Early Aviation

RAF Davidstow Moor was built on virgin farm land that had not been used previously for flying. The airfield land was taken mainly from three farms Goosehill, Griggs Down and Larkabarrow.

After WWI experienced combat pilots like Alan Cobham, RFC, were eager to show their skills and to promote the contribution aviation could make to the world. Alan Cobham was heading a national campaign for the development of civil aviation under the slogan “Make the skyways Britain`s highways”. Airshows sprang up across the country and pilots were able to promote aviation and show off their abilities as well as taking passengers for rides.

In April 1932 Sir Alan John Cobham KBE, AFC (1894 - 1973) started National Aviation Days. These were a combination of barn storming and joy-riding . He toured the country from 1930 to 1935 with what became known as Cobham`s Flying Circus and visited 170 towns and villages throughout the UK. The display would visit a different venue each day weather permitting. The event would be well publicised in the local press and street banners would be put up to advertise the coming event. Each site had been handpicked by Sir Alan Cobham who would check out the area about a month beforehand. The site would initially be found by air and then a ground survey would be made. A suitable site had to be flat, well-drained and large enough to accommodate aircraft, spectators, associated vehicles and all the other paraphernalia associated with a flying circus.

Sir Alan Cobham Visits Davidstow

On 28th July 1932 Camelford Rural District Council, which covered the Davidstow Moor area, read a letter from Sir Alan Cobham dated 7th July 1932. It said that a National Aviation Day Display would be held at Camelford on the 17th August 1932. The letter asked for official patronage and support and said that Lord Wakefield of Hythe (previously Sir Charles Wakefield) invited members of the council to a free flight.

The local newspaper The Post and Weekly News reported on the 6th August 1932:

The publicity brought by the flying circus was achieving its aim and the following week the paper reported:

"...With interests kindled by the visits to Cornwall of Sir Alan Cobham's flying circus, local people are being asked to suggest to the town clerk (Mr. S. L. Peter) suitable sites for a possible Launceston aerodrome..."

On 17th August 1932 Cobham`s flying circus came to the Davidstow Moor area. The site chosen had not been particularly close to Camelford, although it fell within the Parish boundary. It was sited on the edge of the moor at Tylands Corner in a large field belonging to Greylake Barton Farm and known locally as ninety acre field.

A Day At The Flying Circus

Local farmers, who remembered the event, said they were up extra early, dressed in their Sunday best and with picnic baskets filled for a day out. The day was fine and sunny and the air display started at 7 o`clock in the morning. It followed a tried and tested itinerary which started with all the aircraft taking part converging on the Astra airliner in a grand formation flight. This flight included passengers and flew over the surrounding countryside.

This was followed by a display of quick thinking and expert control called the Pilots Paper Chase. The pilot released a long paper streamer which he repeatedly flew through as it fell towards the ground, cutting it to shreds.

Then came a thrilling feat in which three pilots, whose machines were joined together by ribbons from wing tip to wing tip, looped their aircraft in formation.

There were displays of an Autogyro, type C. 30, described as the wingless wonder, beautiful, classic aerobatics performed at high speed by Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Tyson, and a free flight competition at which the public were asked to judge the speed of the aeroplane.

Various demonstrations of formation flying was given and their “crazy pilot” showed his sideways flying skills in the Siddeley-Avro. Flight Lieutenant Tyson was in the air again with the new Siddeley-Avro Tutor. In 1931 he had flown inverted from England to France and was now able to do the same in front of the spectators at Davidstow. Tyson`s feat of looping through a hoop erected on the field and picking up a handkerchief with a wire on his wing tip was sheer brilliance and his deadly aim with bags of flour had to be seen to be believed. Tyson went on to test-pilot the first jet fighter to be modified as a flying boat.

The ladies played their part too. Miss Joan Meakin, the famous glider girl and the first woman to loop the loop in a glider used a special Marconi radio-telephone transmitter to relay descriptions of her aerobatic display. She made a point of her willingness to help local enthusiasts set up their own gliding club. She was joined by Miss Naomi Heron-Maxwell who gave a daring solo parachute demonstration and later was joined by Mr Ivor Price. They stood on parachute platforms on either side of the airliner and jumped side by side.

Following the visit of Cobham`s flying circus to the Camelford/Davidstow area the Rural District Council decided to bring to the Air Ministry`s attention the suitability of the landing ground near Davidstow Moor as a permanent flying centre. It was felt that this would stimulate the tourist trade.

A further visit to the Davidstow site by the flying circus was planned for the end of August/September 1932 but the event took place at Kestle Down, Compass near Launceston.

The Shadows Of World War II

During his time with the flying circus Sir Alan Cobham kept records of all the sites he used. In 1939 World War 2 broke out and the Air Ministry Works Directorate (AMWD) began searching for suitable sites for wartime aerodromes.

To meet the RAF`s requirements for new aerodromes the Air Ministry Aerodromes Board was formed as part of the Air Ministry Works Directorate. The board worked together with the Lands Branch of the Air Ministry who did the administration and legal work connected with land acquisition. It was the Aerodromes Board who looked for suitable sites and together with Sir Alan Cobham`s records they searched the 1” Ordnance Survey Map for suitably sized flat areas which were clear of obstructions within 1,100 yard radius. Selected sites were visited and a ground survey was carried out.

The ideal sites would be 50 feet above sea level (to avoid flooding) and below 600 feet to avoid low cloud and they needed to be well drained. One of the sites chosen was Davidstow Moor, a wet marshy site 900 feet above sea level.