Swansea Airport, Fairwood
Maes Awyr Abertawe
IATA: SWS, ICAO: EGFH
During the Second World War, local defences required an aerodrome that could be used as an R.A.F. fighter station. The construction of the basic runway, which took the better part of a year, involved extensive levelling and filling of the boggy land at Fairwood Common, using copious industrial refuse. Unfortunately, two Bronze Age barrows were destroyed in the process, though a cinerary urn was retrieved from one of the barrows, known as 'Bishopston Burch' (SS 5718 9098), and is currently owned by Swansea Museum.
The airbase finally opened on June 15th 1941. On October 25th 1941 Fairwood Common became a Sector Station. The first wartime success for 125 Sqn at Fairwood came on June 27th 1942, when a Beaufighter IIf shot down a Junkers Ju 88 off the Pembrokeshire coast. Then again in April 1942 the 125 Sqn successfully battled against the German 'Baedeker' night raids upon Bath, bringing down an enemy aircraft and damaging another.
On 23rd June 1942, one of Germany's latest and prized fighter aircraft, a Focke-WuIf FW 190, was mistakenly landed at Pembrey by a disorientated pilot after involvement in a dogfight with Spitfires over southwest England. The Commanding Officer at Fairwood, Group Captain David Atcherley drove to Pembrey to fetch the German pilot, Oberleutnant Armin Faber. During the journey, the prisoner narrowly escaped being shot, when Atcherley accidently squeezed the trigger of his service revolver when the car hit a particularly bad pothole in the road. The discharged bullet hit the car door just inches away from Armin Faber! The German spent the next two days as a reluctant guest at Fairwood Common before being escorted by train from Swansea's High Street Station to London for further interrogation. The German plane proved to be an invaluable find for the British, putting the British-made Typhoons to shame, and the technology gleaned from the aircraft significantly contributed towards the 1945 design of the Hawker Sea Fury.
There were a number of accidental plane crashes during the war. On 11th January 1943 a Beaufighter VIf piloted by Sgt J. G. Crummey, with Sgt Hurst as his observer, stalled and crashed into Clyne Valley while on a daytime air test before the forthcoming night's operations. The aircraft disintegrated and burst into flame on impact, killing both crew members.
Again on March 29th 1944, a 15th Air Force B-24D Liberator based in Italy was on a hush-hush mission to St Mawgan in Cornwall to pick up some radar equipment when it was diverted to Fairwood Common because of bad weather. Low on fuel, the pilot repeatedly tried to land but had to abort each time. On its third approach to the runway, the bomber ran out of fuel and all four engines lost power. Four of the crew hastily baled out, before the plane crashed to the ground. The pilot recovered from the injuries he sustained in the crash, but the crew chief, who was not normally part of the flying crew, refused to jump and was sadly fatally injured.
Another tragic accident in May 1944 saw a Beaufighter of 68 Sqn shot down by a fellow Beaufighter during a mock dogfight above the aerodrome. The aircraft crashed into a field just off Fairwood Common killing two crew members.
In August 1944, a Wellington Bomber crashed upon landing with an engine on fire, finally coming to rest amongst the woods. The crew luckily survived and were mostly unharmed from their adventure. They were, however, slightly aghast when they were needed to help push the broken-down fire engine, that had been sent to their aid!
On the night of February 16th/17th 1943 Swansea endured a particularly heavy raid, which thankfully proved to be the last air-raid of Swansea during the war. During the raid, enemy aircraft dropped three or four bombs on the Station causing the deaths of three WAAFs. However, the 125 Sqn's Beaufighters were successful during their night-time mission, chasing the Luftwaffe back over the Bristol Channel and the West Country shooting down 3 Dornier Do 217s and possibly another two aircraft.
456 Sqn stayed at Fairwood Common from 1st March to late in June, 1944 and during this period brought down six German aircraft. Then the Station became a centre for training and retraining Squadrons from July 1944. Whiteford Burrows was used as a firing range area where the British aircraft (Spitfires and Typhoons) of 2nd TAF would practice firing ammunition and warheads against oildrums and plywood targets placed in the sands here.
After the war, on 1 November 1946, Fairwood Common was reduced to a care and maintenance basis.
Laying in the graveyard of St Hilary of Poiters' Church in Killay are the memorials of 22 RAF personnel. These include many nationalities, such as Czechs, South Africans and Canadians, who were killed whilst based at RAF Fairwood Common during the war years.
The runway and hangars at Fairwood Common were eventually re-utilised in 1956 as the commercial business, Swansea Airport. Unfortuately, the airport failed to be financially viable enough for Cambrian Airways to continue ownership and was sold to Swansea Council in 1959. As the decades past, commercial operations and passenger figures continued to wane with the airport only managing to survive from the custom of businesses and executives who ran their own private planes.
From the year 2000 onwards the future of the airport took a surprising turn of good fortune when Swansea business couple, Martin and Louisa Morgan (who currently own Morgan's Hotel in Swansea), took over the running of the airport. Managing to transform the business into an attractive, profitable asset by upgrading the site, the pair made plans to include cheap flights to Amsterdam. Very soon the airport attracted the attentions of the newly formed Air Wales, offering flights to Dublin, Cork, Jersey, London and Europe.
Things certainly seemed to be expanding quickly with the announcements of plans to build new hangars, however, the new-look airport and its enterprise soon suffered from negative criticisms by environmental groups and local residents and the Welsh Assembly withdrew the planning applications from Swansea Council. A local coalition group against the airport, called SANE (Swansea Airport no Expansion) was organised to petition against the proposals to increase the number of flights and Council funding from community tax, highlighting the false economy and environmental damage caused by aviation. Malcolm Ridge, Chairman of the Gower Society has also pointed out that it is time the city stopped throwing good money after bad and should give the common land back to the people to enjoy as an open space of environmental significance.
Criticisms aside, the airport seemed to have greater obstacles in its way. Despite the ambitious plans of expansion, the demand for an airport in Swansea was very poor, taking only one tenth of the number of passengers needed to make its operation viable. It then emerged that Air Wales' owner, Swansea millionnaire Roy Thomas, had ploughed more than £3.25 million of his own money into the airport in 18 months of operation. After being given the demand by the Civil Aviation Authority to overhaul the airport's landing lights at the cost of £75,000, Roy Thomas decided to pull Air Wales out of Swansea Airport to concentrate the company's resources at Cardiff International Airport.
Although Swansea Council owns the airport they are bound by the 99-year lease held by Roy Thomas's company, Swansea Airport Ltd, allowing Fairwood to continue as an airport.
At this time, Swansea Airport Ltd plans to keep the airport open for general aviation and charter flights, police helicopter and Welsh Air Ambulance services.Swansea Airport, Fairwood, Swansea, SA2 7JU