Andrewsfield sits under the Stansted CTA but don’t let that put you off visiting this friendly airfield!
The key word I would use to describe Andrewsfield is ‘relaxed’. You might not expect this of an airfield whose circuit butts into the CTR of an international airport like Stansted, but somehow they manage to keep things simple and low-key. Having said that, if you begin your visit−as you undoubtedly should−by looking at the airfield website, you might find it somewhat off-putting. In bold red capitals the airfield information section says, ‘ All visiting pilots’ (underlined) ‘ are required to read the Stansted letter of agreement’. Click on the link and it takes you to a nine-page document that I, for one, found a little difficult to follow. So I rang the airfield manager for a person-to-person briefing.
“Which way are you coming?” he asked. I told him: slipping between Stapleford’s zone and Stansted’s southerly Tmz−since my Currie Super Wot doesn’t have a transponder−then flying on a north-east heading under the Stansted CTA, past High Easter and thence to Andrewsfield. “I won’t talk to anyone on the radio until I get to you, since it’s a handheld and I’m open cockpit,” I said. “Fine,” he said. “That’s it?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied.
After a few days of wind and showers, the weather looked like it was going to settle, so I rang the airfield again. Although it was 7.45 on a Wednesday evening, I thought someone might be there. The phone was answered by a barman who said the airfield was closed for flying. “Many customers in the bar?” I asked. “About a dozen,” he said. I was impressed; few airfields are able to sustain a bar in the evenings these days. The next day I rang at six p.m. “Oh, you’ll need a transponder,” said whoever took the call. “Not if I talk to Essex radar and ask for clearance to cross the TMZ,” I said, this being my back-up plan. He agreed, so I booked in for an 0900 arrival the next morning.
Something in his reply suggested that requesting a non-transponder transit while in the air might not be straightforward, so I decided to telephone Farnborough Radar on 01252 526015 to see if he was right in thinking that I’d need one. “Which way are you coming,” asked the person who answered. I repeated the plan I had outlined to Andrewsfield’s airfield manager, emphasising no transponder and no radio contact until I arrived at Andrewsfield. She asked me to hold, “While I ask”. After a minute or two she returned to say, “Yes, that should be fine”. And it was. Once in the air, I simply followed the M25 to the M11 roundabout, then took up a northeasterly heading, called up Andrewsfield on 130.55, joined downwind on a right-hand circuit and landed on runway 27L.
In days gone by I’d have had a slightly nervous journey on that north-easterly leg, which is pretty featureless and with the potential to infringe Stansted’s CTR should I get it wrong. This time, I had a fullycharged Aware moving map GPS in the cockpit so I knew exactly where I was. There’s been a lot in the aviation press lately about the need to avoid zone infringements...
So here I am, just landed after a pleasant 35-minute flight. It’s a Friday morning, the airfield is opening for the day and the weather is fine and forecast to remain so. As I lift the Wot’s tailskid to turn the aeroplane so that it’s lined up with the others in the parking line, I wonder what I’m going to find. Will there be lots of action, or−on a weekday−will it be quiet?
Walking into the clubhouse, I find Roger Collins, a retired BT engineer, preparing for a navigation exercise. “I learned to fly here in my twenties,” he says, “but after six years of club flying, family commitments meant that I had to give it up. I subsequently took up radiocontrolled model flying, but now I’m retired I can get back to full-size flying again.” I ask him to sum up Andrewsfield. “It’s a marvellous, friendly place,” he says. “There’s a bar, the staff are all friendly, the instructors are wonderful and we’re in semi-free airspace.”
I sign in and go to meet a man drinking coffee at the bar. His face looks familiar and in fact it’s Pete Brand, 63, an ex-airline pilot who is a part-time instructor here, but who also works at Classic Wings. “I spent five hours instructing in Tiger Moths yesterday,” he tells me. Pete rebuilt a Bücker Jungmann and spent nine years displaying it at airshows. He has been instructing on and off for most of his flying career. With his aerobatic display background, he teaches aerobatics at Andrewsfield in the club Cessna Aerobat−there are currently eight aerobatic students here. He says, “Andrewsfield is above all a club. Other places are more businesses, I suppose. Some mix being a club with being a business, but I can’t think of many airfields that are so much there just to serve members. It’s about flying here, of course, but it also has its social side. There’s a nicely relaxed atmosphere−you’ve probably noticed no one wears uniform. It’s user-friendly, yet manages at the same time to be professional.”
I tell Pete about my experiences with the website, telephoning the club and
“Andrewsfield is above all a club... there just to serve members”, Pete Brand
Farnborough. “Visiting pilots can get into serious trouble if they just barge in,” he says. “You must start with the website and the reason we ask people to do that is that it’s a touch too complicated to explain on the telephone. It isn’t that difficult, though. As you know, we’re right on the edge of Stansted, which is why we have a relatively low circuit height of 700ft (QFE). There’s a height restriction on the
north-west side of 1,500ft, which is 1,214ft QFE. Squawk 7010 as you approach and in the circuit. But there’s plenty of flexibility for someone like you coming in without a transponder and in an open cockpit.”
We are joined by Keith Pogmore, whom I last met when we flew Stapleford’s T67 together for a Pilot flight test. He’s here today to do some examining. We chew the fat for a bit, then duty calls both of us. People are beginning to arrive and I spot Ben Atlee, who is fifteen and here for work experience. He hopes to become a commercial pilot, he tells me. “Grandad was a spotter and took me with him to airshows and to visit airfields,” he explains, “which is probably how I got the bug.” He has had ten hours of flying instruction at Andrewsfield. I ask Ben what his father does, in case there’s an aviation connection, but there isn’t: his father has a company refurbishing restaurants. Brothers and sisters? “An older brother; he works in a pub,” says Ben.
I spot a pilot heading towards a club C172. Ray Brierley is seventy. He’s a club member and he’s flying the Cessna to Thurrock for its fifty-hour check.
Before things get too busy I need to interview Mike Rowland, who is the Airfield Manager, and his partner−they’ve been a couple for sixteen years−carol Cooper. They agree that now would be a good moment and we go into Carol’s office. Carol, I know, will have a full diary of instruction today−she always does. I have flown a couple of biennial flight reviews with her. She offers a unique combination of putting you at your ease while conveying genuinely useful instruction. I’ve heard many others say the same. I’ve also met Mike on previous occasions and found him charming and highly competent.
There are around forty privately owned aircraft based on the airfield, they tell me. Hangar space is pretty much all taken, but were there a vacancy the charge is £160 a month in one of the crowded hangars, or
There’s plenty of flexibility for someone coming in here without a transponder...
£275 in the big hangar they added in 2010. Outside parking is £105 a month. Landing fees are £12 for a single and fuel prices are competitive. (Figures include VAT.) Another relatively recent innovation (2008) is the addition of runway matting, which cost some £80,000 but allows Andrewsfield to operate all year round. However, when there has been a lot of
rain, the airfield still sometimes has to turn visitors away, because the parking areas can become unusable, unless restricted to local aircraft.
Andrewsfield Aviation is the club which leases the airfield; the land is owned by two farmers. The airfield was constructed by the USAAF in 1943 as a bomber base and was named Andrews Field for Lieutenant General Frank M Andrews after he was killed in an aeroplane crash. Marauders flew from here, then, when the airfield was handed over to the RAF, Mustangs and later Meteor jets. Flying ceased in 1948 until Andrewsfield re-started as a private airfield in 1972, becoming licensed in 1976. By then virtually all traces of the USAAF runways and buildings had gone, so the grass runway was laid. There are photographs and other memorabilia in the clubhouse to commemorate Andrewsfield’s WWII origins.
A good selection of aircraft to fly
The club has five Cessna 152s, including an Aerobat, a PA-28 Warrior, a Cessna 172, and a Piper Arrow, use of a privatelyowned Beech Duchess, and use of a privately-owned Cub for tailwheel conversions. Trial lessons come in a steady stream throughout the week, and at weekends there are two instructors just to provide them. Students come from the Essex towns and countryside, but also from further afield, particularly North London. “One advantage,” Mike says, “is that, as the airfield lessee, the club doesn’t have to pass on landing fees to students.”
The club has around 350 members, approximately forty students (probably double that number if you include tailwheel, instructor and aerobatic students) and the airfield has around 3,000 movements a year. I ask Mike and Carol if they have noticed any trends in the last few years and they think it’s been fairly steady, “Although instructor training has increased, PPL training, self-fly-hire and flying of privately-owned aircraft based here has probably dropped a bit”. The Cessna 152s each fly around 450 hours a year.
Carol, who is 54, started flying when she was nineteen. “It’s in the blood,” she says, holding up a photograph of her grandfather with a Bristol Boxkite – he managed to survive flying throughout the whole of the Great War. She points out another photo of him with the Cooper Travers Hawk, a light aircraft he designed and constructed in the 1920s. She has been an instructor ever since learning to fly and now has over 23,000 hours. “These days I tend to specialise in training instructors and examiners,” she says. “I also test instructors, examiners and commercial pilots.”
Mike is 57 and started flying when he was 36. He has had a long career−still ongoing−as an entertainments manager and agent, mainly for sports personalities. “I still look after Jimmy Tarbuck,” he tells me, “and TV sports presenter Steve Parrish, who, incidentally is a pilot; he flies from Top Farm.” Before that he was in the RAF (not as a pilot) and says he always wanted to learn to fly. As well as flying, he instructs, currently around forty hours a year, but mainly he’s the airfield manager, although he and Carol run it together. In response to my question they tell me it brings a modest income. Carol adds, “It’s a way of life. I love the flying and the people. Mike gets the grief because he does the management side.”
Back in the clubhouse, I find two pilots preparing for a flight. Richard Bonner is a retired jeweller and Marc Ogilvie a guest house proprietor. They both have a share
in a TB-10 based here (there are five in the syndicate) and they plan to fly to Barton. “It’s friendly, relaxed and easy-going,” they tell me when I ask what makes Andrewsfield different from other airfields. “No one runs out if someone’s made a mistake or forgotten to wear their hi-vis jacket. Locals come to enjoy the facility and it’s the kind of place you still come to when the weather’s too poor for flying. I usually opt for a sandwich, but I hear that the hot meals are good. You get cycling and motorbike clubs in here for the food and the atmosphere and it’s popular with walkers too. It’s a great rendezvous point in the area.”
Mike takes me on a tour of the hangars, which have a lot of interesting aeroplanes: a Falco, Jodel, two Pitts Specials, a Super Decathlon, a Europa tri-gear and several Piper taildragger types amongst others. Parked out on the grass is a variety of Piper and Cessna nosewheel types, plus an ARV Super2 and what I’m pretty sure is a Lake LA-4 Buccaneer four-seat retractable amphibian; it has an American registration and the covers display a Canadian company logo, ‘Lake Central Air Services’.
Next I go into MK Aero Support, the aircraft engineering company at Andrewsfield, where I meet the proprietor, Massoud Khoshkhou. He tells me the company has three full-time and three part-time engineers (four if we include Massoud) and has 45 aircraft on its books ranging from an Aeronca taildragger to Senecas and Saratogas. Massoud is 62 and says he is too busy to be a pilot, although he did begin training at Denham before starting a family intervened. His son Cameron, who works here, is a pilot, which enables MK Aero Support to collect and deliver aircraft for customers.
Massoud grew up in Iran and came to the UK when he was eighteen. “I did intend to go to America,” he says, “where
“It’s the kind of place you still come to when the weather’s too poor for flying”
I was to become a civil engineer. However, I came here first, liked it and decided to stay. I enrolled at Thames Polytechnic but discovered a lifelong passion for aircraft and switched from civil to aviation engineering.” He qualified at Kidlington and went on to work at Biggin Hill and Stansted. Massoud set up engineering at Andrewsfield in 1982, but it wasn’t until 1988 that he bought the company and became based here full-time. He also owned a maintenance company at Denham for a while.
Massoud strikes me as partentrepreneur, part-engineer as he also leases and buys and sells aircraft. He is married−his wife, whom he met in his twenties, works for the Caa−and has a daughter who has a Masters in Law. A charming man, he tells me, “I have two projects when I retire; to learn to play the saxophone and to qualify as a pilot.”
I am heading back to the clubhouse when I spot a couple seated at the tables outside, so stop to say hello. John and Liz Townrow are both retired and live nearby. He worked as a joiner and she as a bereavement coordinator. They’ve come for a coffee and to look at the aeroplanes, they tell me−john did some gliding in his youth and they both like aircraft but have no thoughts of a trial lesson.
Someone is pulling out one of the Pitts Specials, so I go to investigate. Allan Millson, 59, shares it with his son Chris. “It’s a nice day, so I’m off to fly some aerobatics,” he says. Allan flies for Easyjet and isn’t particularly serious about aeros, although he has flown in a Beginners
Contest. “This is a good airfield for a Pitts,” he says, “you’ve only got to fly three or four minutes to get to a practice area.” He’s been flying from Andrewsfield for twenty years−the Pitts since 2010 and before that a Jodel. Having operated a Pitts myself, I’ll bet another advantage is having a grass runway. This short-coupled, over-powered taildragger can get to be rather a handful on a hard runway, especially when it’s slick with rainwater. Grass makes it relatively easy. Allan adds one more observation: “Southend zone’s changes have tended to send more passing traffic this way, so I find I have to keep an even better lookout.”
Inside the clubhouse I find a trio of people all eating sausage and egg sandwiches−john, Ryan and Tarik. They have arrived in an Aeros Flight Training PA-28 from Coventry. John’s the instructor and Ryan and Tarik, both in their midtwenties, are training to be instructors. I ask why John picked Andrewsfield to fly to and he says, “It’s a challenge for navigation, being close to Stansted,” then grins and admits it’s one of his favourite airfields. “It makes a change from Coventry,” he says, “with its big runways. Here you get easy radio and a great hot sandwich.” I ask Ryan and Tarik if they plan to become airline pilots and they both say pretty much the same thing: it’s not excluded, but they both plan to instruct for the foreseeable future. The circuit is relatively quiet, so I take the opportunity to have a quick word with the duty Air/ground radio service operator, George Browning. I want to thank him anyway for his handling of my arrival and compliment him on his radio voice, because he speaks slowly and clearly; I wish they all did. George is 79, a retired design engineer who has worked part-time at Andrewsfield for 21 years. His duties include looking after the office, booking pilots in and out, and taking landing fees. After years of flying as a private pilot he lost his medical and stopped piloting nine years ago, but still flies from time to time as a passenger.
After that, I nip into the kitchen for a quick word with Michelle and Dana. Michelle’s been taken up in a light plane, but not Dana, hint, hint. Michelle stresses that all the cooking is done with local produce and, “Everything’s fresh, nothing bought in”. They’ve both been working at the airfield (part-time) for four years. Michelle says, “It’s a family atmosphere, everyone’s relaxed and welcoming.”
Next I interview Pete Watkinson, whom I spoke to on the telephone a couple of evenings ago when he was manning the bar, as he is today. He says Wednesday and Friday evenings are busiest for pilots and flying club members, “but the bar gets used as a pub throughout the week. On a Friday we can easily get ten or twenty in and Friday night is BBQ night to encourage flying in the evenings. We had four aircraft fly in last Friday, one from Rochester, just to get a BBQ burger. It starts at 1600 and stops when we run out of food. The last departure has to be by 2030−we like to get everything secured and on the ground after that.” The bar has an entry in The Good Beer Guide, “We keep a real ale on tap,” says Pete. The standard breakfast is £6.50, with a small breakfast alternative at £4.75. Pete has been the bar/café proprietor here for four years. He’s a 1,600-hour pilot and has flown from Andrewsfield for 21 years. He tells me he spent forty years in the motor trade. “I was coming up for retirement and felt I could make a difference,” he says. “I told Mike that if the bar came up for grabs, let me know. It did, and I took it over.” Pete is booked in for an aerobatic lesson with Pete Brand this afternoon. I
The bar gets used as a pub throughout the week and Friday night is BBQ night...
ask how his flying started. He laughs. “My wife bought me a trial lesson. That was 21 years ago and she says I’ve not been home since.”
I see a teenage boy arrive and, intrigued, ask what brings him to Andrewsfield. He’s River Binks, thirteen and his grandfather has bought him a trial lesson. Grandad (Ivan) and Grandma (Gill) arrive. I ask River, whose father is a builder, if he has a particular interest in aeroplanes. “Dad’s cousin is an airline pilot,” he says, and he really is interested in aeroplanes because when I ask him to name some from WWII, he says “Spitfire, Messerschmitt and Wellington”. Good lad.
My final interview is with a young couple that come through the door just as I am thinking of departing to fly home. They are a jolly pair and most interesting,
Anett Novak from Hungary and Roderick Groeneveld from Holland. They both have a share in a group-owned PA-28 on the airfield and been based at Andrewsfield for two years. She is training to be a pilot and he is already qualified. They met five years ago, when she was a flight attendant on a Ryanair flight and he was a passenger. She is now a flight operations assistant at Stapleford and he earns his living as an IT consultant. They are flying to Alderney for two days, then to Antwerp where they have friends, then back to Andrewsfield, a pretty ambitious trip, and it’s great to see young people take to the air with such obvious joy. I ask them to sum up Andrewsfield. She says, “It’s hard to see from the air the first time,” and laughs. He says, “It’s small enough that you can get to know everybody”, and she adds, “more club, less ‘factory’”. It’s a good summary on which to end my visit. I say goodbye, sign out and head out to the Wot. The flight home is uneventful. Having a GPS removes the guesswork−perhaps at the cost of a little pleasurable dramatic tension, but it does provide absolute certainty. Arriving back at my airstrip, the Wot makes a gentle uphill landing. I taxi to the hangar and pull out the mixture control. The engine runs down and all is quiet.
At one stage in my flying, some thirty years ago, I used to fly to Andrewsfield most weekends. Nearly always, my friend Brian was in the front cockpit. It was when I’d just bought a Skybolt and I used to enliven the journey with a barrel roll and the occasional loop. Sometimes Brian and I would identify High Easter en route, and sometimes we wouldn’t, but I don’t think we ever had any trouble finding Andrewsfield. At that point, the Skybolt being somewhat tricky to land, it was the wide, long grass runway that was the main attraction, then the welcome and relaxed atmosphere. No one ever told me off for anything. We’d buy a coffee and some cake−then, as now, the cake was exceptional−and fly back.
In recent times, following the introduction of the Stansted TMZ, I have to admit to a certain reluctance to visit Andrewsfield by air. I’ve driven there a few times, and the journey by road is somewhat tedious, taking over twice as long. However, now that I know how straightforward and easy it is to fly there, despite the limits of a portable radio and not having a transponder, I’ll be sure to go back.
Inset: Instructor extraordinaire Carol displayes a picture of her grandfather with a Bristol Boxkite, dating from 1914 Above: No shortage of vintage taildraggers at this grass airfield Left: Ben Atlee, ten hours into his PPL at fifteen and planning to become a commercial pilot
Right: Carol Cooper and Mike Rowland, the couple who between them run Andrewsfield
Above right: airfield manager Mike Rowland points to the runway matting laid in 2008, allowing all-yearround operation from grass
Top right: intriguing Lake LA-4 Buccaneer amphibian on the end of the parking line
Above: the upper storey of control tower is for occasional weekend use
Top left: owl bird scarer on a Cherokee, hopefully keeps the covers droppings-free
Right: Massoud and two of his engineers
Above: Massoud Khoshkhou, proprietor of on-airfield maintenance facility MK Aero Support
Allan Millson off on an aerobatic sortie in the Pitts Special that he co-owns with his son
Right: duty Air/ground radio service operator and office manager for the day, George Browning
Above: reminder in the clubhouse that this was once Andrews Field, a USAAF base
Above: long-standing club member and 1,600-hour pilot, Pete Watkinson, runs the bar and restaurant
Below: Anett Novak from Hungary and Roderick Groeneveld from Holland, about to fly a club PA-28 to Alderney and Antwerp
Inset top: if nothing else, come for the home-made cake Inset above : thirteen-year old River Binks, here for a trial lesson