Dunsfold Aerodrome began its life on 11 May 1942, when the First Canadian Army – mainly the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Engineers – began construction of an emergency airfield. After just 20 weeks the site was officially handed over to the Royal Canadian Air Force, on 16 October 1942. Between 1942 and 1945 a variety of aircraft operated from Dunsfold, including B-25 Mitchell bombers, Typhoons, Mustangs, Mosquitoes and Spitfires.
After the war the aerodrome was used as a repatriation centre and over 47,000 prisoners of war were returned to their homelands using Dakota, Lancaster, Stirling & Halifax aircraft. Skyways Ltd, a charter airline, leased the aerodrome and subsequently played a significant part in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. Skyways also used the aerodrome to refurbish, test fly and deliver Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft for the Portuguese Air Force.
General Eisenhower at Dunsfold Aerodrome, 1944
When Skyways went into voluntary liquidation in 1950, the Hawker Aircraft Company Ltd (today part of BAE Systems) acquired the lease. The company moved into Dunsfold, using the aerodrome as a flight test centre for its parent factory at Kingston, testing and refurbishing Sea Hawks, Hunters, Sea Furies, Gnats, Harriers and Hawks for worldwide markets. It also supported British military actions overseas for five decades.
A number of milestones were recorded at the site, such as in May 1953 when Test Pilot Neville Duke broke the sound barrier at an average of 727.63 miles per hour (mach 0.92 at sea level) and held the world speed record in a prototype Hunter Mk3. In October 1960 the forerunner of the Harrier Jump Jet made its first tethered flight at the aerodrome, which led to its first conventional flight in November of the same year. Until 2000, when BAE Systems ceased activity at the aerodrome, all derivatives of the Harrier family of aircraft evolved from Dunsfold.