NOSTALGIA: Eastbourne an unlikely pioneer in aviation

Author Peter Longstaff-Tyrell has been researching the history of flight in the Eastbourne area
Author Peter Longstaff-Tyrell has been researching the history of flight in the Eastbourne area

Peter Longstaff-Tyrell continues his look at aviation in the Eastbourne area in years gone by.

A flourishing seaplane factory was constructed on the Crumbles shingle beach where the Sovereign Centre swimming pool now stands. During the First World War aspiring pilots from all over the Commonwealth came to train there.

Thus was created a perhaps unlikely basis for pioneering aviation engineering in this easterly acreage of the county.

These activities have been admirably archived in the hardback title A History of the Eastbourne Aviation Company 1913-`1924 published by the Eastbourne Local History Society.

On Wednesday May 11 1932 the local broadsheet featured John Tranum, the famous parachutist and Captain E Cummings with their Hermes Spartan bi-plane. They had performed some breath-taking feats for the Arlington audience the previous Sunday.

On Wednesday July 19 a photo showed the Marquis de la Cierva, the well known aircraft designer at the Sussex Aero Club, He had landed in his auto-gyro and then visited friends.

The pioneer aviator Sir Alan Cobham found an interest in the airfield amidst his civil airport crusade and had planned to develop the airfield as Eastbourne Municipal Airport. However little came of this grand scheme.

On August 2 1932 Sir Alan Cobham returned with his National Aviation Day Show and this was repeated on August Bank Holiday the following year when the Sussex Aero Club hosted with new premises – a new clubhouse, main hangar, three windsocks and workshops for their guests and visitors.

Eastbourne Council referred to a proposal from October 1934 to the effect that steps would be taken to secure waste land at the Crumbles which was stated by the Air Ministry to be a preferred site and which would always be available.

Altogether it was a complex issue and in hindsight it may be said that the coastal Crumbles expanse was a more acceptable option.

A Councillor Colley was opposed to the Crumbles aero idea as one day it could be used for housing. Some councillors felt Eastbourne was lagging behind in this airport theme but it was a residential not an industrial community.

As the euphoria about civil flying gathered momentum locally, its virtues and minus elements could be fully aired by the local media and generally the subject remained buoyant.

An aerial view in the Eastbourne Gazette on Wednesday August 8 1933 shows a Vee formation of bi-planes of Sir Alan Cobham’s air pageants over the airfield.

The grass landing strips measured 400 by 350 yards and lay between the main road and the Lewes main railway track. The club had de Havilland DH160G Moths for pilot training.

With the emergence of public enthusiasm for flying there were national airshows staged and touring groups went around the provinces. In 1932 Skyworlds Ltd accommodated a large public with their flying circus display at Willingdon Aerodrome.

That November, M W Appleby sought an Air Ministry licence to form the Sussex Aviation and Aero Club at Wilmington.

The licence was secured and diminutive Wilmington had arrived as a civilian aerodrome – their airfield taking over about half of the former RFC airfield acreage, the west side of the land sloping away quite steadily towards the Cuckmere River.

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