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Patchway, BS34

Aerospace Bristol is a new industrial heritage museum and learning centre being developed at Filton, to the north of Bristol. It will tell the story of the region's world-class aerospace industry - past, present and future. The Aerospace Bristol project is being run by the Bristol Aero Collection Trust.


On 1 April 2018, the Royal Air Force will be celebrating its 100th birthday. To mark this occasion, we want to reflect on our history and our achievements.


The Royal Air Force, the world’s first independent air force, came into being on 1st April 1918

On 1 April 2018, the Royal Air Force celebrated its 100th anniversary.

Aerospace Bristol is marking this important occasion by reflecting on the history of the RAF and its connection with Filton as well as sharing incredible archive footage and very special events.

We hope you will be able to come along and celebrate with us throughout this important year.


The Royal Air Force and Filton


Filton's association dates back to the First World War, with the creation of the Aircraft Acceptance Park in 1915 which was manned by The Royal Flying Corps.

The three bay hangar which houses the main Aerospace Galleries was built in 1917 by the War Office as part of the Filton Aircraft Acceptance Park. It has enjoyed 100 years of continuous service in RAF and private hands.  Manufacturers of airframes for use in the First World War delivered their aircraft to an Aircraft Acceptance Park for the installation of engines and armament. Squadrons were also prepared here before they were sent to the front lines in France. Although the Acceptance Park closed in late-1919, the large flying ground was taken over for test and development flying by the new Bristol Aeroplane Company.


Formation of the Royal Air Force

1920 - 1940

In 1924, the Auxiliary Air Force was formed as part of the UK Volunteer Reserve forces. In 1927, the RAF returned to transform the site into the new RAF Filton, with many of the old Aircraft Acceptance Park buildings being incorporated into the extended site. The site was expanded during the 1920s and 1930s when Bristol Aeroplane Company operated a Flying Training School and in 1929 Bristol received its own AAF Squadron, No.501 (City of Bristol) Squadron, and in 1930 it was renamed the “County of Gloucester” Squadron. The squadron then operated from RAF Filton until 28th November 1939.

501 Squadron played a significant role in the Second World War and Filton was an important sector airfield during the Battle of Britain.

1950 - 1960

The 501 Squadron moved away from Bristol in 1940 serving with great distinction in France and then the Battle of Britain. It returned briefly in December 1940 before being dispatched to other areas of WW2. It was finally disbanded on 20th April 1945 but reformed at Filton on 10th May 1946, being finally disbanded on 10th March 1957.

During the 1950s-1960s Filton was designated as a V-bomber dispersal field.

1990 - date

RAF activity on the site decreased and the last Squadron, Bristol University Air Squadron, moved away 1992.  Aerospace Bristol continues to commemorate the legacy between Filton and the RAF by using one of the original 1917 'Belfast' hangars as the new home of the museum. In 2015 the Grade 2 listed hangar became part of the Bristol Aero Collection Trust, who renovated the building and opened Aerospace Bristol in October 2017.

 Bristol Type 23 Badger, 1919, outside Building 16S, on Aerodrome in 1919.  Credit: BAE Systems

Bristol Type 23 Badger, 1919, outside Building 16S, on Aerodrome in 1919.  Credit: BAE Systems

 Bristol Blenheim: the company provided a variety of types of aircraft and engines to the RAF over the years. Credit: BAE Systems

Bristol Blenheim: the company provided a variety of types of aircraft and engines to the RAF over the years. Credit: BAE Systems

Celebrating the raf100 - On this day...

Credit: BAE Systems

1 April 1918

The Royal Air Force was formed by merging the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.  The first aircraft airborne on the day was a Bristol F2B Fighter. 

In September and October 1917, orders for 1,600 Bristol F2B Fighters had been placed; by the end of the WW1, the RAF had a total of 1,583 F2Bs in squadron  service; it was in service with six reconnaissance squadrons stationed in France  and five Home Defence squadrons, while further squadrons operating the type  were positioned in the Middle East and Italy. A total of 5,329 aircraft  were eventually constructed, mostly by Bristol but also by Standard Motors,  Armstrong Whitworth and even the Cunard Steamship Company. According to  J.M. Bruce, by the time of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, which brought an end to the conflict, the "Bristol Fighter ended the war supreme in its class".

Credit: BAE Systems  

Advert for Bristol Pegasus

3 April 1933

Squadron Leader Lord Clydesdale and Flight Lieutenant McIntyre flew a Westland PV-3 Wapiti Mk V prototype and a Westland PV-6 Wallace using 630HP Bristol Pegasus engines on the first flight over Mount Everest in the Houston-Everest Expedition.

Advert for Bristol Pegasus. Credit: BAE Systems

Bristol Beaufighter

4 April 1943

A Bristol Beaufighter, torpedo-armed coastal version, accomplished the first successful military action for this Type by sinking 2 German supply ships off the Norwegian coast in WW2.

Credit: BAE Systems

Vickers Warwick and Bristol Centaurus engine

5 April 1940

The second prototype Vickers Warwick, a multi-purpose twin-engined aircraft powered by a Bristol Centaurus engine, made its first flight. By January 1943, a total of 57 Warwick Mk I aircraft had been completed for the RAF. Production Warwick GR Mk IIs used Bristol Centaurus VI engines and other variants used Centaurus II, VII, and XII engines.  The Warwick was flown by 167; 301; 304; 353; 525; 179; 621 Squadrons.

Credit: BAE Systems via Brooklands Museum

Bristol Beaufort

6 April 1941

A Bristol Beaufort of No. 22 Sqn St Eval bombed the German battleship Gneisenau in Brest harbour scoring a direct hit and nearly sinking the ship. The torpedo was released from a height of 30 ft after which Fg Off Kenneth Campbell was shot down and killed. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Credit: BAE Systems

Bristol Blenheim Mk IV

7 April 1940

Bristol Blenheims Mk I or Mk IV were the first to spot the German Fleet leaving Kiel harbour under cover of bad weather to invade Denmark and Norway.

Credit: BAE Systems

Britain First

12 April 1935

The Bristol Type 142, a twin-engined low-wing monoplane designed by Frank Barnwell for Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail newspaper, had been given the name Britain First, and conducted its maiden flight from Filton. Flight tests soon proved that the aircraft was in fact 50 mph faster than any fighter in service with the RAF at the time, having demonstrated a top speed of 307 mph. Rothermere presented the aircraft to the nation for a  formal evaluation as a potential bomber. The design was subsequently adopted as the basis of the RAF's Bristol Blenheim medium bomber.

Credit: BAE Systems

Harrier GR1 and Pegasus VTOL engine

18 April 1969

No. 1 Sqn received its first RAF Harriers using the Rolls-Royce (formerly Bristol-Siddeley) Pegasus vertical take off and landing engine.

Credit: BAE Systems via Brooklands Museum