IN the 1930s powered flight was still in its infancy, so the sight of Cobham’s Flying Circus was a thrilling spectacle in the skies above Bolton.

This band of intrepid aviators, known as Barnstormers and led by former test pilot Alan Cobham, enthralled the public with their stunning aerobatics.

Bolton folk were able to get a close-up view of these magnificent men in their flying machines when they landed in a farmer’s field at Lostock , drawing huge crowds.

And this was the start of a fascinating story that was to link Bolton to the national war efforts in the skies above Europe.

As the war clouds loomed and it became inevitable that the Germans were set for a fight, the Government started making plans.

In 1936, secret talks were held with Geoffrey De Havilland, one of Britain's leading aviation pioneers, who had gone on to found one of the country's largest and most successful aircraft engineering companies.

A programme of re-armament was to be implemented and De Havilland’s company would be vital to the country’s war effort. But there was concern that all his company's production facilities were in the London area and would be vulnerable to German bombing raids.

The De Havilland company was asked to co-operate in the building and operating of “shadow” facilities, to be located in lower-risk areas of the country. And the farmer’s field in Lostock was chosen as the site for the back-up propeller production plant.

And that is where Alan Cobham came in. He had been De Havilland’s test pilot in the 1920s and he remembered the Bolton field.

What followed next was an amazing show of strength by the council and local people as work started in March, 1937.

By August, the factory was up and running, making propellers — even though the building was still a shed with no windows.

By Christmas, the complete propellers were rolling off the production line.

Fast forward to the Second World War. In just six weeks in 1940, the site made 1,051 constant speed conversion kits for Spitfires and Hurricane fighters in urgent preparation for the Battle of Britain.

In all, 77,000 propellers were produced during the war.

The Lostock site was to play a vital role in the war effort with thousands of propellers produced for the RAF, including many for the legendary Spitfire.

And now David Kaye is bringing all the history together for a special talk.

He said: “I’m a long-time member of our marvellous local history society, Horwich Heritage.

“Our cherished Loco Works railway heritage continues to have a major focus in our group’s activities and rightly so, as Horwich Heritage was formed with the key purpose of perpetuating our very special railway story.

“But it struck me that rarely have we turned the spotlight on the major aeronautical engineering factory just a couple of miles away, and which has its own tremendous story to tell.”

Mr Kaye was an apprentice in the renowned De Havilland Aeronautical Training School at Lostock, which for years had a regular annual intake of more than 130 apprentices, from 1959 to 1964.

He is asking readers who may have worked at the Lostock factory — which once employed more than 4,000 Bolton people — if they have any material, such as company magazines and photographs, for donation or loan, which might help him prepare for his presentation in October.

Mr Kaye added: “The purpose of appealing to former, and present, Lostock employees for information is two-fold.

“Firstly, we need to assemble material which may potentially be used in the presentation, but secondly to expand the volume of archive material about the Lostock site held at Horwich Heritage.

“It is currently rather modest, especially when compared with the railway works archive material which has been assembled over the years.”

Mr Kaye also has another link with the company, as he is involved with Wingates Band which, from 1984 to 1990, was sponsored by British Aerospace at Lostock. The band travelled extensively to help promote the company’s products.

The De Havilland Aircraft Company later became Hawker Siddeley, then British Aerospace and, latterly, MBDA Missile Systems Ltd, which occupies the site today and still employs 300 people.

In post-war years, although propeller production continued for several decades, the factory became known for its production of a wide portfolio of high-tech missile systems, which have contributed to the nation's defence, as well as earning millions in export revenues.

Post-war production included propellers and parts for commercial aircraft such as the famous Comet, the first British-built passenger jet. The site had the largest machine shop in Europe, servicing the needs of all three UK armed services.

Mr Kaye’s talk, “Propellers and Projectiles”, reflecting the two main product groups for which the Lostock site is best known, will be given to the Horwich Heritage Group on Tuesday, October 9.

He can be contacted on 01204 696984 or by e-mailing