A ten-seater airliner leaves Ryde for Portsmouth and London.
WIGHT LIVING THE Wall Street Crash could not bring down plans for an air link between Portsmouth and Ryde — but a few years later a Labour government managed it.
In the late 1920s and early 30s, "air mindedness" was de rigueur. It seemed anyone who still had the means was buttoning up a flying jacket, pulling on leather gloves and donning a white scarf and flying helmet.
There were speed contests and record-breaking flights.
It was a time when all eyes were on the sky.
Passenger links were being put in place all over to capitalise on the novelty of affordable air transport. One such link is now little known — the Spithead Express, between Ryde Airport and Portsmouth.
Wednesday marks the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Express passenger delivery service which, at its peak, whisked 42,000 people a year across The Solent in just ten minutes. There were 25 return flights each day between Westridge and Pompey.
It was entrepreneur Lionel Balfour who the Island had to thank for its high-speed link. There were pleasure flights around the Island, too.
Today, Historic Ryde Society has his son, Christopher, to thank for the memorabilia, now preserved for posterity in its archives.
Black and white photographs, full of atmosphere, posters and advertisements and a taxi rank sign flagging up the link to the airfield have all been donated by Mr Balfour, from Winchester.
The material is included in the society’s exhibition to mark the anniversary and its burgeoning collection of Ryde photographs now numbers more than 5,000.
The air service operated successfully from 1932 until September 1939, when war intervened. In those times, a familiar sight at Ryde Airport were Howard and Len Shore, who provided the taxi service to and from Ryde Esplanade and helped out with passenger handling at the airport, such was the folksy nature of air transport in those early days. The image of Howard and Len and the actual taxi sign survive, although the airport watering hole, the Happy Landings Cafe, on Ryde Esplanade, does not, in that name at least.
At the outbreak of war, Express aircraft were requisitioned for military use and moved to Cardiff. Ryde Airport’s strip was blocked to prevent enemy landing after closure on September 3, 1939, and was only briefly to re-open.
Lionel Balfour had a post-war Portsmouth Aerocar project to create a purpose-built car-of-the-skies for the route but his hopes were dashed when a major contract for manufacture in India was curtailed by the partition of the sub-continent.
Also, Ryde Airport remained unused for some time after the Second World War through government restrictions, in its desire to create nationalised airline BOAC. Ministers made it clear Portsmouth-Ryde had fallen off their transport map.
Mr Balfour said: "Thanks to the Heritage Ryde Society, there is now more awareness of the airport.
"It is good if people realise how they all wanted to start again after the war — my father and his partners, Portsmouth Corporation and Ryde Council — plus the money being available via a proposed partnership with Southern Railway.
"It was the government that prevented it happening."
Ryde Airport was officially re-opened on May 6, 1950, for private flying and charter operations but its moment had passed.
It was not viable without its backbone air service and the land was sold in the late 1950s for development.
The terminal building, with its prominent central control tower, remained largely disused before it became the home of the La Babalu Club disco.
Creeping development of the Westridge site gradually enveloped the old terminal, leaving only
the central control tower visible, until it finally became a McDonalds.
Now there is no sign an airport, or terminal building, ever existed — except for the material in the Ryde District Heritage Centre beneath the Royal Victoria Arcade, in Union Street, and Christopher Balfour’s Solent Express book, which is for sale there.
They sit amid a treasure trove of material, much of it previously publicly unseen, in a museum created with a mixture of more than £100,000 of public and private cash, which is set to be officially opened by Prince Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, on July 3.
He would undoubtedly have flown into the town’s airport — if Ryde had been allowed to keep one.