In 1901 Lord Moore-Brabazon and his Royal Aero Club set up in Leysdown to popularise balloon flying, this led to the area being used as the very first airfield in England.
In early 1909 Mr Griffith Brewer and Sir C.S. Rolls, one of the co-founders of Rolls-Royce, bought four hundred acres of land at Muswell Manor, Frank McClean paid for the land to be converted into an airfield, this was to be the first airfield in the United kingdom. It was around this time Shorts Brothers came to Muswell Manor, they set up the first true aircraft factory in the UK.
Later on that year the aerodrome moved to Eastchurch, Shorts Brothers and the aero club joined them there. Wright Brothers visited the aerodrome and chose the Shorts Brothers factory to build six planes under UK licence, they liked the site as it was isolated and reduced the risk of the work being spied on. The planes were called Wright Flyer Aircraft.
The modern flying boat owes a lot to the pioneering works of the Shorts Brothers. They experimented and designed ship-planes, floatplanes and seaplanes. The seaplanes were taken from Eastchurch to Queenborough by road where they were launched. Their plane Short 184 was the first plane to sink a vessel using an aircraft launched torpedo.
Also in 1909 Lord Moore-Brabazon flew 5Km in a Voisin Pusher, leaving from Leysdown. He also won £1000 from the Daily Mirror for being the first British pilot to fly the fist circular mile in a British plane, the plane was a Shorts no.2. Lord Moore-Brabazon was the first person to fly a live cargo plane, he strapped a wastebasket to the planes wing and put a small pig, names Icarus II, and air lifted it. In 1910 he received the first ever pilot licence in this country, it was awarded by the Royal Aero Club, the second one going to Sir C.S. Rolls .
Lieutenant J.W. Dunne arrived in Sheppey the same year and asked the Shorts Brothers to build him a plane by his own design, it was to be a tailless bi-plane with V shaped wings. It was flown from Eastchurch to Paris in 1913 and some of the technology has been used recently for the Concorde and stealth planes.
In 1910 Sir Frank McClean offered to loan the Royal Navy planes to train officers to fly, the offer was accepted. The Admiralty had asked for volunteers who wished to learn to fly, two hundred unmarried officers applied even though it was on condition they would never command a warship and they would pay for any planes they crashed. Four officers were chosen and sent to Eastchurch in 1911. Their training led to Eastchurch Aerodrome becoming the first Military Flying School. One of the volunteers, Lieutenant Charles Samson became the first person to take off from a war ship and the first person to take off from a moving ship in 1912.
Eastchurch Aerodrome held an annual race in 1911, people could watch the race from Stanford Hill.
During WWI the Aerodrome became the founding station of the Royal Naval Air Force, during this time Commander Samson conducted trials of bomb dropping sights and equipment, he also attempted to perfect landing at night without any lights. He went on to be involved in the first strategic bombing mission on German Zeppelin Sheds in 1914. It was during this war Sir Winston Churchill learnt to fly here.
In December1939 the aerodrome became a Polish training centre and by March it had 1300 Polish airmen billeted there. The airfield was bombed frequently during the war starting on Eagle Day, the first day of the Battle of Britain. Eighty German aircraft set out for Sheppey, fifty of these aircraft got through resulting in 12 people killed, 24 seriously injured and many grounded aircraft destroyed. Due to the obvious vulnerability the aerodrome was turned into a training station for gunnery and wireless.
The aerodrome closed in 1950 and was given to the home office for the building of a prison, due to this some buildings remain, you can find a WWI store, six hangars from 1911, aircraft workshops from 1912 and a WWII hanger.
There is a memorial to commemorate the home of British aviation in Eastchurch opposite All Saints Church. There is also a memorial window in All Saints church dedicated to C.S. Rolls and Cecil Grace, both killed in flying accidents.