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Pembroke Dock possesses two important and related claims to fame when it comes to flying, albeit flying in contrasting contexts: flying boats and the Millennium Falcon!

A current ferry port and a former naval dockyard isn’t the first place you might think about visiting if you were interested in the history and heritage of flying. But Pembroke Dock possesses two important and related claims to fame when it comes to flying, albeit flying in contrasting contexts.

The two forms of flying heritage revolve around the same location, namely the massive hangars built in the first place to house Royal Air Force flying boats, which were stationed in Pembroke Dock from 1930 onwards. The RAF’s base in Pembroke Dock grew throughout the decade. By 1943, 99 Sunderland and Catalina flying boats were housed in these hangars and they played a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Indeed, during this period, Pembroke Dock was the largest flying boat base in the world.

Jump forward to 1979 and the same hangars played a crucial role in enabling another kind of flight; namely the construction of arguably the most famous space ship from the Star Wars franchise, Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon. The space ship may have notably completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs but it beginnings were far humbler; in a large shed in a port town in West Wales! For the first film in the series – first in terms of production date – a mock-up of the Millennium Falcon was used but by the time that filming had started for the second film, The Empire Strikes Back, it was decided to create a life-sized model of the ship. Due to the size of the old flying boat hangars and due to the expertise of local engineering company Marcon Fabrications in producing large metal items for the oil facilities at nearby Milford Haven, Pembroke Dock was chosen as the site to build the famous space ship.

Luckily for visitors to Pembroke Dock, there are physical reminders of the role that the town has played in the history of flight. The massive Western Sunderland Hangar – where the flying boats were housed and where the Millennium Falcon was constructed – is still standing on Admiralty Way, the main approach road for cars and coaches to embark the Pembroke Dock to Rosslare ferry. The hangar can also be viewed from the deck of the Pembroke Dock to Rosslare ferry on the southern side of the estuary.

And for those wanting to discover a little more about the history of Pembroke Dock’s role, both in the second world war and in a Hollywood blockbuster, additional information can be found in Pembroke Dock Heritage Centre. The Heritage Centre is located in the impressive old Dockyard Chapel on Meyrick Owen Way, handily located once again on the approach to the ferry terminal. The Heritage Centre is run by the Sunderland Trust and contains a large display of the role played by flying boats during the second world war. And, for Star Wars geeks, it also contains a display explaining Pembroke Dock’s role in facilitating another kind of flying; a fictional one in a galaxy far, far away…

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