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Eastchurch Aviation Museum on Sheppey is part of a new heritage trail marking the exploits of Battle of Britain pilots


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Sheppey's important contribution to flight as the birthplace of British aviation is now on the map.

The Island's Aviation Museum at Eastchurch, which documents the first attempts to fly in the UK with stunning photographs and exhibits, is part of a newly-launched heritage trail highlighting the most important locations in the south east.

Eastchurch Aviation Museum manager Peter West displays the logbook and details of the new heritage trail. Picture: Gill West
Eastchurch Aviation Museum manager Peter West displays the logbook and details of the new heritage trail. Picture: Gill West
Inside the Eastchurch Aviation Museum on the Isle of Sheppey which was the birthplace of British aviation
Inside the Eastchurch Aviation Museum on the Isle of Sheppey which was the birthplace of British aviation
Inside the Eastchurch Aviation Museum on the Isle of Sheppey which was the birthplace of British aviation
Inside the Eastchurch Aviation Museum on the Isle of Sheppey which was the birthplace of British aviation

The trail is funded by Historic England and has been put together by Military Aviation Heritage Networks. It features 17 airfields, museums and sites of special aviation interest. Only one - Eastchurch - is part of a working prison.

Peter West, who manages the museum on the Standford Hill Open Prison complex, said: "We are delighted to be part of this new incentive to capture people's interest in the history of aviation. It is a side of our heritage which is often sadly overlooked but it is hugely important."

The very first propelled flight in Britain took place at Shellness on February 27, 1909, when balloonist Moore-Brabazon flew French-built Wright plane The Bird of Passage 5 kilometres. It earned him Britain's first pilot's licence - the No 1 Aviators Certificate of the Aero Club.

After embedding the plane's propeller in the earth, he returned on October 30 in a bi-plane designed and built by Horace Short to complete the first circular mile 20-feet above the ground and win a £1,000 prize from the Daily Mail. On November 4 he managed a flight of three-and-a-half miles.

Also learning to fly on Sheppey were Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame) and Sir Winston Churchill. The newly-formed Royal Air Force trained some of its first pilots on the Island which became home to what is believed to be the country's first aircraft factory. A giant hangar still stands on the site.

John Moore-Brabazon taking off for the very flight in Great Britain by a British aviator in his French built Voisin 'Pusher' biplane called Bird of Passage on Shell Beach, May 2, 1909. Picture: Colin Harvey
John Moore-Brabazon taking off for the very flight in Great Britain by a British aviator in his French built Voisin 'Pusher' biplane called Bird of Passage on Shell Beach, May 2, 1909. Picture: Colin Harvey
Winston Churchill learning to fly at Eastchurch in 1912. Picture: Colin Harvey
Winston Churchill learning to fly at Eastchurch in 1912. Picture: Colin Harvey

Visitors aged five to 16 can pick up a free trail logbook at the museum in Wright's Way off Brabazon Road which lists all the other locations. There are three others in the county: the Kent Battle of Britain Museum and the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-le-Ferne, both near Folkestone, and the Biggin Hill Memorial Museum.

Biggin Hill museum director Katie Edwards said: "This wonderful guide is for anyone with an interest in aeroplanes and aviation history and would like inspiration for some great days out."

Many of the sites were used by RAF Fighter Command 11 Group during the Second World War and took the brunt of aerial attacks from the Lufwaffe during the Battle of Britain from July 10 to October 31, 1940.

Kent has a number of aviation landmarks including Lashenden air warfare museum at Headcorn, RAF Manston history museum and the Spitfire and Hurricane memorial museum, both near Ramsgate, Shoreham aircraft museum near Sevenoaks and the Romney Marsh wartime collection.

For more information about the Military Aviation Heritage Network and its trails, which include the six aircraft hangers at the RAF Museum at the former Hendon Aerodrome, click here.

Map of the Heritage Trail which covers the Fighter Group 11 area which was at the centre of the Battle of Britain. Eastchurch Aviation Museum is location number 12
Map of the Heritage Trail which covers the Fighter Group 11 area which was at the centre of the Battle of Britain. Eastchurch Aviation Museum is location number 12

Sheppey's heritage

Do you know your Wrights from your Shorts? Here’s our quick guide to who flew what and when.

The American Wright Brothers are acknowledged as flying the first powered heavier-than-air machine called the Kitty Hawk in North Carolina in December, 1903.

In Britain, the first fledgling steps were being carried out on the Isle of Sheppey where brothers Eustace and Oswald Short, later to be joined by their elder brother Horace, set up Britain’s first aircraft factory.

They had originally built hot-air balloons for the War Office at Battersea Arches in London. Because of the prevailing winds, many balloon flights piloted by rich members of the Aero Club - later to become the Royal Air Force - ended on the flat and isolated fields of Sheppey.

When Wilbur Wright demonstrated his Wright Flyer in France the Short Brothers were there and convinced him to allow them to build his aircraft under licence. Soon, they were designing their own and went on to build sea planes on the banks of the River Medway at Rochester.

Eastchurch Aviation Museum on the Isle of Sheppey. It is on the Standford Hill Open Prison complex
Eastchurch Aviation Museum on the Isle of Sheppey. It is on the Standford Hill Open Prison complex
Statue to British aviation pioneers the Short Brothers Oswald, Eustace and Horace who set up the first aircraft factory on the Isle of Sheppey. The statue at Shellness by Muswell Manor is dedicated to the "magnificent makers of flying machines."
Statue to British aviation pioneers the Short Brothers Oswald, Eustace and Horace who set up the first aircraft factory on the Isle of Sheppey. The statue at Shellness by Muswell Manor is dedicated to the "magnificent makers of flying machines."

For more information about Sheppey's aviation history, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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