The BAE Systems Military Air and Information (MA & I) advanced manufacturing and technology facility is based at the now disused Samlesbury Aerodrome, near Balderstone, Lancashire.
The aerodrome has a rich history in aviation dating back to 1922, when it was first selected as the location for a municipal airport, serving Preston and the North West. It was something of a visionary project given the economy after the first World War and the fact that 'passenger travel' for the masses had yet to be invented.
Despite gaining all the approvals however, construction did not start until April 1939, mainly due to finances and the availability of suitable plant and equipment during what is now referred to as 'The Great Depression'.
Once started however, the aerodrome expanded quickly and with the outbreak of the Second World War, the English Electric Company were instructed to erect a flight shed for the construction of Handley Page Hampden bombers. With war raging in Europe, the first Hampden flew from Samlesbury on 22nd February 1940 and within 2 years they had produced some 770 aircraft.
1940 also saw the runways extended and the building of a second assembly and manufacturing facility, this time for the construction of Handley Page Halifax bombers.
During the final years of the conflict Samlesbury became home to numerous Hawker Hurricanes and Airspeed Oxfords, all under the control of No.9 Group RAF.
By the end of the war, five main hangars and three runways existed and the production focus turned to the jet era with the construction (under licence) of the De Havilland Vampire.
English Electric Aviation meanwhile, had turned to creating their own aircraft and Samlesbury soon saw the maiden flight on 13th May 1949 of the English Electric Canberra, the company's first wholly-built and designed aircraft.
The English Electric Canberra was produced in great quantities with over 900 examples being constructed across the UK, these being joined by 49 aircraft built under licence in Australia and in one of the greatest Anglo-American collaborations, over 400 were built by Glenn L. Martin Company in the USA as B-57.
From 1953 onwards, attention shifted to the new English Electric Lightning Fighter / Interceptor with the first three prototypes (WG760, WG763 & WG765) being hand built at Samlesbury.
The first production English Electric Lightning took to the skies over Samlesbury on 3rd November 1959 and when the English Electric Aviation became part of the British Aircraft Corporation
(Under the rationalisation of the aircraft industry in 1963), the site played a major part in the development and production of high-tech components for the ill-fated BAC TSR-2, as well as the iconic supersonic airliner BAC Concorde.
Samlesbury continued to work closely with the nearby Warton and Preston factories in the development and production of the joint-venture Sepecat Jaguar and Panavia Tornado jet fighters.
In 1999, British Aerospace merged with the avionics divisions of Marconi Electronic Systems to form a new company known as BAE Systems.
In addition to work on the new F-35 Lightning II, it also produces major components for Eurofighter Typhoon and the T-45 Goshawk.
The site is currently undergoing redevelopment and although the runways no longer exist (having disappeared under a sea of solar panels, Samlesbury still plays a major part in aviation.
The site currently employs around 3,000 people involved in fuselage and component manufacture.
BAE Systems recently opened the £15.6 million ASK Centre (Academy for Skills and Knowledge) where over 200 apprentices and graduates are trained in advanced engineering and manufacturing technology including robotics and clean room composites, as well as 3D printing and enhanced technologies.
|1939||English Electric Company Ltd|
|1960||British Aircraft Corporation|