The 2014 NWFG Farm Strips Fly Out

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September 27, 2014

Saturday, September 27th, was the day of the Farm Strips Fly Out – as ever, a popular event in the NWFG fly out calendar.

This year the task of selecting suitable airfields fell to Malcolm who managed to come up with five very nice strips between the west of London and Bristol/Cheltenham most of which were new to most participating pilots.

With the weather gods smiling benignly on us (in fact almost too benignly – on a day when a bit of a headwind would help, the wind was to remain eerily calm all day) crews gathered at The Squadron for a leisurely mid-morning departure.  Thanks to the sterling efforts of the likes of George behind the scenes the whole fleet was sitting in the sunshine ready to go – although a broken seat catch on the freshly re-engined Fox-Alpha meant that she would be operated as a single-seater for the day: just like a Spitfire! (OK, if you close your eyes and have a particularly vivid imagination maybe…)   Bizarrely Fox-Sierra also developed seat issues during the pre-flight, but Stefan and Mark managed to sort out a work-around and were therefore able to join as planned.  Also joining us at the first stop would be Dave Rickwood, up from Gloucester in his Eurostar.

So, to the first location: Chiltern Park.  This was a really nice location, sitting in very open countryside just off the southern boundary of the Benson MATZ.  Given FA’s lack of a second seat, I jumped in the back of Fox-Tango and was treated to a chauffeur-driven ride courtesy of Brendan and Vrai – all very simple and straightforward with a routeing out west via the Bovingdon VOR and then a brief hold to the west of the airfield at Chiltern Park as we oriented ourselves for safe sequencing with the other arrivals (as para dropping was taking place it was necessary to call six miles out and join downwind only).

Although having just “700m, restricted to 420m for recreational use”, Chiltern Park has good clear approaches and overruns and so no one was unduly troubled by it.  Because the weather was good and because it was a para dropping day the visitor area (across the road from the airfield itself) was in full swing.  And despite the fact that this was the first airfield on our itinerary, as it would be the only one where it would be possible to get food, NWFG aviators were soon to be found happily tucking into bacon and sausage sarnies.  We were also treated to being able to watch the skydiving centre’s Cessna Caravan at work: for those unfamiliar, think C172 on steroids with a meaty jet turbine engine in the nose.  A fantastically capable and rugged machine which, despite its size and weight, tackled the grass strip with impunity.  If Simon is reading this, I really, really think one would look good in NWFG colours….

 The-Cessna-208-Caravan

The Cessna 208 Caravan: Want One………

 

After Chiltern Park the next stop was Draycot, just south of Swindon.  For this Malcolm and I swapped places, with Malcolm now riding in the back of FT and me in the Spitfire – sorry, C150.  Draycot presents much more of a challenge, requiring a curved fighter-style approach to avoid trees on final.  Also the runway could perhaps most kindly be described as ‘undulating’ (in fact if you’ve ever seen pictures of the altiport at Courcheval, imagine two or three of those back to back and you get some idea!)  As it was, all of the pilots tackled the approach and landing with aplomb, the only issue was that as the landing direction was away from the parking area, and there was insufficient spacing to allow for landing, turning round, and backtracking before the next plane arrived, there was no real option but to roll to the end and wait.  However, the problem with this was that the far end of the runway was in a dip and therefore unsighted from (and unable to see) landing traffic.  The better option proved to be to wait on the final crest, and the runway was sufficiently wide to allow for this.  Eventually everyone was down without drama, but it did mean that FT having been first to land ended up being last to taxi back in and park.

The strip itself is gloriously isolated, so with not much to do there but to swap tales and pay the landing fee, before long we were all clambering back in the planes to try our hands at the fine art of taking off downhill, uphill, and then downhill again.  All in all a great little strip to visit and certainly one that’s a refreshing alternative to rigid ILS approaches into vast expanses of flat tarmac.

 G-NWFG

The plate called for a ‘fighter style approach’, so Suzie donned her Ray-Bans

 

Next stop was Badminton, of the eponymous horse trials fame (have they ever actually got charges to stick against any of them?)  Although outwardly a fairly straightforward 1300m flat east-west grass strip, when approaching on 07, as we were, there’s a choice of two thresholds: the first gives the full 1300m but means dropping in over trees and then contending with grass that is not only uneven but in places slopes down quite significantly across the runway from right to left; a second threshold positioned at the start of the second 700m and just by the parking areas presents much smoother grass – albeit still narrow, and although not as undulating as Draycot’s grass nevertheless featuring noticeable peaks and troughs.  The problem was, as with Draycot, with insufficient spacing/coordination to allow each aircraft to land and backtrack to the parking area the only sensible option was to roll to the end and wait.  However, for anyone landing on the initial threshold, rolling out 1300m in a light aircraft seemed like overkill and therefore the natural temptation was, like Draycot, to roll to a ‘safe’ distance and then wait parked on a peak where you could be seen.  Why this wasn’t wise was brought home when Fox-Charlie’s crew, having opted for the displaced threshold, found their runway full of rather more metal than they would have liked: sensibly they elected to throw away the landing and go round, but the lesson was learned – if the runway is narrow and you can’t pull clear, the only practical course of action is to carry on rolling all the way to the end, however long or inconvenient that might seem.

Badminton itself was an interesting place in that it hinted at a past that must have involved it being rather more that a simple private grass strip: a fairly solid looking hangar, some interesting looking metal posts and tie-downs let into the ground, what looked like the concrete cover of an underground fuel dump, and PAPIs at the displaced threshold.  It would be interesting to know more of its history. 

 Taxing-at-Badminton

Taxiing in at Badminton

 

From Badminton it was then a short hop on runway heading to our next venue: Charlton Park just north of Malmesbury (me in FA almost inexplicably losing out in a race against Kieran in NUKA in the way).  I’d seen photos of this place before and it was one I really wanted to visit.  You land on the lawns and park in the garden of a very impressive stately home – Malcolm even got to negotiate with the Earl himself to arrange PPR!  It’s hard to do the place justice with words so I’ll let some photos do the talking.  Suffice to say this is marked down as one to return to with a picnic and certainly one to take your ‘Significant Other’ to if they ever begin to show signs of getting bored of travelling to windswept concrete airfields in order to don a hi-viz jacket and choose a drink from the vending machine….

 G-NWFG-1 

G-NWFT

Planes

For most, Charlton Park marked the end of the day and from there it was time to make tracks back to North Weald or, in Dave’s case, Gloucester.  However there was still the option to tackle the short 520m strip at Brimpton, just inside the north-western boundary of the Aldermaston Restricted Area (yes, really!), and we in FT and Malcolm in FA elected to do this.  As an aside, climbing out of Charlton Park revealed the rather strange sight of a Sea Harrier parked in a car park down below in Malmesbury!  Turns out this is Dyson’s headquarters, and James Dyson put it there to inspire his designers (I guess a Dyson cleaner is really little more than a Sea Harrier acting in reverse….)

Brimpton itself despite its short length turned out to be a doddle, although Malcolm having called up five minutes out then spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to find the place (the potential ramifications of straying too far and overflying Aldermaston tend to weigh heavily on the mind!)  Nevertheless he made up for it with a peerless spot landing when he got there.  Brimpton also has the attraction of a very welcome fridge full of Cokes and offered the chance to look around a very nice collection of home based aeroplanes, including a Percival Provost which, to a humble Cessna driver, looks huge as training aircraft. 

Malcom

Malcolm nails Brimpton’s touchdown point in Fox-Alpha

 

Eventually it was time to depart back to North Weald, and for this Malcolm and I once more swapped planes.  The return trip, up through the Wycombe ‘gap’ and then round the top of London was uneventful, although nearing Heathrow I was rather surprised to be confronted with the belly of an A380 as it banked and turned into Rwy 09: there’s not a huge amount of airspace separation round there and something that big looks mighty close when you’re sat in something as small as a C150.

So, another fly out safely in the bag.  I really would recommend the farm strips trip for anyone looking to do something a bit out of the ordinary and wanting to brush up on some proper old-fashioned aviating skills.  A big thank you to Malcolm for planning the whole day and diligently ringing round to get all the necessary PPRs, and to the strip owners and operators for cheerfully accommodating our seven-aeroplane armada.

 Downton-Shabby

                     The 2014 Farm Strips Fly Out crews.  A kind of Downton Shabby?

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North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090