TOP FARM: Private airstrip
*It was common practice in those days, especially throughout East Anglia, for farmers to burn the wheat and barley fields after the harvest period. Flying across the region in those days, during this period, was quite a spectacle to see, as it appeared that most of the country was on fire, and needless to say visibility when coming into land at various locations in the region, could be demanding.
Note: All pictures by the author unless specified.
Regarding the second picture I believe that David Morris who operates TOP FARM really did love this aeroplane, the Reims Cessna FR182 Skylane RG, G-NOCK. Having sold it, he later bought it again.
Operated by: Mr David Morris (Barmoor Aviation)
Location: 8nm NW of Royston
Period of operation: 1985 to today
Note: This map is reproduced with the kind permission of Pooleys Flight Equipment Ltd. Copyright Robert Pooley 2014.
Runways: 06/24 900x24 grass 15/33 380x15 grass
(Was use of 15/33 discontinued at some point?)
I was extremely lucky to be invited to fly from here many years ago when the restraints and general circumstances which apply today were very different. It really was a fabulous place to fly from, full of enthusiasts and somewhere you really could practise better flying skills.
Later on conditions had been imposed by very nasty small-minded people who have no love, and certainly no knowledge of flying. In fact there were some people officially involved in the now famous ‘South Cambridgeshire’ debacle to close all aviation activity in this area, determined and driven by their own ignorance to make flying in South Cambridgeshire downright dangerous! And, they planned to impose the maximum amount of aircraft noise onto the residents of Cambridge!
When I started flying here we had great fun and really learnt a lot about flying mainly due to the vast enthusiasm and practical good sense of the flying group owner, David Morris.
SOME FOND MEMORIES
When rather late in 1992 Austin Brown and myself got the contracts for a joint double book project from Ian Allan to fly a light aircraft into as many UK airports as possible, I had arranged to hire a Cessna 172 from my Flying Group at TOP FARM. But, the day before somebody had managed to seriously damage it.
Considering options we discovered that the 140hp Cessna 150 G-OSND could carry all our equipment and luggage. We double-checked, re-weighed, checked the C of G tables and the answer was the same. We could indeed use it instead of the 172. We loaded it up and did a short check-flight, and it performed perfectly.
This was however not a reliable aeroplane and I had experienced problems with it before despite having had aerobatic instruction in it with a Britannia Airways pilot who demonstrated several manouevres not normally performed in the type, such as tail-slides. I didn't go ahead with further aerobatic instruction on this aeroplane as I quickly realised that only gifted pilots could make a decent job of flying aerobatics in this type.
Our first sector was from TOP FARM to SOUTHEND and roughly halfway the oil pressure valve started failing. On landing at SOUTHEND we had nil oil pressure on the gauge. As repairs would take too long we made arrangements for another aircraft, the Cessna 172 G-WACL from Wycombe Air Centre to be delivered. Shari Peyami, the Managing Director at Wycombe Air Centre was a wonder, and a good friend.
This picture was taken by Austin J Brown, and he always insisted that I was not doing pre-flight checks on G-JONI, but 'Square-dancing' around it.
In a way he way was right, I had every reason to dance in delight. In as much as I developed over many years, a considerable regard for the humble Cessna 150, 152 and 172. They are after all, the 172 especially, the classic aircraft of all time. Generally derided by most pilots, most of whom who have no idea how good they can be if flown correctly - these types adopted me.
The reason being that on my travels across Europe and beyond, as often as not when wanting to fly at short notice, it was these rugged and dependable aircraft that were invariably readily available. The more exotic types were almost always in the hangar awaiting attention, etc, etc. It was not long before I realised just how useful these types were, especially for aerial photography, and, how well they can cope with quite difficult conditions such as severe turbulence and very windy circumstances.
Without any doubt I have flown many types that really are a delight to fly, crisp on the controls, better looking and so on. But, over the years I developed a love for these stolid Cessna types, which has never waned.
A LESSON TO BE LEARNT?
I was told, and I have no reason to question it, that after the accident this Chipmunk was written off. Just looking at the picture the damage appears to be relatively minor, but, the stresses involved can often cause major unseen damage within the airframe. This can of course invariably be repaired - but at what cost?
ANOTHER FOND MEMORY
As a general rule, Aussie Brown and I flew elsewhere for an air-to-air sortie, but this time Aussie had arranged that we met at Top Farm for a photo-shoot of the Thurston TSC-1A2 Teal II - G-OWET. This was to be a most unusual and quite demanding sortie as Aussie had decided that he needed to photograph the Teal landing and taking-off from water.
I cannot remember where this took place, but suspect it was probably Hickling Broad which is roughly 15nm NE of Norwich in Norfolk. Needless to say we had no opportunity to practice so it had to be right on the first attempt. This entailed flying in behind the Teal, rather slowly and just above the trees on the south side of 'the lake'.
Aussie had kindly invited another photo-journalist to accompany us for an article on air-to-air photography so we were pretty much at 'All-Up Weight'; not exactly a situation I relished as this Cessna 172 (G-BGIU) was hardly overpowered - and it was a fine warm day. In fact, when I powered up to climb away with, (I think) 20° of flap set, reducing to 10°, the 172 showed an initial reluctance to gain any height at all.
Then I needed to plan an approach which coincided with us abeam the Teal as it lifted off. More by luck than judgement I'd say, it worked out very well and Aussie got some fabulous pictures for FLYER magazine. Looking in my log book I booked 2.6 hours on this sortie and probably landed back at Top Farm feeling rather knackered.
TOP FARM PICTURE GALLERY
*Notes: The Airtourer G-AWVG was based here for many years, perhaps it still is? I never once saw the owner fly with a passenger, and, being rather aloof (or perhaps shy?) I refrained from asking him for a flight in it. However, I did eventually manage a flight in an Airtourer, the V-112 version (VH-CHP) from Bankstown (Sydney, Australia) in December 1997.
AIRCRAFT FLOWN IN, OR BY, THE AUTHOR FROM TOP FARM
Note: All pictures by the author unless specified.
On the 18th September 1993 Mr Robinson very kindly took me on a short flight in his Putzer-Elster B, G-APVF, so that I could add this type as flown in to my log book. On the same day I was also invited by Mr Bradley to fly in the Hoffman H36 Dimona G-BLCV and he allowed me to fly it once airborne. Compared to the 'spamcans' I was used to, this was a very different aeroplane. And, having the engine stopped for a spell of gliding was quite a revelation!
On the 1st of June 1996 Sue Aherne very kindly took me for a flight in the Meta-Sokol L.40 G-APUE, and once airborne let me handle the controls which was an interesting experience as this type has a couple of quirky features. This is a rare aircraft type in the UK. At the opposite end of the scale was the Piper Tomahawk which I flew a few times if nothing else was available. For some reason which I cannot adequately explain (and I'd try to fly anything) the Tomahawk is perhaps the least favourite of the sixty plus types in which 'I have interfered' with the controls.
Om the other hand, the Robin Regent G-JUDE really was a delight to fly.
FOREIGN DESTINATIONS FLOWN TO FROM TOP FARM
Ist August 1992: To Le Torquet in France, Cessna 172 G-BPVY.
14th to 15th August 1993: A shared flight with Guy Browning to Oostende in Belgium via Calais in the PA-28 Archer G-BEXW.
27th to 30th August 1994: Another shared flight with Guy Browning to Issoire in the Auvergne region of France. This time in the PA-28 Warrior G-BTKT and calling in en route to Le Touquet, Dieppe, Chartres and Rouen.
27th to 29th August 1995: Once again a shared flight with Guy Browning and my wife to Texel in The Netherlands. Calling in at Kortrijk in Belgium, Midden Zeeland in the The Netherlands on the way out, and Oostende in Belgium on the way back.
On the way up, north of Amsterdam, a huge storm front stretched across the North Sea to Germany, and a diversion seemed the only solution. But, much more experienced pilots had told me to look for a clear 'tunnel', and this should be safe. Flying along the front from West to East, just such a 'tunnel' was clearly visible, so into it we flew.
It was in the middle of the afternoon but everything soon went very dark. The noise of the rain was so loud that, even with headsets on we could barely hear each other. Fortunately cars on the roads below had their headlights on, so, watching these through the side window, and the flight instruments, I could maintain a level course. What I could not understand was how the engine kept on working faced with what was in effect an aerial waterfall.
Turning around was not an option as lightning was seen on either side, although some distance away, and we knew that the storm front was not very deep. We experienced no turbulence on entering but I briefed to expect some, especially on exiting. But no, we exited into clear and calm conditions, with a very clean thoroughly washed aeroplane. As advised it worked, but I never once repeated the exercise!
YET MORE FOND MEMORIES
24th to 27th August 1996: Yet another shared flight with Guy Browning on a tour of the Irish Republic in the Cessna172 G-BGIU. We landed at Brittas Bay, Weston, Connemara and Cork and I did a touch and go at Newcastle on the east coast south of Dublin.
Knowing that the Irish Republic would be very busy with tourists at this time of year, I made detailed plans to make certain that everything was in place before departing. Including making some bookings with the Irish Tourist Board, checking with Irish ATC, airfields etc, etc. Perhaps not surprising, nearly everything agreed turned out to be screwed up. Almost nothing was in place when we arrived, or the arrangements were totally at odds with what had been arranged.
But, this is what can be expected in the Irish Republic. This said, everybody was very friendly and something was eventually sorted out. What we didn't notice was that somebody had stolen several gallons of fuel from our aircraft when at Connemara. Not enough to be noticed on a visual check during the pre-flight inspection, but enough to seriously endanger our lives.
After a couple of hours flying it was noticed that both our fuel tanks were reading empty. It is well known that American aircraft have notoriously inaccurate fuel gauges - but both empty!? A call to divert into Cork International airport was taken very seriously by ATC, bless them, and I flew a very sedate circuit before landing. After refuelling I found that we had just one gallon of fuel left in each tank! A quick calculation showed that our fuel consumption had risen from the normal seven gallons per hour to eleven gallons per hour; which of course was impossible for the engine to keep operating.
A thorough check showed no leakage. But, to be certain, we landed at SWANSEA on the way home to double-check, and, as expected our fuel consumption had returned to normal.
3rd to 5th May 1997: Another weekend trip to Oostende in the Cessna 172 G-BGIU.
24th to 26th May 1997: A long weekend trip to Dinard in northern France also in the Cessna 172 G-BGIU. On this trip my wife and I landed at Le Havre and Deauville.
25th to 30th August 1997: For my 50th birthday we decided to fly to La Rochelle in western France, once again with Guy Browning sharing the flying duties and costs. We diverted into Dieppe for a night stop due to sea fog along the coast, then routed via Rouen to Belle-Ile for another night stop. We landed at Ile D'Yeu en route to La Rochelle. On the way back we landed at Dinard for another night stop and en route to Deauville made a call at Granville. This tour was also in the Cessna 172 G-BGIU.
2nd to 6th April 1999: An Easter trip back to Dinard with my wife, and once again with flying duties shared with Guy Browning in the Cessna 172 G-JVMD. We called in at Le Havre on the way down and made a very sudden diversion into Granville due to sea fog en route to Caen on the way back, which was a singular adventure the likes of which I had never experienced before, or would like to repeat.
We took off in crystal clear conditions and the same applied at Caen. However, over the Cherbourg peninsular all was not well - a wall of cloud extended from the tops of the hills to some 20,000ft or more. We flew up a couple of valleys to see if a way through was available, but no, they were 'socked in'. I then thought I had the answer, we'd fly at low level around Cherbourg itself.
Emerging from the last valley and starting to turn north I saw something the likes of which I had never even heard about, let alone seen. Apart from the cloud being virtually 'on the deck', a solid wall of sea fog had formed and was travelling at roughly 60mph or so, diagonally across our path. What to do? The only option seemed to dive down to the sea and fly along the beach flat out at about ten or twenty feet above the surf, and hope to reach Granville before it enveloped us. Doubting we could achieve this we did a full briefing on crash landing at just above stalling speed, on the hardest sand nearest the surf, and expecting to flip inverted.
Along the way, my wife in the back made a video recording with Guy's camera, and remarked how novel it was to be flying, but looking sideways straight into peoples front rooms!
Perhaps needless to say we made Granville, and doing a very low level circuit I landed into wind. The aerodrome is right next to the beach. On shutting down we watched, quite bemused, as the fog front rushed in at great speed; With no sign of life anywhere to be seen I investigated the tiny 'airport terminal' anf found a business card for a taxi service. Incredibly, the driver was also a local pilot, speaking no English, but with my 'kerbside' French as a truck driver we soon sorted out what to do. "Pas de problem".
He took us into Granville to have lunch and would pick us up; at 3pm I think it was. Then all would be clear. When he collected us it was still very foggy, so needless to say we had very severe doubts about his weather forecasting abilities. However, upon arriving at the airfield, 'Heh Presto' and as if by magic, it cleared.
Whilst at Dinard we made a flight to Jersey for a first time visit. Reading up on the procedures in our Flight Guide looked very daunting so I rang the tower for advice. ATC at Jersey were brilliant - nothing could possibly have been easier.
29th to 31st August 1999: A long weekend flight to Liege in Belgium in the Cessna 182 G-IRPC, with Guy Browning sharing the flying. We diverted into Calais on the way home due to very poor visibility over the Channel.
29th April to the 1st May 2000: After trying for years and years to find a weather window to visit Cornwall, the Easter Holiday that year came up trumps. A large high pressure weather system promised a clear easterly air flow for several days, and that was exactly as it panned out. With just myself and my wife in the Cessna 172 G-JVMD, we flew into FILTON, EAGLESCOTT, BODMIN, LAND'S END, PERRANPORTH, WESTBURY-sub-MENDIP and OAKSEY PARK.
Being at that time a part-time freelance photographer and writer, the sheer scenic beauty we were seeing had to be photographed. But, I had nobody along to take over the 'handle-bars' whilst I opened the window, pushed the seat back and took the pics. By the time we were flying past Penzance I could bear it no longer - we were after all in a 172 - so after having a good look round for other traffic, I trimmed it out, opened the window, pushed the seat back and took the snaps.
Initially my wife was horrified - nobody was flying the aeroplane!!!!. My explanation that basically it flies itself and all I do is interfere with the controls from time to time didn't convinced her one bit. But, after several demonstrations, she did partially relax after the 172 resolutely refused to enter a death plunge after my hands were off the yolk.
AN AEROPLANE WITH QUITE A HISTORY
When David Morris acquired G-NEWT, he asked Martin Pole if he could take a picture of it for use when advertising it for sale, in return for flying it. This was on or around the 11th May 2002. Martin decided to look into the history of this aircraft and was surprised at the revelations. Built in 1947 it appears it was first registered in South Africa. With the formation of Isreal in 1948 it was one of three Bonanzas smuggled out of Africa, by Jewish South African pilots, to become founder aircraft for the Isreali Air Force. Due to circumstances, Martin never did get to fly G-NEWT.
It now seems that the first two Bonanzas to arrive in Isreal were crudely camouflaged and fitted with under-wing bomb-racks. However, it seems that this aircraft suffered a serious accident taking off from Salisbury, Rhodesia. Following extensive repairs it didn't arrive in Israel until 1950, and was given the serial number of B-41 /0604. It is reported as being used for reconnaissance flights from Doy Hoz Field near Tel Aviv. In August 1954 it was transferred to the Civil Aviation Division of the Ministry of Transportation.
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