The Origins of Shobdon Airfield

With the declaration of war in September 1939, one of the first priorities of the British High Command was to secure even the remotest regions of the country against any invasion plans which Hitler might already have. With this in mind, all private airfields were either requisitioned by the War Office or closed down altogether. Additional sites were still urgently needed however and in the summer of 1940 one new airfield did appear on an area of flat land mid-way between the villages of Pembridge and Shobdon in north Herefordshire. Originally called Pembridge Landing Ground and opened without hard surface runways, the airfield became operational immediately when No. 8 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit moved in with Westland Lysander and Fairey Battle aircraft to support Army manoeuvres.

In 1941 it was decided to start upgrading Pembridge Landing Ground to the status of a proper airfield and construction of a massive triple width runway and additional airfield buildings was started and completed by May 1942. The site had also been given a new name – Shobdon Airfield.

The purpose of the extra wide runway became apparent in July 1942 when No 5 Glider Training School moved in with Miles Master II tugs and Hotspur Troop Carrying Gliders, to commence a programme of glider pilot training. The Miles Masters were converted for their new gliding towing role by having the bottom of their rudders cut away to allow the fitting of a tow hook.

Troop carrying gliders were used as an alternative to parachutes for landing soldiers at precise locations within a battle zone. The all wood and fabric Hotspur glider could carry a pilot and eight fully equipped infantry men into battle but in practice the Hotspur was only used as a basic trainer and the pilots then went on to fly actual missions in the larger Horsa, Waco and Hamilcar gliders.

Altogether 1,345 pilots, 291 gliding instructors and 218 tug pilots were trained at Shobdon during World War II and they saw action in the major airborne operations, including the landings on Sicily and the Normandy beaches (D-Day), and the battles of Arnhem and the Rhine. No 5 Glider Training School also holds the record for the number of day and night glider training missions with 96,925 separate glider launches up to 1945.

No. 5 Glider Training School finally disbanded on 18th October 1945 and Shobdon saw its last war aircraft depart in November 1945. With the departure of No. 5 GTS the airfield became a detached unit of No. 25 Maintenance Unit. All flying activity ceased, the huge runway was allowed to become clogged with mud and weeds. The aircraft hangars were being used as storage space for surplus Army equipment, and many of the buildings were left to decay.

Throughout the 1950s attempts were made to convince the MOD that civil flying at the site would be an economic and social success – but to no avail. Then in the summer of 1961 after battling through a huge amount of red tape, members of the newly formed Herefordshire Aero Club, gained permission from the Air Ministry to use the easterly end of the runway and one of the hangars.

Throughout this period the Club was able to operate an Auster Autocrat from the former grass landing area at the southern end of the airfield and a temporary Club House was installed in the old wartime control tower. In April 1962 the Auster was at last permitted to use the main runway and the Aero Club began to enrol members from the general public. Since its formation in 1961, Herefordshire Aero Club has been true to its aim of ‘Promoting Flying’..

Shobdon Airfield, managed by the Aero Club since 1993, has a reputation for being one of the friendliest venues in the country and the Club firmly believes that flying can be both accessible and affordable. As a members Club, all profits are reinvested, enabling Herefordshire Aero Club to offer some of the best aircraft and airfield facilities available anywhere in the UK, and at the lowest possible rates – now and in the foreseeable future.