|TIGER AIRWAY'S STAMPE OF APPROVAL
8 JUNE 2009
|AN AMBUSH OF TIGERS|
|I have always been fond of Gloucestershire Airport. When I was a boy, my father used to take me to watch the aeroplanes and later on I enjoyed my visits to the Skyfame Museum, which also organised annual flying displays. Later, I became a member of the Jet Age Museum
- which remains responsible for a number of historic aircraft on the
municipal aerodrome - but much as I have always looked up to aircraft I
have rarely had the chance to look down from them. |
I was given a flight from what everyone then called Staverton on my thirteenth birthday in an enclosed two seat Bolkow monoplane as my father was a friend and colleague of the Chief Instructor of the Cotswold Flying Club. But memories of that day - happy and momentous as they were - had started to fade when, in the summer of 2009, I was given the chance to fly in a very different two seat piston engined aircraft.
Tiger Airways - based at the far end of the public perimeter road of Gloucestershire Airport -
takes its name from the de Havilland Tiger Moth, probably the best known of all the 1930's vintage biplanes. Tiger Airways was also the West Country's first modern provider of Tiger Moth flights and is still the only provider of vintage biplane Flights in the West Midlands and South West. Offering more than simply joy rides, pleasure or scenic flights, the company specializes in providing the public with the chance of ‘hands on' flying in World War Two vintage open cockpit, biplane, training aeroplanes from the Tiger Moth era.
From among Tiger Airway's fleet - some of which are pictured at the top of this article - the kind gift offered to me was an hour long flight in an SNCAN Stampe SV.4C
|CA PLANE POUR MOI?|
|The SV.4 series of touring and training biplanes was designed by George
Ivanoff and built by Stampe et Vetongen of Antwerp. |
The first SV.4A advanced aerobatic trainer flew on 17 May 1933 - with Jean Stampe at the controls - and was powered by an 140 hp/104 kW Renault 4-PO5 engine while the SV4.B with redesigned wings featured the 130 hp/97 kW de Havilland Gipsy Major I.
Sadly for the company - founded in 1922 as Renard Stampe and Vertongen - only 35 SV4.Bs were completed before production ceased on 10 May 1940 due to the German invasion. From 1948 to 1955 however, a further 65 training aircraft were built by Stampe et Renard for the Belgian Air Force and were fitted with more powerful Cirrus Major or Gipsy Major X prime movers.
The SV.4C meanwhile was licence built in France by SNCAN ( Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Nord ) and in Algeria by Atelier Industriel de l'Aeronautique d'Alger, the two firms completing a combined total of 940 aircraft. The postwar SV.4Cs powered by a 140hp/104 kW Renault 4-Pei engine were widely used by French military units as a primary trainer. Many also served with aero clubs in France, numbers of which were later sold secondhand to the United Kingdom and other countries.
The Stampe SV4.C was the mainstay of French aerobatic competitions until the 1960s when the performance of Pitts Specials and other aircraft left it behind. However, the Belgian biplane has been used in a number of movies over the years to represent World War One or early 1920's aircraft. Examples include Irish registered EI-ARE in "The Blue Max" and a Stampe modified with a rear turret and dropped from a Zeppelin in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."
|A PROUD HERITAGE|
|On 1 October 1954 SNCAN ( Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Nord ) acquired SFECMAS ( Société
Française d'Étude et de Construction de Matériels Aéronautiques Spéciaux ) and formed the state owner company Nord Aviation. |
In 1970 Nord - based at Bourges Airport and already famous for the Griffon research jet and Noratlas twin engined transport - merged with Sud-Aviation to become Société Nationale d'Industrie Aérospatiale (SNIAS). This organisation was later renamed Aerospatiale and ultimately merged into European aerospace corporation EADS in 2000.
Through this connection, the Stampe SV.4C can thus claim to be an ancestor of Concorde, the EADS Astrium spaceplane and many other famous aircraft.
|AN ADVANCED DESIGN OF BASIC TRAINER|
Both Jean Stampe and Maurice Vertongen had flown with the Belgian Flying Corps during the First World War and by 1923 owned one of the largest flying schools in Belgium as well as maintenance and ferrying contracts for the Belgian Air Force. As such, Jean Stampe knew what he was doing when he asked Georges Ivanoff to design a trainer biplane which enabled better access to the front seat with the top centre section moved forward. This idea followed the work of Geoffrey De Havilland's DH82 Tiger Moth, which had swept back wings to compensate for the forward centre of gravity position. The first of Ivanoff's prototype had only the top wings swept back, and, powered by a Gipsy Major 2 engine, was designated the SV4 and registered OO-ANI.
The company manufactured six SV4 trainers for use in its flying school but production ceased in 1935 after the death of Jean's son Leon Stampe. However, two more SV4s were manufactured in 1937 having been redesigned by Demidoff with two extra ailerons, and a different tail section.
Two more SV4s, OO-ATC and OO-ATD, were built in 1939 to enter a competition to find a new trainer for the Belgian Air Force. This time Demidoff once more redesigned the tailplane and swept both wings back. OO-ATD won the competition and was sold to Baron Thierry d'Huart.
On 4 July 1941 this aircraft was flown to England from the grounds of Chateau Ter-Block - occupied by German Forces - by two Belgian Air Force pilots, Michael Donnet and Leon Divoy. An account of this adventure can be found in Donnet's book "Flight to Freedom", published by Ian Allen.
In 1939 the Belgian Government ordered 300 SV4s, and production was set up in Antwerp and at the Farman company in France under license. The Antwerp factory had completed production of the first batch of 30, just three days after the Germans invaded Belgium on 10 May 1940. France had also ordered 600 machines, 10 of which were also completed at the Antwerp factory, with the Renault 4PEI engine. The only SV4 which survived World War 2 was OO-ATD.
|PRE FLIGHT CHECKS|
|While two litres of W100 grade lubrication oil were added to the four cylinder engine's total loss system on the ramp, back in the Tiger Airways office my Stampe instructor Tizi Hodson kitted me out with a traditional sheepskin lined leather flying jacket and showed me a video explaining the way that the aircraft worked and how a student pilot should not touch any cockpit equipment coloured yellow ( stick, throttle etc ) unless specifically instructed to do so. In particular, one consequence of accidentally throttling back the engine would be to turn the Stampe into a glider which would rapidly need a field to land on. And once on the ground, regulations would prohibit a take off from such an unauthorised location - requiring the aircraft to be dismantled, recovered by lorry and then rebuilt over a two month period. Hence when, on taxiing out, Tizi asked me if I had any particular preference on where to go I replied "If I'm going to be flying, somewhere close to some fields like you said!"|
fact, Tizi's normal plan for a one hour flight was to go "round the
block" of Gloucestershire airfields - starting with the former
RAF Chedworth ( still used for model flying at weekends ) and
continuing with Rendcomb ( Home of Vic Norman's aerobatic Team Guinot ), Kemble
( famous as the original base of The Red Arrows ) and two glider fields
at Aston Down and Nympsfield. As it turned out, crossing the M5
motorway just south of Junction 12 - as seen in the schematic map above
- would also take us across the former Gloster Aircraft Company
premises at Moreton Valence. From there, to avoid flying directly
over Gloucester ( or any other centres of population ) our journey
would take us across the River Severn so that we could re-join the air
traffic around Staverton from the west. |
To further illustrate this journey I have used aerial pictures taken on other occasions, from different altitudes and in different lighting conditions to highlight the landscape visible from either side of the Stampe cockpit. Similarly, I have kept North at the top of each image for ease of comparison - although on the southbound leg of the journey from Dowdeswell Reservoir to Aston Down each location would have been appeared inverted relative to this.
|INTO THE COCKPIT|
|As with most military-derived tandem trainers,
the student pilot occupies the front cockpit of the Stampe and the
instructor the rear - with access for both using the black footway on
the lower wing. The student pilot can also use two grab handles
under the upper wing - as opposed to the nearby fuselage-wing struts
- for stability when standing on the seat and then easing down
into the narrow space in front of the rudder pedals, stick and
dashboard. In fact Tiger Airway's Boeing Stearman - seen just
beyond the Stampe - is used for any student pilots not able to fit
In contrast to the "glass" cockpits of modern fly-by wire aircraft, the instrumentation at the front of the Stampe was simple, analog and dominated by - on the left - a helical air speed indicator with the fine gradations going up to 80 knots and a red line at 150 knots and - on the right - an altimeter which in the case of our flight never reached beyond 3 000 feet. In between was a spirit level like indicator of turns. Even more important from the instructional point of view was the mirror set on the central trailing edge of the top wing, allowing the two occupants to see what each other was doing. Other onboard included the pocket on the right hand side - opposite the yellow throttle - containing a map, a sick bag and - very usefully even on a warm day - a pair of thin gloves.
|However, most important were the safety straps - approaching a five point circular lap fastening from the legs and shoulders - and the leather helmet complete with microphone and earpieces for crew communication. Once these had been successfully applied by Tizi it was time to start the engine and for her ask permission via the rear cockpit radio from the Gloucestershire Airport Control Tower to taxi and take off.|
|READY FOR TAKEOFF|
|Gloucestershire Airport, GL51 6SR - located at 51 degrees 53' 65" North, 2 degrees 10' 03" West
and 101 feet above mean sea level
- has the internationally recognised coding EGBJ and the radio call
sign Gloster when communicating with aircraft on 122.90 MHz.
Flight plans for air movements from EGBJ adhering to Visual
Flight Rules ( VFR ) have to be forwarded either via the airport
authorities or direct from pilots themselves for approval from the
co-ordinating Air Traffic Service Unit (ATSU ) based in
Permission to move having been granted, Tizi taxied silver Stampe 156 (officially registered as G-NIFE) from the Tiger Airways hangar along taxiway H ( the thin tarmac strip just above the centre of the picture above), past Holding Point H1and the junction with Taxiway A, joining from the right. Taxiway A then formed the "major road" to Hold A3 and the right turn to the 18 metre wide 800 metre long Runway 18/36, seen just north west / south east of the north-south axis. This in turn yielded access to the 34 metre wide 972 metre long Runway 04/22, running from south west to north east.
Such was the short take off run of the Stampe that we were airbourne even before we had crossed the 1419 metre long Runway 09/27 and soon afterwards we were so far away from the traffic pattern that Staverton tower advised us to "Call to return " when our flight was over. Without the risk of our our conversations interfering with radio communications with other aircraft, we were free to focus on the sensations and experiences to come.
|STICK, THROTTLE AND RUDDER|
the route of the M5, one of the most striking features of the local
landscape was the green and white doughnut-ring of Government
Communication Headquarters ( GCHQ ) seen toward the bottom right of the
image above. |
However, as we flew north and turned east over Junction 10 of the motorway Tizi instructed me to place my feet in the rudder pedal stirrups and hold the stick very lightly with my thumb and forefinger. In fact the inherently stable Stampe really flew itself, with only the slightest of inputs - even the shifting of body weight in the cockpit - needed to change direction or height. For example, once close to Elmstone Hardwicke - in the top right of the picture above - Tizi was able to climb past 2 000 feet simply by throttling up and applying a little left hand rudder pressure to counteract the right hand torque of the fixed two-bladed propeller.
|Similarly - having looked around beforehand for any other aircraft that might be nearby - I was allowed to aim the nose of the Stampe at a cloud above for reference and climb again over the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway and Cheltenham Racecourse before the three tall radio masts on Cleeve Common slipped beneath us, signalling a turn south toward the Cotswold hills east of Cheltenham and Dowdeswell Reservoir next to the A40 leading to Oxford.|
Located on a plateau ( OS Landranger 162 reference 042 131 ) a mile
from Chedworth Village, RAF Chedworth was built during the winter of
1941/2 after the minor road that still runs through the site was
closed. To fit the available space, two runways were built at
almost right angles to each other with a taxiway running all around the
airfield and giving access to 25 dispersal sites. The longer of
the runways was 1 400 yards ( or 1292 metres compared to Staverton's
longest at 1419 metres ) and the other 1 300 yards. Also
constructed were two blister hangars, a control tower, flight office,
armoury and stores.|
Opening as a satellite airfield of RAF Aston Down in April 1942, Chedworth's first use was as a training location for the Supermarine Spitfire Vbs and Miles Masters of 52 Operational Training Unit. Two of 52 OTU's flights moved in permanently in August 1942 and towards the end of the year a Fighter Leaders School was set up as a sub organisation within 52 OTU to teach combat tactics to aspiring fighter unit commanders. The first FLS course began on 15 January 1943 but as Chedworth proved too cramped a teaching environment the FLS was moved to Charmy Down, Somerset on 9 February 1943.
On 19 February 1943 Chedworth became a satellite of RAF South Cerney and became a training ground for Numbers 3 and 6 (Pilots) Advanced Flying Units and their twin engined Airspeed Oxfords until RAF Honiley ( Warwickshire ) became the parent station on 18 October 1943. This allowed the air gunnery squadrons of Honiley's 63 OTU and RAF High Ercall ( Shropshire ) to combine at Chedworth where they flew De Havilland Mosquitos, Bristol Beaufighters and Miles Martinets until January 1944.
The Airspeed Oxfords of 3 (P) AFU began to revisit Chedworth in March 1944 as the RAF stations at South Cerney, Fairford, Down Ampney, Blakehill Farm and Broadwell were becoming increasingly busy with preparations for the invasion of Europe. Between 19 June and 9 July 1944 Chedworth was home of the USAAF's 125th Liason Squadron's Cessna L-4 Cubs and Stinson L-5 Sentinels while on 17 July RAF Aston Down once again assumed control with North American Mustangs of C Squadron 3 Tactical Exercise Unit landing on the plateau. 3TEU was renamed 55 OTU on 18 December 1944 with Gloster built Hawker Typhoons joining the Mustangs.
With the end of the war in Europe, flying training at Chedworth ceased on 29 May 1945 and the Admiralty used the site for storage in December 1945. Chedworth was later used by the Central Flying School at Little Rissington to practice emergency landings and a gliding club was established there in the late 1960s. During the 1970s Westland Wessex helicopters occasionally arrived for tactical exercises but by the mid 1980s RAF Chedworth had returned to agriculture.
in the front cockpit of the Stampe with the steady drone of the engine
and looking down on the forty shades of green below was rather like driving
a vintage sports car or, as Stampe SV.4B display flier Brian Lecomber
once called it, "a gentleman's aerial carriage". And talking of
aerobatic display formations, the former World War One airfield at
Rendcomb was instantly recognisable as the home of Vic Norman's Team Guinot - the building just to the east of the north-south minor road had his name on the roof! |
Sadly none of the colourful Boeing PT13/E75 Stearman biplanes - formerly in Utterly Butterly markings - were visible from the Stampe although their base at Rendcomb - comprising 60 acres of mown grass and a windsock rather than conventional runways - has a number of other attractions for anyone flying in against the wind. Facilities exist to serve a sit down meal for 200 people and some of the chosen few are also treated to a collection of vintage motorcycles.
From Rendcomb, our journey took us west of Cirencester - with the shimmering lakes of the Cotswold Water Park and South Cerney airfield , home of the Army's Silver Stars parachute display team, in the distance to the south east.
south west and then north again, we were treated to views of Kemble
Airport to our south and Aston Down to the north - the two centres of
aviation appearing quite close together despite the long road journey
required to travel from one to another. As well as the small
piston monoplanes of the local flying club, the distinctive shape of a
four engined BAe 146 regional jetliner was visible on the ground while
at Aston Down two white gliders were seen after winch-launching, rising and turning on the thermals below us. |
In 2009 Kemble Airport is best known as the home of Delta Jets ( Haunt of Hawker Hunter G-PSST "MIss Demeanour" ) and the annual Great Vintage Flying Weekend. Coded as EGBP it is located at 51 degrees 40' 08" North and 2 degrees 03' 42" West and 419 feet above mean sea level.
Our flight took us parallell with the 45 metre wide 2009 metre long east-west runway 08/26 - complete with high friction asphalt surface - and close to the northern end of 1 000 metre north west / south east runway 13/31. At the far north east corner of Kemble however is an area of hardstanding still referred to as the Belfast Apron due to the time after 1976 when all ten examples of the Shorts Belfast four engined military turboprop transport were lined up ready for sale after the end of their RAF service.
At the time my parents and I used to regularly drive past the then RAF Kemble en route to visit my grandparents at Chippenham and always used to count how many of the Ulster built banana-fuselaged giants were still standing. In fact Kemble opened as an Aircraft Storage Unit on 22 June 1938, the name of reception, maintenance , storage and re-allocation organisation based there soon changing to Number 5 Maintenance Unit RAF and remaining as the longest serving Royal Air Force MU until disbandment in 1983.
5 MU's first task was to receive Bristol Blenheims and Hawker Hurricanes direct from the manufacturers and make them combat ready with the installation of equipment held centrally by RAF Maintenance Command such as machine guns, gunsights and first aid kits. Later arrivals included Vickers Wellingtons, Fairey Battles, Bristol Beauforts, Westland Lysanders and Handley Page Herefords.
In September 1939 RAF Kemble was placed on a war footing and within days of war being declared some Wellington bombers arrived on dispersal from Feltwell. These bombers had actually seen action against the enemy within a few hours of the expiration of Britain's ultimatum to Germany.
Meanwhile, such was the congestion of new arrivals that in May 1940 Number 4 Ferry Pilots Pool relocated to Kemble from Cardiff, allowing 5 MU to despatch its 1 000 th aircraft on 3 July 1940. 9 September 1940 meanwhile saw the formation of the Overseas Aircraft despatch Flight, using Vickers Wellingtons, Bristol Beauforts and Martin Marylands.
In 1942 an assembly facility for Horsa gliders was set up and by then Kemble had become parent station to satellites at Berrow, Bush Barn and Barnsley.
By January 1944 Kemble had its two concrete runways, in time for the period of September - December that year in which hundreds of USAAF C-47s flew in every day to take much needed supplies of fuel and ammunition to the advancing Allied armies in France and Belgium.
By December 1945 however 1 030 suddenly redundant warplanes were being stored by 5 MU although this backlog had cleared somewhat by 1948 when the Maintenance Unit prepared the De Havilland Vampire F3s of 54 Squadron RAF for the first jet crossing of the North Atlantic - via Iceland, Greenland and Labrador - on 12-14 July. 1952 meanwhile saw some important eastbound transatlantic traffic when the first of 550 Canadair Sabres arrived for modifications and a repaint in standard RAF camouflage.
Indeed, the surface paint section at Kemble soon became justly famous for the high standard of its work and subsequently painted aircraft of the Queen's and Battle of Britain Memorial Flights as well as a constant stream of Hawker Hunters which appeared at 5 MU from introduction in 1955 up to the 1980s. 1965 meanwhile saw The Red Arrows form at Kemble and stay there until 1983, by which time they had traded their original Folland Gnats for BAe Hawks.
The years 1983 to 1992 saw Kemble under USAF ownership for the maintenance of Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt tank busting aircraft - with spares being distributed to other USAF bases in Europe by Short C-23A Sherpa twin-props - and eight years of official Care and Maintenance before sale out of Ministry of Defence ownership in 2000.
Aston Down (OS Landranger 912010) can claim an even older heritage,
being originally known as Minchinhampton, Number 1 Station of the
Australian Flying Corps during World War One. Number 6 Training
Squadron AFC was the first to arrive on 25 February 1918 with their two
seat Sopwith One and a Half Strutters and Avro 504s and more advanced
single seat Bristol Scouts, Sopwith Pups, Royal Aircraft Factory SE5As
and Sopwith Camels. However, all flying activity stopped in
January 1919 following the previous November's Armistice and the site
returned to agriculture.|
Like Kemble however, RAF Aston Down as such was opened on 12 October 1938 as an aircraft storage facility - organised by Number 20 Maintenance Unit - although on 23 August 1939 it also became home to Fighter Command's Number 12 Group Pool, one of the first advanced flying training schools in the World. Prior to this RAF pilots would have gone straight from Flying Training Schools to operational fighter squadrons, learning as they went.
Among the aircraft used by Fighter Command's Number 12 Group Pool were Gloster Gladiators, Bristol Blenheims, Fairey Battles and Hawker Hurricanes, North American Harvards and Avro Tutors while 20 MU stored and maintained Hawker Audaxes, Harts, and Henleys as well as Bristol Blenheims and Beauforts, Fairey Battles and large numbers of civilian aircraft requisitioned by the RAF at the start of the Second World War.
On 15 March 1940 Number 12 Group Pool was renamed Number 5 Operational Training Unit, by which time it had also been involved in the delivery of new twin engined Bristol bombers to Aden, Egypt and Yugoslavia. However, among the Polish airmen who came to 5 OTU to train on Spitfires was Pilot Officer Jan Zurakowski, later to become a famous Gloster Meteor test pilot.
20 MU meanwhile stored and prepared Hawker Hurricanes, Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys and Handley Page Hampdens and Herefords. A more specific repair facility at RAF Aston Down however was one of the earth covered hangars on D site where Vickers took in badly damaged Vickers Wellingtons and outshopped the twin engined bombers - built on Barnes Wallis's geodetic principles - serviceable.
By August 1941 RAF Aston Down had been fitted with two new concrete runways and in 1942 20 MU was responsible for upgrading Hawker Hurricanes to IID standard, with two 20mm underwing canon for attacking armoured vehicles. Many of these "Hurribombers" were fitted with tropical Vokes filters and painted in sand and brown camouflage for use by the Desert Air Force in North Africa.
On 16 October the same year the first Airspeed Horsa gliders arrived by road for testing behind Armstrong Whitworth Whitley Vs, some of the Horsa tail sections having been made locally by Taylors Ltd of Griffins Mill, Bowbridge. Similarly Aston Down became a centre for testing and upgrading Spitfires produced in shadow factories as far apart as Winchester, Salisbury and Trowbridge as well as the Hawker Typhoons produced by Gloster Aircraft. Brockworth built Armstrong Whitworth Albemarles were also fitted with glider towing and parachute dropping equipment while some of the largest aircraft to arrive in 1944 were Canadian built Packard Merlin engined Lancaster bombers. These were ferried across the Atlantic with ferry tanks in the bomb bay which had to be removed before bomb bay doors could be fitted.
In early June 1944 Aston Down also became crowded with eight squadrons of the RAF Regiment and Number 8 General Hospital - all units that would move to France after D-Day. After VE Day in May 1945 however it was felt that the RAF had enough trained pilots and so the last OTU - Number 55 - left Aston Down on 14 June, leaving 20 MU to deal - like 5 MU at Kemble - to deal with an influx of war surplus aircraft.
From November 1945 until 1957 however Aston Down became a centre for Ferry Pilot Training using - among others - De Havilland Hornets, Vampires, Gloster Meteors and Hawker Tempests. The last named - a development of the Hawker Typhoon - had been a regular sight at Aston Down in 1944 and became one of the few piston types capable of shooting down both V1 flying bombs and the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter.
Other post War residents included Number 83 Gliding School, which moved from Moreton Valence to train Air Cadets in 1946 and disbanded in September 1955. 20 MU then closed on 30 September 1960 with its hangars being used by 5 MU from Kemble and also by the Ministry of Aviation for storing aircraft production jigs and tools. The hangars were then sold for civilian industrial use and the airfield to the Cotswold Gliding Club in 2002.
north of Tetbury to avoid becoming a monstrous carbuncle on the town's
airspace, our journey then took us over the golf course and cattle on
Minchinhampton Common and up the valley forming Woodchester Park to the
plateau home of Nympsfield Gliding Club. Although the rules of the air
give precedence to gliders over powered aircraft - just as steam gives
way to sail on the seas - all the sailplanes below stayed in their box
Keeping north of the no-fly zone over the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the view from the right of the cockpit was now drawn up the inverted vee of Standish Junction, where the former Great Western line from Paddington, Swindon, Kemble, Stroud and Stonehouse meets the former Midland Railway line from Bristol to Birmingham. Also visible in the top right of the picture below is the heavily wooded site of the former Standish Hospital.
down in 2009 on the dumb-bell shape of Junction 12 and the white
buildings of Bloom's Garden Centre just to its south on the B4008, it
is hard to imagine that before the M5 motorway cut through this site (
OS Landranger 162 796104 )
in the mid 1960s it was a thriving
airfield opened in November 1939 as Haresfield Emergency Landing Ground.
In 1941 however the addition of three tarmac covered concrete runways and two blister hangars saw the emergence of RAF Moreton Valence with a permanent detachment of Avro Ansons from Number 6 Air Observers Navigation School based at Staverton. This unit was also to fly - among others - twin engined De Havilland Rapides and Blackburn Bothas.
Spring of 1942 meanwhile saw the formation of the Pilot Refresher Training Unit with Miles Masters, Avro Tutors and Airspeed Oxfords before moving to Kirknewton in Scotland on 1 May 1942.
In the summer of 1943 meanwhile, the Ministry of Aircraft Production arranged for the construction of new hangars at Moreton Valence for the use of the Gloster Aircraft Company and the runway was lengthened to allow for the operation of the company's F9/40 - later to become the Gloster Meteor - although this was not the first jet aircraft to fly from the airfield.
That honour went to the American Bell YP-59A Airacomet - exchanged for a prototype Meteor - which was assembled on site and took to the skies on 28 September 1943. The silver twin engined straight-winged Airacomet - the first jet aircraft with two fuselage intakes - stayed at Moreton Valence until moving on to Farnborough in November, by which time the F 9/40s had arrived.
Test flying -especially with such a radical form of propulsion - is always a high risk activity and sadly the first ever jet fatality occurred on 27 April 1944 when F 9/40 DG205 left Moreton Valence on a flight to investigate aileron instability at high altitude. Following the loss of aileron control the aircraft rolled inverted and crashed three miles South East of Stroud, killing the pilot Mr J.A. Crosby-Warren.
In contrast to the new jets, Number 83 Gliding School opened at Moreton Valence in May 1944 using Dagling Primary and Kirby Cadet sailplanes to train Air Training Corps members up to solo standard. 83 Gliding School subsequently moved to Aston Down on 13 October 1946.
With the last RAF aircraft gone, Moreton Valence was the domain of the Gloster Aircraft Company and saw such feats as the preparation of the Meteor F4s of the RAF High Speed Flight although from 1947 to 1954 the airfield was also used by the Rotol Flight Test Department to evaluate new propellers on such aircraft as Spitfires, Hawker Sea Furys and Westland Wyvern.
The final Meteor F8 - WL 191 - left Moreton Valence for RAF service after flight testing on 9 April 1954 and the final new Gloster Javelin on 8 April 1960, although Javelins were to return for uprating to Fighter All Weather 8 and 9 specifications and Armstrong Whitworth built Meteor Night Fighter 11s were converted into Mark 20 target tugs.
The very last aircraft out of Moreton Valence was a Javelin on 25 July 1962 after which the buildings were sold for industrial use, including the control tower - now at the centre of a commercial garage - at the bottom of the picture above along the minor road to the left of the M5 and the brown ploughed field.
|LOOP AND ROLL|
|Having flown over the old Moreton Valence control tower, the Stampe headed north west across the Gloucester and Sharpness Ship Canal to the River Severn near Rodley, where Tizi first performed a loop ( with May Hill as a constant reference point ) and then a right hand victory roll. In both cases a shallow dive was required to bring the Indicated Air Speed beyond the usual 80 to 100 knots before the sky went below us!|
|THE LOWEST NATURAL CROSSING OF THE SEVERN|
sinuses now cleared, it was time for Tizi to radio the tower at
Staverton and request entry to the landing pattern and for me to
take a last look out of the cockpit at some familiar sights from an
The distant Newent vineyards showed up particularly well, although the picture above captures the River Severn as it splits in two around the ashphalt starfish of Over Roundabout. Its northern arm is the A417 leading to Maisemore and Ledbury while to the east is the A40 Gloucester Northern Ring Road, crossing the eastern parting of the River Severn.
To the south of this single carriageway road is St Oswalds Retail Park, dominated by the white barrelled roofs of B&Q ( the largest in the World outside China ) and defined at its southern edge by the former Great Western railway line from Gloucester to Chepstow. The southern appendage of the starfish is the road into Gloucester, splitting around the white rectangle of the retail development at Westgate Island while Gloucester's most recent length of ring road crosses Alney Island south westerly in parallel with Gloucester Docks.
To the west the A40 continues over the River Severn's Western Parting, just north of the original Thomas Telford bridge which it replaced in the 1970s and the railway bridge, leading to a surprisingly straight length of track. Also just visible north of the A40 west of the Severn is the north-west-and-north route of the Hereford and Gloucester Canal, partly wet again but mostly fossilised in the landscape.
Yet further west the A40 - controversially rebuilt in 2008 - joins the B4008 running north west past the dark brain-like structure of Highnam towards Tibberton and Newent and at Highnam Roundabout splits into the A48 - running over the railway to the common goal of Chepstow - and the portion of the A40 turning north west towards Ross on Wye.
|THE CENTRE OF MY WORLD|
setting out, Tizi had anticipated flying close to my house and the dark
red prunus tree and white roofed static caravan in the back garden
certainly showed up well against the prevailing grey and green nearby. Even
more spectacular though was the sight of Imjin Barracks, seen in this
picture on the upper left hand side. |
During its previous decades of life as RAF Innsworth it had brought thousands of blue suited men and women and their families to this area and prompted the expansion of Churchdown around the B4063 - running south west to north east - rather than the railway further to the south. In fact the military base - with sports ground just south of Innsworth Lane dominates the whole left side of this image while the top right quadrant is filled with Brickhampton Golf Club - dotted with light coloured sand bunkers - and runway 09/27 of Staverton airport.
Splitting the golf course in two and dividing the airport from the dark green patches of a farmer's fields is Hatherley Brook, whose flowing under the B4063 also marks the location of Blenheim House kennels and cattery. To the east of the lowest visible part of the B4063 is the white L shape of the former Hurran's garden centre while the beige rectangle to its right is the site of new houses being built on the former Griffith's family haulage yard. Right again and north of Parton Road meanwhile is the white ying-yang of the Co-Op store, just a few yards from where I live.
|BACK INTO TRAFFIC|
|In fact I was able to view my house
twice as the Stampe had to circle to allow both Tiger Airways Boeing
Stearman ( above ) and a white Piper Seneca ( similar to G-ELIS, seen
below at Bristol ) to land first.|
The Boeing PT13/E75 Stearman - first flown in 1936 - is as well known in the United States as the Tiger Moth is in Britain. It was America's principal basic trainer throughout the war and, like the Tiger Moth, was produced in thousands. Perhaps predictably for an American aircraft, it was substantially larger and more powerful than its' European counterpart and the addition of a tail-wheel and brakes to the main-wheels also made it considerably easier to handle on the ground. The Stearman was fitted with a variety of power plants, the most common being the 220hp Lycoming R680 nine cylinder radial. Post war many aircraft, particularly those converted for crop spraying, were fitted with a 450hp Pratt and Whitney R985A61 radial. The normal (as opposed to agricultural) version of the aircraft had a maximum take-off weight of 2810 lbs, a cruising speed of up to 92 knots, and a range of 325 nautical miles. The Stearman's wingspan is 32ft 2in, length 25ft 0in and height 9 ft. 2 in.
Tiger Airway's Stearman 112 wears the blue and yellow colours of the United States Army Air Force complete with 1930s type national markings. The red spot in the middle of the white star was abandoned after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru.
The first Piper Seneca was flown in 1971 as a development of the single engined Piper Cherokee Six with counter-rotating Lycoming engines: making the Seneca easier to fly on one engine. The 1974 Seneca II featured six cylinder turbocharged Continental engines and models from the 1981 Seneca III can be visually distinguished by a one piece windscreen. G-ELIS - seen below at Bristol - is a Seneca II.
|A HAPPY LANDING|
|After a final turn over the
bridge carrying Parton Road over the A40, Tizi landed the Stampe on the
grass runway parallel to 04/22, the runway we had taken off from an
hour earlier, before taxiing back to the Tiger Airways hangar. Reunited
with the jacket I had walked in wearing earlier that afternoon I was
also given the option of buying a special edition "inverted" Tiger
Airways sweatshirt ( as I had looped the loop ), a commemorative mug
and a DVD of my flight, as filmed from a pen camera on the starboard
upper wing. Also presented to me by Tizi were a set of Pilot's
Notes for the Stampe, some photographs of us in the Stampe at the start
of our flight ( including one A5 sized sepia print ) and a
hand-finished certificate with the following words:|
This is to certify that Alan Drewett Defied the laws of gravity in an olde World War II Bi Plane and returned to Mother Earth after battling against the elements of the cold, the draughts, the engine vibration, the noise, the lack of visibility and being whipped in the face by the wind for many long gruelling, character-building and truly unforgettable moments.
Comments on flying aptitude and ability: Brilliantly relaxed flying and fearless.
I think I had got Tiger Airway's Stampe of Approval!