Air­field pro­file

With hard and grass run­ways, a new restau­rant and a car rac­ing track, Thrux­ton caters for many tastes

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & Pho­tos Nick Bloom

Maybe Pilot Edi­tor, Philip White­man, sug­gested that I pro­file Thrux­ton be­cause he en­joys fast cars as well as aero­planes − and he drives a clas­sic Jaguar. Like Good­wood, it’s a race­track which also has an air­field (or vice versa de­pend­ing on your out­look).

To­day, head­ing south-west to Popham, Thrux­ton is nearby−a bit fur­ther on−with the rac­ing cir­cuit and one grass, and one hard run­way, both over 750 me­tres long. (For safety rea­sons, the air­field is closed on race days−check on the in­ter­net.)

When I was flight plan­ning, how­ever, I re­alised that you are sup­posed to con­tact Boscombe Down, a mil­i­tary radar ser­vice, well be­fore reach­ing the air­field, to re­quest pen­e­tra­tion of the Boscombe MATZ, only switch­ing to Thrux­ton when you are near to re­quest land­ing in­for­ma­tion. As I fly an open-cock­pit bi­plane with a hand-held ra­dio−which can give rise to dif­fi­cul­ties both in hear­ing and be­ing heard on the ra­dio, as well as the com­mu­ni­ca­tion range−i tele­phoned Boscombe Down the day be­fore my visit (01930 663246, ATIS on ex­ten­sion 3101) and asked the chap who an­swered if I needed to call Boscombe on 126.7 for a MATZ pen­e­tra­tion if I were ap­proach­ing Thrux­ton from the north-east. I told him who I was, about Pilot, the open cock­pit and hand-held ra­dio and, af­ter a bit of wait­ing, he said, “No need to call Boscombe if you’re com­ing to Thrux­ton from the north-east,” although the un­spo­ken im­pli­ca­tion was that they would pre­fer vis­it­ing pi­lots to call. So if you want to fly to Thrux­ton and would rather not speak to Boscombe on the ra­dio, you might try tele­phon­ing as I did.

As it hap­pens, I ac­tu­ally fly to Thrux­ton from Dunkeswell, so will be ap­proach­ing from the west, not the north-east as planned. It’s hot, I’m tired and thirsty, and want my lunch, but pi­lots I con­sulted at Dunkeswell con­firmed my prej­u­dice that it’s still quicker and eas­ier to leave Boscombe alone and fly the long way round. So I fly to Winch­ester, turn north up the A34, west down the Whitchurch­An­dover rail­way line and fi­nally, af­ter a sub­stan­tial de­tour, ap­proach Thrux­ton from a north-east­erly di­rec­tion. Thrux­ton hears my call, is ex­pect­ing me (I booked in by email, stress­ing that I wanted to use the grass run­way) and gives land­ing in­for­ma­tion. I hear the op­er­a­tor and he gives me ‘five’ from well out−see; there’s noth­ing wrong with my ra­dio!

I land in blaz­ing sun­shine on Run­way 30, taxi as directed to a line of parked air­craft and shut down. ‘Oh dear, I’m in trou­ble’, is my first thought as two young men in uni­form ar­rive in a fire truck, but they’re not from the CAA, HM Rev­enue & Cus­toms or the Po­lice, merely uni­formed fire­men come to as­sist. Ben and Mark are cheer­ful fel­lows, I’m guess­ing in their twen­ties. Mark is a County Fire­man who works at Thrux­ton part-time, whereas Ben works full-time at Thrux­ton and as a County Fire­man part-time. They of­fer to move my Currie Su­per Wot to a rather ti­dier park­ing po­si­tion and I tell them how: one lifts the tail­skid and pushes, wheel­bar­row-style, the other pulls on the prop hub. They do as directed, climb into their shiny red fire truck (“Sorry, we’d give you a lift, but there are only two seats”) and drive away, leav­ing me to trudge across bak­ing con­crete to the line of open-front hangars, where I dig out my cam­era and notepad and get in­ter­view­ing.

I meet a cou­ple who, by co­in­ci­dence, are off to Dunkeswell, where I’ve just come from. Jeremy Gilder­sleeves and his twenty-year-old daugh­ter Abi­gail are fly­ing a TB-10. She’s study­ing psy­chol­ogy at univer­sity, and he’s a mar­ket­ing con­sul­tant. Their TB-10 is based here and Jeremy, who’s been fly­ing from this air­field for seven years says, “Thrux­ton’s

fan­tas­tic; the ra­dio op­er­a­tors are very help­ful, the fuel boys and ground sup­port are ex­cep­tion­ally ac­com­mo­dat­ing and the Jacka­roo Restau­rant has been re­vamped re­cently.” I ask if there’s much so­cial life and he ad­mits, “Not re­ally. They lay on the odd thing, but it’s not the sort of place where you get many fly-outs. There ought to be more.”

“They lay on the odd thing, but it’s not the sort of place where you get many fly-outs. There ought to be more”

Head­ing to­wards the restau­rant, I in­ter­cept Mike Jar­man, a re­tired IT man­ager and Martin Aver, a re­tired 747 cap­tain, who’ve flown here for lunch from Lee-on-So­lent in their newly-painted, group-owned PA-28. I also see an RV-4, which has flown in from Shore­ham, but the pilot’s clearly in a hurry, so I don’t de­lay him. I catch a quick word with Barry Ward, who is tak­ing Livia Foulds, aged twelve, and Aaron Foulds, fif­teen, for a flight in an air­craft from Western Air, the lo­cal club. “We’re plan­ning to go to Hen­stridge,” he tells me, “then Comp­ton Ab­bas, then back here.” Barry, who is a re­tired elec­tri­cal de­vel­op­ment en­gi­neer, be­gan teach­ing fly­ing in the 1960s, taught glid­ing in the ATC, then switched to power. He’s known the two young­sters “for years”. I order a ba­con, let­tuce and tomato baguette, sit down with a cof­fee−which I’m glad to find is served in a proper china mug−and get into con­ver­sa­tion with two chaps at the next ta­ble. Both, it turns out, are in­volved with the fly­ing in­struc­tor train­ing of­fered by Western Air. Tony Har­ris, 59, is an IT de­vel­oper. He learned to fly fixed-wing here in 2000, then added a he­li­copter li­cence, a Night and an IMC rat­ing and says, “Ba­si­cally I’m do­ing the course to im­prove my fly­ing skills fur­ther, although I may do some part-time in­struct­ing at some point”. He is on the sec­ond day of the course and has a share in a Grum­man AA-5 based on the air­field.

His com­pan­ion, Matthew White­field, 44, flew Sea Har­ri­ers in the Royal Navy and is a for­mer Sea Vixen dis­play pilot. Af­ter leav­ing the RN, he has had a ca­reer as an ex­ec­u­tive coach, “Pass­ing on the skills I learned in the Ser­vices to civil­ian man­agers.” Matthew is due to renew his fly­ing in­struc­tor rat­ing to­mor­row. They both say that the qual­ity of train­ing at Western Air is a big at­trac­tion for them. The CFI who heads up the train­ing is a for­mer chief test pilot at Boscombe Down, Bob Cole. “Both the guys who run the school are ex­cep­tional. In fact,” says Matthew, “It’s a priv­i­lege to work with them.” He may in­struct here him­self. “I’ve trained jet pi­lots in the Navy and taught multi-rat­ings for the Army and I hope to share my en­thu­si­asm for fly­ing with civil­ian pi­lots.” I ask if there’s any dif­fer­ence about the pi­lots based at Thrux­ton, and he says, “You get all sorts fly­ing here, from teenagers to ‘old lags’.”

Thrux­ton’s ad­van­tages

They list Thrux­ton’s many ad­van­tages: “It’s in Class G airspace, you can get a radar ser­vice if you need it from Boscombe Down. The weather ‘ac­tu­als’ and other brief­ings pro­vided by the two ad­ja­cent mil­i­tary teams are su­perb. The air­field has ex­cel­lent ac­cess, and things like this restau­rant, re­fu­elling fa­cil­i­ties, ground staff, flight plan­ning fa­cil­i­ties and even the park­ing are su­per-ef­fi­ciently run. It’s

des­ig­nated for Cus­toms and there are run­way lights for night land­ings. It’s a real ad­van­tage hav­ing two run­ways, one hard and the other grass. Henry Pel­ham, who owns the air­field, has a pol­icy of pric­ing it at­trac­tively, be­cause he wants it to thrive.”

My sand­wich ar­rives. I eat it quickly be­cause it’s high time I met Henry Pel­ham, who is ex­pect­ing me. Un­for­tu­nately, I dis­cover he was plan­ning to buy me lunch and I apol­o­gise for not seek­ing him out ear­lier, Henry gra­ciously ac­cepts my apol­ogy and I fol­low him to a brief­ing room where we sit down to talk to each other prop­erly.

Henry is 79 and has owned the air­field since 1959. That’s 55 years and means he must have bought it in his mid-twen­ties. I’ve met a lot of air­field man­agers who own the lease on the club and lease their air­field from landown­ers, but not too many who own the whole ca­boo­dle, land and all. What a shrewd in­vest­ment it must have been over half a cen­tury ago. I ask how much he paid. “It was about £30,000,” says Henry.

“And what was it like in 1959?” “Well, it was a derelict aero­drome with a ten­ant, the Wilt­shire School of Fly­ing, and var­i­ous agri­cul­tural ser­vices such as a grass-dry­ing op­er­a­tion, and was owned by the Air Min­istry.” I ask about the back­ground to the pur­chase and Henry says, “My fam­ily had a prop­erty busi­ness, we heard the air­field was up for sale and bought it”. At that time, he had been fly­ing for a year, hav­ing ob­tained his li­cence at Fairoaks in a Tiger Moth in 1958.

Thrux­ton’s his­tory be­gan when the Air Min­istry con­structed an air­field for Welling­ton bombers, which opened in 1940. Sub­se­quently Lysanders, Mus­tangs, Hur­ri­canes and P-47 Thun­der­bolts (among other types) were based here, both for RAF and USAAF use. Large num­bers of Horsa glid­ers were stored in the open at the end of the war. The RAF left in 1946 and a year later the air­field was leased by the Wilt­shire School of Fly­ing and be­came for a time a busy cen­tre for pri­vate avi­a­tion with flight train­ing, a num­ber of pri­vate air­craft, and a main­te­nance fa­cil­ity. In the late 1950s no fewer than eigh­teen Tiger Moths were con­verted on the site into ‘Thrux­ton Jacka­roos’ (re­mem­bered to­day by the nam­ing of the restau­rant on the air­field) by wi­den­ing the fuse­lage to ac­com­mo­date (rather op­ti­misti­cally) four oc­cu­pants.

Henry got va­cant pos­ses­sion in 1966. “We bought three Piper Chero­kees from David Rim­mer and started train­ing,” he re­mem­bers. “At that time there were four an­nual light car and mo­tor­cy­cle meetings

Henry got va­cant pos­ses­sion in 1966. “We bought three Piper Chero­kees... and started flight train­ing”

on parts of what re­mained of the old mil­i­tary air­field, so I de­cided to build the race­track. The first race meet­ing us­ing the cir­cuit you see to­day was held in 1967.”

To­day there are around fifty air­craft based on the air­field. I ask if he has any plans for fur­ther de­vel­op­ment. “We don’t need to ex­tend the run­way,” he says. “We hope to es­tab­lish a GPS ap­proach.” I ask him if he looks on the rac­ing cir­cuit as a way of pro­vid­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port for the

fly­ing. “Not at all,” he says. “I en­joy be­ing in­volved in it. And I think the skid pan, go-kart­ing and op­por­tu­nity to drive a Fer­rari are com­ple­men­tary to the fly­ing, don’t you? I mean pi­lots can fly here and get some new driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Henry is a 750-hour pilot. “I’ve flown Tiger Moths, Austers, Chipmunks, Tri-pac­ers, Tay­lor­craft and I owned a Mag­is­ter. I got my he­li­copter li­cence in 1987. When I fly now, it tends to be he­li­copters.” Why them, I ask? Af­ter a pause for thought he smiles gently and says, “I find them more use­ful.” I ask if he flies with his wife. “Oh yes,” he says. “We fly to­gether; she’s also a pilot. She is es­pe­cially good with maps.”

The school, Western Air, is able to in­struct up to and in­clud­ing Com­mer­cials and Henry tells me with ob­vi­ous pride how valu­able it is to have Bob Cole and David Scouller head­ing up the train­ing. Western Air has five in­struc­tors and a hun­dred stu­dents, plus an­other hun­dred self-fly-hire mem­bers. “We try to keep our fleet mod­ern and in first-class con­di­tion,” he says. It cur­rently con­sists of five PA-28S, the use of a Cougar twin and, for aer­o­bat­ics and tail­wheel in­struc­tion, a Su­per De­cathlon. There are ten stu­dents on the De­cathlon at present. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing, fun place with lots go­ing on. I’m al­ways pleased to see peo­ple. It’s not just an air­field to me. I built all the hangars and the road tun­nel un­der the cir­cuit and ex­panded the wartime tower into a mod­ern build­ing, you see.” Henry is also proud of hav­ing the Hamp­shire and Isle of Wight Air Am­bu­lance based here. “They have an ex­cel­lent fa­cil­ity on the air­field for train­ing paramedics,” he says.

Henry wants to take me on a guided tour, so we head out­side and climb into a (bak­ing hot) four-by-four. We start with Ed­mond­son Avi­a­tion, an air­craft paint fa­cil­ity spe­cial­is­ing in he­li­copters. I meet Gavin Jenk­ins, 49, one of five painters, who tells me he’s been paint­ing aero­planes since he was six­teen and has been here since 1999. “We’ve been paint­ing new he­li­copters for Air­bus for the last fif­teen years,” he tells me, “and we’ve never ad­ver­tised.” Si­mon Ed­mond­son, who owns the com­pany, ar­rives. He’s been paint­ing aero­planes since he left school, begin­ning in a paint-spray com­pany at Bournemout­h air­port. “I started this busi­ness when the one I was work­ing for made me re­dun­dant,” he says, “and we’ve been busy ever since.” “Well, they do the best qual­ity paint­ing,” says Henry.

Our next stop is at Heli Air, which also has branches at sev­eral other air­fields and a head­quar­ters at Welles­bourne. Head of Train­ing at Thrux­ton is Shaun Byam. He tells me, at Thrux­ton, Heli Air cur­rently has two R22s and four R44s, “and we bring in R66s, Jet Rangers and other he­li­copters as needed”. Heli Air’s sub­stan­tial UK char­ter op­er­a­tion is run from Thrux­ton. “Most of the work is based around Lon­don,” says Shaun. “On this air­field we have eigh­teen PPL stu­dents and also quite a lot of mil­i­tary con­ver­sion

train­ing, be­ing so close to mil­i­tary bases. Also, be­cause I’m qual­i­fied to do it, we get a fair bit of train­ing for he­li­copter Com­mer­cial li­cences. Plus we get a good quan­tity of char­ter work, from over­flights of Stone­henge to car­ry­ing pho­tog­ra­phers to take pic­tures of crop cir­cles, which are still gen­er­at­ing a lot of in­ter­est in this area. Fi­nally, we have around thirty self-fly-hire club mem­bers based at Thrux­ton. I’ve been here for fif­teen years and it’s a great site for GA train­ing. We have an area for engine-off land­ings that’s like a bil­liard ta­ble.” I meet a Heli Air stu­dent, Austen Short, 40, a sales man­ager in a mass spec­trom­e­ter com­pany, who has a hun­dred hours and is half­way through a CPL course. He’s English, but lives in Cam­bo­dia and plans on a ca­reer as a char­ter he­li­copter pilot. I also meet a Heli Air char­ter cus­tomer, pho­tog­ra­pher Steve Alexan­der, off to pho­to­graph crop cir­cles. “There’s a mar­ket for the pic­tures,” he says when I ask why; “They get pub­lished in books and in cal­en­dars and ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies use them.” If you’re in­ter­ested, his web­site www.tem­po­rary­tem­ will tell you all you need to know.

Next, Henry takes me to meet Ben Faulkner, who owns a main­te­nance com­pany based on the air­field, Aero­fab. Ben, who is 39, has been main­tain­ing air­craft since he was an ap­pren­tice. Aero­fab has three full-time en­gi­neers, looks af­ter ev­ery­thing from a Van’s RV-4 to light twins, and has 45 aero­planes on its books. I ask if there’s any­thing par­tic­u­larly dif­fer­ent about Thrux­ton and he says, “Yes, the se­cu­rity”.

Re­fur­bished PA-28S

Fur­ther down the row of han­gar/of­fice build­ings we come to Re­born Avi­a­tion, a com­pany just six months old spe­cial­is­ing in re­fur­bish­ing aero­planes. Henry says, “We’d been try­ing for some time to buy a PA-28 that’s a few years old, but you can ei­ther buy a new one, which is ex­pen­sive, or one that’s twenty or thirty years old, which means it will be worn out. Re­born fills that gap in the mar­ket.” Broth­ers Paul and Fraser Kings­bury are work­ing on a PA-28 that has been dis­man­tled and stripped down to bare metal. “Any­thing with a de­fect, we re­place, but mostly it’s skin re­pair,” says older brother Paul. I tell him how much I ad­mire Piper’s clas­sics, and what a trib­ute to their rugged­ness and build qual­ity it is that so many fly­ing schools are still us­ing War­riors and Chero­kees thirty or even forty years old. “Not so sure about the build qual­ity,” he says, “Not if, like me, you’re Raf-trained and used to work­ing on Sea Vix­ens. What we do here is make what Piper did, bet­ter−they rarely sealed their joints, for in­stance. Once the paint is off, you’ll find cor­ro­sion ev­ery­where. This one is a 1974 model with 5,000 hours. I

Thrux­ton has more than the usual air­field at­trac­tions... and some very wel­com­ing and en­thu­si­as­tic fly­ing peo­ple

will say this, though: they’re easy to re­pair.” The re­fur­bish­ment in­cludes re­fit­ting with mod­ern flat-screen avion­ics and in­stru­men­ta­tion and, although Re­born is start­ing by spe­cial­is­ing with the PA-28, it ex­pects to re­fur­bish other air­craft types as well in due course.

Henry has to stop off at his of­fice, so I climb the stairs to the Con­trol Tower on my own. There I meet Duty Op­er­a­tions Man­ager Gor­don Har­vey. He tells me that the vol­ume of movements at Thrux­ton has de­clined to 25,000 an­nu­ally, but has been pick­ing up lately and is likely to reach 28,000-30,000 this year. “I’ve worked in avi­a­tion for most of my life, most of it here,” he says. I ask about my de­par­ture. I am parked near the thresh­old of hard run­way 07, so for a grass take­off, I would have to back­track down Run­way 12, turn round and take off on 30. For­tu­nately Gor­don says I needn’t bother with that, and tak­ing off on the grass along­side Run­way 07 will be fine, which couldn’t be sim­pler.

Down­stairs in Western Air’s re­cep­tion I meet Emily Bas­tow, who is nine­teen and learn­ing to fly. Her fa­ther, who is with her, is a pilot and gives air ex­pe­ri­ence flights to eleven-year-olds fol­low­ing a twelve-week course of class­room in­struc­tion. I ask Emily if she’s con­sid­er­ing a ca­reer in avi­a­tion, but she tells me “No, it’s purely for re­cre­ation”. I go to say good­bye to Henry, and he of­fers to drive me to the aero­plane and see me off.

Henry waits pa­tiently while I dip the fuel, swing the pro­peller and climb aboard. It’s a hot day and the engine is un­happy at idle (I al­ways start it at idle, about 600rpm– well short of pro­duc­ing enough power to move the aero­plane, even on a hard sur­face.) So I open the throttle un­til the engine runs smoothly, then start the busi­ness of do­ing up straps and con­nect­ing head­set. I tell the Tower I’m ready for take­off and they say noth­ing to ob­struct. Henry fishes out a shoul­der strap I’m hav­ing trou­ble reach­ing, I fin­ish strap­ping in, give him a wave, open the throttle, and as the Wot be­gins to move I raise the tail and give right rud­der. The Wot yaws, straight­ens up and heads off down the beau­ti­fully smooth grass ad­join­ing the hard run­way. Af­ter a ground roll of 100 yards, the Wot is ready to lift off, I ease back the stick and we climb away, soon clear of Middle Wal­lop/boscombe Down. I give a fi­nal ra­dio call and switch off, head­ing for home non-ra­dio.

Thrux­ton has more than the usual air­field at­trac­tions, with its skid pan, op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple rac­ing cars and go-kart rac­ing, and it also has a fine fly­ing school, a range of high-qual­ity avi­a­tion busi­nesses and some very wel­com­ing and en­thu­si­as­tic fly­ing peo­ple. The restau­rant’s good, the land­ing fees at­trac­tive, and over­see­ing it all is Henry Pel­ham, a truly re­mark­able pilot and air­field and race­track pro­pri­etor, a gen­tle­man who af­ter so many years of own­er­ship can truly say (to para­phrase Louis XIV): “Thrux­ton is me”.

Above left: Heli Air CPL stu­dent, Austen Short (left) with Head of Train­ing at Thrux­ton, Shaun Byam Above right: Gavin Jenk­ins, 49, one of five painters at Ed­mond­son Avi­a­tion, which does a lot of he­li­copter­paint­ing for Air­bus

Far left: Ben Faulkner, who owns Aero­fab, a main­te­nance com­pany based on the air­field that has 45 aero­planes on its books Left: Fraser (left) and Paul Kings­bury from Re­born Avi­a­tion, which spe­cialises in to­tal re­fur­bish­ment of PA-28S

Left: the Con­trol Tower where an Air/ground ra­dio ser­vice is pro­vided

Be­low: Duty Op­er­a­tions Man­ager Gor­don Har­vey; the vol­ume of movements at Thrux­ton has picked up lately and is likely to reach 28,000-30,000 in 2016

Be­low: most spec­ta­tors are here to see friends or rel­a­tives drive rac­ing cars around the cir­cuit

Top (right): air­field owner for over half-a-cen­tury, Henry Pel­ham is a keen fixed-wing and he­li­copter pilot; it was he who built the mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit

Above and right: the wartime tower has been ex­panded into a mod­ern build­ing

Left: Jeremy Gilder­sleeves and his twenty-year-old daugh­ter Abi­gail about to fly their TB-10 to Dunkeswell Be­low right: Western Air’s Barry Ward is tak­ing Livia and Aaron Foulds to Hen­stridge, then Comp­ton Ab­bas, then back to Thrux­ton Be­low L-R:...

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