The following pictures hung in the Druitt Hall for many years until the major refurbishment at which time they were stored and later given to the East Christchurch Sports & Social Club in Grange Road for public display. The new site is appropriate as it close to the original De Havilland factory. If you have any personal recollections or history about the pictures or changes to the initial draft text on this page could you please contact the secretary by email on the contact page.
Christchurch Airfield was a civil airfield that started operation from 1926, enlarged for wartime operations in 1941, Christchurch was used during World War II by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces Ninth Air Force. It returned to civilian flying postwar before being taken over by what became British Aerospace to manufacture jet fighters and civilian airliner types. The airfield complex was finally closed down and demolished in 1966 when housing was built on the site.
In 1940 the Government built a factory in the corner of Christchurch Airfield to be utilised by Airspeed until 1948 when De Havilland took it over.The Horsa, Ambassador, Mosquito Vampire, Sea Vampire, Sea Venom and Sea Vixen were all manufactured here and in addition a number of Spitfires were converted into Seafires. By 1954, over two thousand people were working in the factory which closed in 1962.
In 1962, the Sea Vixen FAW.2 conducted its maiden flight; the type entered service with frontline squadrons in 1964. Overall, a total of 29 FAW.2s were newly built along with a further 67 FAW.1s that were rebuilt and upgraded to FAW.2 standard. In 1966, the original FAW.1 begun to be phased out. In 1972, the career of the Sea Vixen FAW.2 came to an end.
The Admiralty had planned to replace the Sea Vixen with the McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1. The aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and Eagle were both planned to be refitted to properly carry and fly the new fighters. Due to defence cuts, and following the decommissioning of HMS Eagle, only HMS Ark Royal underwent the conversion work to fly the new Phantom FG.1.
A small number of Sea Vixens subsequently saw service in the less glamorous role of drones, in which capacity they were redesignated as the Sea Vixen D.3. Only four aircraft were converted to the D.3 standard, though three more were dispatched to Farnborough to undergo conversion, but ultimately went unconverted. The last remaining airworthy Sea Vixen (XP924) was a D3 conversion. A number of other Sea Vixens became target tugs and were redesignated as the Sea Vixen TT.2.
In June 1955, a semi–navalised prototype, XF828, was completed for the purpose of conducting carrier flight deck suitability trials. For this purpose, XF828 featured several changes, including the alteration of the profile of the wing leading edges and the strengthening of the wings, as well as underwing fixture points for catapult launches, and a tailhook for arrested landings; however, the Sea Vixen lacked a wing folding mechanism, or racks for armaments. On 20 June 1955, this aircraft made its first flight from De Havilland’s facility at Christchurch Airfield. The following year, XF828 performed its first arrested deck landing on the Royal Navy's aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.
Sea Vixen 131 XJ580, at one time owned by the Sea Vixen Society. Note this was originally a colour photo.
After successful carrier trials, the the Fleet Air Arm decided to adopt the Sea Vixen to replace its Sea Venoms and placed an order for 110 ‘Navalised aircraft’ which was subsequently renamed the Sea Vixen FAW.
In June 1955, a semi-navalised Mk20X prototype (XF828) completed carrier flight deck suitability trials which included catapult launches and arrester hook landings although the powered folding wings capability was not incorporated until April 1956.
The Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador was a British twin piston-engined airliner that first flew on 10 July 1947 and served in small numbers through the 1950s and 1960s. The planes are sometimes referred to as ‘Elizabethans’, as they were originally ordered and popularised by British European Airways as the planes used for their ‘Elizabethan Class’ passenger service.
The Ambassador had its origin in 1943 as a requirement identified by the Brabazon Committee for a twin-engined short–to–medium–haul replacement for the Douglas DC-3. Airspeed Ltd. was asked to prepare an unpressurised design in the 14.5–ton gross weight class, using two Bristol Hercules radial engines. In 1943, the company duly set up a dispersed design office in Fairmile Manor at Cobham in Surrey.
By the time the British Ministry of Aircraft Production ordered two prototypes from Airspeed, immediately after the end of the Second World War, the design had grown substantially. The Ambassador would be pressurised, have more powerful Bristol Centaurus radials and have a maximum gross weight of almost 24 tons.
An Ambassador on an early morning flight test in 1951.
Sea Vixen team pictured in front of the aircraft.