Farm Strips Fly Out 2016 – North Weald Flying Group

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October 6, 2016

The 2016 NWFG Farm Strips Fly Out

My esteemed colleague Malcolm assures me that this year’s Farm Strips Fly Out is the Group’s third. In so doing I believe he’s elected to turn a blind eye to last year’s event, where due to the weather we binned our original plans and went to the pub instead. But given that the pub in question was located at a grass airfield and we all flew there in actual aeroplanes, I think we may need to debate this point further….

Actually, despite outward appearances, quite a lot of advance planning goes into the Farm Strips Fly Out. The problem is always locating strips which offer pilots something a bit different, but without placing undue demands on the crews or the planes. A strip that might be fun and definitely ‘doable’ solo in a C150 might be out of the question for a three-up crew in one of the older C172s. Likewise the Archers, whilst having the advantage of lots of grunt to get them out of short strips, carry a fair amount of momentum over the hedge when coming in to land. Allied to this, a lot of the strips, being in rural locations, are obviously keen to maintain good neighbourly relations, and therefore whilst they might be more than happy to accept a single aeroplane, having six turn up all at the same time would be out of the question.

Nevertheless, with an advance ‘recce’ flight having been conducted earlier in the summer to assess suitability and talk through plans with air strip owners – and with a certain amount of juggling around and late substitutions taking place right up to the last minute, six expectant crews assembled at The Squadron on the last Saturday in September.

Weather is of course always a factor for any flying activity – and all the more so when operating in and out of short grass strips. This year we were lucky that we were blessed with peerless conditions for two of the three elements that make up the weather equation: excellent visibility and nice high clouds in sunny skies. That left just the third element to consider: the small matter of wind…..

As is the case with most airfields in the UK, most of the strips we were due to visit were aligned roughly east-west. “Imagine our delight” therefore to see that the TAFs were predicting gusting winds blowing straight up from the south. Hmmm….. With the morning winds being still quite light (a phone call to Headcorn revealed that they only had 4 knots), and with none of the strips being very far apart, we decided we would go ahead but continue to weigh up our options as the day wore on. If the worst came to the worst, Runway 20 back at base would always be pretty much into wind if we needed to curtail plans.

Our first stop was Damyn’s Hall – itself a late substitute for Thurrock. Anticipating a shortage of sufficient parking at Damyn’s, and wanting to ensure we had good separation at the next intended stop (Laddingford), we arranged for everyone to depart North Weald at 5 minute intervals. By deliberately forsaking the usual attempt to regroup on the ground – with crews on their way again as soon as they had swapped seats and were ready to go – it actually worked quite well with no one getting in each other’s way at Damyn’s and good separation being carried all the way down to the next stop.

OK, so calling Damyn’s a ‘Farm Strip’ might be stretching things a bit – especially as you come in from the north over industrial-looking high tension cables and depart to the south over some particularly dismal wasteland, but on the ground it’s actually quite green and pleasant, with a good clubhouse-cum-café, and it does have the attraction of being a mere stone’s throw from the original site of RAF Hornchurch – sister station to North Weald in the Battle of Britain. The chosen radio call-sign of ‘Hornchurch Radio’ is presumably a conscious nod to that connection.

Incidentally, on short final into Damyn’s with Kieran doing the flying, I noticed down on our right a concreted-over yard, with two Jaguar fuselages and perhaps half-a-dozen rotorless Lynx helicopters, and just as we went over the top of it a whole load of soldiers in camo gear and helmets came bursting out across the yard brandishing machine guns. I mention this simply because everyone to whom I then said ‘Did you see…?’, stared back at me blankly as if I’d lost the plot. Anyway, I’ve looked it up since we got back and it does exist. Turns out it’s a fairly major paintball activity centre. So I’m not going mad. Yet.

On then to Laddingford. This really is a charming spot – nestled in the Kent countryside with approaches being made over traditional oast houses. The only problem is that (a) from the direction in which we’d be arriving the airfield is quite difficult to spot, and (b) by now the forecast wind had turned up and was blowing straight across the runway.

Although I’ve visited Laddingford before, even with the benefit of Kieran’s iPad gizmo I was on right base before I spotted the runway, and the consequent hurried arrival and crosswind meant that I pulled off quite possibly one of my Top 10 Personal Worst Landings of All Time. I think the kindest thing I can say about it was that at least nothing fell off and we at least came to a halt within the airfield boundary!

With Kieran and Rory dispatched to the ‘C’ Hut to recover their composure, I made my way to the side of the runway, camera and transceiver in hand, to record everyone else’s arrival. As it was, the decision to have everyone maintain good separation was the right one, as the pilots of NWFG put on an airshow for the locals of overhead joins, missed approaches and impressive crabbed approaches. Not helping matters was the fact that ‘squelch’ issues with my transceiver meant that whilst I could hear the incoming crews perfectly clearly, my attempts to pass on useful info from the ground came to nothing. Nonetheless, eventually every crew was down safely. Special mention should go to Matt Duffy in Fox-Tango who elected to go round three times, but on the fourth and final attempt pulled off by far the smoothest arrival of anyone. Moral of the story: a good landing starts with a good approach, and if you’re not happy with the approach there’s absolutely no shame in going round and trying again until you’re happy that you’ve got it right.

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - Fox-Sierra tackles the frisky conditions on arrival at Laddingford

Fox-Sierra tackles the frisky conditions on arrival at Laddingford

 

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - Safely parked up with coast houses in the distance. Don't like the look of that windsock much....

Safely parked up with coast houses in the distance. Don’t like the look of that windsock much….

 

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - Departing Laddingford. Bleedin' obvious where it is once you know where it is!

Departing Laddingford. Bleedin’ obvious where it is once you know where it is!

From Laddingford to our next stop at Headcorn was only going to be a short hop, and with the runways pretty much identically aligned – with Headcorn’s having the advantage of being much wider and more open – we all decided we were happy to continue: added to which lunch beckoned at Headcorn!

So it was that we bade farewell to the nice folk at Laddingford, most of us vowing to return again to this beautiful strip one day when conditions are a bit less challenging.  Airborne and climbing to the east we could see Headcorn straight away in the distance, and a quick call on the radio confirmed that we were welcome to join straight in for Runway 10.  The sun shone, the countryside looked magnificent – you could almost be forgiven for forgetting that it was blowing a minor hooley out there!

Still, with some idea of what to expect, and with the greater width of Headcorn’s runway allowing a bit more margin for error, the approach itself was nice and straightforward – although most crews still found their planes fairly reluctant to sit down on the runway at the first attempt. Unfazed by the wind the skydivers were also out in force (a signature feature of Headcorn), although fortunately their drop zone being positioned up the eastern end of the field meant our paths didn’t cross.

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - On short finals into Headcorn in beautiful conditions (if you ignore the wind!)

On short finals into Headcorn in beautiful conditions (if you ignore the wind!)

 

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - JR and Malcolm taxy in with someone doing something inadvisable in the background

JR and Malcolm taxy in with someone doing something inadvisable in the background

 

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - Parking up and shutting down at Headcorn

Parking up and shutting down at Headcorn

After lunch in Headcorn’s legendary café, we paused to take stock of our options for the rest of the day. The wind was showing no sign of abating; in fact Malcolm had been into the office at Headcorn and seen their anemometer trace which showed for the last three hours the wind had been exactly in accordance with the TAFs – don’t you hate it when forecasters get it right! The consensus therefore was that our planned last stop of the day, Napp’s Field, was out. Already scheduled to be the shortest runway we’d visit that day, the trickiness of the crosswinds we’d encountered on the similarly aligned Laddingford and Headcorn runways, allied to the sluggish climb performance most of us had been encountering (a combination of a warm day and the absence of any meaningful headwind component), meant that we felt that Napp’s Field would be pushing thing too far.

On the other hand, for our planned next stop at Pent Farm, although the runway was a little more into wind, the local terrain dictated that their published preferred landing direction would mean landing with a gusting tailwind – understandably something no one was particularly keen on. A phone discussion between Malcolm and the strip’s owner ensued, and in the end a plan was hatched: although approaching on the more favourably aligned Runway 25 would mean dropping in over the hill, with 1,000m to play with the owner was happy for us to ‘give it a go’ and if we weren’t happy simply treat it as a low approach and go around. We then agreed that any crew not happy to land could carry on to Rochester where a big into-wind grass runway and coffee stop was available.

As It was, although the approach from the north dropping in over the hill is not for the faint hearted, and there was still a significant crosswind element to deal with, every crew made it in at the first attempt and tackled the tricky conditions with aplomb. Impressive stuff – especially when you consider that despite there being the option of the Rochester ‘Plan B’, the subconscious peer-group pressure on the later crews to land, the more and more aircraft they could see having already made it in ahead of them, must have been considerable.

Pent Farm itself is splendidly rural, with the pretty church spire of Postling visible through the trees on the far side of the field. Pent Farm is also home to the Tiger Club, and although it was too windy for their planes to be up, we were able to go into their hangar and take a good look round their Tiger Moth, Cub and Turbulents (one of which was looking rather sorry for itself after a recent well-publicised dunking in the sea down on the south coast earlier this summer).

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - In Pent Farm's hangar with its innovative wind-breaking mesh door. Some of those earlier landings appear to have taken their toll on Red One's back.....

In Pent Farm’s hangar with its innovative wind-breaking mesh door. Some of those earlier landings appear to have taken their toll on Red One’s back…..

Chatting amongst ourselves it was clear that all of the crews felt that they’d really achieved something in landing at Pent Farm. Away from the rigid procedures that you experience at ‘proper airports’, strip flying is all about making tactical decisions, skilful aircraft handling, and good airmanship. All of those things came together at Pent Farm and the experiences gained earlier in the day all paid dividends.

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - Preparing to bid farewell to Pent Farm

Preparing to bid farewell to Pent Farm

With Rochester felt to have little to offer after Pent Farm, all crews elected to return direct to North Weald instead, where for us in Fox-Golf and with the wind finally helping rather than hindering, Kieran settled us down on 20 Grass with an absolute textbook landing.

I’d like to say a big Well Done to all of the crews who took part. There’s no denying that the conditions were challenging this year, and yet everyone handled themselves professionally and in exemplary fashion. In particular Fox-Sierra’s crew were on their first NWFG fly out, but managed like old hands. The Farm Strips Fly Out is always good fun, and I think that this year everyone who took part felt that their confidence and ability as a pilot increased several notches to boot.

Write-up by Simon Pimblett

Farm Strips Fly Out Event - This year's intrepid aviators

This year’s intrepid aviators

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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.

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