Can Pigs Really Fly?

Aviators Memorial and Four Hangers at Former RAF Eastchurch Aerodrome
Eastchurch, Isle of Sheppey, Kent

Listed: 2005 and 1978
Grade: II
NHLE entry: Listing details for hangars at former RAF Eastchurch and Listing details for Aviators Memorial

The site of the former RAF Eastchurch, on a flat, windswept area of Kent's Isle of Sheppey, can rightly claim to be the birthplace of British aviation. Today, the listed Aviators Memorial in the town pays homage to the original aviation pioneers who worked and played at the nearby Muswell Manor Aero Club. One of the site's particularly famous, and pioneering, flights took place at Eastchurch Aerodrome, where four listed RAF hangars built in 1912 still stand today.

A record-breaking pig and pilot

It was at the aerodrome that an aviation milestone was reached in 1909, just five years before aircraft became vital weapons of war. In that year, on Sunday 2 March, the very first flight by an Englishman from British soil took place.

J T C Moore-Brabazon was the brave pilot whose plane achieved 50 feet of powered flight, before becoming responsible for Britain's first plane crash. Luckily he walked away unharmed, and went on to win the Daily Mail prize of £1,000 for a mile-long flight around a measured circuit.

While preparing for that flight, he is rumoured to have heard a bystander comment that his succeeding was "as likely as a pig to fly". Six days later, he achieved the first recorded British cargo flight, carrying a piglet plucked from a local farm. The animal was securely tied into a wicker basket that was then attached to one of the struts of his aircraft, with a sign proclaiming: 'I AM THE FIRST PIG TO FLY.'

Moore-Brabazon went on to be awarded the very first British pilot licence in 1910, and in 1942, as a result of his work as Minister of Transport and Minister of Aircraft Production in the Second World War, he became the first Baron Brabazon of Tara.

Recognising historic significance

As well as the RAF hangars, the Aviators Memorial in Eastchurch is a daily reminder of the bravery displayed by early British pilots such as Moore-Brabazon. His name, alongside other aviators, designers and constructors of the first aeroplanes, are found on the bronze plaques hanging on the memorial's walls, which also carry the designs of some of the aircraft.

In addition to laying claim to being the site of the first flight with a pig, RAF Eastchurch was the location of Britain's first aircraft factory and its first aerodrome. Many early aircraft were built and flown from here before the airfield became the headquarters of the naval wing of the Royal Flying Corps.

While the site is now being used as a prison, the set of pre-First World War hangars are among the most historically significant structures associated with the pioneering phase of British powered flight to survive today. The RAF Eastchurch listings recognise the historical and group value of these places, as well as the wider importance of the Isle of Sheppey in the birth of aviation in Britain.