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Page last updated at 07:31 GMT, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 08:31 UK
Southampton Airport marks 100 years of aviation
Edwin Moon
Edwin Moon brought Moonbeam II to North Stoneham Farm by horse and cart.

In the spring of 1910, aviation pioneer Edwin Moon, took his life in his hands and took off in his Moonbeam II aircraft in fields north of Southampton.

That first flight was not recorded or photographed. In fact historians are not even sure of the exact date - it was some time between April and June 1910.

However it marked the first moments of the aviation industry which was to play such a big part in the life of the region over the subsequent century.

Bristol aircraft

Moon, who lived in Cranbury Terrace in Southampton at the time of his first flight, tragically drowned following an air crash off Felixstowe ten years later, aged just 33.

His legacy was to be Southampton's international airport which grew up on the same land as the original flight on North Stoneham Farm.

Colin Van Geffen from the Solent Sky Museum explained how the flight was little more than a "series of hops".

He said: "Sadly it didn't end the way he hoped - when he was landing he struck a tree, got tangled in it, damaged the undercarriage and the aircraft landed in a rather inelegant manner. He wasn't hurt, and was able to the recover the airframe ... and make a more successful flight a few days later."

Moonbeam II was based on French design of a tubular-framed monoplane, with the tail section away from the centre of gravity. It carried a 20 horse power engine on the airfame and had a wooden propeller - the combined weight was 260lbs (118kg).

Southampton was part of the heyday of passenger aviation after World War II.

Moon went on to have distinguished service as a military Flight Commander during World War I but died in an air crash in 1919.

He received full military honours at his funeral at Southampton's Old Cemetery on Southampton Common. The propeller from the plane in which he crashed sits alongside his gravestone.

Aviation takes off

When Moon first took off, it was only seven years after the Wright Brothers' first flight and aviation was still very much its infancy.

However during World War I, Southampton became a staging post for military aircraft.

Between the wars, the area also became a hub for aircraft production and the burgeoning civilian air transportation sector. There were many landmark moments in early aviation - like the arrival of Amelia Earhart who became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1923.

Southampton Water became the ideal staging post for the flying boats - in 1919 the city was the world's first 'air-port'. The flying boats ran until the late 1950s, connecting the UK with the outposts of the empire - as far as Australia and New Zealand as well as making transatlantic crossings.

The land at North Stoneham Farm became the northern end of Southampton Municipal Airport which officially opened in 1932.

The current Ford factory beside Southampton Airport was used to assemble Spitfire fighters during World War II before they were flown out of the airport - re-commissioned as HMS Raven - to their squadrons taking part in the Battle of Britain.

Southampton Airport in the 60s

In the post-war period, commercial airline services grew - a new hard runway in the 1960s meant the airport was suitable for the new generation of jet aircraft.

Colin Van Geffen said: "Southampton is a heartland of aviation development - there was more aviation companies here than anywhere else in the world. Our heritage is rich in the skills, development, technology and the production of aircraft."

Regional hub

Southampton International Airport has continued to expand - with a new passenger terminal opened in 1994, a £3 million runway upgrade in 2000 and the growth of regional airlines like Flybe, Blue Islands and Eastern Airlines contributing to the airport's growth.

Southampton airport in the 1990s

With 900 flights a week to UK and European destinations, employing 1,200 people the airport is still a major contributor to the local community.

Most of the airports regular users come from the local business community.

David Tipple, director of Southampton and Fareham Chamber of Commerce, said: "It puts Southampton on the map in Europe - Southampton flies to 50 airports so that's 50 places in Europe Southampton businesses can do businesses with.

"It doesn't require you to hack all the way up to Heathrow and Gatwick - so it saves time and it saves money."

A series of special events are taking place to mark the centenary of Edwin Moon's first flight. The view from the skies over Stoneham is now very different to when Moon first took off, but the first faltering flight is still a key part of the region's aviation heritage.

How city welcomed Amelia Earhart
11 Nov 09 |  History


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