Hullavington: The history of the hangars
Hullavington airfield has seen its fair share of action in times of need. Having served as a strategic and operational base for over 1000 fighter aircraft, and a parachute packing production line during the Second World War, the airfield will once again provide support at a time of need as it was repurposed to design and develop Dyson ventilators in response to the COVID-19 global crisis.
First established in peacetime and built on farmland the airfield opened as an RAF Flying Training Station on 6th June 1937. Housing 100 aircraft as well as an additional 400 civilian flying machines, the airfield initially featured grass runways but quickly expanded to become a significant airfield, both architecturally and strategically.
Bringing together the architectural influences of Blomfield and Lutyens, Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus school, great care was taken over the design of airfield buildings. The layout was based on Beaux Art principles, neo-Georgian style of the domestic buildings and the use of Bath stone in the building facings. It is one of the most representative surviving examples of Royal Air Force architecture of the post-1934 "Expansion Period".
During the Second World War, the site served as a strategic hub for top officers from allied nations, to share knowledge and deepen their understanding of how to fly aircraft to the point of limit. By 1940 Hullavington was a base for aircraft from Mosquitoes, Spitfires and Lancasters to Douglas Bostons, North American Mitchells and GAL Hotspur troop-carrying gliders. Over 1,000 aircraft were based at the airfield by the end of the conflict.
Alongside the aircraft sat the all-important The Parachute Packing Unit, with its vast drying ovens located within the hangars. Production lines were staffed by smartly dressed teams, carefully packing the parachutes away – safely – for their next exercise.
With parachute packing and fighter aircraft already stationed there, a branch of the Met Office was soon added during WW2. Weather balloons and aircraft were used to collect weather data for the Met Office, which continued long after the conflict ended. The Balloon Operations Squadron was disbanded in 1995 and the last RAF balloon flew over Hullavington on 29th March 1995.
After it was decommissioned by the RAF in the late 1990s, Dyson purchased the land in response to its rapidly expanding Malmesbury Campus. Due to rules known as the Critchel Down rules, Dyson had to track down the descendants of the former land owners as they had a right to buy the land at market price. Purchasing the land from the families in March 2017, Hullavington Airfield became Dyson’s second UK Technology Campus following a £200m restoration of the hangars. Taking great care over the restoration of the site, the renovated hangars remain sympathetic to the original architectural design. The airfield served as the base for Dyson's Automotive project until October 2019, when engineers focused on air treatment technologies and robotics moved into the historic aircraft hangars.
Now, to support the response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the site will once again play a vital role in a time of need as Dyson used the site to design and develop essential ventilators to help combat the effects of the virus alongside medical technology and development company, TTP – The Technology Partnership.
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