Cardiff Airport, formerly RAF Rhoose

theme page link buttonCardiff Airport, formerly RAF Rhoose

Amid the bustle of the airport today, it may be hard to imagine trainee fighter pilots taking off and landing on the basic airstrip here in the Second World War.

RAF Rhoose opened in 1942 as a satellite aerodrome to RAF Llandow, which had taken over a pre-war airstrip. The RAF’s 53 Operational Training Unit arrived at Llandow in 1941, and having to train pilots from many Allied countries put the runways there under great pressure, so Rhoose airfield was opened. See the Footnotes below for more about RAF Rhoose.

From 1948 Rhoose airfield was disused for several years while Llandow became a terminal for commercial civilian flights. In 1950 a plane arriving from Dublin crashed near Llandow’s runway with the loss of 80 lives.

Commercial civilian flights from Rhoose began in 1952, when Aer Lingus launched a route to Dublin. Passenger facilities were improved and further routes added, and in 1962 more than 100,000 passengers passed through the airport.

Before and after the war, Cardiff had scheduled flights to various destinations, including Paris, from Splott aerodrome, south east of the city centre. The remaining flights transferred from Splott to Rhoose in 1954.

In 1965 the airport at Rhoose was transferred from the Ministry of Defence to Glamorgan County Council. Its first trans-Atlantic flight took off in 1971.

Successive runway extensions enabled the airport to meet demand for larger aircraft. The 2.4km-long runway also caught the eye of British Airways, which in 1993 opened one of the world’s largest maintenance hangars here. The facility carries out heavy maintenance on aircraft, including jumbo jets, belonging to BA and others.

In 1995 the airport was sold to TBI, a Welsh property company. It reverted to public ownership in 2013, when it was bought by the Welsh Government for £52m. It continues to operate as a limited company.

With thanks to Phillip Jones

Postcode: CF62 3BD    View Location Map

Website of Cardiff Airport

Footnotes: More on RAF Rhoose’s wartime history

One of the first aircraft to use Rhoose airfield was a Spitfire of 53 OTU which landed on its belly! Its engine had failed and it needed to land quickly. The pilot, Sgt Davey of the Royal Canadian Air Force, walked away unhurt. He lost his life flying in the Middle East in 1942.

The Spitfires of 53 OTU were based at Llandow and used runways there and at Rhoose until May 1943, when they moved to RAF Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire. Rhoose lay dormant until February 1944, when No 7 Air Gunnery School moved in temporarily while repairs were carried out at its main base, RAF Stormy Down, west of Bridgend. It left in August 1944.

Meanwhile the airfield became somewhat congested because No 587 Squadron Target Tugs was also using it, for Anti-Aircraft Cooperation duties, before returning to RAF Pengam Moors in May 1944.

By late 1944 the war situation had changed significantly, and preparations were made to shut down RAF Rhoose because it was no longer needed. Rhoose came under the wing of No 40 Group Maintenance Command and in November 1944 became a sub-site of No 241 Maintenance Unit (MU) based at Newport Docks.

Rhoose was also used for storage. No 59 MU, which had been formed in Gloucestershire, absorbed Rhoose as an explosives storage site from June 1945. The entire unit later moved to Rhoose but was disbanded in 1947. The airfield closed in 1948.