Fleet Air Arm and RAF History & Timeline

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Fairey III 1935 Lee on Solent

Summary History

By the end of the World War 2 the strength of the Fleet Air Arm possessed 56 air stations all over the world, the most important was the headquarters of HMS Daedalus at Lee on Solent, with its airfield, bordering the Solent opposite the Isle of Wight and a slipway into the sea. She was first established in the First World War in 1917 by the Admiralty, and was subsequently transferred to the RAF in 1918.

Bristol Bailey seaplane   1917
Walrus                              1944
Sea Fury FB.11                1950
Firefly 5 1951                   1951
Whirlwind HAR.3            1955
Sea Balliol T.21               1956-58
Sea Vampire T.22     1957-62
Sea Princess T.1        1957-59
Sea Hawk FGA.6      1960-63
Tiger Moth T.2         1968
Whirlwind HAR.9     1972-77
Wessex HU.5            1977-88

On the formation of the Fleet Air Arm under the Admiralty the air station was returned to the Royal Navy on 24 May 1939 as HMS Daedalus and played an important role during the Second World War. Post war she continued to play a significant role, being renamed HMS Ariel on 31 October 1959 to reflect her electrical, radar and ground training emphasis, and in 1962 the joint Service Hovercraft Unit was formed with the aim of testing hovercraft in an operational military environment, and soon after the Air Station revert to the name HMS Daedalus on 5 October 1965. She was finally paid off from the Royal Navy on 29 March 1996.

1917-1996 - Aviation squadrons at Lee-on-Solent

See also aircraft manufacturing in Hampshire, 1900-2000
As of 2001, the airfield was still alive with the search and rescue helicopters of HM Coastguards/Bristows, along with the Defender 4000 of the Hampshire Police Air Unit, aircraft of three glider clubs, along with Hughes aviation and the Catalina Restoration company.  The former air station is also occupied by the Hovercraft Museum Trust and a dozen companies. The MOD took the site off the market in 2001 and is currently looking into its possible re-use by the three services.
Daedalus Roll of Honour - Daedalus personalities and memories - 1917-2001

See the Daedalus Roll of Honour and personal recollections page

Daedalus time-line 1917-2001

Origin of the name "Daedalus"


1917  - The beginning of naval aviation at Lee on Solent


1920 - Birth of the RAF aerodrome and of Gosport training

1930s - Heyday of  the RAF Airfield & the world speed record

1939 - HMS Daedalus, headquarters of the Fleet Air Arm

Sept. 1939 - War Declared and the Phoney war

1940 - Dark days of Dunkirk, Battle of Britain and the Blitz

1942 - Channel defence - and the Channel Dash, 1941-1942

1943 - Preparing for the offensive in Europe, 1943

1944 - Normandy, D-Day, 1944

1945 - Supporting the forgotten war and finally VJ-Day

1940s - Daedalus, the first helicopters and last of the seaplanes

1950s - Becoming HMS Ariel, a ground training establishment

1960s - Naval Hovercraft Trials Unit/HMS Daedalus rebirth

1970-80s - Arrival of Mechanical Engineering School

1990s - 50th Anniversary of D-Day and final days of Daedalus


2001-2002 - Current use of the establishment