Private Landing Grounds
PRIVATE LANDING GROUNDS
The history of private landing grounds in the U.K. goes way back to before WW1 and is almost impossible to define, especially since WW2 and the emergence of so-called 'farm strips'.
It is probably worth mentioning that up till WW2 aviators of fixed wing aircraft would think nothing of landing pretty much where they wanted, and would not expect any retribution for doing so. Indeed, in the very early years aviators would often land in a suitable field to ask directions, or to seek help or fuel etc. And, we are not talking about forced landings due to engine failure.
As a general rule prior to WW2 private landing grounds were the preserve of the wealthy, having a large lawn or open park suitable for visitors to land on. But, for example, in the 1930s the Automobile Association published a long list of 'Approved Landing Grounds'. Often having no facilities such as fuel or hangarage on site, there was a box in which messages could be left, to be collected by a passing A.A. motorcyclist and relayed onward by telephone. And, by and large, these Landing Grounds were not operated by very wealthy people.
This was an era, when for example, the de Havilland DH.60 Moth opened up affordable flying to a much wider class of society. But, we musn't get too dewy eyed - these people were still very well off.
And of course we should also remember that the 'Flying Circus' operaters used a convenient field hired from a farmer for a display, often attracting thousands of visitors to be used, very often, for just one day. But, for the biggest operations, these were 'certified aerodromes' approved for use by the Air Ministry, and, in the early days especially, inspected before being approved.
Even so, many owners of light aircraft, based them on their property with a strip laid out. Or more likely a suitable field large enough to allow landings and take-offs into wind.
AFTER WW2 - 'THE FARM STRIP'
Here again almost impossible to define. I have been told that since the 1960s roughly 550 have existed each year. As many closing as being opened. And indeed, a few being moved around from field to field depending on crop rotation or other reasons.
It is a heritage we should be immensely proud of. I can remember visiting a pilot friend in Germany many years ago, before unification, and they didn't have one! As far as I could see, travelling and flying around western Europe, nor did any other countries worth talking about. Perhaps New Zealand comes close, but these strips are invariably used for crop-dusting operations. Not the same thing of course.
The USA, Canada and Australia (?) have more - but they occupy areas larger than western Europe.
TRYING TO DEFINE A FARM STRIP?
The most obvious answer is a mown strip in a field probably around, on average about 550 metres long? Allowing safe operation for most kinds of light aircraft with good take-off and landing capabilities. Typically older types, or much more modern types. They can of course be used by typical American 'Spam-cans' but only with care and at reduced weights. It is not usually appreciated that, for example, a Cessna 172 is a very capable short-field performer. With half-tanks and two on board a 400 metre grass strip is no problem.
When microlight aircraft came into fashion, fixed and flex-wing types, the picture was transformed. Runways of 200 metres were considered by some to be more than adequate. Most elected to be more sensible, deciding that around 350 to 400 metres was far better.
At the same time, dotted around the UK, private airstrips with a grass runway of around a 1000 metres appeared allowing operation by serious sized twin-engine types.
THE 28 DAY RULE
This appears to be something unique to the U.K. If only used for up to 28 days a year, it appears that planning permission for an airstrip is not required. This has been adopted by many, and why not? It is perhaps not usually appreciated how few hours a year a private pilot has to fly in order to remain legal.
PRIOR PERMISSION REQUIRED
Nearly all private airstrips and airfields, in the U.K. require prior permission to be obtained before landing. Quite rightly. A few licensed aerodromes require this too. But needless to say a few pilots ignore this requirement. All I can say is that these pilots should be stamped on in the heaviest possible means. Even having their aircraft impounded.
But of course there are exceptions. I once had a passenger who became very ill when taking aerial photographs, and landed at a private airfield without permission. We were treated in the very kindest way, and indeed, I was invited to fly back to visit for a longer stay.
Some private 'landing strips' are laid out in such a way as to be truly a credit to their owners/operators. Seen from the air they can almost be regarded as 'works of art', such are the immaculate mown designs of the layout.
And indeed, many can be regarded as 'airfields' in their own right, with five, ten or twenty aircraft being based there. I tend to be a bit pedantic in only considering such locations as being an 'airfield' if it has two or more runways. But then shoot myself in the foot when so many licensed aerodromes only have one runway.
I have similar problems trying to decide what constitutes an 'airport'.
Even so, and without any doubt, the tradition of Private Landing Grounds, farm strips and everything similar, in the U.K., is without equal. Long may it continue.