RAF MANSTON - The history
of the airfield from 1916 to the present day.
Its use by the RAF
Its use by civil airlines from the 1930's
Manston started its Aviation days as a Royal Naval Station in
1916, with a base at Westgate Bay for seaplanes. The early airfield
was on the area now occupied by the passenger terminal.
By 1917 Manston airfield had grown to include four underground hangars,
its own railway line to Birchington, a power station to generate electricity,
barracks for 3,000 men and even an indoor swimming pool.
After WW1, training of airmen in airframe maintenance and engine repairs
was taught in the School of Technical Training.
1940 and WW2 brought the Battle of Britain. Barnes Wallis arrived in
1943 to test his bouncing bomb at nearby Reculver, before the Dam busters
carried out their famous raid.
Roland Beaumont arrived with the Typhoon which came to be the most successful
ground attack aircraft in WW2.
The first jet fighters arrived at Manston, to attack the flying bombs
(1944's version of the cruise missile).
The longest and widest runway in Southern England was built to allow
badly damaged aircraft returning from Europe a safe haven, with the Fido
fog dispersal system to allow landings in any weather.
In 1950 the Americans arrived and stayed for eight years.
In 1960 Manston returned to the RAF as a major diversionary airfield
for aircraft in trouble. The fire school was formed to train RAF firemen
in everything from aircraft fires to rescuing car crash victims.
Civil aviation companies arrived and took 700,000 people on their first
foreign holidays in one year.
In the mid 1960's the first air-sea-rescue helicopters arrived,
and rescued many more holidaymakers than airmen.
The air experience squadron arrived with their Chipmunk aircraft to give
many an air cadet their first flight.
1969: The RAF helicopters left and a civilian company took over.
1974: The RAF air sea rescue helicopters returned. At the same time two
of the prototype bouncing bombs were recovered from the beach at Reculver.
The team who achieved the first man-powered flight across the English
Channel carried out trials here. The next year another team did it using
1980, and after a 40 year wait, new houses were built for married and
In January 1982, 25 civil airlines were diverted to Manston.
1981: Ash radar station was rebuilt, and with the expansion of the Fire
Training School, Manston was going through one of its busy periods.
1982 saw many aid flights to Africa and other war torn parts of the world.
1988: Manston held its first air show since the 1950's.
1996: It was decided that RAF Ash should be closed down, due to the end
of the cold war.
1999: The closure of RAF Manston was announced, so after 80 years the
RAF were leaving. The civil part of the airport was to continue, and
offers for the remainder were sought.
Manston closed on the 31 March 1999, and is now a civilian airport called