Apart from hosting some of the world's top aviation shows and races – including what became the Farnborough Air Show, Hatfield forms a part of the history of a number of the world's air forces.
Iraq Flying Corps – the newly formed air arm started its official flying operations with a flight from Hatfield to Baghdad in 1931.
Egyptian Air Force – in 1932 the new Egyptian air arm flew home from Hatfield.
Danish Air Force – In 1934, a flight of 8 de Havilland aircraft were flown from Hatfield to Copenhagen by Danish officers.
King's Cup Air Races – the main British air race, started in 1922, was the first major aerial event to be held at Hatfield. Captain Geoffrey de Havilland won the first Hatfield-based race in 1933, while a future Supermarine Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw won in 1938 – the last race before the outbreak of World War II.
Air Exercises (also called Air Defence Exercises) – in 1933 the RAF's main annual training exercise pitted the squadrons of 'Northland' (under Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham) against those of 'Southland' (under Air Vice Marshal Sir Tom Webb-Bowen). Hatfield and eight other 'Northland' sites were designated as targets for the attacking 'Southland' forces. One of Hatfield's 'attackers' was No. 603 'City of Edinburgh' Auxiliary Squadron led by Squadron Leader H R Murray-Philipson (who was also a Member of Parliament).
RAF Flying Club – founded in April 1932 (originally as the RAF Reserve Flying Club) by Flying Officer R E G Brittain, had their flying headquarters based at Hatfield. The RAF Reserve Flying Club held their opening ceremony here in July 1933. Chief guest was the Secretary of State for Air Lord Londonderry. The first flying display for the RAF Flying Club (expanded to include all past and present officers of Flying Services – including Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps, and the Oxford and Cambridge University Air Squadrons) was held at Hatfield in June 1934. Chief guest was Prince George (later King George VI).
Empire Air Day – Hatfield had a headline role in the first ever Empire Air Day held on 24 May 1934. The four-engined DH.86 made its first public appearance the day before at Hatfield. On Empire Air Day itself – in which 40 RAF stations, over 20 civil airfields, and UK aircraft factories participated – the DH.86 made a high speed tour of Britain covering over 1,000 miles and making some 20 stops before ending its flight at Hatfield.
Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) Air Show – the first show was held at Hendon and later moved to Hatfield, which hosted the last shows before the war. After WWII shows restarted at Radlett and then, in 1948, moved to a location where it has remained to this day. With the effective demise of the British aviation industry SBAC changed its name to the Society of British Aerospace Companies. The show itself is now usually referred to by its current location as the Farnborough Air Show.
Record flight to Portugal – Lieutenant Carlos Costa Macedo, Chief Instructor of the Portuguese National Flying School, set a record time of 5.5 hours from Hatfield to Lisbon flying a DH.88 Comet Racer CS-AAJ Salazar in 1937 (named after the Portuguese leader at the time, General Salazar). It was originally G-ACSP Black Magic – one of three Comets entered in the 1934 MacRobertson England to Australia Air Race (celebrating the centenary of the city of Melbourne). The race was won by another Comet – the red-painted G-ACSS Grosvenor House (a model of which is shown in the photo at the top).
London-Isle of Man Air Races – started in 1936, only four races were held before the outbreak of WWII. The last two in the series, the 1938 and 1939 races, started from Hatfield. S T Lowe won the 1938 race in a Gipsy Comper, while Geoffrey de Havilland jr won the 1939 race flying the Hatfield designed-and-built TK.2.
First time women flew in frontline RAF fighters – the first flight by women pilots in frontline RAF fighter planes is believed to have taken place at Hatfield on 19 July 1941. Four female members of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) – Winifred Crossley, Hon. Margaret Fairweather, Joan Hughes, and Rosemary Rees – made short flights in a Hawker Hurricane. ATA pilots were used to ferry new aircraft from the factories to operational airfields and damaged aircraft back to the factories for repairs. Flying in all kinds of weather (even when operational aircraft were grounded) during wartime had more than its fair share of risks.
Britain's first cross country flight by a jet aircraft took place on 17 April 1943. The second Gloster E.28/39 prototype (W4046), piloted by John Grierson, flew from Edgehill to Hatfield (the first British jet flight was made by the first prototype W4041, piloted by P E G Sayer, on 15 May 1941). It later took part in a private display of British air power for Sir Winston Churchill (at Hatfield) before flying to Farnborough.
New World Altitude Record – set by John Cunningham while flying a DH.100 Vampire (powered by a Ghost engine instead of the standard Goblin) from Hatfield on 23 March 1948. There are different reports as to the actual height reached – according to one autobiography he made 59,446ft (18,119m), although it was reported in The Times as being 59,492ft.
First British jet to officially break the sound barrier – a DH.108, piloted by John Derry, was the first British jet to exceed Mach 1 (in a dive – as early British jet engines were not yet powerful enough to do so in level flight) in September 1948. This record breaking flight started and ended from Hatfield (where the plane was also designed and built).
National Air Races (including the King's Cup Air Race) – part of the Festival of Britain 1951 – the actual races were cancelled due to bad weather on the day but some display flying did take place. Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret attended. Princess Margaret had entered an aircraft (Hawker Hart II G-ABMR), piloted by Group Captain Peter Townsend, for the King's Cup Air Race.
Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) – The oldest aeronautical association in the world (formed in 1866) has a Hatfield branch. Over the years a number of RAeS events have been hosted in Hatfield, including the '50 Years of Aviation' Garden Party held on 14 June 1953. Among the dignitaries attending was the Paramount Chief of the Ashanti. The Hatfield Branch was originally formed in 1938 (it converted to an Engineering Society during WWII before reforming as a Branch in 1946).
Royal Air Force – a display of three new operational aircraft types to enter RAF service was held at Hatfield in January 1970. All three were made by divisions of the Hawker Siddeley Group. The low level strike Buccaneer (originally a Blackburn design); the vertical take-off Hawker Siddeley Harrier; and the anti-submarine Nimrod (based on the DH Comet). Air Marshal Sir Peter Fletcher attended.
While the three aircraft types enjoyed decades of service with the RAF, the three aircraft displayed had mixed fortunes: Buccaneer XV347 caught fire on take off and was destroyed but without any injuries in December 1971. Harrier XV355 was converted into a GR Mark 3 in the 1970s and stayed in service till at least the late 1980s before ending up a hulk at Yeovilton. Tragically, Nimrod XV230 was later fatally modified, caught fire and blew up in mid-air over Afghanistan on 2 September 2006, killing all 14 servicemen on board.
Hatfield Open Days – factory open days at Hatfield started in the 1930s and continued till the airfield closed in the 1990s. Apart from de Havilland / Hawker Siddeley / British Aerospace aircraft many other famous aircraft appeared for these events including the Battle of Britain Memorial flight and Concorde G-BOEA (made a slow flypast – did not land).