1951 - Floods, gunners and helicopters.
The begining of the year saw heavy rain affect the airfield. Water accumulated across the landing area meaning there were days when flying could not take place. The solid gravel underpinning of the majority of the aerodrome meant that most of it was kept well drained, but the north east quarter had a clay base that prevented proper drainage, as can be seen in the picture below. Also in this picture, a wartime slit trench dug along the edge of the golf course can be clearly seen. This had been to allow personnel to take cover quickly during the Second World War if the airfield had been attacked and to serve as a defensive position had enemy airborne attempted to land. The image was taken during a fly-in, known as a "Breakfast Patrol", where visiting aircraft had to land without getting their registrations taken by the Denham based defending aircraft. Anybody landing without having their registration taken won a free breakfast!
The local Territorial Army unit, an Anti-Aircraft regiment of the Royal Artillery, approached Bickertons Aerodromes Ltd for permission to exercise their guns at the aerodrome. The unit used the Bofors 40mm Anti-Aircraft gun, the accurate use of which required a great deal of practice for the crew. The early 40mm was hand aimed, one crew member raising and lowering the gun, the other tracking the gun left and right. Co-ordination between crews was the key to accuracy, which meant a great deal of practice was necessary. The Regiment deployed to the airfield on a number of occassions on exercise, using the aircraft landing and taking off as practice targets, although what the pilots thought of seeing large guns tracking them in and out of the airfield has not been recorded!
Rotary winged aircraft were no strangers to Denham, the Cierva autogyros had been visitors as far back as 1935. This year saw the arrival of the first helicopters in the shape of Westland WS-51 Dragonflys. The Dragonfly was a licence built version of the Sikorsky S-51, a light utility helicopter with a single pilot and seats for up to three passengers or other crew. The aircraft was popular with both civil and military users, finding many roles such as air-sea rescue, crop spraying and as an executive transport. The first Dragonfly to land at Denham was on trial with the London Ambulance Service, who were assessing the suitablity of all the London airports as locations where patients could be transferred to or from traditional ambulances.
The capabilities of helicopters to fly directly from the heart of cities to airports, and vice versa, was quickly recognised by the airline industry who saw the chance to offer point to point services to their passengers. British European Airways (BEA) began operating the Dragonfly as a VIP transport, offering flights from Denham to Northolt and Heathrow amongst other destinations. Biggin Hill and North Weald were also used as part of this trail, the idea being to allow passengers to avoid the congestion at major airports and step straight from the helicopter onto their international flight. Flights were also offered from the major airports into the heart of the city, one of the early landing sites being a disused coal yard next to St Pancras station!
The aerodrome was now busy with private and commecial activity, new technology mixing with more traditional types of aircraft. This was to continue to develop as will be seen next.