021561 - ESSEX AND ITS RACE FOR THE SKIES 1900 - 1939
By Graham Smith
Essex was at the forefront of the pioneering days of flying. As early as May 1785 the first hot-air balloon had landed in the county and by the 1850s they had become a familiar sight. At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 six landing grounds were established with a seaplane station at Clacton. A year later Sutton's Farm (later to be re named Hornchurch) and Goldhanger were added to the list and two more were opened in 1916 at North Weald Bassett and Stow Maries. The target was initially Zeppelins and later German Gotha bombers. In peacetime, the county soon played host to flying circuses and air displays. Joy-riding became a favourite pastime. One local entrepreneur, Edward Hillman, was not slow to see the opportunities in air travel and basing himself at Maylands first opened up a route to the seaside resorts of Kent next to Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast and then to France and Belgium. But another war loomed and by the mid 1930s seven new fighter stations were established; one of them RAF Debden. At the outbreak of the Second World War the nine fighter squadrons then based in the county were ready and eager to meet the Luftwaffe and open another heroic chapter in the aviation history of Essex. Illustrated.