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Across the road from Doncaster Racecourse is a 300 acre site that was developed in the 1990’s into a housing and shopping retail park from what was once the former wartime airfield of RAF Doncaster. Virtually nothing remains of the former grass strip airfield and its military past apart from in one small corner where a Bellman hangar and a group of wooden huts dating from before the start of the Second World War remain. This little enclave is now the home of AeroVenture, the South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum which started life as an aircraft collection at Home Farm, near Worksop and moved to its present location in late 2000.

AeroVenture Museum, Doncaster ~ 8th January 2012

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Aviation in Doncaster started in 1909 when the racecourse was the venue for Great Britain’s first  aviation meeting that was held from the 18th to the 23rd October that year. There were trophies and cash prizes to be won and American Samuel F Cody even changed nationality at the meeting to become a British citizen so he could win the Daily Mail prize of £1000 for flying a one mile circular route by an all British pilot and aircraft. His British Army Aeroplane No.1 crashed while taxiing. JTC Moore-Brabazon eventually won the £1000 prize a few days later. At the meeting, a Gnome powered Bleriot XI flown by Leon Delagrange flew a lap of a marked course at an approximate speed of 50mph which was duly declared a new world speed record and a  long distance record was established when Roger Sommer covered an approximate distance of 30 miles in 45 minutes and overall flew a total of 136 miles during the meeting.

During World War One, Royal Flying Corps fighter flew from the racecourse before moving to a site near Finningley village before moving again in 1916 to a piece of land just north of the racecourse in what is now known as Intake, where a proper airfield was established and three Belfast hangars built. No.15 Reserve Squadron moved to Doncaster in January 1916 to be joined by No. 41 & 49 Squadrons. No. 82 Squadron, RFC was formed at Doncaster in February 1917, with Armstrong Whitworth FK.8 aircraft before moving to France in November that year. In 1919 the airfield was closed down and the site sold off. Two of the hangars were rebuilt at Finningley for a Sheffield motor manufacturing company for storage use but the third stayed in place and after being used as a bus depot, was demolished in the 1970’s to make way for housing.

During the 1920’s the Government establish a series of  Municipal airports throughout the untied Kingdom with Doncaster being one of those applying for a licence. In May1934, Doncaster Airport with its concrete hangars and control tower, built across the road from the racecourse, was officially opened with the first international flight to Amsterdam taking place in July 1936. Doncaster Aero Club was also established . With war looming, a new Air Ministry site was established at the other end of the aerodrome to the municipal buildings with three Bellman hangars erected to house No. 616 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force when they formed in November 1938. No. 47 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, operated by Nottingham Airport Limited, was established in July 1939 in a Bellman Hangar and wooden huts that were built near to the Municipal buildings and which are now occupied by AeroVenture.

During the Second World War, aircraft operating out of Doncaster ranged from Hampden and Anson of No7 Operational Training Unit and civil aircraft of the National Air Communications Flight which included the Handley Page Ensign and HP42.In December 1940 a winter storm covered the area and high winds caused a lot of damage to aircraft parked outside including the HP42. During the rest of the war, HP54 Sparrow, a transport version of the Harrow, and C-47  Dakota flew operational missions and No 613 Sqn RAuxAF was flying P-40 Tomahawks in an Army co-operation role. De havilland Albatross aircraft of1680VIP flight also operated out of the airfield. No 217 Sqn, that had been operating the Sparrow, replaced them with the Dakota in 1944 and moved away with the Sparrow’s being used to form an air ambulance flight to evacuate the wounded from France after D-day. The airfield closed to military flying in 1945.

It wasn’t until 1960 before flying returned to Doncaster with the establishment of the Doncaster Gliding Club and in 1976 the South Yorkshire Flying Club was established oprating mainly Cessna 150 & 172 aircraft. It wasn’t until Christmas Day 1992 that flying finally ceased at Doncaster when the Director of the Doncaster Aero Club made the final take off from the grass strip.

It wasn’t until 1960 before flying returned to Doncaster with the establishment of the Doncaster Gliding Club and in 1976 the South Yorkshire Flying Club was established oprating mainly Cessna 150 & 172 aircraft. It wasn’t until Christmas Day 1992 that flying finally ceased at Doncaster when the Director of the Doncaster Aero Club made the final take off from the grass strip.