RAF Nutts Corner was a Royal Air Force station in County Antrim near Belfast. It was originally a civil airfield, then a military base and subsequently Northern Ireland’s main civil airport until the 1960s.
During World War II it was an important Coastal Command station and was also used as a transport hub for aircraft arriving from the United States. No. 120 Squadron operated B-24 Liberator maritime patrol bombers from the base from 1941.
Northern Ireland civil flights began around 1920 from Aldergrove, what is now Belfast International Airport, approximately 10km away from Nutts Corner. The province’s first London service began from Nutts Corner in 1934.
Civil operations were largely abandoned at both Nutts Corner and RAF Aldergrove during the Second World War.
In 1946 civil air operations were transferred from Belfast Harbour Airport (now the George Best Belfast City Airport) to RAF Nutts Corner due to the longer runways available at that airfield. Other reasons included the limited space available at Belfast for expansion and the danger associated with the obstacles present around Belfast harbour, for example cranes. Other sites were studied as possible alternative civil airports, for example RAF Long Kesh, Lisburn. The advantage of choosing Nutts Corner was the large amount of existing hardstanding which was necessary for civil aircraft movements. The former RAF station then became known as Belfast-Nutts Corner Airport.
Nutts Corner was the site of the worst air disaster in Northern Ireland. On 5 January 1953 a BEA Vickers Viking G-AJDL crashed after striking landing lights and then a building at the airfield, killing 27 people out of 35 on board.
On 23 October 1957 a BEA Vickers Viscount G-AOJA crashed at the airport, killing all seven on board.
By the end of the 1950s the comparatively steep approach necessary for aircraft flying to Nutts Corner was deemed unsuitable. This was due to the location of the airport, close to the Belfast mountains and the obstacles located there, particularly transmitters and aerials. Another factor was the fact that of Nutts Corner’s three runways, only one was suitable for modern aircraft. Aldergrove’s two perpendicular runways made operations possible there even if conditions (particularly wind) changed dramatically. The decision to restore civil flights to Aldergrove was taken in July 1959. The move was made official in September 1963 and a month later the present terminal was opened.