Cecil Pashley – Pioneer aviator and joint founder of Shoreham airport

Tuesday 8th January 2013. “Cecil Pashley – Pioneer aviator and joint founder of Shoreham
By Mr Alan Readman WSCC County Archivist and Mr Mike Wooldridge RCEA.

The illustrated talk was split into two parts with AR’s portion covering the life of Pashley; the development of early powered flight; and the history of Shoreham Airport. MW then talked about Pashley the pilot trainer.
AR explained that the majority of his talk was based on Pashley archive material held by West Sussex Records Office. Unfortunately WSCC had only been able to purchase about 30% of the archive, the remainder going to private collectors.
Cecil Pashley: Cecil Pashley was one of three brothers and was born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk on 14th May 1891. He was an avid flying enthusiast and taught himself to fly in a Bleriot monoplane in 1909. In 1913 Pashley and his brother Eric (who along with the third brother was killed in the 1914-1918 war) moved from Brooklands to Shoreham to start the Shoreham Flying School. The two brothers also operated a commercial pleasure flight business.
Cecil went on to become one of the first Flying Instructors and trained many pilots. One of Pashley’s students was F.G. Miles with whom he founded the Southern Aero Club, which remained in business after his death in 1969.
The Pashley brothers continued with their flying school until December of 1914 and then stored their machines in one of the hangars when they left; Cecil to the Northern Lakes and Eric to Vickers before joining 24 squadron in France. Cecil later moved to Hendon where he trained many pilots for the Royal Flying Corps.
Session 2012/18 No 2 5 March 2013
During the Second World War Pashley was commissioned in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1944 and became a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1948. Pashley was still flying aged 74. He died in 1969.
Shoreham Airport: Negotiations had begun in 1909 between George Wingfield’s Aviators Finance Company and the Mayors of Brighton, Hove and Worthing to put Shoreham on the map as a centre of early aviation. In 1910 Harold Piffard, an amateur aviator, arrived from London with the remains of his experimental flying machine. He liked the ‘capital ground’ and strong hangar at the site adjoining New Salts Farm, Shoreham. It was George Wingfield, a solicitor and businessman, who provided the link between the amateur efforts of Piffard and the more serious intentions of the local mayors.
On March 7th 1911 Mr O. C. Morison was the first aviator to actually fly in to Shoreham in his Bleriot, all the way from Brighton!! The first Brooklands to Shoreham air race also took place this year, on May 6th, and was won by Gustav Hamel in another Bleriot. By June of 1911, ten wooden hangars and a grandstand for spectators had been built, together with rail access, known as ‘Bungalow Town Halt’ and on 20th June the Brighton (Shoreham) Aerodrome was officially opened.
Many illustrious names of early aviation came to use the aerodrome. A.V. Rose, Claude Graham-White, Gordon England, Horatio Barber, Graham Gilmour, John Alcock and the aforementioned Gustav Hamel and Mr O C Morison. Also arriving at Shoreham were some aviation experimenters, including G.M. Dyott with his red monoplane, A.V. Roe, Tsoe K Wong, one of the earliest Chinese aviators, and Cedric Lee and Tilghman Richards with their “flying doughnut”.
In August 1914, the military requisitioned the aerodrome and all its assets. The airfield was used during the 191418 war as a RFC training base with 3 Training Squadron using Farmans, FE2s and later, Avro 504s. In the latter part of the war, the South East Area Flying Instructors School was located here to evaluate enemy aircraft. More hangars were needed at this time and were erected to the west of the original sheds built by Wingfield. Immediately after the war, a social and economic depression had set in and the once lively centre of aviation reverted back to grazing land for cattle. George Wingfield tried to revive the Sussex County Aero Club but, because of the economic climate, found that there was little support. In 1921 there was an attempt to sell the aerodrome freehold but this was withdrawn as there were no bidders.
By 1926 things had started to improve and Fred and George Miles, brothers from Portslade, had joined forces with Cecil Pashley (who had returned from instructing at Hendon) to form the Gnat Aero Company. By 1926 they had expanded to the north and west of New Salts Farm Road and become Southern Aircraft Ltd and the Southern Aero Club. Pashley taught Fred and George to fly and they then used their Avro 504s not just for their own enjoyment but also for tuition.
From this date until the outset of World War Two use of the airfield expanded. In 1929 the Miles brothers had started to produce their own aircraft designs and on July 10th 1929, the Southern Martlet took off from Shoreham. In October of this same year, another company on the airfield flew the Hendy Hobo.
In October 1932, the Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation Company started their first scheduled services with four flights a day, using Monospar ST4 and Wessex aircraft. Shoreham’s first recorded opportunity to entertain royalty took place on July 4th 1933 when the then Price of Wales (later Kind Edward VIII) flew his aircraft in to land. A new of a new terminal building was built in 1934 and by 1935, Olley Air Services of Croydon had been appointed to manage the now ‘Shoreham Airport’. Railway Air Services had included Shoreham in its schedules and the Southern Railway had re-opened the old “Bungalow Town Halt” as “Shoreham Airport”. The new airport was ready for use by 1stSeptember 1935. Also in September of this year, the old Southern Aero Club came under the auspices of the Brooklands Aviation and was renamed the South Coast Flying Club, retaining Cecil Pashley as its Chief Flying Instructor.
The official opening of the airport took place on 13th June 1936. It was a two-day event which included an air display and, on the second day, the first South Coast Air Trophy Race. The last Empire Air Day was held at Shoreham on 20thMay 1939
There was an impending sign of conflict in 1937 when the Air Ministry initiated the Martin School of Air Navigation at Shoreham to train RAF Volunteer Reserve personnel. Martins later became the 16th Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School and had Bellman hangars erected to house their Tiger Moths, Harts, Hinds and later, Ansons and Battles.
After the outbreak of World War Two on September 3rd 1939, all club and private flying ceased. Soon, however, Croydon’s airport traffic was re-routed to Shoreham and foreign airliners came into the airfield. Albatrosses, Ensigns and old HP42s flew out to North Africa and Egypt, India and Europe. The airport terminal building and hangars were given a coat of “heavy green” paint.
In 1940 Shoreham was requisitioned by the RAF and used for anti-invasion patrols by 225 Squadron’s Lysanders and through the Battle of Britain period, the field was used as an emergency landing ground for damaged Spitfires, Hurricanes and Blenheims. In 1941 the airfield was extended and other improvements made. Throughout the war Shoreham received its share of emergency landings from combat-damaged or malfunctioning aircraft as well as serving as a re-fuelling point.
Following WW2, Shoreham was made available for civil flying on 1stJanuary 1946. Within weeks, the South Coast Flying Club was re-animated and the airport was officially re-opened to the public with an air display on 29th June. During these years, there were attempts at scheduled services and airshows, which failed mainly due to the condition of the buildings and the airfield with flooding and the lack of a tarmac runway mainly to blame. In the early 1950s Shoreham started to become well-known again as an air racing and air display venue and also because the Miles brothers had got back together again and leased the airfield for work on aviation contracts.
On 14thDecember 1953 Shoreham was the venue for the first flight of the Miles Sparrowjet, the first British light aircraft to use jet power. Also in the early 1950s, Chelsea College of Aero Engineering set up their premises here (now known as Northbrook College). East Anglian Flying Services employed a Rapide to fly services to the Channel Islands and Meridian Air Maps (another company with Miles involvement) used an Aerovan, Austers and Consul for its work here. The Miles Student/Centurion flew from Shoreham on May 15th1957. The re-formed South Coast Flying Club transformed into the earlier Southern Aero Club with Cecil Pashley still involved.
Mike Wooldridge then took to the floor to talk about Pashley – the pilot trainer. Mike opened by saying how difficult it was to follow such an interesting talk about such a giant of aviation history. So he felt he ought to start by presenting his qualifications:
1) Was in RAF section of Brighton Grammar School CCF and won an RAF flying scholarship. This gave him 30 hours of flying time leading (in those days) potentially to the granting of a Private Pilots Licence. He did his Flying Scholarship under Cecil Pashley at Shoreham, in July 1960.
2) Whilst in the CCF, did a gliding course and gained A and B certificates. Went on to join Imperial College Gliding Club where he gained a Silver C.
3) Then became an instructor for 10 years, and finally gained a full category (allows one to become a Chief Flying Instructor) before ‘retiring’ for family reasons.
4) Has flown with maybe 2 dozen instructors, including Derek Piggott.
Derek was an ex RAF Central Flying School instructor, Film stunt pilot (Blue Max, Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines), and competition pilot. He was a wonderful instructor and CFI. Why? In Mike’s opinion, because he believed there was no such thing as a silly question, and the fact that he could ‘teach his grandmother to suck eggs’ in the nicest possible way. This can fill small gaps in one’s knowledge years later. He could charm a roomful of 25 experienced instructors with a simple lesson on something as basic as landing. Pashley, though very experienced and skilful, was not the same as Derek. He was less approachable – certainly this was how Mike, as a relatively timid 17 year old, found him. Things might be different today, as Mike reckons he would ask far more questions and drag out more of Pashley’s rich experience.
Three cadet students – always in uniform – arrived at the Southern Aero Club, in the Summer of 1960. We called Pashley ‘Sir’ at all times. He was fairly brief with words. OK, its difficult in the air – what with speaking tubes and the need to throttle back to be heard. But things weren’t a lot better back at base – Mike could not recall Pashley amplifying things very much on the ground. We never did a flying test as such, and hence there may well have been some undetected gaps in our competence.
A few anecdotes:
1) On Mike’s first dual cross country to Portsmouth, Mike had a line drawn on the map from Shoreham to Portsmouth. But unfortunately Pashley’s line was from Shoreham to Hamble. This led to a bit of tension in the air, and a very steep turn northwards when we were about 5 miles off Portsmouth, as Pashley felt he had to put us on the correct track! But Portsmouth duly appeared in the distance under our left wing tip, and so he reluctantly then agreed to let Mike turn South. Pashley spotted his wrong line, half way back on the return flight!
2) The ball on the turn and slip indicator is a useful instrument for getting the rudder right in a turn, particularly a steep turn where the aircraft may start to slip or skid. Mike would have appreciated being taught earlier, the simple rule ‘Tread on the ball’ in order to rapidly improve his skill. He only learned this a couple of years later.
3) Cross wind landings and takeoffs were not properly practised – hardly a pressing need when one can virtually always point into wind given a large, empty grass airfield. But Mike remembers vividly learning about cross winds during a solo take off from Christchurch airfield, which had constraints on take off direction. This was a bit unnerving at the time.
4) And finally, a Pashley curiosity. He used to waggle the stick backwards and forwards on landing (presumably to ‘feel’ the decreasing airspeed over the elevator). But he always taught his pupils to land in the conventional way – namely, after levelling out, to apply a steady backwards pull, just keeping the nose up until the aircraft stalls neatly into a ‘3 point’ landing. Probably being self taught, Pashley had learned his method the hard way. It wasn’t dangerous
– just curious. A question of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’
Overall, it was a wonderful summer holiday experience. Mike (in common with all pilots?) clearly remembers his first solo. It was after an evening check flight – one knew solo was imminent when we taxied back to the clubhouse, Pashley climbed out, engine still running, and took his personal plywood box and cushion out (he was not the tallest of instructors). The flight was uneventful, apart from having to go round again, due to a Channel Airways Dakota on the approach.
Mike also showed some other shots he took at the time, and ended with a shot of him swinging the prop of a Tiger Moth – Pashley in the front cockpit, student in the rear, both with helmets and goggles. Lancing College was in the background, and the sun was shining. Somehow it seemed to mark the passing of a golden age of flying.