Daedalus spreads its wings

The operating future of the old Royal Navy aerodrome at Daedalus is assured, says its owner Fareham Borough Council. We know, they say, because we put £1.5 million into it after we bought it last year, including resurfacing the runway.

To be fair, that looks like an organisation putting its money where its mouth is, but what about the proposed on-site National Grid interconnector terminal that – by running high power electricity cables under the aerodrome – could interfere with aviation activity and high-tech systems by creating a powerful electromagnetic field above ground?

Not on my watch, says Fareham’s Executive Leader Councillor Sean Woodward. “We saved this site for aviation, so we’re not going to do anything to damage that.”

Yes, he says, the interconnector will be sited at Daedalus to the north of the airfield, but not until means have been agreed to neutralise any electromagnetic effects, whether by shielding or by burying them at sufficient depth underground. At the moment the aerodrome costs Fareham about £0.3 million a year, says Woodward, and income from the new tenant would help with investment while they work to make the airfield sustainable.

And they have plenty of investment plans still to run, says Woodward. The big plan, already under way, is to use non-operational land on the Daedalus site to attract aviation, aerospace engineering and marine industries that would benefit from being based on an operational aerodrome. This is not such a far-fetched idea when Daedalus’ location at Lee-on-the-Solent is wedged between the civil marine port of Southampton and the military harbour at Portsmouth, plus Britten-Norman and NATS are already on site, and the airfield has a runway capable of serving business jets.

Woodward says he doesn’t see the aerodrome as the main money-maker – for the time being at least – but as the attraction to lure businesses to the site. One of the incumbents already at Daedalus is a technical college, CEMAST – Centre of Excellence in Engineering Manufacturing and Advanced Skills Training for the aerospace, marine and automotive industries. It accepts 900 students a year, all places taken.

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RCA (Regional and City Airports) manages the airfield and air traffic control for Fareham

While at Daedalus last week I detected an infectious enthusiasm among people at all levels there, born of a respect for the site’s long aviation history and a determination to capitalise on it.

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Serious aviation history here. Daedalus was a RN Air Service seaplane base in WW1, before it became an aerodrome. Taken from the seashore, this picture shows the seaplane base slipway and the old hangars at the top. And the Hovercraft Museum that’s sited there too.

 

 

 

Will Daedalus soon be wingless?

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Lee-on-Solent airfield, originally the site of the Royal Naval Air Services’ first seaplane base in 1917, was also a Fleet Air Arm training base in WW2 as HMS Daedalus . The picture, looking east, shows its coastal location between Portsmouth harbour (seen in the distance) and Southampton Water

The historic Daedalus airfield, still operating as Solent Airport (EGHF), is a CAA-licensed general aviation aerodrome, with airline traffic served by Southampton airport to its north-west and Bournemouth to the west.

It is also home to Britten-Norman, which proudly calls itself the UK’s only independent aircraft manufacturer, still churning out updated civil and military variants of the perennially popular Islander/Trislander series more than 50 years after the type first flew.

More than 1,250 Islander series aircraft have been produced, and B-N operates a specialist MRO support service for them at Lee-on-Solent. But as an aeronautical engineering company it also carries out sophisticated mission systems integration for the Defender variant and other aircraft.

Now the base is under threat as an aviation site.

Fareham Borough Council, which owns it, is tempted to accept offers to locate a massive National Grid electrical supply interconnector terminal close by. This 10-acre, 25m-high terminal will be an electrical power supply interconnector with France, and if it goes ahead many extremely high voltage electrical cables will run underneath Daedalus’ runways and taxiways.

This will seriously mess up simple things like compass swings, but the calibration of mission systems and any other equipment affected by powerful electromagnetic fields will also be threatened.

Considering the interconnector terminal could equally efficiently be located the other side of Southampton Water at Fawley on a site that has always been industrial, threatening Daedalus, Britten-Norman and local general aviation in this way just because Fareham Borough Council likes the colour of National Grid’s money is, to put it mildly, short-sighted.