Friday, 18 May 2012

A historic visitor to Manchester Airport

Manchester was early onto the aviation scene with airfields at Alexander Park and Wythenshawe, before opening the world's first municipal airport at Barton in 1930. But then, as now, Barton suffered from boggy surfaces in winter, and in what was then a heavily industrialised area it also suffered poor visibility. In 1934 the national Dutch airline KLM's Chief Pilot, Captain Smirnoff, rejected Barton as unsuitable for its international services and removed Manchester from its list of destinations.

Manchester City Council decided to open a new airfield to replace Barton at Ringway in Cheshire. Several farms were purchased and work began in 1935 on converting the farmland into a well-drained grass airfield (they had learnt their lesson from Barton; Ringway was a couple of hundred feet higher than Barton, and didn't suffer boggy conditions). The new Ringway Airport opened in 1938.

On 17th May 1937 de Havilland Hornet Moth G-ADND was en-route from London's Great West Aerodrome (which today is Heathrow) to Barton when it ran into poor weather. Unable to reach Barton, the pilot, Duncan Menzies, put November Delta down on the partially complete new municipal airfield and thus became the first ever aircraft to visit Ringway. On 18th May it positioned to Avro's Woodford airfield nearby, and finally made it into Barton the next day, 19th May.

On Tuesday this week G-ADND flew into Barton, and yesterday (17th May) to commemorate that first Ringway landing, it flew into Ringway, now known as Manchester International Airport. It stayed overnight in the Ocean Sky executive jet hangar, and this morning (18th May) I watched it take off on runway 05L and position to Woodford, re-enacting that flight on 18th May 1937.

Duncan Menzies, November Delta's pilot in that 1937 landing

November Delta landing at Manchester yesterday

The Hornet Moth taxys past the Runway Visitor Park

Posing with the daily A380, just arrived from Dubai

The Moth's crew this week; left is the original pilot's son, Peter Menzies. 
Right is ND's current owner, David Weston

November Delta's panel

Duncan Menzie's Log Book showing those movements in May 1937 in G-ADND

Landing at Barton

Taxying in at Barton

Ringway Airport opened in the following year, 1938. It comprised a terminal, viewing terrace, control tower, and hangar with a concrete apron and well drained grass runways. However, 1938 was not an auspicious time to open an airfield as World War Two broke out the following year. Ringway became RAF Ringway, a training base for paratroopers who were dropped over nearby Tatton Park. 

Many aircraft were constructed in the Manchester area during the war years, at Avro's Chadderton works, Fairey's at Heaton Chapel, and others built under licence in Trafford Park. These were transported to Ringway in sections by road, and assembled in the hangars built for that purpose (some of which still exist) before being flown out to support the war effort. The very first Avro Lancaster bomber flew from Ringway.

These heavy aircraft movements proved too much for the grass runways, and the MOD put in hard runways which, after the war, were inherited by Manchester City Council when Ringway returned to civilian use. It wasn't until the 1970s that the extensive dispersals and hard standings, opposite The Romper pub and alongside the old Style road, were built over. And of course in 2001 the second runway opened, obliterating the site of the South Side hangars where I had flown from myself with the BTJ Group in the '80s and '90s.

Today, Ringway is Manchester International Airport but it is still in local authority ownership (55% of the shares in Manchester Airport PLC are owned by Manchester City Council, 45% by nine other Manchester area local authorities at 5% each). 

There is little left of the old Ringway today. Diminutive November Delta was a anachronism among the almost continuous stream of heavy jets taxying out for take off, or touching down on Manchester's runways this morning as she made her way to the holding point, swinging from side to side in true taildragger fashion so her pilot could see where he was going past the nose. Her Gipsy engine's (just like in Chipmunk Sierra Lima's) unsilenced blattering barely audible above the whine of turbofan engines of the big jets.

Back in 1937 it would have been very different. A wood and fabric biplane on a green field in a quiet corner of rural Cheshire.

Today was a commemoration, not a recreation, of that 1937 historic diversion. 



  1. Wonderful stuff Vince. I remember sitting in my mum's car at M/cr Airport with you in 1968 plotting to steal a BAC111.
    Best regards
    Mark Potter-Irwin

  2. Been following your blog since January and enjoy each installment.

  3. Where are you, M P-I? We need to catch up!