Air­field pro­file

In the heart of the east Devon coun­try­side, Dunkeswell of­fers a warm wel­come and plenty of avi­a­tion ac­tiv­ity

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & Pho­tos Nick Bloom

Friendly and re­laxed, with a good restau­rant, Dunkeswell wel­comes vis­i­tors, but look out for the sky­divers!

It may be a busy air­field but the at­mos­phere at Dunkeswell is re­laxed and it’s well worth a visit. Check on the weather first though, be­cause it’s the high­est li­censed air­field in the UK at over 800 feet above sea level and some fif­teen miles from the coast. When other parts of the South-west are clear, Dunkeswell can be socked in−and vice versa, so the lo­cals tell me. You also need to be aware of the parachute club on the air­field, although they’re as re­laxed about that here as they are about most other things. The word ‘of­fi­cious’ just isn’t in their lex­i­con.

I’m go­ing to meet air­field co-owner Bren­dan Proc­ter and visit some of the air­field’s busi­nesses and fa­cil­i­ties. My flight to Dunkeswell be­gins with a 0715 take­off and, dodg­ing cloud on the way, I ar­rive at Dunkeswell air­field at nine o’clock.

No one an­swers my ra­dio calls so I make sev­eral blind ones (the ser­vice is Air/ground and I emailed for PPR, so they’re ex­pect­ing me). Run­way 35 is in use, so I land on that, turn right at the in­ter­sec­tion and taxi up 05, the tail­skid drag­ging nois­ily over the con­crete. This is a new ex­pe­ri­ence for the Wot−its first land­ing on a hard run­way as op­posed to grass. It copes, de­spite hav­ing noth­ing to brake with but the scrap­ing tail­skid, and no means of steer­ing but rud­der with blasts of power.

Fi­nally a voice in my head­phones asks me to taxi to the line of air­craft near the Tower and park there. I do so, pull the mix­ture con­trol, the en­gine runs to a stop, and I then rather stiffly climb out. My host, Bren­dan Proc­ter, who owns the air­field with his daugh­ter Ni­chola, ar­rives and takes me into the club­house, head­ing off to fix me a cof­fee. This gives me the chance to butt in on a stu­dent who’s busy in a brief­ing room with his ‘whizz-wheel’, charts and flight plan. Chris Stand­ford is 36, a de­sign and tech­nol­ogy teacher and 45-hour stu­dent, who, half an hour from now, is booked in to take his skills test. He says he’ll use his PPL for recre­ation and self-fly-hire of club air­craft, adding that Dunkeswell is “fan­tas­tic, the peo­ple here are very sup­port­ive”.

Bren­dan and I sit down to­gether. He tells me Devon and Som­er­set Flight Train­ing has eighty stu­dents. That’s a lot for one fly­ing school, so it must be good. There are 260 club mem­bers. The club has three full-time in­struc­tors and four part-time. The fleet is also im­pres­sive: five Cessna 152s, two 172s, a War­rior and a Citabria, which is used for tail­wheel train­ing. The school of­fers PPL, LAPL, IMC and night train­ing and li­aises with nearby Ex­eter for ATPL train­ing. The vol­ume of trial lessons is rather small, given such a busy club, around twenty per week, but this is es­sen­tially a coun­try air­field. The near­est ma­jor towns, con­nected to each other by the M5, are Taun­ton and Ex­eter. Both are around fif­teen miles away ‘as the crow flies’. And the air­field is at least ten miles from the mo­tor­way.

There are 105 air­craft based at Dunkeswell and Bren­dan and his team are still erect­ing new hangars. The air­field has eigh­teen to date, some fairly small and built in rows, oth­ers larger. Bren­dan tells me he has ob­tained plan­ning per­mis­sion for an­other three hangars and 120,000 ad­di­tional square feet of hangarage. Hangar rent is £200 a month plus VAT, and that in­cludes land­ing fees. Vis­it­ing pi­lots pay £10 to ar­rive in a sin­gle, £20 for a twin.

Bren­dan is 58. His daugh­ter and co-owner Ni­chola looks af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion and his wife also works here. “She helps me run the busi­ness,” says Bren­dan. They bought the air­field 32 years ago and took over the fly­ing school twenty years later. Prior to that Bren­dan

was a thatcher (an oc­cu­pa­tion you don’t of­ten come across) and had a wood­shav­ings busi­ness mak­ing an­i­mal bed­ding. He started com­ing to Dunkeswell reg­u­larly in his early teens, got his PPL when he was seven­teen and now has 3,600 fly­ing hours. His cur­rent air­craft is an SE5A replica, which he co-owns with Dave Sils­bury. “My wife use to fly a lot with me,” says Bren­dan, “but these days we are too busy with the air­field to fly as much as we used to.”

Forty peo­ple are em­ployed on the site in one ca­pac­ity or an­other, although only a hand­ful by the air­field own­ers. Other em­ploy­ers in­clude AH Heli­copters, AT Avi­a­tion, Som­er­set Mi­cro­lights, the parachute club and var­i­ous main­te­nance and air­craft spray­ing fa­cil­i­ties, all of which I am to visit to­day.

We start with AT Avi­a­tion, a reg­u­lar ad­ver­tiser in Pi­lot, usu­ally fea­tur­ing a dou­ble-page-spread of air­craft for sale. There I meet Andy Cad­dick, who says, “We are not a nor­mal air­craft bro­ker, more an air­craft deal­er­ship of­fer­ing a one-stop so­lu­tion for the GA pi­lot. Andy Twem­low started the com­pany three years ago as a re­sult of at­tempt­ing to buy an aero­plane him­self and be­ing mucked about in var­i­ous ways−for in­stance trav­el­ling to in­spect var­i­ous air­craft, only to find that they were in a much poorer state than claimed by bro­kers and ven­dors.” I speak to Andy Twem­low later and he tells me that AT now of­fers buy­ers the chance to view mul­ti­ple types un­der one roof. The com­pany of­fers air­craft from its own stock, part-ex­change, fi­nance on se­lected models, and also of­fers a ‘store and sell’ pro­gramme. Ap­par­ently half of the sell­ers leave the dis­posal of their air­craft en­tirely to AT Avi­a­tion. There is free col­lec­tion and stor­age while air­craft are pre­pared for sale and mar­keted. A three­strong man­age­ment team is sup­ported by web mar­ket­ing man­ager Mark Day and PA Leah Gething, with tech­ni­cal sup­port from LAA in­spec­tor and air­craft re­storer Robin King, and pi­lot and me­chan­i­cal de­sign engi­neer Zac Rockey.

We move on to visit Som­er­set Mi­cro­lights. Pro­pri­etor, Jim Green­shields is away but I meet club mem­ber James Lug­ger, 24, who is about to be­come an air­line pi­lot, and flies a Som­er­set Mi­cro­lights C42 for his off-duty avi­a­tion. With him is his mother Jac­que­line, whom he plans to fly down to Per­ran­porth this morn­ing. Som­er­set Mi­cro­lights has three in­struc­tors and gives dual in­struc­tion at £132 an hour. It also of­fers in­struc­tor train­ing and pro­vides hangarage for mi­cro­lights at £168 a month, or £60 a month for a de-rigged flexwing. There are at least a dozen mi­cro­lights of var­i­ous kinds in the hangar. Our next stop is Fly­moore Air­craft Engi­neer­ing, where I meet

“These days we are too busy to fly as much as we used to,” says Bren­dan

manag­ing di­rec­tor Alan Moore. Fly­moore is mainly a re­spray and restora­tion com­pany but it also pro­vides main­te­nance, for in­stance look­ing af­ter the school air­craft here. Alan, who is 38, says, “I started off clean­ing aero­planes and sweep­ing the floor−dad is a pi­lot, so I grew up around them.” Fly­moore has been at Dunkeswell for thirteen years and now has eight em­ploy­ees (some part-time).

Next we go to see the replica SE5A Bren­dan shares with Dave Sils­bury, who is the LAA in­spec­tor for the South-west and has been based at Dunkeswell for thirty years. I pho­to­graph the two of them in front of their aero­plane, which is, of course, based on the Cur­rie Wot, same as the vari­ant (the Super Wot) I ar­rived in. I ask Dave to sum up Dunkeswell, but he’s been here for so long and it’s so in­te­gral to his life, he has dif­fi­culty in an­swer­ing. In the end he says, “It’s got con­crete run­ways, so you can fly all year round.” Af­ter a pause he adds, “It can get busy.” I sus­pect Dave is a man of few words; like Fran­cis Don­ald­son and most other LAA se­niors he’s learned the hard way: ‘least said, soon­est mended’. But he is more elo­quent when I ask how the SE5A copes with mud. “The stan­dard wheels on my Super Wot bury them­selves to the axles,” I tell him. He says the Se5a’s spoked tall-and-nar­row wheels do just the same. We agree that the straight axle on the SE5A can be a hazard land­ing in long grass and the Super Wot’s split axle is bet­ter in that re­spect.

In con­trast to Dave’s long as­so­ci­a­tion with the air­field, the next pi­lot I speak to has only been based here for six months. Robin Charles is a re­tired elec­tri­cal engi­neer and he is ap­proach­ing com­ple­tion of an RV-9. Why fin­ish it here, I ask? “It’s a good en­vi­ron­ment for test fly­ing,” he says, “I plan to get it painted here and I’ll al­most cer­tainly base it here be­cause,

un­like Ex­eter, there’s no com­mer­cial traf­fic, although there are the parachutists. Ex­eter makes you or­bit for ages; I’ve had to wait twenty min­utes to land there. Here, you’re left to your own de­vices. It’s the kind of place where the pi­lots take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their ac­tions; the at­mos­phere’s a bit like Comp­ton Ab­bas, which has the same ‘priced to sell’ ap­proach to hangarage, fuel and land­ing fees.”

Nearby there’s a hangar used by a lo­cal main­te­nance engi­neer, but Bren­dan says the engi­neer wants his name left out. “Not be­cause he’s shy or has any­thing to hide, just that he’s al­ready got more work than he knows what to do with,” he ex­plains. An­other busi­ness owner, An­drew Har­vey, whose com­pany AH Heli­copters has a fly­ing school here us­ing Hughes 300 and 500 heli­copters, is off-air­field to­day, so we go to visit Sky­di­ve­buzz, where I meet the chief in­struc­tor, Andy Guest.

Jump­ing from 15,000 feet

Be­fore be­com­ing chief in­struc­tor, Andy was in the Royal Marines and then pro­vided armed se­cu­rity in Afghanistan−a back­ground which must make sky­div­ing seem as risky as knit­ting. Cus­tomers pay around £270 for a tan­dem jump from one of the com­pany’s three Beech 99 tur­bine twins. The com­pany sold 29,000 de­scents last year, so this is a very pop­u­lar fa­cil­ity. Sky­divers exit the air­craft at 15,000ft. Andy ex­plains that they ‘pull the pin’ at 6,000ft (the parachute opens at 5,000), so there is a whole sixty sec­onds in free-fall de­scend­ing 10,000 feet−al­most two miles.

I say sixty sec­onds is a long time and it must go by slowly. “Ac­tu­ally, most first-time jumpers can’t be­lieve it was as long as that. They don’t take it in un­til the sec­ond time, once they re­alise the air isn’t just empty space and has cush­ion­ing ef­fect and get less bog­gled,” says Andy. This seems a shame, be­cause most peo­ple never jump a sec­ond time−all but one per cent of the jumps are tan­dem sky­dives, the equiv­a­lent of fly­ing as a pas­sen­ger. Nev­er­the­less, a few cus­tomers of Sky­di­ve­buzz do un­dergo in­struc­tion, so that they can jump solo. “We cur­rently have four stu­dents at­tend­ing our ac­cel­er­ated freefall course,” Andy says. “And 180 mem­bers who have qual­i­fied. Some do ten jumps a day.” Wow.

From my Tiger Club days in the 1980s I have mem­o­ries of see­ing groups of peo­ple at Red­hill be­ing taught how to roll af­ter a parachute drop. That, says Andy, was in the old days of solo jumps. “It was a mi­nor­ity sport then; it only boomed when tan­dem jumps came in.” This re­minds me of the hugely suc­cess­ful rides the pub­lic take in dual-seat Spit­fires and Mus­tangs, which help to keep these mag­nif­i­cent war­birds in the air. How­ever part of me thinks that fly­ing−in which freefall parachut­ing could be in­cluded−should be more about skill than thrill, whereas it seems that the trend is go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

See­ing a PA-28 taxy­ing in, I go to in­ves­ti­gate, meet­ing Stephen James, 83 and Ge­off Brookes, 84, both re­tired air­line pi­lots. “We’ve just flown from Comp­ton Ab­bas where we’re based,” they tell me. “This is a club air­craft. We al­ways fly to­gether and swap seats for the re­turn flight.” Ah, now that’s more my kind of thing−and what a great way to sus­tain an ac­tive life and a friend­ship in your eight­ies.

My next en­counter is with Mike Bee­ston, whom I find ready­ing a club

Cessna for flight. Mike, 60, is a CAA Au­tho­rised Ex­am­iner. “I’m based at Ex­eter,” he says, “but I work around the South-west.” I ask him what he’s do­ing at Dunkeswell to­day. “An ini­tial as­sess­ment of com­pe­tence for a flight ex­am­iner,” he says. Mike has been earn­ing his liv­ing as a pi­lot for some forty years, mostly out of con­trolled air­ports like Ex­eter. “But it’s here that I keep my Piper Cub,” he says. “I like Ex­eter, but Dunkeswell is for recre­ational fly­ing and more re­laxed.”

Pop­u­lar restau­rant

Next Bren­dan takes me into the restau­rant. There I spot a group wait­ing for two fam­ily mem­bers who have just jumped, and then I meet a charm­ing pair, Fred Baulch and his grand­son Lloyd, who is six­teen and has been fly­ing with Fred since he was eight, “And now I’m learn­ing to fly,” he says. Bren­dan in­tro­duces me to Julie Gil­mour, who took over as restau­rant man­ager a year ago. I ask if she’s been taken up in a light aero­plane yet. “No,” she says, “But I’ve been in the jump plane.” I ask if the bar is busy in the evenings. “You bet,” she says. “Thurs­day’s carvery night and we do a carvery for Sun­day lunch too.” I ask who comes−is it pi­lots? “No, mostly lo­cals,” says Julie. “They come from all over: Lyme Regis, Sid­mouth, Seaton, Branscombe...” Eleven peo­ple work in the restau­rant and it’s £3.75 for a ba­con sand­wich or £6.95 for to­day’s spe­cial, burger and chips. Lean­ing on a fence out­side I meet an­other grandad-and-grand­son pair, Richard and nine-year-old Ben, who have sim­ply come to look at the aero­planes. “Do you like aero­planes?” I ask Ben. He nods gravely, “Yes.”

Re­turn­ing to the club­house, I meet op­er­a­tions as­sis­tant Matt Bow­ley, who is 35 and a 200-hour pi­lot, fly­ing club Cess­nas. He got his PPL when he was twenty. And then I meet a fly­ing in­struc­tor, Christo­pher Swin­hoe-standen, who has just flown in from Wy­combe Air Park in a club 172 to pick up his daugh­ter. Hav­ing

“It’s here that I keep my Piper Cub... I like Ex­eter, but Dunkeswell is for recre­ational fly­ing and more re­laxed,” — Mike Bee­ston

flown past Wy­combe on my way here, I ask if he met any low cloud. “Lots of it,” he says cheer­fully. “Some of the flight was at 500ft. And I’m keen to head back, be­cause there’s a cold front on the way.”

Time to go

That seems like a hint from Fate that maybe it’s time for me to make my own de­par­ture. First, I need fuel. Bren­dan helps me pull the Wot over to the pumps and Matt takes my credit card. I sign out and re­turn to the Wot, where Bren­dan swings the prop for me. Wav­ing chee­rio to Bren­dan, I make the ap­pro­pri­ate ra­dio call, then head away from the pumps.

As I line up on Run­way 35 the voice in my head­phones gives wind di­rec­tion and confirms there’s no one on fi­nal − you do not, of course, need clear­ance to take off with an Air/ground ser­vice. The Wot ac­cel­er­ates, I lift off and we climb away. With parachutists on the air­field, a func­tion­ing ra­dio is nec­es­sary. I am lis­ten­ing, but it seems all three drop­ping air­craft are cur­rently on the ground.

I set head­ing and wait for the first land­mark so that I can ad­just if nec­es­sary. Most of my nav­i­gat­ing in the Wot is with fin­ger on map, mag­netic com­pass, read from what you see to the map and not the other way round.

Dunkeswell is some­how both busier and more re­laxed than other airfields I’ve been to

As I head for home, I re­flect on what I have seen and heard. Dunkeswell is some­how both busier and more re­laxed than other airfields I’ve been to and it’s par­tic­u­larly en­cour­ag­ing to see it ex­pand­ing. It has the two key qual­i­ties of fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity and se­cure own­er­ship; both are nec­es­sary to en­sure sur­vival in these un­cer­tain times. It’s al­ways pleas­ant to find an air­field run by two or three mem­bers of the same fam­ily and it’s a boon for ev­ery­one in avi­a­tion when it has at­trac­tions that bring in the pub­lic at large and not just ex­ist­ing pi­lots. The parachute busi­ness does that, as does the restau­rant, which seems, with its new man­age­ment, to be in very ca­pa­ble hands. Whether in search of lunch and an out­ing, or as a jump­ing off-point to ex­plore Devon, Dunkeswell has a lot to rec­om­mend it.

Air­field pro­file p64


Two of the seven Cess­nas in the Devon and Som­er­set Flight Train­ing fleet

Robin King (left), LAA In­spec­tor and air­craft re­storer, and Zac Rockey, me­chan­i­cal and de­sign engi­neer, with the Great Lakes bi­plane for sale through AT Avi­a­tion

AT Avi­a­tion staff with some of the air­craft the com­pany cur­rently has for sale; note new hangar cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion (left in photo)

Through and through fly­ing peo­ple: air­field co-owner Bren­dan Proc­ter (left) with LAA stal­wart and air­craft re­storer David Sils­bury in front of the replica SE5A they share

Fly­moore Air­craft Engi­neer­ing is pri­mar­ily a re­spray and restora­tion com­pany, but this is its main­te­nance hangar

The Som­er­set Mi­cro­lights hangar is packed out with air­craft, both three-axis and flexwing, some de-rigged for cheaper hangar rates

There’s room in the restau­rant for pi­lots, stu­dents, parachutists, and lo­cals — or any­one in­ter­ested in avi­a­tion Mike Bee­ston is a CAA Au­tho­rised Ex­am­iner based at Ex­eter, although he keeps his Cub at Dunkeswell

Stephen James (left) and Ge­off Brookes are re­tired air­line pi­lots in their eight­ies who have just flown in from Comp­ton Ab­bas

‘Just watch­ing’ — but, who knows, one day be­ing in­spired to fly — Richard and nine-year-old Ben

Julie Gil­mour, who took over as restau­rant man­ager a year ago

Keep­ing an eye out for air­craft move­ments, op­er­a­tions as­sis­tant Matt Bow­ley, who is 35 and a 200-hour pi­lot

Come to fly his daugh­ter home in a Wy­combe Air Park C172, in­struc­tor Christo­pher Swin­hoe-standen

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.