Planning for the airfield….always intended as a training/satellite field for HMS Heron/Yeovilton…commencedin 1941 but it would be April 1943 before it was commissioned and received its first aircraft. It was designed with the classic ‘five runways’ symptomatic of all the wartime naval fields. This ensured that pilots could always operate in exactly the same way as when the aircraft-carriers captain turned ‘into the wind’ to launch and recover his planes. (Only one runway survives today but still boasts its concrete panel carrier-deck…..but sadly minus its arrester-cable and crash-barrier!)
Throughout the war, the airfield and its facilities continued to develop and to keep pace with the changing needs of the Senior Service. Squadrons came and went with increasing frequency, some to other shore-basedairfields (stone frigates!) and others putting to see on our carriers. The skies around must have echoed to the sounds of Merlin engines as the navy’s Spitfires and Seafires were the usual residents. In the build-up, to D-Day, several units were specially trained in Army Co-operation roles which would doubtless involve reconnaissance, artillery spotting and ground-support.
HMS Dipper’s post-war existence was a rather stop-go affair; it was first paid-off in October 1946 but then reactivated in 1949 training deck service officers in handling Seafires, Fireflies and powerful new Sea Furies. In March 1952 it was again de-activated only to come back to life between 1954 with night-deck landing practises by Sea Furies …..no doubt sleep in the nearby cottages was a somewhat intermittent experience!
Navy flying came to an end when the field was finally struck off charge in June 1957.The southern portions of Henstridge, briefly occupied by Alan Bristow’s ‘Air Whaling’ helicopters (1953-58), have been partly returned to agriculture but much has been subsequently transformed into commercial and industrial sites.
Civil fliers were slower to take advantage of the aviation potential and barely a handful of aircraft were around in the 70s. Gradually the surviving north-west corner has developed into a flourishing business and popular centre for light aircraft. It now boasts extensive new hangars and aprons and is home for a growing number of restoration and maintenance companies.
Every April it hosts the PFA Wessex Strut Fly In and, in August, the popular Wings & Wheels Fly In which helps support for the airfield based air-ambulance (D&SAA). The brand new clubhouse is a fitting culmination to the many years of planning, investment and sheer hard work that has succeeded in keeping HMS Dipper afloat for future generations.