Mission Aviation Fellowship

Thruxton Aerodrome secures new owner

According to Grant Francis from aircraft maintenance business Aerofurb Restorations, their home airport, Thruxton Aerodrome, has been sold to a private individual.

Rumours of the sale of the Hampshire aerodrome and race circuit have been ongoing for some months, following the news that owners Western Air were looking to divest.

Suggestions of the place being demolished and turned into an Amazon distribution hub, housing estate or similar enterprise, leading to the closure of the airfield and racetrack, had been rife over recent months, but it now seems that an enthusiast has bought it as a going concern and is determined to maintain its heritage.

In a report posted by Aerofurb, the new owner has been revealed as Alex Thistlethwayte, a businessman who knows the area well, having grown up just 15 minutes away. A former stockbroker and oil trader, Alex Thistlethwayte currently leads an investment fund in London.

According to Grant, Alex is a ‘petrol head’ and budding aviation enthusiast, telling Aerofurb: “Racers and pilots are very similar in their passions. They’re all a bit geeky like me and hugely passionate about what they do.”

Asking what plans he has for Thruxton, Alex told Grant: “It’s going to take a while, but I want to build a really strong community here. This isn’t a buy-it and sell-it project for me, I want something I can leave to my children and my grandchildren. I’d love my great-grandchildren and generations to come to enjoy this place. I want to see events here that are really high quality and provide the kind of service the aerodrome and motorsport community can be proud to be part of.”

Grant adds that the bigger picture includes ideas of a museum which will celebrate the heritage of the site, along with prestige vehicle storage, to include on-site maintenance and restoration services. There’s also talk about potentially extending the runway to allow some larger aircraft, such as the Pilatus PC-12 to be based at the aerodrome as well as potential to add more hangarage for light aircraft and encouraging warbirds to be based there too.

Grant says: “I know it’s a cliché to say ‘watch this space’ but for the first time in a long while, the vibe around Thruxton is rousing. We’re on the cusp of some very exciting changes and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.”

The history of the aerodrome dates back to 1940 when the land was requisitioned by The Air Ministry, with RAF Thruxton’s construction completed August 1941, serving initially as a satellite station to RAF Andover.

The first occupants to be based there were the Lysanders and Hurricanes of No. 225 Squadron, followed by Armstrong Whitworth Whitley’s from No.51 Squadron, famous for delivering the Bruneval Raid where a Commando unit managed to penetrate German defences and knock the infamous Wurtsburg Radar Station out of action.

Over the rest of the war various units were based at Thruxton including Boston and Blenheim aircraft, and a joint Army Cooperation Squadron was formed with nearby RAF Netheravon Aerodrome. Additional Whitleys were also based there to act as tugs for Horsa Gliders.

February 1944 saw the arrival of the P47s of the USAF 366th Fighter Group, who flew many missions over Belguim, France and Germany. Although the Americans were only there for around five months, they apparently left a lasting impression on the local community, and until the late 1990s, would regularly welcome USAF veterans back to Thruxton.

Entering civilian operations in 1947, Thruxton became the home of The Wiltshire School of Flying, famed amongst other things for producing the Thruxton Jackaroo, a modified Tiger Moth with widened fuselage and canopy to afford passengers a higher level of comfort, of which a total of 19 were built there.

In 1967 the aerodrome was taken over by Western Air Training Ltd, and its sister company British Racing Circuits. Training aircraft included new modern PA28s and Cessna 150s, along with a PA-23 Aztec twin trainer and Cessna 172, and many other variants since then.

The school has remained at Thruxton ever since, training new generations of pilots, for many years under the direction of the legendary Bob Cole, a former chief test pilot at nearby Boscombe Down.

In 1998 the companies amalgamated to become Western Air (Thruxton) Ltd, who continued to manage the aerodrome until earlier this month, when Thruxton Circuit Ltd, owned by Alex Thistlethwayte, became the new proprietor.

Author: FTN Editor

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