Category Archives for "Aviation"

Chilbolton Observatory – Hampshire’s Finest Abandoned Airfield

Chilbolton Observatory is one of Hampshire’s finest abandoned airfields. During World War II it was once home to squadrons of Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, Typhoons, and Vampires.

Opened in 1940 as a satellite airfield for RAF Middle Wallop it was used by the RAF and USAAF.

After the war it was used for flight tests before being closed in 1961. Today it is the site of Chilbolton Observatory, a facility that carries out atmospheric and radio research.

The footage in the video below was taken using a DJI Phantom Vision+ quadcopter drone in June 2014.  You can clearly see that the car park of today was once part of the main runway.

Chilbolton Observatory

Chilbolton Observatory, abandoned airfields, Hampshire

By assumed USAAF [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The airfield was an operational base for a squadron of Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain.  The image to the right shows the airfield in 1944 when CG-4As gliders and C-47s transports gathered there in preparation for operation Market Garden.

Today, crop marks in the fields reveal the locations of two of its three runways while in this image the runways, dispersal points, and perimeter track can clearly be seen.

In 1941, with the Battle of Britain won the previous year, the airfield was designated a Care and Maintenance facility.

1944 saw the arrival of the USAAF in the form of Spitfires and Mustangs from the Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons of the 67th Reconnaissance Wing.

Hawker Tempest, RAF Fritzlar, Germany, 1945

Hawker Tempest, RAF Fritzlar, Germany, 1945. © B Lovegrove

Between 1945 and 1946 it was back in the hands of the RAF.  The airfield saw the arrival of several more squadrons of Hawker Tempests (a derivative of the Hawker Typhoon), Spitfires, and Mustangs.

(Note: In October 2016 at Goodwood Airfield the Hawker Typhoon RB396 Restoration was launched.)

For example, 247 Squadron’s Tempests F2 andTyphoon Ibs arrived on 20th August 1945, and departed on 7th January 1946.  A few month’s later the squadron’s first de Havilland Vampire jets arrived.

When the RAF vacated in 1946 it was taken over by the Vickers Supermarine company and became the location for tests of their new aircraft which included the Supermarine Attacker, Supermarine Swift and Supermarine Scimitar.

The Folland aviation company also used it as a test area for the Folland Gnat and Folland Midge aircraft.

The airfield was also used for location shots for the 1952 David Lean film The Sound Barrier.

By 1961 all major flying operations had ceased and the site was transformed into the location for atmospheric and radio research.  Civilian flying continues at the Chilbolton Flying Club grass strip.

The Chilbolton Observatory radio telescope is a prominent local landmark and it is still used as such by passing aircraft.  It is on the edge of the Middle Wallop MATZ (Military Air Traffic Zone).

Folland Midge during test flights at Chilbolton in 1954

Crop Circles at Chilbolton. Elaborate hoax or a reply from distant planet?

September 21, 2016

Spitfire Flights – Would you like to fly in a Spitfire?

For many pilots and aviation enthusiasts the idea of being able to fly in a Spitfire is probably on their bucket list if not at the top of it.  With the restoration of these thoroughbred warbirds at an all time high Spitfire flights are more easily obtained than at any other time since World War II.

Spitfire Flights – What are the options?

Spitfire Flights - Fly as pupil or passenger

Spitfire Flights – fly as pupil or passenger

There are three main ways in which you can enjoy this ultimate aviation experience:

  1. Flying lesson in a Spitfire.  You are the pilot under training and you log the time as PU/T in your logbook.
  2. Pleasure flight in a Spitfire.  You enjoy a flight as a passenger with all that it involves.
  3. Fly alongside a Spitfire.  You are in another aircraft and you and the other passengers get to film and photograph the Spitfire as it flies in formation.

Learning to fly a Spitfire

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Boultbee will teach you to fly a Spitfire

This is now possible thanks to training schemes offered by the Boultbee Academy who are based at Goodwood Airfield in West Sussex.

Boultbee offer all kinds of instruction; starting with the appreciation of flying other vintage aircraft like the Chipmunk, Tiger Moth, and Harvard. Then going moving on to lessons to in Spitfire and conversion courses for experienced pilots.

The prerequisites are that you already have a current SEP PPL and at least 1,000 hours of time logged.

They also teach formation and display flying.  Prices are what you would expect for being taught by talented instructors in rare and expensive vintage aircraft.  If you want to know the price then you probably can’t afford it but if money is plentiful then pop along and have a chat with them.

Pleasure Flights in a Spitfire

Go solo in Spitfire

Reach for the sky

If you’re not looking to be taught how to fly the aircraft and simply want to enjoy the experience then there are two main options.

The aforementioned Boultbee Academy offer several Spitfire flights packages; 30 minute or longer flights and flights for two people during which the aircraft fly in formation with each other.  Flights are available from Goodwood and from Exeter and start at £2,750 for 30 minutes.

Another option is the two seat Spitfire ML407 which is based at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire. Email the owners for details.  You may have a long wait but the sooner you get on the waiting list the sooner your name will reach the top.

If you’re based in London or the south east you could visit the historic airfield Biggin Hill in Kent.  ‘Biggin on the Bump’ (because it’s on a hill) has a long history that dates back to the dawn of aviation.  It was a strategically important and very busy fighter base during the Battle of Britain.

The Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar provides all kinds of experiences including Spitfire pleasure flights.  Other options are in the list at the end of this post.

Fly alongside a Spitfire

There are plenty more opportunities for those who would like to fly alongside a Spitfire in another aircraft.  There is a higher demand and therefore several companies offer this service.  It is a very popular gift idea for special birthdays and other anniversaries, or just a treat for no other reason that it’s on your bucket list.

One of the more affordable options is to buy a seat on another aircraft.  The Spitfire then flies alongside and in formation with your aircraft so that you can film and photography to your heart’s content.

This is an excellent opportunity to see a Spitfire in close formation and the footage and images you capture are unforgettable.  They will form a lasting memory of an event that will delight you and friends for years to come.

Sit in a Spitfire

Sit in a Spitfire

Ways in which you can experience the Spitfire

  • Sit in a Spitfire.  Meet the team and be guided around the Heritage Hangar at Biggin Hill airfield, Kent – £69.00
  • VIP Spitfire tour around the hangar.  Get up close and personal – £79.00
  • Fly alongside a Spitfire while you sit aboard a vintage Dragon Rapide.  Duxford – £399.00
  • Fly in a Spitfire and enjoy the full tour of the hangar. Fulfill the dream and pilot the aircraft – £2,750.00
  • Spitfire Pilot Training Day.  A full package of vintage flying that includes other aircraft types and ends on a Spitfire –  £5,495.00

So you see there’s an option for every budget.  Make that dream come true and book the experience today!

September 14, 2016

Essential Tips For Enjoying the Goodwood Revival

tips for enjoying the Goodwood Revival

Richmond Trophy, Madgwick Corner

The Goodwood Revival never disappoints and there are always lots of reasons why I return each year but to make the most of it takes some planning. Whether your main interest is motor sport, classic cars or bikes, vintage fashion, or historic aircraft then there’s plenty to see.  Here are my essential tips for enjoying the Goodwood Revival and taking away happy memories that will linger right through winter until the following year.

What is the Goodwood Revival?

It’s a revival of the motor racing that used to take place on the circuit around the airfield but it’s so much more than that too. It’s a celebration of many of the best in motor cars, aircraft, motor bikes, fashion, design, music, and dance of the 1940s, 1950s, and the 1960s.

Spitfire at Goodwood Airfield

Who can resist waving & cheering a Spitfire?

The airfield was called RAF Westhampnett during World War II and it was the home of several squadrons. From here Douglas Bader took off and made his last flight before being shot down and going into captivity. Near the Goodwood Aero Club you will see a bronze statue of Sir Douglas Bader in a likeness contemporary with the months he spent there.

After the War the perimeter track was converted into a motor racing circuit and racing continued there until 1966 when the track was closed. Racing returned in 1998 when the first Goodwood Revival was held and it’s been repeated every year since.

When and where is the Goodwood Revival?

The Revival is held on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the first or second weekend in September every year.  It takes place at the Goodwood motor racing circuit and aerodrome just north of Chichester, West Sussex, England.  You can arrive by road (A27) or rail (Chichester Station), or you can simply fly into the airfield (with prior permission from the organisers).

Essential Tips For Enjoying the Goodwood Revival

Due to wide range of things to see and do at the event there will inevitably be some suggestions that are of no relevance to some.  These tips are offered for the newcomers, the first-timers who may be a little bewildered by the spectacle.

As Fred Pontin used to say, “Book Early!”

Vintage Fashion at Goodwood Revival

Well dressed ladies queuing at Betty’s Salon

The Revival is very popular and tends to sell out each year.  You’ll need at least an entrance ticket and are all kinds of supplements; grandstand seats, weekend tickets, camping, hospitality packages etc, so plan ahead.

Decide whether you’re going to be staying anywhere nearby or going home at the end of the day and make arrangements accordingly months in advance.

Watch the weather and keep watching

You’re about to to an outdoor event on an airfield near the south coast of England in September.  When the sun shines and winds are light it can be glorious but if a weather front passes through you can get drenched and cold.

The 2016 Revival was a reminder of how different things can be.  On the Saturday the rain blew in from the west and it drizzled for most of the day.  The cloud base was so low that all flying (displays and pleasure flights) had to be cancelled.  That meant that the afternoon motor races were brought forward and the main events finished early.

The next day, on the Sunday, the weather could not have been better.  Warm sun, light winds and very little cloud.  A dry track and picnics aplenty.  I expect the people who bought Saturday only tickets were cursing their luck.

Knock-on effects of wet weather

1960s listening booths

1960s listening booths

Most people will have to park in a grass field a good walk away from the site.  If there’s been a lot of rain the combined of effects of long grass and vehicles will have the inevitable effects.  Suddenly those 1950s high-heels you bought on eBay don’t seem like such a good idea as you gingerly make your way through the mud.

The airfield itself is an exposed place but the grandstands are even more so because they are elevated and you feel the full force of any wind and rain. If you bought your seat months previously and you’re only there for the day then it can be a big disappointment to find yourself getting wet and cold in your grandstand seat.

So put some umbrellas, macs, and wellies in the boot of your vehicle, just in case.

Arrive early and reduce queuing time

The car parks usually open at 7am and the gates open at 7.30am. If you can get there early you’ll avoid the worst of the traffic queues later in the morning.

However, unless you live or you’re staying near by then obviously that may not be practical, but if you can arrange it you’ll have the added benefit of your vehicle being nearer the entrance.  This makes popping back to it for a change of clothes or recharging batteries (phone, camera, or just your own) an easier option.

Leave late and see more

Racing usually goes on until about 6pm.  The area known as ‘Over The Rroad’ continues to be a mini retro festival with a small fun fair, market, live music and dancing until about 10pm.

If the weather’s bad then people tend to leave earlier but whatever the weather the car parks empty gradually throughout the afternoon.  Most people leave after the last race so stay a while longer and enjoy the other attractions – it beats waiting in a traffic queue.

Get to know the site

Glam Cabs Carry on Cabby

Glam Cabs are Revival regulars

With so much to see and do it can be difficult to know where to start.  There’ll be things on your ‘must see’ list and others will be on the ‘if there’s time’ section.  You might want to plan it accordingly or just leave things to chance.

The main area just inside the entrances and along the length of the startline is the busiest and can get quite crowded.   There’s more space as you cross the track (using the underpass) and continue into areas inside the airfield.

Similarly, start walking clockwise or anti-clockwise on the perimeter path and things start to open out.  If you’re early enough you might find a space by the trackside fence but there’s good viewing from the embankments behind too.

Use Google Maps or Earth to examine the airfield and you’ll see that the perimeter path is about 2.5 miles in total.  There are several grandstands around the track each with food, bars, and toilets.  There’s even a viewing screen on the furthest grandstand at Lavant Corner on the opposite side of the airfield to the terminal buildings.

Find some peace and rest your feet

The Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Exhibtion

The Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Exhibtion

For a little respite from the noise of the track and the crowds near the startline you will find a gentler pace in the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation where all the vintage aircraft are on display.  These tend to be widely dispersed and there are some quiet spots to be found here.

Alternatively you could hop onto the tractor towed trailers that travel around the perimeter and find somewhere to sit in the sun on one of the embankments.  Noisy while the races are on perhaps but in between you can lie back and bask in the sun with picnic to hand.

I tend to go to the event on my own and do a lot of walking.  During the course of the Saturday and Sunday in 2016 I walked a total of 14 miles but then I like to keep moving from one event on the timetable to another.

For more information and tickets…

Visit the official Goodwood Revival website.  There are hours of clips to be seen there and on social media.

Share your tips

Entire books have been written about the Revival and this post is just a few basic tips.  What are yours?  Share them in the comments section below.

September 7, 2016

Flying Lesson Costs and how to reduce them

Flying Lesson Costs - Manage your finances

You will be seeing these in your sleep

Learning to fly and obtaining a Private Pilot’s Licence isn’t cheap but you can avoid unnecessary expense with a little forward planning.  Flying lesson costs will vary but in the long run the cheaper hourly rate may not be your best option.

In this post I discuss the cost of obtaining a fixed wing Pilot’s Licence for flying light aircraft in the UK.   There are two types available; PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence) and LAPL (Light Aircraft Pilot’s Licence).

The LAPL gives the pilot fewer privileges than the PPL so the requirements are less stringent.  As a rough guide the cost of a PPL will start at £8,000 and the LAPL will start at £6,000.  Costs for other types of aircraft like microlights or helicopters for example, will vary proportionally according to aircraft type.

Flying Lesson Costs

As well as the lessons themselves you will need to add several other smaller sums:

  • Flying lessons (CAA minimums plus contingency)
  • Student pilot kit (books, maps, navigational computer etc)
  • Headset (the school may lend them but for several reasons it’s best to have your own)
  • Travel to and from the flight training club or school
  • Other training aids e.g. DVDs, apps, software
  • Ground school exam fees
  • Licence application fee

Minimum Hours and Actual Hours Logged

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What secrets does this hold?

If you visit the CAA’s website and read the requirements for a PPL(A) you will see that you need minimum of 45 hours of training.  This should include a minimum of  25 hours of dual instruction and 10 hours of solo flight.  I’ll leave it to the CAA or your flying instructor to explain the finer details.

The keyword here though is minimum.  Some people do manage to complete all the requirements at or close to that figure.  Will you be able to do so?  You will need to factor in a contingency into your budget for extra hours above the minimum requirements.

Continuity of Training

Flight training

When are you coming back?

As my previous post illustrates you will save yourself a lot of money if your budget organised and available at the start of your training.  If you run out of money the continuity is broken and when you return to training you’ll have to revise and repeat previous exercises.

So plan your finances in such a way that you won’t run out of money at a critical stage.  Trust me, there’s nothing more frustrating!  As you empty your bank account or reach your credit card limit you realise that you’re about to shelve your logbook just when things are getting interesting.

Flying schools are subject to the same economic forces as any other business, so your flying lesson costs may increase over time due to inflation.

Choosing the right Flight Training School

Grass airfields

Don’t get tied down

Flight training costs vary around the UK.  You’ll pay more per hour at a club with a shiny fleet of new aircraft and an immaculate club house with all the facilities than you will at a small grass strip with a portakabin as an office.

Things to consider when choosing a flight school

  • Proximity.  How long will it take you to get there?
  • Runway(s).  If it’s a grass airfield will it be out of use in very wet weather?
  • Facilities.  Do the buildings look well maintained?
  • Fleet.  How many aircraft are there and how old are they?
  • Instructors.  Talk to a few and ask to be shown around.
  • Reputation. Google the school name and read what others are saying about it.

The school that is closest to you might not be the ideal choice.  On the other hand you don’t want to travel for an hour more to reach your flight school at short notice if a weather window opens.

Learning to fly abroad

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You’re unlikely to train in a Cirrus

The attractive prospect of learning to fly wherever there are near constant blues skies and uncluttered airspace lures some to book flight training holidays in Florida, South Africa, Australia, or perhaps just across the Channel.

The attractions are obvious and the additional cost of flights accommodation and subsistence may seem a price worth paying, particularly if the hourly rate is favourable.

However, there is another cost that is sometimes overlooked. If you cover most of the syllabus in areas where the weather is often predictably pleasant and the airspace is wide open and free of restrictions how will you cope when you return to the UK?

Ultralight power glider taking off

Blue skies every day

Will you have the necessary skills and, just as importantly, confidence to make a judgement when the weather is borderline?  Will your navigation skills keep you out of Controlled Airspace and Danger Areas?

Some students who return from flight training trips find themselves asking for additional training with a UK flying instructor in order to bring their skills up the standard required in Britain’s comparatively congested airspace.

Perhaps your flying holiday would be better spent hour building after you’ve obtained your PPL.  On the other hand, learning to fly in a quiet airstrip in predictable weather might give you the time to learn how to fly the aircraft well and without other distractions.

Changing instructors

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“La-la-la-la I can’t hear you Steve”

You are going to be spending thousands of pounds so it’s worth remembering that you are the customer.  You may be in awe of the instructors and in particular the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) but they depend on students like you for their livelihood.

If you have any complaints or concerns don’t let them fester.  If you feel it’s appropriate go and see the CFI and ask for a quiet chat.  Assuming he/she is professionally minded then you will be met with an open mind.

For example, you may find that you don’t get along with your instructor.  This is unusual but it does happen.  We’re all different personality types and just occasionally we don’t gel with the person sitting next to us for hours on end.

So remembering that it’s your money you’re spending go and address this with the CFI and he or she should offer an alternative.  This is likely to save you money because you will learn faster with an instructor who is on your wavelength.

Conclusion and a warning

Going flying

Going flying. Wanna come?

Like any other commercial establishment running on tight margins and reliant upon a strong economy flight schools can go out of business if mismanaged or if they run out of students.  For this reason it’s never a good idea to hand over large amounts of cash upfront.  If they tempt you with a discount for a large deposit then perhaps a few hundred pounds might be worth the risk but I would suggest not handing over a thousand or more.

Perhaps things have improved greatly since I was a student pilot so feel free to ignore all my advice!  Just remember that you want to go from zero hours to Pilot In Command, so managing the finances is your first lesson in being control.

Feel free to add your comments, suggestions, stories, and other feedback in the comments below.

Meanwhile, book yourself a trial flight…

September 6, 2016

7 Essential Tips To Help You Through PPL Ground School

Essential tips for PPL Ground School

For some students the prospect of studying the PPL Ground School subjects is just as daunting as learning to fly itself.  Perhaps you were not top of the class in Maths or English.  Maybe you doubt your own abilities, or is it the thought of speaking on the radio that worries you?

The sheer amount of knowledge on unfamiliar subjects that you will be expected to absorb may fill you with dread.  If you’re learning to fly later in life then it could be a while since you did any formal study, let a alone pass any exams.

However, the PPL ground school subjects fall into several categories. Each of those categories is further sub divided into related sections.  By taking it slowly and building as you go you will be surprised just how much you have learned in a few weeks.

  1. There’s a wealth of information out there

Not so long ago the only way to study the PPL ground school subjects was using books and going to classes. The books and the classes remain an essential component, but now there are so many other supplements you can use:

  • Interactive DVDs for the home or office
  • CDs or digital files while you travel
  • Simulator software
  • Apps that both teach and quiz you
  • Social media groups in which you learn from each other
  1. Go at your pace.  It’s not a race

You’re not competing with other students so if you attend classes and others seem more knowledgeable then don’t be dismayed.  This is not about being first past the post.  This is about learning and understanding in such a way that it makes you a more confident and competent pilot.  If you need more time, take it, and remind yourself that often the people who learn more slowly learn more deeply.

  1. Enjoy the PPL Ground School subjects

Presumably you’re learning to fly because you have more than a slight interest in aviation. So approach all the ground school subjects with a sense of curiosity.  Be open minded to the ideas and concepts.  By making this conscious effort you will remove some the resistance that makes learning difficult at times.

  1. Don’t be shy to ask for extra help

If your flying school provides only group classes and you feel yourself falling behind or if you simply don’t understand certain aspects, then ask for additional help.  Many of us went to schools with large class sizes so we didn’t always receive the tuition that we needed.  The advantage of flying schools is that you can easily obtain that extra one to one tuition from an instructor.

  1. Get into the habit of regular study

A little an often is usually the best way to proceed. Read a chapter, mull it over, contemplate it until you’re satisfied you’ve got the general idea, then move on.  It can be helpful to set aside the same times each week to that it becomes a habit.  Set a schedule that’s realistic for you and stick to it.

  1. Remember why you are studying

Studying the PPL ground school subjects is not a tick-box exercise designed just to get you through a multiple choice exam.  A good understanding of all the subjects will enhance your enjoyment of flying by making you a more confident pilot.

  1. The learning never stops

Once you’ve passed the exams, don’t stop there.  Continue to maintain a healthy standard of knowledge by reading aviation books and magazines.  Learn from other pilots who have made mistakes and written about them.

The I Learned About Flying from That volumes are packed with stories written by pilots who made a mistake or an error of judgement.  They learned from the experience and have now passed on that knowledge to us.

Ready to start?  Thinking of Revising?

Here’s a reminder of what you’ll be studying in your PPL ground school.

  • Air Law & Operational Procedures
  • Navigation & Radio Aids
  • Meteorology
  • Aircraft General & Principles of Flight
  • Human Performance & Limitations
  • Flight Performance & Planning
  • VHF Radio written and oral exam

What are you waiting for?  Go Flying!

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