height and duration being broken frequently, here in the UK interest is sparked and during the 1920's British gliding comes into its own.
OK, history lesson over and lets carry on with our tale of the lost Barton aerodrome.
* Airfields were licensed by the government with an issued date
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