Gatwick Airport

Ronald Waters formed Home Counties Aircraft Services and purchased fields next to Gatwick racecourse, opening an airfield on 1st August 1930. Nearly two years later due to financial problems the airfield was sold to the Redwing Aircraft Company, who opened a flying and aeronautical engineering school.

A.C. Morris Jackaman bought the airfield in September 1933 and formed a company, Horley Syndicate Limited, renamed Airports Limited the following year, to develop it. Jackaman was keen to start scheduled services to the Continent and the airport was given a public licence in 1934. He came up with the idea of a circular terminal to improve efficiency. Designed by the architect Alan Marlow, the Beehive (which was Grade II* Listed in 1996), as it became known, opened in 1936, and British Airways transferred to Gatwick in May of that year. Jackaman also persuaded the Southern Railway to open a station adjacent to the new terminal, with an underground passage connecting the two (which in September 2007 was filled in during redevelopment). The airport was officially re-opened on 6th June 1936 by the Secretary of State for Air, Viscount Swinton. Unfortunately the airport became water-logged after heavy rain in February 1937 and British Airways transferred their services to Heston and Croydon. Aircraft repair and maintenance companies and an RAF Volunteer Reserve Flying Training School then moved to the airport.

During the Second World War the Airport was used by the RAF and night fighters were based there during the blitz. Although Gatwick did not suffer from a major attack, German aircraft jettisoned their bombs on the airfield, and several crashed there. After the war BEA Helicopters moved to the airport. The airport closed on 31st March 1956.

In the 1950's Gatwick was selected as the site of London's second airport, and a new airport was built on the site of the racecourse. It was the first airport in Europe with a pier along which passengers walked to their aircraft. The airport was officially opened by the Queen on Monday, 9th June 1958. A five-story office block was added on top of the terminal building in 1967. The Gatwick Express, a dedicated rail service between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria, was inaugurated on 14th May 1984. The Queen opened the North terminal in 1988, the north and south terminals were connected with an elevated inter-terminal transit system. The transit system was closed in October 2009 and the six carriages removed. A new shuttle service will be introduced in April 2010.

Golden Gatwick: 50 Years of Aviation. John King and Geoff Tait (British Airports Authority and Royal Aeronautical Society, 1980)
Gatwick: The Evolution of an Airport. John King (Gatwick Airport Limited and Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society,1986)
Gatwick Airport and its 'Beehive' Terminal Part 1: 1930-1945; Gatwick Airport Part 2: Post War Development. Archive Issues 9 and 10 (Lightmoor Press, March and June 1996)

17th February 1959: A Turkish Airlines Vickers Viscount (registration TC-SEV) on a special flight from Ankara to London via Rome, with M. Menderes the Prime Minister of Turkey and a party of Turkish Government officials, was on it's way to London Heathrow airport but was diverted to Gatwick due to poor visibility at Heathrow. However, on its approach the aircraft flew into the top of trees at the edge of Jordan's Wood near the Newdigate to Rusper road. The aircraft lost its wings and engines as it descended through the woods. Breaking in two, the main part of the fuselage landed upside down before catching fire, but the rear part of the fuselage, which also landed upside down, was untouched by fire. Shortly after, there was an explosion in the main fuselage.

Of the eight crew and sixteen passengers on board, twelve were killed, the Turkish Prime Minister surviving with only light scratches.

The official accident report found that “The evidence is insufficient to establish the cause of the accident. There is no indication however that this can be associated either with a technical failure of the aircraft or with a failure of the ground services.”

12th December 1960: A Handley Page Hermes belonging Air Safaris attempted to take-off from Gatwick on a training and positioning flight to Hurn Airport, Bournemouth, but ran off the end of the runway, crashing through a fence and across a field, it's nose-wheel sinking into a 3-foot ditch. The crew was unhurt, and the aircraft was recovered. Air Safaris had bought the aircraft the previous month from Falcon Airways, together with another Hermes which had recently crashed off the runway at Southend Airport in a similar but much more serious accident.

Crawley and District Observer, 16th December, 1960

2nd September 1963: Whilst on base-leg for Gatwick the captain of a Lockheed Super Constellation (registration EC-AMQ) of Iberia, which was on an Aviaco charter, reported his glide-path equipment inoperative. During the descent the aircraft brushed the trees on Russ Hill, slightly damaging the aircraft, but a safe landing was made. Thirteen year-old twins, Paul and Michael Elliott of Newdigate, found a four-inch piece of the aircraft's propeller and a broken landing light under a 50 foot high ash tree, whose top-most branches were damaged by the aircraft. The official accident report found that “The aircraft struck tree tops when the captain descended below a safe approach path whilst making an ILS approach to land without use of the glide-path at night in low cloud conditions. Lack of information in the operations manual for such an approach was a contributory factor.”

Crawley and District Observer, 6th September, 1963

5th January 1969: Arriving at night from Frankfurt, an Ariana Afghan Airlines Boeing 727 (registration YA-FAR) was intending to land at Gatwick, where the visibility was 100m due to patchy freezing fog. The captain informed the air traffic controller that he would try to land at Gatwick, but as a precaution he was cleared to divert to Heathrow.

On the approach to Gatwick the undercarriage was lowered and the captain asked the flight engineer to warn him if the "stabilizer out of trim" warning light illuminated as it had done at Frankfurt. The engineer warned the captain when the light came on, and seeing that the autopilot was trimming the aircraft nose-down he disconnected it. The flaps were extended, increasing the rate of descent. It was some time before the pilots became aware that the aircraft was too low, when both pulled back on the control column and the captain applied full power. Seconds later the nose began to rise but the aircraft brushed through tree tops, knocked a chimney pot off a house, and then collided with tree trunks, removing part of the starboard wing. The starboard main wheels touched the ground in a field and the aircraft became airborne again, rolling to the right. The rear of the fuselage collided with a house, demolishing it, and the aircraft broke up. Fire destroyed the wings and fuselage.

Of those on board the aircraft 48 were killed, 14 survived, and two of the three occupants of the house were killed, a baby surviving. The official accident report found that “The accident was the result of the commander inadvertently allowing the aircraft to descend below the glide slope during the final stage of an approach to land until it was too low for recovery to be effected.”

Crawley and District Observer, 10th January, 1969
Report on the Accident to Boeing 727-112c YA-FAR East of Gatwick Airport, London on 5 January 1969, G.M. Kelly

26th July 1969: The nose wheel collapsed on landing of an Airspeed Ambassador (registration G-ALZR) of BKS Air Transport, closing the airport for three hours. The aircraft was written off.

Crawley and District Observer, 1st August, 1969

28th January 1972: A Vickers VC-10 (registration G-ARTA) of British Caledonian Airways became airborne again just after selecting spoilers and reverse thrust on landing. It landed again heavily and bounced two more times, blocking the runway for more than two hours. The aircraft was returning empty from Heathrow were it had been diverted earlier due to high winds. The fuselage was creased in front of and behind the wings, a nose wheel tyre burst and a wheel separated. It's landing weight was 87037kg with it's centre of gravity very close to the aft limit, the wind at the time of landing was gusting to 28kts. The aircraft was written off and broken up after the accident.

Crawley and District Observer, 4th February 1972

20th July 1975: A British Island Airways Handley Page Herald lifted off from the runway, but after retracting its undercarriage the rear underside of the fuselage settled back on to the runway. None of the 45 on board was hurt, but the airport was closed for three hours.

Crawley and District Observer, 25th July 1975

10th July 2000: Shouting of injustice and demanding political asylum a 62 year-old Rastafarian from Trinidad on a CityFlyer Express BAe-146 from Zurich grabbed a stewardess around the neck and forced her into the galley. He held a pair of scissors to her side and claimed that there was a bomb on board. The captain was able to persuade him to let the stewardess go. On arrival at Gatwick the aircraft was met by thirty armed police. The man left the plane with his hands up, and he was taken to Crawley police station. The incident was treated as a potential hijack or terrorist attack.

Observer, 12th July 2000
The BeehiveGrade II* Listed (1996)
A circular airport terminal and control tower comprising three concentric rings in three storeys. It was designed by Hoar, Marlow and Lovett, opening in 1936. Built of reinforced concrete with a steel frame and brick infill, with concentric circles of rooms and corridor. A subway joined the terminal with the railway station and six telescopic corridors, which were extended on rails, led to the aircraft.

Gatwick Golf Course

Gatwick Racecourse