Manchester International Airport - formerly Ringway Airport


Wythenshawe had the first municipal airport in the country. The Rackhouse airfield opened on 2 April 1929. The first landing was made by Captain A. K. Kingswill in a de Havilland 60X, owned by Northern Air Transport, in which the instigator, John Leeming, had a major interest. The first flights from this, the first civic airport, were joy-trips around Northenden given to members of the Airport Committee to whet their appetites for flying. On 22 April, the Lord Mayor of Manchester flew from Wythenshawe to Croydon, on his way to collect a temporary licence. Some interesting aircraft landed at Wythenshawe during those few months of temporary licence. Ford's European 5-AT-C Trimotor demonstrator N84 12, a large aircraft for those days, and Gipsy-Moth H-AAAH. That Gipsy-Moth, then owned by Air Taxis of Stag Lane, was used at Rackhouse Aerodrome in 1929. This plane was later named 'Jason' (pictured left), the biplane that took Amy Johnson on her solo flight from Britain to Australia in May 1930.

Manchester (Wythenshawe) Aerodrome also known locally as Rackhouse Aerodrome was the first airfield built to serve, temporarily, as Manchester's municipal aerodrome.Mid-1920s: A campaign was inaugurated by interested aviation-minded people, including John Leeming and Sir Sefton Brancker, then the UK minister of civil aviation. Manchester's council began to realise that Manchester needed a permanent airport.

1926: Mr.Tatton (country squire at Wythenshawe Hall) sold much land in what is now Wythenshawe, and it came into the hands of Manchester Corporation, which planned to build local authority housing on it.

Early 1929: In that land, four fields at Rackhouse Farm in what is now Northern Moor were chosen to become Manchester's municipal aerodrome, until the new permanent Barton Airport near Eccles was built.The airfield's site was within the fork of Wythenshawe Road and Sale Road, west of the intersection with today's Princess Parkway and just north of Wythenshawe Park. Hedges were grubbed out, some ground was levelled, and a barn was converted into a hangar capable of housing one light aircraft. A country lane which is now Rackhouse Road ran along its east edge. A farmhouse became the administration building. Temporary fuel pumps were installed. The north-eastern field was not made usable for aircraft operations. The only navigational help to pilots to identify the aerodrome were the letters 'M/C' in white, within a large circle. No airfield lighting or radio facilities were provided.

2 April 1929: First use of the airfield by an aircraft.

13 April 1929: Date of the city's application for an aerodrome licence. It called the place "Wythenshawe, in the parish of Northenden, in the rural district of Bucklow, in the County of Chester". The airfield was mainly used for private and club flying. Northern Air Lines (Manchester) Ltd based several aircraft here, their two-seat De Havilland DH.60 Moths being available for charter at one shilling per mile. The Lancashire Aero Club, based at Woodford Aerodrome, regularly sent one of their training aircraft to Wythenshawe, for the convenience of local members.

22 April 1929: The Lord Mayor of Manchester and a civic party flew from the aerodrome to Croydon Airport to collect Wythenshawe Aerodrome's temporary operating licence.

22 June 1929: An 'Air Pageant' attracted many aircraft and large crowds of interested Mancunian spectators.

1 January 1930: The aerodrome became redundant as Barton Airport opened.

19 June 1930: The last recorded flight from Wythenshawe Airport.

Barton Airport took over from Rackhouse Lane in 1930, but in 1934 when K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines reviewed the possibilities of a Holland-Northern England service and said that Barton was not suitable, the Airport Committee recommended Ringway as the best alternative site. The land was bought with compulsory purchase orders for £80,000 after a public inquiry and a High Court case brought by Cheshire County Council in May 1935. On 28 November 1935 the Lord Mayor of Manchester opened the site.

Eighteen months later, on 8 June 1937, Fairey Aviation Company held their own private opening day to celebrate the completion of their hangar for the final assembly of Fairey Battles. The Lord Mayor of Manchester had officially opened the hangar six days before. Fairey acquired the old National Aircraft Factory No. 2 in Heaton Chapel and they were given the western side of Ringway to use for the test flights.

On 25 June 1938, the whole of Ringway was officially opened by Sir Kingsley Wood, the Air Minister, and he inspected many visiting aircraft including a Hurricane, Demon, Harrow, Anson and Gauntlet. Services began on Monday 27 June 1938 with a Railway Air Services de Havilland Rapide, leaving at 9.06 a.m. for Liverpool's Isle of Man route. A K.L.M. DC-2 left for Doncaster and Amsterdam at 10.52 a.m.

When Ringway opened it had a control tower and administration block on the northern edge of the airfield, housing a passenger reception area and restaurant in the western half, and with a public viewing area on the roof. The whole eastern side of the building was a large hangar. In front of the tower was a small concrete and tarmac area with petrol pumps along the eastern edge. Apart from the apron of the two Fairey hangars there were no taxiways and the whole landing area was grass.

At first, in 1938, the revenue from the airport was very small. The fee for housing a plane overnight was 2s. 8d. (13p); landing fee (depending on size) Is. 6d.-14s. 3d. (7.5p-71p); a return fare to Belfast £4 15s. (£4.75p), to Blackpool £1 5s. (£1.25p), to the Isle of Man £3 6s. (£3.30p), to Liverpool £1 10s. (£1.50p).

Another facet of Ringway started in July 1938 and caught on: joy-riding operated by various airlines, mainly Isle of Man Air Services (I.o.M.A.S.) and Railway Air Services (R.A.S).

In 1938 it was obvious that war was imminent and by February 1939 No. 613, City of Manchester, Auxiliary Air Force Squadron was formed. By May hangars had been built at Ringway for the units. On 20 May 1939 there was an 'Empire Air Day' with a three hour flying display. It was the Squadron's first public appearance. Planes there included Avro Anson, Armstrong, Whitworth Whitley, Handley Page Heyford, Bristol Blenheim, Fairey Seal, Fairey Battle, Hawker Hind and a new Supermarine Spitfire. Army and artillery detachments were also on public view.

The civil air services in the summer of 1939 were more numerous than the previous year. Great Western and Southern Airlines joined K.L.M. and I.o.M.A.S. in serving Ringway. The last pre-war non-service civil aircraft was a Percival Vega Gull, G-AFAV, owned by a Mr. E. Thomas, which returned to Ringway from Le Bourget on 1 September 1939. It flew to Woodford on 14 September, where it was stored until the end of the war.

Ringway, though never requisitioned by the Air Ministry, soon became a major service base, with over sixty thousand paratroopers passing through the training school in the course of the war. Over half-a-million drops were made from Ringway, especially over Rostherne and Tatton. For a time in 1940 the newly-formed Glider Training Squadron was at Ringway, before moving to Thame in Buckinghamshire. 

The airport and its immediate environs were also host to a number of important aircraft projects and test flights. A. V. Roe developed and produced the York transport plane at Ringway - 85 for the R.A.F. and some for B.O.A.C., including 'Ascalon' for Winston Churchill's personal use. But the more famous association was that with the legendary Lancaster, which, though not in production at Ringway, was developed and tested there in 1940-1. The A. V. Roe Lincoln bomber appeared in 1944.

All this activity meant that there were thousands of servicemen in the area. Many prefabricated blocks were built to house them on Outwood Lane, Woodhouse Lane and elsewhere in Wythenshawe. Existing premises were deployed where planning permission "could be obtained. A vacant shop in Northenden, for example, was used by the Y.M.C.A. to provide recreational facilities for R.A.F. personnel, while the White House, Princess Parkway, was taken over for mess and officer accommodation. Nissen-type huts were also erected and we read in the minutes of the Wythenshawe Estate Special Committee that it considered planning permission for R.A.F. recreation and canteen facilities in the Parkwood neighbourhood. 

It was usual for the Wythenshawe Committee to lease land to the appropriĀ­ate ministries at nominal rents on the understanding that land would be returned to its former state on the cessation of hostilities. At one point in 1943 such was the pressure on accommodation that even some of the precious houses in Wythenshawe were requisitioned for services' use. The sudden increase-in the volume of traffic moving to and from Ringway necessitated various road improvements. Woodhouse Lane was widened, although work was delayed owing to the general shortage of timber for fencing, and later, in 1941, improvements were made to Ringway Road.

At Ringway on 1 January 1946 civil flying resumed, though there was still much R.A.F. activity. The airport was closed for two weeks at the start of June for repairs to runways and taxiways before the aviation companies' schedules began for the summer season. The runways were in poor condition after intense wartime usage and work continued for some time afterwards without affecting air traffic.

When Air France opened its Paris service on 16 June 1946, it was the first post-war scheduled service from Ringway. On 1 February 1947 British European Airways (B.E.A.) was formed and took over most of the scheduled services within the British Isles. By 1 August 1947 civil air movements predominated. On 3 August an R.A.F. Dakota crashed on take-off, fortunately with no casualties. In September 1947 there was the first helicopter visit to Ringway, a Westland Demonstrator Sikorsky S-51, G-AJHW. The Amsterdam-Manchester route was reintroduced by K.L.M. in May 1947. On 24 September at 8 p.m. a Loxham's Anson crashed through a boundary hedge on landing, but the crew and seven passengers were unhurt.

The major events in 1948 were two air displays, the City of Manchester 613 Squadron Air Display on 24 April, and the September air display. The former was the first to be held since May 1939 and by an amazing piece of planning was on Cup Final Day (Manchester United 4, Blackpool 2). The latter was the last to be held at Ringway. Later displays took place at Woodford because of the increase in air traffic. Sivewright Airways quickly took up the Isle of Man route, dropped by B.E.A. that year. Well remembered are the Dragon Rapides, the staple aircraft on that route. Swissair began a Zurich service on 15 December 1948. 

In 1949 the battle Manchester City Council had waged with the Labour government since the end of the war for control of Ringway reached its zenith (the council finally won in the mid-1950s). It was, therefore, highly embarrassing for the then Aviation Minister, Lord Pakenham (later Lord Longford), to open in February the new passenger-handling facilities behind B.E.A.'s hangar. All scheduled airlines used the new tarmac in front of this hangar, no more to be seen in front of the control tower. Lord Pakenham promised the airport a much-needed runway extension; in his book Early Ringway R. J. Webb says: 'The possibility of cash for this extension was used to coerce Manchester into handing over control, without success, and permission to extend the runway was continually delayed for over two years'. On 19 August 1949 a B.E.A. Dakota, G-AHCY, returning from Belfast, crashed on Saddleworth Moor in bad weather whilst approaching Ringway - the first fatal crash involving Manchester passengers. Only eight of the 32 people on the plane survived. In those days air-traffic control opened at various times of the day during the year. In February 1950 it opened from 8 a.m. to 8.45 p.m., though in the case of special or fate flights it stayed open to accommodate them.

1951 was a year of change. "The hopes and initiative of the first post-war years had given way to the grim realities of austerity and shortages and a Labour Government bent on wholesale nationalisation', writes R. J. Webb. Many charter companies succumbed through lack of work. The main runway was closed to traffic in August 1950 to allow a 600-yard extension to be laid at the eastern end. The threshold of the original runway 24 was at the highest point on the airport and extending from this point created the infamous hump. The first 200 yards of extension opened on 21 January 1951, the remainder finally being finished during the summer without the need for further runway closure.

At 12.30 a.m. on 27 March 1951 an Air Transport Charter Dakota, G-AJVZ, took off on a newspaper flight in freezing conditions with cross-winds. It lost power due to carburettor icing and failure to select carburettor heat. 'The aircraft knocked some slates off the roof of Fullalove's Off-licence on the corner of Woodhouse Lane and crashed into the market gardens beyond, killing both the crew,'

In April 1952 Ringway opened 24 hours a day. Many new services began in the summer, for example B.E.A. to Zurich, Amsterdam/Dusseldorf. This year the airport handled 163,000 passengers, one-and-a-half times more than Liverpool, though in 1947 Speke handled more than Ringway. On 3 November the new Conservative Minister of Aviation, Mr. Lennox Boyd, ended the strife between the government and Manchester. He agreed that Ringway would be an international airport. Manchester would retain ownership, but the government would pay 75 per cent of the costs towards a new terminal and further runway extensions.

Sabena Belgian World Airlines began operating their Ostend service on 13 June 1953. Ringway became an intercontinental airport when Sabena introduced their transatlantic service, the 'Manchester Premier', for New York, with a scheduled refuelling stop at Gander.

By 1954 passenger numbers had reached 265,000 - too many for the 1949 terminal to handle. It was modified, therefore, No. 5 hangar demolished, the runway/threshold lighting upgraded and the tarmac extended. The airlines introduced new services, such as the B.O.A.C. London-Manchester-Prestwick-New York flights, and turbine-powered airliners appeared in April 1954 with B.E.A. and Aer Lingus. 

October 1953 saw a report submitted to the Airport Committee, which envisaged passengers increasing to 525,000 by 1963 and recommended the building of a new terminal. Fortunately, the design allowed for further expansion later, which was just as well because in 1963 the numbers exceeded one million, two hundred thousand. A Canada service was introduced by Lufthansa on 23 April 1956, Hamburg-Dusseldorf-Manchester-Shannon-Montreal-Chicago.

In 1957 Ringway had its second fatal crash since the war. On 14 March a B.E.A. Viscount from Amsterdam plunged into some council houses on Shadow Moss near the primary school, killing 20 passengers and the two occupants of the house (the tenth house on Shadow Moss Road still shows the scars). Both dead and injured were taken to Shadow Moss School. Flight 411 took off from Amsterdam Schiphol International Airport. On board were 15 passengers and five crew members. 90 minutes after departure flight 411 was cleared for approach into Manchester Airport. In low cloud and following a ground controlled approach the flight crew lowered the landing gear and turned into their final approach under visual control. One mile short of the runway eyewitnesses saw the aircraft turn into a shallow right descending turn with a steep bank angle. The Viscount's right wing hit the ground and the rest of the plane broke up bursting into flames and crashing into a house 85 yards beyond the impact point further on.

Work on the terminal began in October with clearance and piling. On 23 April 1958 the main runway was extended from 5,900 to 7,000 feet. The A538 Altrincham-Hale-Wilmslow Road had to be diverted around the new threshold. 1958 also saw the tragic Munich air crash on. 6 February, which almost annihilated the Manchester United Football Team. Six months later there was the first visit by a jetliner, a V.I.P. trip by a French Caravelle demonstrator. On 16 April 1959 B.O.A.C. introduced the short-lived Bristol Britannia on its New York schedules, the last of the propeller aircraft to be produced. Jet airliners had come and though the Caravelle was a short-haul aircraft the next jet to appear at Ringway was not. Sabena began its first scheduled jet service to New York, using a Boeing 707, on 20 April I960. Inclusive tours were on the increase from Ringway, using Skymaster, Convair 400, Hermes, etc.

Towards the end of October 1962 the new terminal was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh, and it was in use by December. In April 1963 B.O.A.C. started its New York schedule at Ringway with Boeing 707s. At the end of March 1964 Sabena withdrew its New York service after 10 years of pioneering. The British government would not allow them to operate more than two services a week, a retrograde step.

Aer Lingus introduced B.A.C. 1-1 Is on their Frankfurt service on 7 June 1965. About a month before, on 6 May, the Excelsior Hotel, with 264 beds, was opened by the Lord Mayor of Manchester. Over a year later, in July 1965, B.E.A. began to use jet Tridents on their Paris service. On 15 March 1967 runway 24 was extended 1,100 feet to accommodate the new jets. It had to extend across the A538 on a bridge that needed four tunnels, two for pedestrians, two for road traffic. On 6 October 1967 Ringway had its heaviest passenger load to date, 261 people in a DC-8 of Trans International.

The last scheduled Douglas-Dakota service - Cambrian Airways - from Ringway was in September 1968. So far the Dakota is the longest serving civil aircraft, in use from 1939 to 1968 - 29 years. On 7 January 1969 the main runway, extended from 7,900 to 9,000 feet, was opened officially. The first scheduled non-stop flight to New York began on 29 April 1969 with B.O.A.C.'s Super V.C. 10s. The first Boeing 747 Jumbo jet landed at Ringway on 17 August 1970, to familiarise airport staff with wide-bodied aircraft. A year later a Court Line Lockheed Tri-star paid its first visit to Ringway. On 2 April 1975 Laker Airways operated the first transatlantic service A.B.C. flight on any route. It was a D.C. 10 to Toronto. Both the D.C. 10 and Tri-star were quiet aircraft, despite their size. At the end of May 'nose-in parking' was introduced at the International Pier 'B'.

In the same year Runway 24 presented more problems. It had been originally laid in wartime conditions. There were no proper foundations or drainage, and the runway was cracking and flexing under the weight of modern aircraft. Engineers were called in. They said the runway would need major repairs by the early 1980s. The work was estimated to involve the total closure of the airport for eight to 12 months. The Airport Committee drew up plans for a second runway, 10,500 feet long and 1,500 feet to the south-east of the existing Runway 24 (a possibility first aired in the 1945 City of Manchester Plan). It was later withdrawn after pressure from the Greater Manchester Transport Action Group, who objected to the second runway as being unnecessary for many years, and by the people of Styal, whose houses and peace it threatened. 

A new plan was put to the planning authorities in May 1976. It still maintained the need for a second runway. That would have meant not only a second tunnel for the A538 but the runway would have crossed the Bollin Valley, designated by Cheshire County Council as a country park. That idea was shelved. But Runway 24 had to be rebuilt and recontoured. Greater Manchester Transport Action Group, in their first objections to the second runway, had pointed out that, working round the clock, and much more intensively through the night, it would be possible to complete this in two months. But the Airport Committee maintained that it could not close down the airport even for that short length of time without losing money and putting people's jobs in jeopardy. So a compromise was reached. The work was begun in March 1979 and finished by the end of October.

On 29 October a Guardian newspaper article on Ringway's runway described the strange way in which the runway was being built. The massive engineering job on the runway would be carried out at night, between the hours of 11.00 p.m. and 7.00 a.m., when take-offs and landings are already limited in the interests of local residents. Ringway would be able to operate normally for the remaining 16 hours of every day, and 5,000 people whose jobs are in some way dependent on the airport would be spared the hardship of a three-month lay-off. No other airport in the world had ever tried to stay in business while rebuilding and recontouring its only runway.

Hundreds of dumpers, diggers, mixers and lighting towers would be expected to converge on the airfield as the roar of the day's last departing flight faded away, and roll off again, leaving a serviceable runway, as the first flight of the new day positioned itself on the glidepath. The operation would call for military precision by an efficient and disciplined workforce if the gamble was to succeed.

Instead of flattening the hump, which could not be contemplated in the short nightly working spells of six hours, a labour force of more than 200 has built up the rest of the runway to meet it, laying no less than 222,000 tons of asphalt during the past six months.

But few now question that the region's main 'gateway to the world' will eventually have to be wider. The second runway, though no longer necessary to meet present demand, is by no means abandoned. The airport is already linked by way of M56 with the M6, the M62 and the rest of motorway network, and there are plans to provide it, in the not too distant future with a direct rail link too.

On 25 March 1974 the Intercontinental Pier 'C', the multi-storey car park and Terminal Extensions were officially opened. Pier 'C' was first used by a Jordanian Airlines Boeing 707 with King Hussein on board. It had been diverted from Heathrow because of bad weather. In June the same year Wardair's Boeing 747s began their first regular operation from Ringway. Six months later Ringway had its first and only hijack from the airport, a B.E.A. Super 1-11 to Heathrow. The hijacker was overpowered at Heathrow. In late July 1975 Manchester Airport Joint Committee was renamed Manchester International Airport Authority. Ringway was now officially Manchester International Airport.

One of the great events in Ringway's history was the first visit by a British Airways Concorde. Fog at Heathrow diverted it to Ringway on a Washington flight. Watched by thousands of people (the A538 was blocked) it took off, much to everyone's surprise registering a lower noise than the Boeing 747 which had taken off five minutes before.

In the 1980s the airport was designated an International Gateway handling direct long-haul international flights. A second international passenger terminal and direct rail and motorway links made the airport increasingly accessible to a wide catchment area. 
Ringway, as the largest provincial airport in the country, handled five million passengers in 1983, the year a new two-million-pound taxiway was opened and a six-million-pound cargo terminal planned. Early in 1984 it became the first airport with automatic docking and the G.M.C.C., approved a further twelve-million-pound expansion on a fifty-fifty basis to cope with an expected nine million passengers by 1987.

Sadly, on 22 August 1985, the largest aircraft disaster in Ringway's history happened. A British Airtours 737, G-BGJL, full of holiday-makers bound for Tenerife, was forced to abort its take-off because of an engine fire. As the fire swept people, including many locals, died.

On 1 April 1986 Greater Manchester County Council was abolished and its half of Manchester International Airport was handed over to a consortium of the borough councils of the County of Greater Manchester. In 1986, Manchester International Airport was the fastest growing airport in Britain in terms of passenger numbers.

In 1991 Manchester Airport announced plans for a second runway (at a cost put at £36m) to keep up with growth in air traffic. Hundreds of protesters lobbied the meeting of the Airport Board who were to decide on the new site. The demonstrators claimed that it would damage the local environment. The protests and demonstrations continued for almost another 10 years until, finally, in February 2001, Runway 2 opened for business. MORE on the protests and Airport history