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[RAF Elsham Wolds] [Other Local Airfields] [Bracebridge Heath]

Bracebridge Heath, Lincolnshire

Bracebridge Heath Map

Bracebridge Heath site outlined in blue. Green triangle is the site of the asylum. Yellow star is the site of the cemetery. Red square is St John’s Heath

Bracebridge Heath OS Map

Bracebridge Heath OS Map inter war

This site was located south of Lincoln and east of the Al5 road During the WW1 Lincoln was a major centre of aircraft production and one of the Lincoln engineering firms engaged in this work was the long established Robey & Co Ltd whose factories were in Canwick Road. In May 1916 they received a contract to build 30 Maurice Farman Longhorn aeroplanes and they established a small aerodrome at Bracebridge Heath from where these could be test flown.

Maurice Farman Longhorn at Bracebride Heath

 Maurice Farman Longhorn at Bracebride Heath

The site was on high ground near the St John’s Asylum and the original wooden aeroplane shed was constructed at the side of the wall of the asylum cemetery. Only part of the order for Longhorns had been completed when the contract was cancelled. In addition they produced a small batch of the unsuccessful Sopwith Gunbus and also a machine of their own design the Robey Peters Fighting Machine for the RNAS.

Sopwith Gunbus being transported to Bracebridge Heath

Sopwith Gunbus being transported to Bracebridge Heath

Robey Peters Fighting Machine

Robey Peters Fighting Machine

Two of the Robey Peters machines were completed and flew in 1916. The first was involved in a take off accident at Bracebridge Heath and the second crashed into the roof of the nearby St John’s Asylum on return from a flight to Cranwell. This interesting project was then cancelled by the Admiralty in 1917

Robey's Aerodrome, as it was known at the time, was also used for testing the Sopwith Camels and Triplanes constructed by Clayton & Shuttleworth Ltd, another local firm.

Sopwith Camel -

Sopwith Camel

Sopwith Triplane -

Sopwith Triplane

In late 1917 work started to develop the aerodrome to accommodate No 4 Aeroplane Acceptance Park which was operating under unsatisfactory conditions from a temporary aerodrome on the West Common, Lincoln.

Hangars of the 1917 RFC pattern were erected together with ten canvas Bessonneau hangars, the latter adjacent to St John's Farm in the south-eastern corner of the site and the aerodrome was extended to make it capable of accepting the largest aeroplanes of the day. No 4 AAP duly moved in but by this time the war was over and Bracebridge Heath saw little use before the unit disbanded in 1920. It was also briefly the home of No 120 Squadron after the unit's return from France in 1919 but, as part of the post-war reduction in the size of the armed forces, the unit was disbanded in the same year and in 1920 the aerodrome closed.

The original aeroplane shed constructed for Robey was dismantled, as were the temporary hangars, but most of the remainder of the buildings were retained.

Part of the site of the former aerodrome was occupied by A V Roe & Co Ltd during the WW2 as a maintenance base and repair organisation especially concerned with the salvage and repair of Lancaster bombers. In 1944 this included special modification of a Lancaster for the Empire Central Navigation School at RAF Shawbury. This was used in a series of long range test flights and navigation exercises for the anticipated RAF bomber deployment to the Far East.

Post war the Avro repair factories were busily engaged in modifications of the Avro Lincoln and also Avro York transports

The factory at Bracebridge Heath also overhauled the majority of the Avro Anson trainers and communifications aircraft for peacetime service.

Lancaster bombers were also converted into Lancastrian transports. At that time the RAF was in desperate need of more transport aircraft. Lancasters and Lincolns were also modified for the use of overseas customers. Throughout their time at Lincoln the Bracebridge facility had no serious flying accidents in spite of having no accredited test pilot. In the early stages service personnel did all the test flying.

The Air Staff specification in 1946 called for a high altitude jet bomber capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. This was the origin of the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan types.

Test aircraft were needed in order to evaluate the delta configuration which led to the design and construction of the Avro 707 of which 5 were built. The third was damaged in a landing accident and repaired at Bracebidge Heath and the wing profile modified. Three Avro 707s were worked on at Bracebridge Heath went on to participate in various test programmes. These were towed from the site along the road to the nearby RAF Waddington.

Avro 707 postcard

Avro 707

Several elderly biplanes were restored at Bracebridge Heath for display in museums, static and flying, including an Avro 504 and Avro Tomtit. Bracebridge Heath also converted three Lancasters for use in the Dambusters film and produced a variety of parts for aircraft manufactured by the Hawker Siddeley Group including the Avro Shackleton. It was also a base for teams of outworkers that carried out repairs and modifications to service aircraft at RAF airfields and housed the technical team to support the Nimrod force in later years.

Following the 1957 Defence White Paper the Bracebridge Heath workload steadily reduced. This was briefly interrupted by the Falklands War when a number of Vulcans had to be modified for use in the South Atlantic as bombers and flight refuellers. In the mid 80s the factory was finally close.

However a number of the truss hangars survive for a variety of commercial uses.

Bracebridge Heath Hangar

Bracebridge Heath Hangardf

Compiled by David Fell with photos from my archive

 

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Latest Additions to this site

1st June 2024 - Robey and Co Ltd

1st June 2024 - Curtiss H16 K38 Crash Page

1st June 2024 - RAF Mertheringham

* 1st May 2024 - Lincolnshire Aircraft Production - WW1

1st May 2024  - Ruston Proctor Lincoln

1st May 2024 - Duncan Crash Page

1st May 2024 - Hocking Crash Page

*1st April 2024 - 255 Squadron RAF Fighter Command

1st April 2024 - Boddy Loss Page

1st April 2024 - Bracebridge Heath

1st April 2024 - Pinnock Crash Page

1st April 2024 - Ross Crash Page

* 1st March 2024 - 22 Squadron RAF Coastal Command

1st March 2024 - West Common

1st March 2024 - Chalmers Crash Page

* 1st February 2024 - Menthorpe Gate

1st February 2024 - Rebbeck Crash Page

* 1st January 2024 - RAF Skellingthorpe

1st January 2024 - Jago Crash Page

Bomber Command interest are the

166 Squadron website

and the

550 Squadron and North Killingholme website.