The History of 621VGS

Home Command Logo

No 87 GS, as it then was, started operating in the spring of 1943 at Weston - Super - Mare airfield. It was opened under the command of a Prince Bira, who was an exiled member of the Thailand royal family (Although never recognized as the schools CO). He started initial instructor training and the first Cadets started in the July of that year.

After the war the tenure on Weston Airfield looked doubtful so a search was started to find a new airfield. At the same time a Sqn Ldr A Phillips was looking for a replacement airfield for his instructor courses (In the late 1940's, the Gliding schools were organised into Groups within the 'Home Command', the Southwest being 62 Group. Sqn Ldr Phillips was the District Gliding Officer for 62 Gp and was running Instructor courses for his area at Charmy Down airfield (Just to the North of Bath). He was particuly looking for a Hilltop site because he believed that soaring would help increase the standard of the Instructors.

Both these searches came together in a field above Draycott on the Mendip hills. This became known as Halesland. To go into the History of Halesland would take many pages but I am sure for those of us who have been in the organisation a long time Halesland holds many memories. The Air cadets abandoned the site in 1985; it was thought the new GRP gliders could not cope with the rough ground and size of the field. It was taken over by the Woodspring Gliding Club (now Mendip GC) who has operated very successfully since we left

50th Anniversary Print
Picture Commissioned for the School's 50th Anniversary

As it turned out the tenure at Weston was secure and 87 GS stayed at Weston with advanced and Instructor courses being carried out at Halesland. During the 1950's a rationalization was carried out which seen the demise of many Gliding Schools and the mergers of others. With this came the change of numbers. Fortunately 87 GS were not closed or merged and so 87 became 621 GS. These new numbers reflecting which Group the Gliding School's were in, 62 group, hence 621 Gliding School.

In 1960 the concept of only having advanced courses at Halesland was dropped and the 27 Gliding Schools around the country would have the opportunity to have a week visit each summer. The administration of Halesland then came under 621 GS who would ensure it was ready for the summer and close up at the end.

When 87 GS first started, there was a Bessineux Hangar and two Nissen Huts, no electricity, no Toilets and only gas for heating and lighting. This was still the same 40 years later! Then a purpose built hut with all modern conveniences was erected and is still standing to this day.

621 VGS staff photo from 1976 at Weston
A photo sent in from David Townend. The photo was taken in Weston in 1976!! Spot any vintage members?
In the picture are: Kevin Burns, Dave Woolcock, Dave Jones, Darol Mansbridge, Paul Upham, Alan Wintle, Jeff Beard, Ron Regan, John Stride and Hewitt Alford.

As we moved through the 1980's everybody was used to hearing the long grass 'pinging' the struts on the Mk 3's as we landed and sometimes having to dodge the hale bales. The Vikings brought the grass length into context and many a summer followed with no flying waiting for the farmers to cut the grass.

After the new building was completed the tenure of the airfield started to change. The MoD sold the airfield to Westland Helicopters but ensured the Gliding School had a lease for the buildings and right of access to the airfield. This was fine until Westlands started to have a few problems and they started to decrease their operations at Weston. Eventually they sold the airfield to a development company who had great plans to turn it into a theme park. This did not come about because the company went bust and the airfield was put into receivership. This carried on over many years until the Gliding schools position became untenable because there was no work being done and the grass was not being cut. Because the Gliding School was sitting tenants the airfield could not be sold on by the receivers, so they wanted us out. So at the beginning of 1993 the decision was made to move us to Hullavington although a special request was made and granted to leave us at Weston until the summer so the school could celebrate its 50th Anniversary at the same airfield at which it started.

Several attempts were made to find an alternative site during the late eighties, namely Merryfield and Keevil. We spent two weekends at Merryfield (Satellite airfield to RNAS Yeovilton), on our own, to assess it's suitability. It is a superb airfield, big, flat, grass kept short, no obstructions and no restricted airspace, But very unfriendly neighbors. At a public meeting held to discuss the move, many of the residents, living next to the airfield, objected to the gliders flying over their properties. They claimed they would be noisy and intrusive, the Navy believed them and blocked the move. On the 27th June 1993 the last flight took place from Weston. After 50 years there are many memories and stories but we have to look to the future and two weeks later the adventure started at Hullavington.

When Hullavington became available, it was decided to move 625 VGS from South Cerny into Hullavington as well as 621 because 625 were themselves having airfield problems. Hullavington was big enough to take the joint operation and the camp was very willing to support the two schools. At that time the camp was being transferred from RAF command to the Army (9 Supply Regiment).

As the years progressed the school became much more productive because of the size and well-kept surface of the airfield and this has enabled the staff numbers to grow. The school was rewarded for this far greater efficiency by winning the Sir Arthur Marshall Trophy for best Winch launch school in 1994 and 1999. The links between the school and the Regiment continue to improve and the support they give to the school is good. There is a concerted effort to spend money and improve the facilities at Hullavington, so the future looks secure and hopeful.

In 2003 the school celebrated its 60th anniversary, with a visit from HRH Duke of York. Prince Andrew first flew solo with the Air Cadets in a Sedburgh, and 621 managed to track down the very aircraft - WB922.

New Squadron Badge

In 2006 the Air Cadet Gliding Schools became Squadrons and so 621 Volunteer Gliding Squadron designed an updated squadron badge.

There cannot be many service units that have continually operated for 60 years, that have staff who have dedicated their time and expertise, for some, over 30 years. But we look towards the future, to the next 60 years because who else is going to inspire, train and put Air into the Air Cadets of tomorrow.

In April 2014 a decision was made by 2FTS to pause Air Cadet gliding whilst an "Airworthiness Issue" was resolved. It soon became apparent that this wasn't going to be a quick fix. This came in the middle of an Easter Course and would be the last time the squadron operated from Hullavington airfield.

The MOD sold Hullavington Airfield to Mr Dyson for conversion to an industrial use. The MOD therefore needed to find a new location for the VGS. In March 2016 the future of Air Cadet gliding was announced in Parliment. 17 of the 27 VGS were to be disbanded - 621 VGS survived. The squadron kit was moved into storage at RAF Little Rissington, home of 637 VGS, by the end of 2016.

637 VGS had also survived the cuts and became home to remaining staff from several other disbanded Vigilant units, with 621 VGS embedded to bring their knowledge of winch launch operations whilst a permenant home was found. Aircraft finally arrived in Feburary 2017 and flying commenced.

In October 2018 it was confirmed that 621 VGS would be based permenantly at RAF Little Rissington along side 637 VGS and that the OC, Sqn Ldr Dave Woolcock MBE, would stand down at the end of the year.