RAF Squires Gate - Hangar 42
There is a small corner of the Squires Gate Airport complex assigned to recapturing an important segment of the Fylde coast's history - its intimate role in British aviation history. Whilst the much larger ongoing development in avionics is understandably focussed on the BAE Systems site at Warton - Squires Gate despite its diminished and almost extinguished longevity by the sandhills of St Annes is still a recognised airport in the UK's aviation infrastructure.
The airport, now in the ownership of Blackpool's local authority, has forgone its more recent passenger schedules to focus on private jets and small aircraft handling and maintenance, as well as a base for helicopters serving offshore gas field rigs in the Irish Sea, and the emergency services. A chunk of land, formerly the area given up to the Vickers company in the late 1930s for a wartime bomber assembly plant, has been most recently designated as an 'Enterprise Zone'. Here the residual wartime factory structures will soon be replaced in a comprehensive redevelopment hopefully attracting new job creating investment by diverse businesses attracted to this part of Lancashire.
Close to the former Airport itself a cluster of hangars and structures house further specialist companies; as well as the imposing newer building anticipated as a coordinating centre for new energy sourcing in the northwest - and intended as an extension of Blackpool and The Fylde's University campus. Within the cluster and tucked away from visitor traffic flows to the seafront is a rare example of heritage preservation achieved by local volunteers drawn by an evolving pageant of aviation history covering the Squires Gate site.
Hangar 42 (actually half a hangar) houses the collective work of dedicated supporters of the Fylde's aircraft and aviation story from its formative beginnings in 1909 when Squires Gate's sandhills became ground zero for Britain's fledgling aircraft display - drawing massive crowds and international press coverage. Within the compact space available a small team have created a focussed display dealing with (among other things) the role of Amy Johnson in her unique accomplishments as a solo pilot of long distance record beating flights; the importance of Blackpool's coastal airfield at Squires Gate in the wartime period including the influx of Polish airmen and resulting RAF fighter squadrons they crewed from Fylde bases. To be followed subsequently by American aviators and their takeover of nearby Warton airfield which became an important repair and support centre for the US Airforce and its bomber squadrons in Britain designated as 'BAD2'.
Importantly Hangar 42 as it is named is also the centre for the Spitfire restoration project with authentic examples of this aircraft displayed at events in the northwest. (A Hurricane and Spitfire carefully housed). RAF equipment and support vehicles of the wartime era and postwar years form part of the Hangar 42 activities - all kept within the very limited space presently available. Understandably (and rightly so) there is a fervent desire to do more, much more. A dedicated display and exhibition focussing on the 1909 Blackpool Air Display event is an obvious priority, as is an expanded display of the Wellington Bomber factory and its role in aircraft design and development in the postwar period. Retrieving a lost example of a Blackpool built bomber from the Aegean Sea with international cooperation being but one item on the Hangar 42 bucket list. Acquiring more hangar space being another - possibly in conjunction with a partnering group and complementing transport theme. Hence my visit this past weekend to gain a firsthand awareness of the efforts to date - impressive as they are. That RAF Squires Gate could indeed reemerge as a vibrant and relevant visitor attraction on a historic site presently underrated by the Fylde's strategic planners - is at least one more box needing to be ticked, along of course with the lamentable absence of a tram and transport history exhibition for which Blackpool is badly in need of.
Authentic 1939 Hangar doors stand as testimony to the sturdiness of wartime construction although in strong winds the sound effects are just a trifle overwhelming.
Images : Steven Meyer-Rassow