Postcards from Slough
Postcards from Slough

Woodley Airfield

Woodley Airfield and Miles Aircraft

In the 1930s Jack Phillips and Charles Powis founded the company Phillips and Powis Aircraft at Woodley Airfield. In 1932 Charles Powis met aircraft designer Fredrick George Miles, or FG Miles, He was subsequently married to Maxine ‘Blossom’ Freeman-Thomas.

 

In 1933 Phillips and Powis built an aircraft called the Hawk which had been designed by FG and Blossom Miles. Later the couple joined the company with Miles Aircraft successfully producing some record-breaking. and race-winning aircraft. In 1935, the company went public with financial support from Rolls-Royce Ltd.

Photograph source uncertain

FG and Blossom Miles with Charles Lindbergh along with his Mohawk aircraft

 

In 1936, Charles Lindbergh visited the airfield and asked Miles to design a light aircraft for him and his wife to use on European business trips. The aircraft was named the Mohawk.

Miles M.12 Mohawk

 

The company went from strength to strength with such aircraft as the Magister, Master and Martinet receiving large orders from the Air Ministry.

 

In 1941, Rolls-Royce sold its shares to FG Miles who became chairman. Blossom and FGs brother George becoming directors. Two years later the company officially became Miles Aircraft Ltd.

Miles Martinet (fitted with Master wings)

 

Following the end of the Second World War, all aircraft manufacturers faced falling orders and Miles Aircraft were no exception. Sadly in 1948 the company was wound up.

 

47 different Miles aircraft types were designed and 5,644 aircraft of their designs were produced between 1929 and 1946. One of the most exciting projects was the M.52 supersonic experimental aircraft. It had reached flying scale model stage and had achieved Mach 1·38. Sadly it was cancelled before full-size prototypes could be built.

Charles Lindbergh’s Mohawk

Sometime after his triumphant crossing of the Atlantic in his aircraft The Spirit of St Louis, Lindbergh moved to England. He approached George Miles to design a one-off aircraft for him to tour Europe with his wife Anne.

 

The result was the Miles Mohawk, a tandem two-seat monoplane built in 1936 specifically for Lindbergh. The aviator wanted a small, fast, long-range aircraft. It was registered G-AEKW and first flew 22 August 1936. It was powered by a 200hp Menasco Buccaneer B6S engine and had a maximum speed of 190mph. Lindbergh and his wife Anne first went on a trip to India in the machine and later toured Europe. In April 1939 Lindbergh flew the machine for the last time, bringing it home to Woodley for storage whilst he and his wife returned to the USA. In late 1941 it was commandeered into service as a communications aircraft with the RAF and given the military registration HM503. It saw little military service and in early 1944 it was delivered to 5 MU at RAF Kemble for storage.

Photographer unknown – PfS/MoBA 11/01/2017

Miles Mohawk G-AEKW at Hendon

 

The aircraft was bought by Southern Aircraft (Gatwick) Ltd who restored it flew and won second place at the Folkstone Trophy Air Race. In 1949 it was taken to North Africa to take part in the Oran International Rally but it was forced to land in Spain never to fly again. Discovered in a junkyard near Seville and taken to the USA for restoration. In 2002 the Mohawk was shipped to the RAF Museum who displayed it at Hendon but currently keep it in storage.

Douglas Bader

Born on 21 February 1910 at St John’s Wood, Douglas Bader is one of the most famous pilots of all time. He joined the RAF in 1928 as an officer cadet. He took his first flight with an instructor in 1928 and flew his first solo in 1929. He became a Pilot Officer with 23 Sqn RAF flying Bristol Bulldogs.

Photograph source uncertain

Douglas Bader

 

Bader often flew illegal and dangerous stunts. Strict orders were issued forbidding unauthorised aerobatics below 2,000 feet. Bader took it as unnecessary safety rules rather than orders to be obeyed.

 

At Woodley Airfield on 14 December 1931, Bader tried some low-flying acrobatics in a Bulldog. The port wing of his aircraft caught the ground and he crashed. Bader was rushed to Royal Berkshire Hospital, where prominent surgeon J Leonard Joyce amputated both his legs.

 

In 1932, after a long convalescence, Bader was sent to the hospital at RAF Uxbridge and fitted with a pair of artificial legs. After some time he was able to drive a modified car.

 

Later that year it was arranged for him to take up an Avro 504, which he piloted competently. The RAF decided that his situation was not covered by King's Regulations, Bader was invalided out of the RAF and took a job with an oil company. In 1933 he married Thelma Edwards whom he had met during convalescence.

A road sign in Woodley dedicated to Bader

 

In 1939, Douglas Bader returned to the RAF as a pilot and fought in both the Battle of France and the Battle of Britain. In August 1941, Bader bailed out over France and was captured. He made a number of escape attempts until being sent to Colditz Castle. He remained there until April 1945 when the camp was liberated.

 

Bader left the RAF in February 1946. During the 1950s, a book and a film, Reach for the Sky, chronicled his life and RAF career to the end of the Second World War. Bader died aged 72 on 5 September 1982, following a heart attack.

Spitfire W3185 D-B of Wg Cdr Douglas Bader, 1941

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Postcards from Slough gratefully uses images from Grace's Guide.

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