Airtech Ltd


Thomas Cholmondeley Tapper and Dennis Fox who had opened the airfield in 1939 returned from the war having both suffered injuries.
Dennis crashed his aircraft due to loss of fuel returning from a bombing raid. He suffered terrible injuries with multiple broken bones. In fact, he had the 'distinction' of surviving the greatest number of broken bones of any RAF casualty, something he suffered from for the rest of his life.
Thomas was rejected on medical grounds from flying with the RAF and so joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. In fact he spent his training at Haddenham with No5 Ferry Training Pool which must have seemed very strange! However it had it's compensations as he met his future wife, Margaret Watson, here. Thomas suffered severe head and leg injuries in a car crash on his way to the airfield at Kirkbride, home of No16 Ferry Pool.

On de-requisition from the Government the aerodrome was handed back to CTF  Aviation, not entirely unstintingly because they charged the two for the land that had been acquired when the airfield was extended! It was this that probably prompted the pair to sell the airfield.

In August 1946 a firm called Chartair was founded at Haddenham by Grp.Capt. Guy Lawrence to do air charter work, initially with a Percival Proctor but soon after with four Airspeed Consuls (which had been purchased on behalf of Air Malta which Chartair had a one-third stake in). Most of their work was done from Croydon which was still London's main civil airport. Group Captain Lawrence had been awarded the DFC, DSO and OBE for his two tours of operations in Bomber Command, flying Whitley's, Lancasters and Halifaxes. He had also been a member of the British Ski Team before the war, (is this how he knew Thomas Cholmondeley Tapper? Guy Lawrence was knighted in 1976 having become a major figure in the food industry).
Chartair bought Haddenham Airfield from CTF Aviation on February 14th 1947 with the aim of developing an aircraft overhaul and maintenance centre for the rapidly growing number of small airlines springing up in Britain and Europe. This new concern was to be called Airtech Ltd and its first Directors were Guy Lawrence, Wing Cdr. D.S.Green and Thomas Cholmondeley Tapper and Dennis Fox. Shortly after the purchase Chartair merged with British American Air Services which was running freight services from Bovingdon using Halifaxes.
In the beginning the majority of work consisted of engine purchase and overhaul, especially in connection with the Bristol Hercules which was the powerplant for the Halifax which itself was becoming the workhorse of small cargo firms. One batch of engines destined for scrapping at International Alloys in Aylesbury, (but actually a brand new contract completion batch), was purchased at minimal cost and following an inspection by a D Licensed engineer bought in from BOAC was then sold on at great profit. Within just a few months the company had rapidly organised its resources to a point where Halifax, Dakota, Consul and Rapide airframe overhaul and repair was well under way as well as overhaul of Hercules, Cheetah and Gipsy engines.



Thomas Cholmondeley Tapper and Margaret Watson shortly after their wedding in 1945.


This photograph was taken in 1950 and shows very well how the airfield had been extended during the war. The remains of Windmill Road can be seen as a 'parch' mark across the centre of the airifield. Several Halifax bombers can be seen outside Airtech's premises. Compare this shot to that in the chapter on wartime gliding at Haddenham.

Airtech and consequently the airfield itself rapidly became one of the largest centres of its kind in Europe. Aircraft were coming from all over for regular maintenance and aircraft surplused from the RAF were bought in for overhaul before going to such firms as BAAS, SANA (a French cargo operator), Trans-Air (Belgian) and even the Pakistan Air Force. Airtech became so large that they had their own design and production departments which had ARB approval to design whole aircraft up to 5,000 lb. in weight. However their main claim to fame was the design, production and fitting of freight panniers into the bomb-bay of the Halifax. This would give a very large increase in the internal space without much weight increase to the airframe. (A pannier was tried on a Lancaster but this caused aerodynamic instability and so was not continued with). BAAS were a typical freight only carrier with ad hoc charters all over Europe. Soft fruit was a major money spinner with apricots and grapes from Spain and greengages and bilberries from France being typical loads. Textiles from Milan were also a major earner.

In 1948 the salvation of many a small cargo carrier came about when ‘Operation Plainfare’ - the Berlin Airlift - started. The Russians had blockaded all land routes into the city and the only way to keep Berlin going was to supply everything from flour to coal by air. Even fuel oil had to be brought in by air and again Airtech came up with the solution in the form of the 1,500 gallon fuel tanks from road tankers (supplied by the Regent Oil Company) again put into the space formerly occupied by the bomb-bay. BAAS had two Halifaxes in use and before too long both were converted at Haddenham into tankers. They would do regular runs into Berlin from Schleswigland from January 1949 until July and in fact completed 564 tanker missions before being withdrawn from the lift. However, after the Airlift was over it was too costly to re-convert both tankers back to normal freight configuration and so only G-AIAR continued in service. In fact this very aircraft was the last Halifax to use Haddenham in August of 1950.

   A very nice photo of the 1,500 gallon fuel tank installation on a Halifax undertaken in 10 days for the Berlin Airlift. Supplied by Robin Potter by way of Alan Rose of the Haddenham Museum

Probably the most well-known photo of Airtech's work. Nine Halifax and one Lancastrian outside the factory and one Dakota just poking it's nose out of the hangar doors. Taken in 1948.
The diagram below gives the layout of Airtech's hangars and workshops.

After the Berlin Airlift Airtech’s main business of Halifax conversion died a quick death and more diverse work was taken on. Dakotas became a speciality with many arriving for Certificates of Airworthiness and work such as fire-protection kits. Included among these were three for Fairey Surveys Ltd which were fitted with camera hatches etc. for mapping work. (G-ALWC was delivered to Fairey’s at White Waltham on 16th August 1950 and ended its days at Toulouse in 1987 !).
At this time they also worked on two original DC-3’s (as compared to ex-military C-47 or Dakotas). Both of these went to Starways at Liverpool/Speke Airport. (G-AJDC and G-AJDG were both delivered to American Airlines in 1940 ending their days in the Sixties, ‘DC in the Congo after serving with the United Nations and ‘DG in Colombia.) Gordon Harris was offered a ride in one of these during a test flight but it was cancelled when the heating system failed and filled the plane with steam!
Airtech’s aviation engineering work continued for some years, in fact until the end of regular piston engined airliner use, before they diversified into other areas such as installing radios and other electronics into army vehicles. They remained on the airfield until the 1990’s.

Airtech's engine test shed. The photo was taken just before it was demolished. The structure had amazing sound deadening qualities even in this state. Mike Clark, now CFI of the Upward Bound Trust, can be seen standing on the actual bed where the engines were fixed.

A shot taken from a glider overflying the Airtech factory in the 1980's.


Front and back pages of an Airtech brochure supplied by Robin Potter by way of Alan Rose of the Haddenham Museum.

A photo of an Airtech Ltd company Christmas Card. Date unknown but probably 1947 or 1948.
Note the reference to the control tower callsign and radio frequency.

Supplied by Barry Blight, a Thame resident, via e-mail.

I have enlarged the photo part below to better show the aircraft and factory. Hiding between the buildings can be seen a DC3 and in various states of disrepair are five Halifax's and what may be an Avro Anson in the background.

Note the very small size of the village, especially the lack of any houses between the High Street and the railway line.


In The Beginning




Glider Training




Ferry Pilots


Closing Down


Airtech Ltd


Motorcycle Racing


Arms Smuggling etc


Upward Bound

Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Links, Files Etc


©Copyright Peter Chamberlain, 2009, 2010, 2011