RAF Woolsington

An RAF airfield close to the city of Newcastle had been proposed as early as 1929 with a site on the Town Moor having been considered. It was not until 1939, with war in Europe imminent, that the Air Ministry requisitioned the Municipal airfield at Woolsington near Ponteland.

The technical site was built around the Municipal airfield buildings with the old Club House becoming an Officers Mess. The two original hangers were retained with two additional Miskin Blister hangers dispersed at the western boundary of the airfield and another two at the southern boundary. There were no plans to construct concrete runways so two tarmac strips were laid for the parking of aircraft.

The communal site was located adjacent to Woolsington Hall and the W.A.A.F. site just off Middle Drive on the main airfield approach road. A further two dispersed sites were situated at Sunnyside Farm to the east and within Foxcover Wood to the north.

13 Group Communications Flight were the first RAF unit to be based here and had arrived a month before the outbreak of war. Second to arrive were 43 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School in June 1939 but their stay was short lived when they disbanded in the September.

Whilst no Squadrons were based here, Woolsington acted at a satellite station to RAF Acklington, and later RAF Ouston, which became the primary airfield and Sector HQ for the defence of Newcastle when it opened on 10th March 1941. Durham University Air Squadron arrived in 1941 with their Tiger Moths and remained until 1949 when they moved to Usworth near Sunderland.

It was 83 Maintenance Unit who called Woolsington home. Their role was the salvage and repair of crashed aircraft from across the north. One of their most challenging salvage operations was the recovery of a crashed American B17 Flying Fortress from the steep slate covered slopes of Skiddaw in the Lake District. The aircraft had crashed whilst on a navigational exercise on 14th September 1943 and impacted close to the 3,000ft summit of the mountain with the loss of the ten man crew.

The wreckage had to be broken up and manhandled down the slope where it was then transported by sledge and tractor to the nearest road 5 miles away. Here the remains were loaded onto Queen Mary trailers for disposal. The operation took over a month to complete.

After the war civil flying returned to the airfield and later the site became Newcastle International Airport. Most of the buildings at the technical site, including the former officers mess and club house, have long since been demolished, but the two pre-war hangers are still present.

Little remains of the dispersed sites except for the base of buildings, old roads and paths, all of which are very overgrown and difficult to find.

RAF Woolsington. The four wartime Blister hangers are in red. The Tarmac hardstandings are in Black. The W.A.A.F. site is in Pink. The technical site is in Blue, The communal site is in Yellow. Site 1 is in Green and Site 2 in Orange.
The wartime structures marked over the current Aiport.
Members of 83 MU pose with the wheel and tyre from a Halifax bomber which crashed above Force Crag Mine near Braitwaite in the Lake District in January 1944. During the recovery LAC J.R. Hopps fell from Eel Crag and was seriously injured. (via David Earl)