We look forward to welcoming the Pipistrel Velis Electro this summer with the Aerovolt new smart aircraft charging station - ETA July 2023. Kittyhawk Airport is happy to be a part of the new southern UK network of smart charging stations.
Read Aerovolt's press release here.
In the summer of 1971, I had just graduated as a cadet from the Joint Airways Pilot Training Scheme which supplied pilots for both BEA and BOAC.
My joy at having in my hand the brand new light blue Commercial Pilots Licence (ink barely dry!) with it’s quaint pages tied inside a sturdy cardboard cover by a piece of string was tempered by the news that the original destination of my course that had been BOAC was no longer as they had decided that they did not require any more pilots for the time being!
Fortunately, a place had been found for us within BEA. However, there was to be a delay of some months in scheduling us onto a type rating course. This meant I had time to “kick my heels” before I started.
My new CPL/IR enabled me to be paid for flying but it also came with Group A and Group B privileges as P1. This allowed me to fly any single OR multi-engined aircraft up to a maximum weight of 12,500 lbs. (5,700 kgs.) provided it was not paid ie. PPL privileges.
This point was relevant to my story.
Through an obscure friend of a friend of my older sister, I was put in touch with a Canadian pilot who needed a second pilot to help with his private flight operation.
Thus, it was that my father drove me to Tayside Airfield which was the grass strip for Dundee.
Parked there was a De Havilland Dove Mk6 (DH104) waiting for its owner to arrive. She had a blue and orange paint scheme which was peeling off and had obviously seen better days!
In due course, George (not his real name) and his wife arrived in matching sports cars. His an MGB and hers a MG Midget both painted in a garish bright orange paint.
George could best be described as looking like an ex-jockey. Slightly built, weather-beaten face, wiry and with a fag permanently hanging from the corner of his mouth.
His career had started in the far north of Canada before moving to Zambia to fly for their Police Air Wing. He had returned to the UK for a job that had fallen through and therefore had set himself up with the Dove to export live lobsters from Scotland to Norway as a private flight.
The Dove was ideal for this - the eight seat cabin once stripped of its seats allowed one ton of boxed live lobsters to be carried. Compared to what I had trained on this seemed like a large aircraft. Twin 350 hp. Gypsy Queen engines, separate crew compartment and 50 foot plus wingspan. I could hardly wait to try her.
After some brief introductions, I climbed on-board with George and we set off for Wick.
If my father had had any misgivings about what his only son was doing he kept it to himself!
I guess, his generation having survived the war had a different attitude to risk than perhaps pertains today?
A one hour private flight had us landing at Wick Airport and then a short taxi ride to the Station Hotel in town which would be our base for the coming weeks. We settled in for a meal in the bar, had a few drinks and George continued to engage with the buxom blond lady who ran the hotel and was also serving behind the bar. They were obviously not strangers!
The next morning we took a taxi at 5 am to the airport. At that time of year in northern Scotland it was light already and since George had established a dispensation from the airport authorities to operate outside its operating hours we drove straight to the aircraft and were met by a lorry with a load of live lobsters to be loaded. During the night the pneumatics that powered the brakes and the flaps had bled off and she looked a sorry state with one flap down and one flap up and the whole airframe dripping in dew.
The lobsters were packed in ice with rubber bands around their claws to stop them damaging each other. These were quickly stacked in the bare cabin leaving space only for a walkway and room for the “Elsan” lavatory bolted to the floor at the rear of the cabin.
Door closed and we settled ourselves into the cockpit. This was typical of the 40’s and 50’s. Everything painted black, luminous paint on the instrument needles (probably enough to irradiate you by today’s standards!) dials and controls strewn everywhere with no obvious logic to their positioning, for example, both fuel cocks behind the pilots seat!
George started the engines and after the pneumatics were high enough the flaps took up their designed positions. We taxied out with use of differential engine power and braking to turn the nosewheel which simply castered. The brake system was typical of 40’s - a bicycle like lever behind the control wheel activated both wheels if the rudder was central but only one wheel if full rudder was applied! So, taxying proceeded to the sound a squirts of air applied to a single wheel to turn the aircraft.
At this stage, I should mention that George had not even attempted to get a met forecast or NOTAM review, or file a flight plan for that matter!
I am sitting there in the right hand seat thinking “this is going to be interesting and I hope in a good way?!”
Power and pre take off checks complete George swings onto the runway and using occasional squirts of differential brake to counter the marked torque swing to the right and we get airborne.
He then proceeds to level off at 200 feet on the correct track for Bergen and allows the airspeed to build up to cruising speed of 140kts. Next, he studies the drift we are experiencing by observing the waves ahead of us and announces that he now knows the required drift angle to maintain track and we climb to a suitable cruising altitude and a small allowance is made for the upper wind usually veering compared to sea level.
Amazingly, to me, this works really well and 200 nautical miles later we spot the coastal cliffs near Bergen. George’s technique would have been familiar to flyers in the 20’s and 30’s where aircraft were often fitted with a glass port in the floor of the cockpit with a rotatable grid which was turned to match the ground track then the drift could be read off a scale. This technique was like one which I had already seen on a trip in a Shackleton maritime aircraft on patrol some years before. The only downside to this technique was that it was not possible to determine one’s groundspeed. The aircraft was however fitted with VOR/ILS and ADF receivers which were used when possible.
A quick visual join to the circuit and we were in Bergen to be met by a buyer for the lobsters.
George’s whole operation was a pretence of a private flight. He claimed to buy the lobsters then privately flew them to Bergen where a convenient buyer just happened to buy them from him. Thus, he did not need to comply with any public transport rules or regulations!
Paid and refuelled to maximum tanks and the return flight was made to Wick with a landing at Kirkwall in the Orkneys to clear UK customs. In Kirkwall, we were met by a friendly customs officer who always came to the aircraft carrying a large briefcase. This was to hold the bottle of duty free whisky that he collected from George and all the formalities seemed to go smoothly!
This was the basic operation and most days two round trips were carried out earning George about £200 per trip. Five trips a week was earning £1,000 per week using an aircraft that had only cost George £8,000 to buy.
Time was always money to George so we normally tried to avoid private flights that would require an instrument let down as this took costly flight time. The reality of flying in those regions was that all the island airfields had non-precision letdowns (usually VOR) with quite high minima. 600 -700 ft. being typical. However the islands were mostly low lying and the visibility below cloud usually excellent therefore most trips were done just below cloud even if that was 700 ft. The maxim was: start visual and stay visual. At the time, BEA operated Viscounts around the islands and that was exactly what their crews did as often doing a instrument letdown would preclude getting in!
On one private flight, we were flying along quite happily at 5,000 ft. When off to our port side we spotted a Fleet Air Arm F4 Phantom flying next to us with his tailhook and undercarrriage extended. Having identified us as a practice target he engaged both burners and flew a half loop around us while cleaning up and disappeared, I guess back to his boat. He was close enough to identify the squadron markings. (no names - no pack drill)
I remember one private flight to Bergen when we were almost caught out. We had levelled off at around 700 ft. In light drizzle. Height assessment over the sea is notoriously difficult at the best of times.
At our coastal ETA we still had no sight of the Norwegian cliffs west of Bergen. Obviously we had a head wind slowing us down however we had also had starboard drift all the way. The more astute readers will note that that meant we were flying towards an area of lower pressure. Now we still had the original QNH set thus we were quite a bit lower than we thought.
This became blindingly obvious once we spotted the cliff edge looming higher than us. Fortunately a quick turn and we made it into the fjord for a visual join at Bergen at around 400 ft. Not something I would want to repeat! That trip was a one off and several times we did in fact have to make ILS approaches into Bergen and stay overnight there with George constantly moaning about the extra cost! Although to be fair to him I never had to pay for anything the whole time I was flying with him. I think my brand new Instrument Rating came in useful to him.
An interesting diversion came with a trip which started in Perth when we flew to Barra in the Outer Hebrides. This is the famous beach airfield where it is essential to call Kitty who runs the airport to confirm the tide times and that the runways are clear of sheep before arriving. The airfield is on the northeast corner of the island and when the tide is out the sand becomes hard like concrete. On finals to land it looked to me like we were about to land on 10 ft. depth of water! In the event, it was only about a quarter an inch of water!
We loaded up with the usual load of lobsters and departed for Prestwick where we refuelled and filed airways to Quimper in Brittany where our buyer was. The return private flight to Glasgow for a nightstop was an agonising three hours with a cockpit temperature of -3C Boy, was I glad to get off that aircraft! A sorry postscript to this tale is that George had to land the Dove with only partial gear in Quimper after I had left him and that was the end of the Dove.
Another example of George’s flying skills was when he took me into Kirkwall circling inside the bay at 200 ft. to land on the short runway in a 50 kt. wind!! The drift was unbelievable.
I learnt a lot from George and he was very generous with letting me fly his aircraft even without him sometimes when he was otherwise distracted with the buxom barmaid from the hotel. I like to think I learnt quite a lot from him - even things which are not a good idea!
Private flights paused as BEA beckoned and after more weeks working in the company offices we were finally allocated onto type rating courses - in my case the mighty Vickers Vanguard one of the fastest turboprop aircraft ever built (360 kts. TAS cruise) which nevertheless had some rather quirky handling properties ready to embarrass the inattentive pilot.
But that’s a whole different story!
Time flies - it’s already been two weeks since our second fly-in and BBQ. Thank you all for coming over and taking part.
We had over 200 people visit with just shy of 40 aircraft flying in. We’d hoped for more but alas wind conditions in the west of the UK meant that a lot of our aviation buddies couldn't depart their home fields.
It was great to see so many helicopters buzzing about (albeit beating the air into submission as some of our fixed wing kin might say!)
We are really grateful for all the help and support with the fly-in we get from our residents and friends of Kittyhawk - a big part of what makes our airfield so special.
We’ve already received several cracking pictures of the day’s events. I’d like to give you the opportunity to upload your favourite pictures and/or videos of the fly-in here. (It’s a secure link to our server). By doing so, you agree to let us use or modify said images for the promotion of the airfield and related businesses on a free basis - we plan to produce a video in the future.
We'll choose a winner (or two) and will have some specially produced merch for you!
Thanks to those who tagged, liked and posted content up on Insta and Facebook - this really helps get our name out there and connect with AvGeeks and aviation appreciators in the UK and around the world.
It’s still relatively early days in the transformation of our airfield. We have a keen eye on sustainable & harmonious technologies as they become viable. You can do your bit supporting GA as it is a UK strategic asset.
Many airfields are under threat and we have an opportunity to buck the trend. Aviation is a great entry point into STEM subjects and we are keen to encourage and foster those who are interested. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience within the GA community and they are only too happy to share with anyone interested!
Follow us on Instagram: @kittyaero
Follow us on Facebook: @KittyhawkAerodromeRipe
There’s an adage that for an airfield to make a million, you need to invest five! We are always open to complementary business opportunities.
We are also looking to put on more events including more regular fly-ins and BBQs.
We also realise that we are learning on the job. The BBQ wasn’t without hitch - while we sold all our amazing chicken and burgers (and had some great feedback - the food was prepared with a lot of love) - some of the servings weren’t up to the high standard we strive for. We have plans in place to raise the bar for the next fly-in.
It was a real pleasure to have you over.
Jonny Carr, 72, has won a national hang gliding competition, claiming top spot at the Great British Aerotow Revival 2022. Congratulations from all of us at Kittyhawk!
Read the full article in the Argus here.
We recently announced the date of our next airport fly-in to Kittyhawk Aerodrome after the success of our somewhat last minute fly-in last September.
We are busy for the moment improving our runways and taxiways for the start of this season so more details and an RSVP form will be published in due course - at least a month before our airport fly-in.
Alex Edwards, our hangar helper and video editor extraordinaire, is putting together a clip of last year's fly-in, so those who joined us will probably see their aircraft in the clip.
More news soon. Looking forward to seeing more GA here at Kittyhawk.
(Destination Kittyhawk Farm. Written for LAA Magazine, Sep 2021)
When I first landed at Kittyhawk Farm, it was a mistake.
I had been passing by aloft on a beautifully sunny day when the radio, tuned to Safetycom and silence, burst into life. “Luscombe overhead…come down and have a cuppa…”
Hard to refuse such a warm, unsolicited invitation, so I landed and met Jack. It was quiet; a handful of aircraft in the hanger, including another Luscombe, and we drank tea, listened to the birds and enjoyed the stunning view of the South Downs.
I went on my way but some years on, given notice to leave our single occupancy strip (beaten earth floor with a layer of macadam, no power and no water) we were lucky enough to find a friendly welcome at Kittyhawk Farm. It was only quite recently that Jack confessed to me that he had mistakenly thought that the passing Luscombe had been a friend of his.
“Luscombe overhead…come down and have a cuppa…”Jack Grayer
In the time that has passed since we took up residency, the strip has improved step by step.
Nothing too flash, but the painted concrete floor, electricity and water have been supplemented by toilet and washroom facilities and our hangar has pupped, a smaller “soft-top” unit being installed alongside and housing a Vari-eze and an as yet unfilled space for another occupant. Work is ongoing on surface improvement, runway enlargement, ditching and drainage, and there are even some beehives on the campus.
All this, and the friendly welcome still sustains.
I’m not sure when the idea of some sort of fly-in/barbecue/musical event was first posited but it was certainly long before Olly, our airport manager, took the reins a year ago. Somehow, it never really took wings until, under his oversight, it popped up again in mid August. A date was set and planning then proceeded at the speed of light. Not long before the decision to go ahead was reached, we’d had our own frequency, 118.265, approved, and, as none of our residents had yet been trained to operate a Ground to Air service, Olly had arranged with John “The Haff” Haffenden to provide the service on the day.
There was much to do.
Olly would be the first to admit that, though his enthusiasm for aviation is unbounded, his knowledge and experience are limited and, to his credit, he embraced the experience of residents. Martin and Roy busied themselves running the gang mowers and roller up and down the runways, giving 16/34, recently widened to double its previous width, particular attention. Paving slabs were set in the ground and whitened to mark the runway edges and, because it was not unknown for even regular users to call the runway numbers wrong, they were painted on the thresholds in the ICAO approved font to aid identification from the air.
Olly arranged for a fire and rescue presence, an ice cream van to attend, Maddy from Cafe 8 to come over from Shoreham to run a coffee and cake stall and for Elliot and Valet-Pro to demonstrate what thorough cleaning and detailing can do for an aeroplane. Phil had exercised his tin cutting skills to recycle an empty fifty gallon drum into a stunningly efficient barbecue.
One of the more difficult issues we had faced in planning the event at Kittyhawk Farm was, taking account of each of the four possible runways, where would the aeroplanes park, and how would they get there and out again without entering into conflict? In the event, the wind did as forecast and clearly favoured runway 28, with a 15-20 degree crosswind over the trees from the left. This gave us the possibility of using the full length of 16/34 to safely park our visitors. It also simplified the marshalling envisaged.
On the morning of the fly-in, we had received positive responses from the pilots of over sixty aircraft. All that remained was to hope that the weather would remain fine. It did and all day long, whatever the clouds did around us, we sat in a pool of sunshine.
By any measure, the day was a great success. Early arrivals shortly after 9am were followed by a steady stream of vintage aircraft, homebuilts, microlights, flexwings, autogiros and helicopters (given a separate paddock to land in, far away from any light taildraggers) all in all, a pretty broad cross-section of LAA permit types. Kevin, Alex, Jack and I shared marshalling duties. The main hangar had been all but cleared to allow shelter if it rained and unencumbered access to the toilet at the far end, and the concrete apron and grass manoeuvring area were furnished with tables and chairs for our guests.
The neighbouring paddock became a temporary car park for the estimated thirty who arrived by road. Phil, flaunting his versatility, took the controls on the barbecue and produced magnificently succulent spicy Lebanese kebabs which pilots, families, enthusiasts, spotters and neighbours consumed enthusiastically; children rode around on the miniature powered jeep that now lives in the hangar, intended to perhaps double as a tug, and James, erstwhile aviator and affable owner of the land upon which the airfield sits, surveyed the proceedings with a big smile before disappearing into his man cave and emerging to drive his enormous radio-controlled model of a Tiger Tank, complete with realistic sound effects, through the crowd. My ten year old granddaughter was captivated.
We can only estimate the number of visiting aircraft to be around seventy five, because we stopped counting after that and I am delighted to say that the event enabled us to make a donation of £150 to the Air Ambulance.
We all learned a lot putting on the event. We were lucky with the weather and we know that, for future events (for we hope that this will happen), we will need to think through extending aircraft parking, access for road vehicles and ground communication. Feedback from those who visited us has been very encouraging and we welcome and appreciate it.
Thank you all who came to Kittyhawk Farm and, please don’t wait for our next fly-in to visit. You’ll find a PPR form on our website. We can’t guarantee there will be miniature jeeps and tanks to greet you, but we can assure you a very warm welcome.