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RNAS Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus)

Royal Naval Air Station Lee-on-Solent (HMS Daedalus) was one of the primary shore airfields of the Fleet Air Arm. First established as a seaplane base in 1917 during the First World War, it later became the main training establishment and administrative centre of the Fleet Air Arm. Situated near Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire, approximately four miles west of Portsmouth on the coast of the Solent at , the establishment has now been closed down.


Naval aviation began at Lee-on-Solent on 30 July 1917 when the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) opened the Naval Seaplane Training School as an extension to the seaplane training station at nearby Calshot. Initially, aircraft had to be transported from their temporary hangars to the top of the nearby cliff, then lowered by crane onto a trolley which ran on rails into the sea. Permanent hangars, workshops, accommodation and a new double slipway were soon constructed, however.

RAF Base

On 1 April 1918, the RNAS combined with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to form the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Lee-on-Solent Naval Seaplane Training School became an RAF station. Naval aviation training continued throughout the 1920s under the RAF with both Calshot and Lee-on-Solent providing training in operating seaplanes - initially using the wartime Short Type 184s and, from late 1921, the new Fairey IIID. On 1 April,1924, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force was formed, encompassing those RAF units that normally embarked on aircraft carriers and fighting ships (including those at shore bases such as Lee-on-Solent).

In 1931 the first grass airstrip at Lee was constructed to the west of the town, Lee-on-Solent became HQ RAF Coastal Area, and a major rebuilding programme ensued. On 14 July,1936, an expanded RAF Coastal Area became RAF Coastal Command, with the HQ remaining at Lee-on-Solent. With the expansion of the RAF during the 1930s, however, Parliament decided that the Fleet Air Arm should transfer to the Admiralty. As a consequence, on 24 May,1939, HQ RAF Coastal Command moved to Northwood and Lee-on-Solent was commissioned as HMS Daedalus, becoming Headquarters of Flag Officer Air (Home).

RN Fleet Air Arm

Post RN use

In 2003 it was the subject of much controversy over the proposal to re-use it as a refuge for asylum-seekers.

In March 2006 the site was split, with ownership of the central area including the runways transferred to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who have continued to use it as a base for their air sea rescue helicopters. Hampshire Constabulary's fixed wing aircraft have also continued to use the airfield. The outlying areas, including the former accommodation and technical area and surrounding land, hangars, and dispersals, were transferred to the

In April 2006, Gosport and Fareham Borough Councils issued a stating that "There should be provision of leisure and community facilities which could complement existing facilities to the benefit of local residents" and "Future development should seek to maximise the benefit of the existing runways for general and private aviation use.".

In April/May 2006, whilst conducting repairs to the runway, building crews discovered an unexploded pipe bomb, of over 60 feet long, placed underneath the runway by the military, designed to cripple the airfield's operational capabilities in the event of a German invasion. The bomb (along with 19 others subsequently discovered) was scheduled to be removed in September 2006. The work was completed on 24 October 2006.

During its RN ownership the airfield had been used for a variety of groups, including the The Lee Bees Model Flying Club, The Tigers Children's Motorcycle Display Team and two flying schools, and a number of privately owned aircraft were based at the airfield. When the RN moved out in 1996, operational management of the airfield was taken over by Hampshire Police Air Support Unit (HPASU). This management has continued to the present day, with HPASU being tenants of the MCA, which is an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport.

On acquiring their land SEEDA stated “The lack of availability of serviced employment land and new business space has been identified as an important requirement in South Hampshire. Our intention is that development of the site will focus on new aviation and marine related businesses, exploiting access to the existing runways and the Solent. Plans are to create a quality business location that will attract inward investment and provide accommodation for start-up, growing and established businesses.” Aviation-related businesses, including an aircraft maintenance organisation, a microlight aircraft manufacturer and a flying school, became tenants of SEEDA in 2006, as did the owners of around 50 aircraft based on the site.

The aerodrome is strategically important. The growth of commercial air transport at Southampton Airport some years ago left it with no capacity for general aviation (GA) aircraft. This leaves Lee-on-Solent as the only airfield in southern Hampshire with a hard runway available for general aviation; the nearest alternative in Hampshire being Farnborough Airfield.

On 18 October 2007, users were given 30 days notice by the Airfield Manager that the aerodrome would be closed to all existing users except MCA, HPASU and PNGC from 16 November 2007. The closure was postponed at the last minute but, after a second postponement, is still due to close - on 14 May 2008. This has subsequently been extended indefinitely on the understanding that PNGC will implement new safety features primarily a dedicated air to ground radio system. is challenging the closure decision.

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