Farm Strip Flying

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11th June 2011

Following closely on from the Spanish adventure, this fly-out was pulling in the reins a bit to allow the bank balances of those who took part to recover. This was to be a ‘farm strip’ day where the idea was to visit hopefully new airfields around East Anglia that certainly most of us wouldn’t have been to before.

To make it more interesting, the day was to be called the ‘Farm Strips Surprise’ The surprise being the group had no knowledge of where they were going prior to the morning. After the first stop was revealed at North Weald our participants would only be told the location of their next stop as they went along, thereby throwing in a late planning nav element as well. All the stops were in Pooleys except one, this I had printed off of Google maps for each aircraft participating.

The TAFs were quite reasonable and the morning although starting rather cloudy began to clear quite nicely as the crews began prep’ing their aircraft. Myself and daughter Suzie were in VB with Vrai Stacey and Jonathan Senior crewing up FG. Alan Vick and Pete McDonald were in FC, Simon Pimblet with Barrie North in FA and Dariusz Chwedczuk and Axel Waldecker in MM. NUKA was crewed by Andrew Hutson with friend James Hickey riding shotgun. We were also to be joined by Alex Kenning and friend Simon Bone who were flying in from RAF Halton in C152 G-BSCZ. A very good turn out.

I had PPR’d all the stops several days previously so we were all ready to go. The first stop was nice and easy, Fowlmere, just west of Duxford. Not very far and not really a farm strip as such but a good one to start with having a decent 700 mtr grass runway. With a quick bit of planning we were away into the rapidly clearing skies and up through the Luton Stansted gap. Fowlmere’s well mown runway was easy to spot amongst the much longer surrounding crops and after a quick courtesy call to Duxford info we were soon positioning to join downwind RH for 25, being careful to avoid the bird sanctuary close to the downwind leg. All was quiet at Fowlmere and we gave blind calls only. With all in and shut down on the very decent parking area we left our landing donations in the box and took advantage of a vending machine coffee before the next stop was revealed. Fowlmere dispite being a quick trip tends to be overlooked flying from NW but it is a very well kept airfield and although not offering much in the way of facilities has a very nice feel about it.

The second stop was to be Marshland, a 850mtr grass strip up in the Fens between March and Kings Lynn. It sits right on the edge of one of the many straight irrigation ditches that cover the area and is was chosen for being our first visit to a below sea level airfield at some six feet under. Hopefully that wouldn’t be the result after our landing efforts!

Routing up past Cambridge and Wyton was simplicity itself in the now crystal clear air. What we had to monitor were the various movements over the area by aircraft taking part in the Queens Birthday Parade fly past. Although we had carefully studied all the Notams before departure and were well clear of the affected areas will still had the Red Arrows on Cambridges frequency and Suzie and I had a great view of the BBMF Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane passing left to right well out ahead of us at low level.

Having looked at Marshland on Google Maps several days before it was obvious that this might not be the easiest strip to find despite running parallel and close to the large ditch. It is only the location of some works buildings that gives it away. We all arrived quite close together and it needed some careful spacing on the left hand downwind leg for R21 to ensure we all got into the strip without any go arounds. Fortunately with the frequency being safety com 135.47 we could at least talk directly to each other to help the separation and it was a great view descending around the base leg towards the strip. The strip is just that, one long strip that opens out to a parking area at the western end so the landing aircraft had to go all the way to the end to vacate.

With all our aircraft quite tightly parked the farm/airfield owner Mr Ron Herbert came out to meet us. He had already told me that they were quite happy to accept visitors and that there would be no landing fee. As he gave us a tour of his hanger and Cessna 310 he explained that the hanger housed the test rig for a baggage handing system at Stansted. Whilst we looked at the set up after further conversation it became clear this was a multi million pound operation supplying baggage handing system to some of the big European Airports including Heathrow and Amsterdam. It also employs over 150 people on or near the airfield. It’s amazing what you find tucked away in the relative wilds of deepest Cambridgeshire.

After revealing the next stop we began mounting up for the leg towards the lunch stop, Weybourne on the north Norfolk Coast just west of Cromer. With quite a large turning circle at the end of the runway we could get two aircraft to the far end at once which saved a long wait before take off. Many thanks to Mr Herbert for his hospitality and interesting tour.

Weybourne airfield is very close to the Muckleburgh Museum which houses the largest privately owned military vehicle and artillery collection in the country and apart from that being of interest as a little midday break it also has a decent cafe/restaurant. I had read somewhere before that Weybourne was not for the faint hearted and we were soon to see why.

After a very pleasant cruise up towards Kings Lynn and being requested to stay clear of the Marham MATZ due to the recovery of Tornados and Typhoons from the Birthday Parade if was a case of following the coast and trying to find the airfield. The ground was very brown after the prolonged dry period which made the short runway quite difficult to find. It was only after spotting the large radar dish and a V1 flying bomb at the museum that it’s position was confirmed!

The 610 mtr runway (16/34) is close to the sea on top of a sloping 80ft cliff. The main problem is that it slopes quite steeply towards the sea and there is a large hill just to the south of the runway which makes the last bit of the approach interesting to say the least. Fortunately Simon Pimblet and Barrie North had got in first with FA and Simon was directing the landings with his hand held transceiver and a great help it was too. Once again due to the short legs between stops we were all arriving quite close together. A couple of approaches were tried from the land end (R34) by a couple of the guys as the light wind was favouring that direction but resulted in go arounds due to the high approach because of the hill which was then compounded by the short runway sloping away.

I made an approach behind Alan and Pete in FC and they just manged to get in but due to them having to backtrack on the runway we were unable to land and had to go around. I’ve got to say it wasn’t a nice picture on the approach especially without the advantage of the big Cessna flaps. With the latest info from Simon on the ground I went for an oversea approach with a slight tailwind which was a lot more comfortable and presented little problem. The remaining aircraft all elected to do the same although MM went around quite rightly as things didn’t look right for them at the time but made an excellent landing off of the next approach.

We were soon all exchanging stories as we paid our landing fees into a box in the old caravan by the runway before heading off for the short walk along the track to the museum. If you are interested in military history then this museum is well worth a visit and all the details are on the link below so I won’t go into them now. However, we had a very acceptable lunch in their cafe before doing a quick tour of the exhibits and then heading back to our aircraft..

Getting out was a lot more straightforward than getting in with the wind still favouring R34 downhill towards the sea. It was a great view of the Norfolk coastline as we climbed out and headed almost directly due south towards our final stop at Priory Farm which is north of Diss and is almost on the perimeter of the old wartime airfield at Tibenham which is now a large gliding site. Having due regard to the gliders meant staying clear to the east of the field and this one really was a 620mtr (01/19) strip in a field with not only a hedge on one side and a fence on the other but also farm buildings at the end of the runway which made it rather interesting.

Several of the crews had a bit of difficulty finding it especially as with the circuit to the east to avoid Tibenham the strip almost disappeared from view behind the long hedge. A brisk crosswind made it a little more tricky as well. The approach to the shortish thin strip (R19) with a house and farm buildings directly on the over run is a bit different but presented little problems to our intrepid aviators.

This really was a farm strip and very nice it was to. The residents were very welcoming and we sat around outside the portakabin ‘clubhouse’ enjoying an afternoon tea whilst several hundred geese squabbled in the field next to us. Priory Farm is home to several immaculate Stearman bi planes and is well worth dropping into if you fancy something a bit different. Just give them a ring first.

With the wind straight across the slot most of use elected to make the take off from the buildings end (01) and from there it was a left turn out and a track back towards North Weald via Braintree. In the summer afternoon light the viz was fantastic with Canary Wharf and the City of London clearly visible from south of Bury St Edmunds. Oh for more days like that!

The wind was quite brisk at NW and 31 was in use and practically all our aircraft made a long final in direct from the east.

Another very successful fly out day completed with new airfields and a little bit more of a challenge. The 30/40 mins hops were enough for a bit of basic nav and in some cases finding the actual field was a bit of an exercise in itself. The approaches into a few that day made things a little more demanding with shorter fields and obstructions around but everyone coped admirably.

I think this sort of exercise sharpens things up in flying by getting us out of our comfort zones and leaves a nice sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. All the participants have said that they had a great day and I think something similar is a must for next year.

All the fields visited were very welcoming and are well worth visiting if you fancy a day out with a difference. I wouldn’t describe any as being very difficult, just different from what most of our members are used to. However having said that if you are considering visiting Weybourne do a little research first and I would recommend practicing some short field approaches onto the grass at North Weald airfield before attempting it.

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Contact us

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.

phone: 01992522090