Kai Tak Airport History

I was surprised at how far the old RAF Kai Tak hangar was from what I thought of as the airport area. So here is a sequence of maps and aerial photographs over the last 100 years or so, showing how the area has changed.

(The red arrow on each photo points to the hangar's location.)

1902 [1]

Kai Tak airport area

The area is mostly empty at this time, with just a few villages (the black areas are buildings), and not much in the way of roads. The main built-up area is Kowloon City. At the top left corner of that you should be able to see a triangle shape, pointing up to the top of a hill. That was the old wall that was part of the Chinese fortification in the area.

The Wright brothers wouldn't take to the air until the following year, so noone was thinking of airfields at this time. There had already been successful passenger flights though, with a passenger balloon taking off from Happy Valley in 1890. [2]

1924 [1]

Kai Tak airport area

In this 1924 map we can see several roads have been built, and the area that will become the airfield has already been reclaimed in the top right corner of the map. Oddly, it is marked out in a grid of streets, not runways. That's because the reclamation was carried out by the Kai Tak Investment Company, formed in 1922 by Mr. Ho Kai & Mr. Au Tak[3]. The goal was to build and sell housing on the new land, but they ran out money before the work could be finished.

1930 [4]

Kai Tak airport area

No big change in the shape of the land, but by 1930 the area Kai Tak is firmly in use as an airfield. There is a grass strip for light aircraft, and slipways for the larger seaplanes that would land and take off in Kowloon Bay. [2]

1944 [1]

Kai Tak airport area

This aerial photograph was taken by the US air force on one of the flights over Japanese-occupied Hong Kong. You can see the airfield is now much larger than it was in 1930. The expansion was conducted by the Japanese, with many of the Allied POW's used as labourers. When the work was complete, there were two concrete runways, one crossing the other.

I'd always believed that the expansion had been seawards, reclaiming land. There was some reclamation, especially in the southwest corner. But most of the new land appears to be in the northwest, extending the airfield further inland.

The black line curving around the western edge of the runway is the nullah, with a new road running along it's edge. Choi Hung Road still follows the same route today.

Just below the tip of the arrow is the hangar that we mentioned earlier, visible for the first time. Before the Japanese expansion, that area was nowhere near to the airfield. It suggests that the hangar was built during the expansion, and so was built by the Japanese.

1948

Kai Tak airport area

Moddsey sent in this copy of a landing chart from the 1940s, showing the two runways mentioned earlier. He writes:

Not a very clear map but one can see the access road to the hangar.

Note the crossing runways with the longer main runway in a southeasterly/northwesterly direction and the secondary runway in a west-south-westerly/east-southeasterly direction.

The main runway in a SE/NW direction was designated as Runway 13/31 and the secondary as Runway 07/25.
 
If one is landing or taking off in a south-easterly direction, one would be landing or taking off on Runway 13 and conversely the other way round would be Runway 31. The designation of 13 refers to the physical alignment of the runway in relation to north which approximately equates to a bearing of 130 degrees.
 
Due to terrain, Runway 13 was used for landings and take-offs whilst Runway 31 was only used for landings; Runway 07 was only used for arriving aircraft whilst Runway 25 was only used by departing aircraft.
 
There is no information at hand to indicate when did the RAF hangar at Tai Hom become disused. My guess would have probably been in the late 1940s when Government needed space to accommodate the growing influx of refugees from the Mainland.
 
There were two road crossing points with barrriers and bells to halt road traffic. From recollection, one was located on Clearwater Bay Rd (today's Choi Hung Rd) near the present day Kai Tak Nullah in San Po Kong and the other on Ma Tau Wai Rd near the present day Kowloon City roundabout.
 
Having said all that, one has to remember that post-war Kai Tak also functioned as a seadrome with Sunderlands, Catalinas etc landing and taking off from Kowloon Bay. It was indeed an interesting era!

1954 [1]

Kai Tak airport area

No big changes to the layout. The hangar is still just across the road from the northern boundary of the airport, but was it still in use?

if you look closely you'll see two small white crosses on the sea below the end of the runway. Those are two seaplanes.

1957 [4]

Kai Tak airport area

I guess the hangar was no longer considered part of the airfield at this point, as the road from the airfield to the northeast boundary no longer lines up with the road that passes the hangar.

The Japanese runway layout is still in use, but not for much longer, as the big reclamation is underway to build the new runway. It was major news at the time, and made the first page of the 1955 Hong Kong Annual Report:

The year also saw the start of work on a $110,000,000 project to revolutionize Kai Tak Airport by the construction of a 7,200-ft runway on an artificial promontary reclaimed from the sea and projecting out into the waters of Kowloon Bay. In danger of being knocked off the international airline map by reason of its airport being too small and dengerous for the Comet and the larger conventional airliners, Hong Kong has now taken steps to keep itself firmly on the map. The airport project, when completed in 1958, will provide, for the first time since aviation started in the Colony, facilities for day and night operation all the year round.

1990 [1]

Kai Tak airport area

This is the area as it was when I arrived in 1989. The northwest boundary of the airport, Prince Edward Rd East, is not so far away from the northwest boundary of the original airfield in the 1920s. The area above that, San Po Kong, was an industrial area, except for a small area to the east which housed the Blackdown Barracks.

Most of the area between the original coastline and the runway has been reclaimed, leaving the foul-smelling nullah between the two.

2008

Kai Tak airport area

Here's how it looks today. Although Kai Tak Airport has been closed for almost ten years, the area is still awaiting redevelopment. The latest plans propose a mix of residential and hotel accomodation, a large stadium, and two new cruise-ship terminals.


As always, please leave a comment if you have any information or memories to add, or any corrections to make.

MrB

References:

[1] Maps and aerial photos from the 'Mapping Hong Kong' book
[2] Kai Tak Air Traffic Control
[3] Kai Tak Airport 1925-1998
[4] Maps from Map Library in Central Library

Comments

Post-war Kai Tak

There is a second website that shows photos of HMS Nabcatcher. Some are duplicates of photos on the site moddsey mentioned above, but there look to be some extras too, like this map of the airfield:

http://www.hms-vengeance.co.uk/nabsw.htm

More photos here:

http://www.hms-vengeance.co.uk/monabhk1.htm 

Kai Tak in the 1950s

The last minute of the video, starting from 4:22, gives a good long-distance view of the old runways, and then moves in for a close-up of the terminal buildings and runway area:

Kai Tak in the 1950s

Nice long view of 1950s Kai Tak and the old runways from Kowloon Peak. However, the clip of the former Passenger Terminal Building (PTB), Observation Deck and scene of passenger embarkation were added in later. The PTB was opened in November 1962.

Pre-WWII Kai Tak

Here is a magnificent shot of Customs Pass (not Smugglers as indicated) and the old Sai Kung Road (later renamed Clearwater Bay Road) surrounding Kai Tak Airfield from Kowloon Peak probably taken in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Note the civil hangar at the western end of the aerodrome and Shatin Pass Road that veers right from the apex of Sai Kung Road. Unfortunately, the lady in the photograph is blocking the view of the RAF hangar on the eastern side of the airfield.

See my flickr upload about

See my flickr upload about the Longjin Bridge excavation in former Kai Tak Terminal building site.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/27747234@N04/3572841856/

Re: Longjin (Lung Tsun) Bridge & Kowloon City Landing Place

I have enjoyed your 'before and after' shots on Flickr.

Lung Tsun Bridge from the 1890s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the land extremity of the stone bridge was the Lung Tsun Pavilion (today's junction of Sa Po Road and Prince Edward Road East) which led to the South Gate entrance to Kowloon Walled City. At the seaward extremity of the bridge was a wooden pier (not in picture) for marine craft to berth alongside. The bridge and the wooden pier were removed for the land reclamation of Kai Tak in 1924 and 1942 respectively.

 

 

1964 Kai Tak

For those aviation buffs, a video in German of a Swissair CV-990 (Convair) making an approach to Kai Tak via Cheung Chau Island-Green Island-Stonecutters Island and over Kowloon can be seen here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z0boBiZi94&NR=1

Kai Tak and land reclaimation

I recently read a Chinese book on the history of Kai Tai and I am now interested in the history of the area. Where was the original shoreline of the Kowloon City area when Kowloon and New Territory became parts of the colony? How far was the Kowloon Wall City from the original shoreline? Where the shoreline when the Kai Tak company started land reclaimation to build residential housing? Was the nullah along side the Choi Hung road a natural river or a manmade channel? Is the industrial area in San Po Kong the original site of the first Kai Tak airport? The Japanese military forced POWs to level a hill and use the materials to reclaim more land and expand the airport. Where were that hill and new land reclaimed? The resettlement buildings in Lower Wong Tai Sin Estate were built in the 1950's. What were on that piece of land before the estate was built? Before WWII, there was a stone marker on a hill that was in honour of the last two emperors of Song Dynasty. The marker is called Song Wong Toi, literally the Terrace of the Song Kings. Where was that hill?

Re: Kai Tak and land reclaimation

Hi Lawrence,

Please refer to the 1902 map above. In the centre, there is a triangle that is linked to a square. Both shapes depict walls of the Kowloon Walled City. Immediately south of the walled city there was a densely populated street (Kowloon Street) that led to a pier (Lung Chun Pier 龍津埗頭).

I believe the first site of the Kai Tak Airport is the northeastern part of the 1998 Kai Tak Airport , i.e. around the Concorde Road area. The present-day San Po Kong industrial area became part of the airport during Japanese occupation.

The hill that was levelled by the Japanese was called Sacred Hill (see the 1930 map above). It is where the Sung Wong Toi rock was. The location is just east of the present-day Olympic Avenue.

Which book did you read?

Kai Tak restaurant

I remember hanging out in the restaurant of Kai Tak (before passing through customs and immigration) in the 1990s, but for the life of me can't remember the name. I had wood panneling or another type of brown interior and hadn't been remodeled in decades. Does anyone remember the name and know when it was built? I'm thinking it was either Tin Tin or the Seven Seas Restaurant, but am probably off on both. Thanks!

RE: Kai Tak restaurant

Is this it? : ) http://images3.jetphotos.net/img/1/7/4/9/92118_1046851947.jpg

I think it had a different name in the 1980s, but cannot say for sure.

Re Kai Tak Restaurant

Yes, Tin Tin was one of the Chinese restaurants at Kai Tak Airport.

In the 1990s, it was situated at the eastern end of the Passenger Terminal Building after the buidling's final phase of expansion. The restaurant chain had not served Kai Tak previously.

Kai Tak Restaurant

Thanks for the image! I think the restaurant I was thinking of was "Windows on the World", which is off to the right in the photo.

The Kai Tak runway extension

Looking at this photo, there was a wide 'bridge', where the runway crossed the nullah that runs along Choi Hung Road:

Then looking at Google's satellite view, it looks as though the 'bridge' is still there, where Tai Shing Street crosses the nullah.

Javascript is required to view this map.

Re: Kai Tak Runway Extension

Yes, the bridge is still there and Tai Shing Street was the location of the old main runway: http://gwulo.com/node/1832

1962 HAWKER CRASH

Steven , just stumbled on your message - from some years ago now .

But the crash you saw was a Hawker Hunter piloted by my wife's uncle David. It was a very sad story as he left a young son Drew.

The Pilots sister Anne is well and now lives in Australia . His brother Bill my wifes father sadly died af years ago.

I'm interested if you receive this message to hear if you can recall anything else and what you are now doing .

1962 HAWKER CRASH

Two images of microfilmed newsprint relating to the pilot's activities in December 1962 have been added to the "Photos" section

Kai Tak / MONAB - 1945

Message from Bob:

Purely by chance I bumped into this site which has pictures of Kai Tak in 1945

Pre 1941 Kai Tak Photos

This website  provides two excellent overhead photos of Kai Tak Aerodrome from pre-1941.

See here for the view of the civilian hangar, slipway and pontoon and here

for the view of the Kai Tak Reclamation (Bund), Kowloon City Police Station (at bottom), the civilian hangar (at centre), RAF hangar, slipway and buildings (far distance) and Sai Kung Road traversing Kowloon City.

 

Old RAF HQ

The Old RAF HQ Buildings in Choi Hung are now occupied by the Academy of Visual Arts, shown, rather confusingly on Centamap, under their old title "The HK Police Detective Training School".

The entrance at the top of a rather imposing granite staircase, is topped by the AVA's logo, but if you visit, look closely under their logo and there in bas-relief, is the RAF Crest complete with "Per Ardua ad Astra".

Officials at the AVA would prefer you write/phone them before going there but if you arrive without norice and plead "Father/Grandfather served here etc etc" you can usually be allowed to take a look round!

I would have liked to input a picture but I'm afraid I couldn't cope with the instructions! Is there not a simpler method of uploading pictures?

re: Old RAF HQ

Hi, that sounds like the Officers' Mess Building. We've got a few photos of it at: http://gwulo.com/node/7612, but any more you can add will be welcome. For starters just do these four steps:

  1. Click Create Image. Then on the next screen...
  2. Title: <Type in a few words to describe the photo>
  3. Image: <Choose the JPG / JPEG photo file on your hard disk that you want to upload>
  4. Scroll down, and click the "Save" button at the bottom of the screen

And the photo will be uploaded for all to see.

Regards, David