Lee-on-Solent

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April 14, 2007

The 14th April was the revised date for the third attempt for the North Weald Fly Out Group to visit the Hampshire Police Air Support Unit and HM Coastguard at Lee-on-Solent. It always seems to be that the trips that take the most preparation and work are those that present the most difficulty. And this was no exception, a ‘phone call the night before indicated that it was very likely that the Coastguard part of the trip was going to be a non-starter due to operational commitments, the TAFS weren’t great and a couple of members were having to cancel due to illness and other reasons.

 

We did carry on however with the meet at 08.45 the following morning, although when driving around North Weald’s peri track with the other end of the runway invisible due to mist/fog it is slightly disheartening. A quick rearrangement of places meant that we had Paul Bazire and Tom Wallis (first F/Out) in ‘NS’, The Hutsons with Andrew’s girlfriend Ann in ‘RB’, and ‘KK’ was crewed by Kieran Hardiman, Matt Humphreys and John Strong. We were also being joined by one other aircraft the C172 ‘XK’ from Heenans Flying Circus, with Shane Hopping and his gang.

An update from the Hampshire ASU revealed that things were not much better there. Having already briefed everyone as to the entry procedures/calls required with a little help from Google Earth, we still had another two hours of looking at maps, walking outside hoping to see a few metres more than the last time we looked 5 minutes before, and of course a few bacon sandwiches.

 

Around 11.00 a Bulldog ventured up and reported that although not good, the visibility had improved. Yet another call to the ASU indicated that things were improving on the Solent. That was good enough for us, we mounted up and departed North Weald’s R/W 02 with a right turn out towards Ongar, the planned route south around the Gatwick Zone, a direct track over Goodwood and in over Portsmouth harbour. At best the visibility was around the 5 to 6 mile mark with hardly any horizon and it wasn’t long before we heard ‘XK’ returning to NW, the crew being unhappy with the conditions.

We pressed on speaking to Shoreham and Goodwood information en-route. Portsmouth harbour finally came into view and then the airfield itself with RB, NS and KK positioning to join crosswind for R/W 05 after making the required calls to Fleetlands Info and Lee Base who were gliding. After touching down on the large runway of this old Royal Navy airfield that dates back to 1917 and was in active RN operation until 1996, we were required to back track to the old control tower that is now home to the Hampshire Police Air Support Unit where we were met by our host PC Andy Sparshott. We were then given a presentation on the workings of the unit and the surveillance capabilities of the Britten Norman Defender 4000 aircraft, one of the few fixed wing police aircraft in the country.

 

With impeccable timing as Andy invited us down to look at the aircraft the scramble alarm sounded and the crew of three flashed past us and down the stairs and into the aircraft. We watched from the tower as the twin turboprops were started, glider launching and other aircraft movements were suspended, and the aircraft, call sign Boxer 01 was airborne in less than 5 minutes of the alarm sounding. In the control room we watched on the live video downlink the incident that they had responded to. A car had been driving recklessly at over 100mph on the M27 and had crashed into another vehicle rolling it over onto the central reservation and crash barrier. The driver of the offending vehicle had then attempted to escape by trying to car jack another vehicle by assaulting the elderly woman driver. Having failed, he had made off on foot across fields pursued by an off duty police officer. The suspect had been caught minutes before the aircraft arrived but it was very interesting to see first hand what a valuable resource in crime fighting and surveillance it is, especially with such a rapid response time.

When it returned Andy gave us the full tour of the aircraft and its sophisticated state of the art electronics package.

As the HM Coastguard were fully occupied with their exercise it was off into the murk for the trip down to Shoreham for a late lunch. Despite the poor visibility there was plenty of flying going on and we joined overhead and fitted into a very busy circuit (well most of us) landing on runway 02. We enjoyed a hearty meal in the Terminal 2 caf’e before preparing for our late afternoon return amidst the sun and haze that caused horrible eye straining glare to the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

A very big thank you to the Hampshire Police Air Support Unit and HM Coastguard at Lee-on-Solent.

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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