AIRFIELD HISTORY

Situated to the South of the A30, midway between Sherborne and Shaftesbury, Henstridge Airfield is easy to miss from the ground, but was a wartime Fleet Air Arm training airfield.  Work started on the airfield in 1941, but it was not until April 1943 that it was Commissioned as HMS Dipper and No 2 Naval Air Fighter School moved in from Yeovilton.  Seafires, Spitfires and Masters operated here until the end of the war.

G45 Camera Gun at HMS Dipper, Henstridge

CLICK HERE TO SEE A MORE DETAILED TIMELINE FOR THE AIRFIELD.

WW2 Training Butt, now the gyro hanger

The building that is now the gyrocopter hangar was designed to be used to align the guns on the fighter aircraft – which explains the pock-marked heavy concrete top!  There was also concrete angled upwards towards the back wall (which had to be removed and replaced with a level floor).

 

The airfield was unusual in that it was laid out with five runways rather than the more usual three that were seen in most wartime airfields.  The northern of the parallel pair – 07/25 –  a tarmac runway in good condition, 750m long by 26m wide, was equipped with a reinforced concrete “dummy deck” laid out with arrester wires to resemble an aircraft carrier deck for practising deck landings. This dummy deck may still be seen today (the lighter patch), having been preserved by the current owners.  Seafire and Spitfire pilots, in the main, trained here during the war although many other types are recorded as having visited, or been based here.

Henstridge's 07-25 strip with the lighter "dummy deck" in front of the blue hangars

The airfield became a relief landing ground for RNAS Yeovilton with Fireflys and Seafurys as frequent visitors, slowly running down until finally passing out of MoD ownership in 1957 to become a general aviation airfield.

In 1953, Alan Bristow established Air Whaling Limited at the airfield, flying Dragonfly, Hiller and Westland S55 helicopters.  In 1955 he set up Bristow Helicopters Ltd, also at Henstridge, operating four Widgeons in the Gulf on oil exploration.  Bristows departed for Redhill in 1958.  By the 1960s, the airfield was surplus to requirements and was sold off by the Government.  The MoD then sold the old airfield in Lots, but there has hardly been a time since Commissioning in 1943 when flying in one form or another has not taken place at the airfield.

The Wessex Strut of the Popular Flying Association (PFA) have been holding fly-ins here since the 1970s, and the airfield has become their adopted headquarters.

Through the 1980′s and early 1990′s, the airfield operated from the North side of the runway overseen by Tony Young, who ran ‘Aircraft Coverings Limited’, an aircraft paint and fabric coverings business.   During this period Keith Pierson, the then land-owner, fought for planning permission to establish an ‘Airpark’ at the airfield.  After a long battle this fell through but, undaunted, he refurbished the surviving runway 07/25 and set up an airfield office/Ops/Clubhouse to the South of the runway from which operations are now conducted.

At present, the airfield operates from that same building – serviceable, but somewhat time-worn and pending a move – when funds permit – into new purpose-built accommodation.  Although the present accommodation might be a little rough around the edges, we hope that our pilots and staff are friendly and welcoming.

A new build of a number of hangars has recently been completed, offering much sought- after covered accommodation for resident aircraft.  There are no vacancies at present, but if you would like to talk about the hangars, outdoor parking or future projects, please telephone the Ops staff on 01963-364231.

On 1 April 2013, on the 70th Anniversary of HMS Dipper, a Memorial was unveiled and dedicated at Henstridge Airfield.  Photographs are on the Photo Gallery page.

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