Airfields

Flying lessons at Cardiff Airport

Here at Air Experiences, we offer flying experiences across the country – and Wales is no exception. For those in the south of Wales, or even the other side of the Bristol Channel in England, Cardiff Airport – or Maes Awyr Caerdydd – offers the perfect location for your first flying experience. It’s not just the only airport in Wales to offer scheduled international flights on passenger jets; it’s also a fantastic airport for experiencing the thrill of flying a light aircraft.

Cardiff Airport started life as RAF Rhoose, built during the Second World War for Spitfires to operate out of. After the war it suffered a period of abandonment, which saw its runways littered with unused bombs and its buildings falling to bits. But by the early 1950s it was brought back to life as the international airport we know today, operating flights to France and Ireland. Subsequent development has seen the range of destinations grow enormously, with runway extension in the 1980s allowing bigger jets, such as Boeing 747s, to use the airport. It’s now also the primary maintenance base for British Airways. On a few memorable occasions, Cardiff has even played host to one of the most famous aircraft of all time: Concorde.

Concorde at Cardiff Airport (from Wikimedia Commons)

Concorde may no longer be flying, but the number of international flights operating from Cardiff means that you’re never short of things to see on a visit to this busy airport. This makes it a particularly interesting place to go flying, as there’s always something going on. As you taxi to the runway for take-off on your flying lesson, you might even find yourself waiting behind a jumbo jet departing for warmer climes!

While you may not be flying quite as far as them, you’ll have plenty of stunning views to enjoy when you fly from Cardiff Airport. For a start, the airport’s location right on the coast will give you some spectacular sea views across the Bristol Channel and across to Somerset and Devon, with the tall towers of the Severn bridges visible as you look upstream towards Bristol. Nearby you’ll see the city of Cardiff, and in the distance, weather permitting, you should be able to spot the mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The Severn Estuary from the air (photograph licensed for reuse from Geograph.org)

If you’d like to book a flying lesson at Cardiff Airport, or you’d like to treat someone to a memorable flying experience for Christmas, take a look at our light aircraft flying lessons. Prices start from just £50, making it a fun and affordable Christmas present for those difficult-to-buy-for people!

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Flying at Netherthorpe Airfield, Sheffield

Following the interest we received in our post on Wellesbourne Airfield, we have another airfield in the spotlight this week. This time, we’re looking at Netherthorpe Airfield in Nottinghamshire. A stone’s throw from Worksop, near Sheffield, it’s a great base from which to take to the skies and see the East Midlands from the air.

Like many of the UK’s airfields, Netherthorpe was used during the Second World War, though it actually dates back to the First World War. Among the aircraft to have seen service here during the Second World War is the Westland Lysander, which was known for its excellent performance at landing in short airstrips. It was this quality that made it perfect for picking up spies from behind enemy lines. Indeed, many secret missions of this nature were carried out from Netherthorpe during the war. Here’s a photo we took of a Westland Lysander at the Shuttleworth Collection.

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According to Wikipedia, one of Netherthorpe’s two grass runways is the shortest licensed runway in the UK, so it’s just as well that the Lysander was chosen. Here’s an aerial view courtesy of Google Maps.

These days, the airfield is home to around forty light aircraft and two flying clubs. So what can you see from the air if you fly from Netherthorpe Airfield? Well, it’s close to Sheffield, right near the border of South Yorkshire, as well as being close to Derbyshire with its stunning Peak District National Park. If you’re hoping to fly over the Peak District, ask your instructor on the day, as it should be possible on longer flights.

You can fly from Netherthorpe Airfield with Air Experiences – just go to our Light Aircraft page and choose a flying lesson. If you enjoy your flight so much that you want to get a Private Pilot’s Licence, all the flying time from your trial lesson will count towards the hours needed to get your PPL!

Peak District image from Wikimedia Commons.

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Flying at Wellesbourne Airfield

As you step out onto the apron and climb aboard the aircraft that will take you on a breathtaking flight, you’re probably too excited to remember that you’re following in the footsteps of generations of pilots. Airfields are steeped in history, and, in the first of a new series of blog posts, we look today at the history of an airfield close to our hearts here at Air Experiences: Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield, in South Warwickshire.

Wellesbourne Airfield was built to help meet the need for airfields during the second World War. It all happened in 1941: early that year, the Government purchased over 200 acres of land from the Littler family (who own and operate the airfield today).

Within a few months, the land to the east of Stratford-upon-Avon had changed forever. By the summer, a fully functioning airfield was standing on the Wellesbourne site.

Wellesbourne Airfield became the home to the 22nd Operational Training Unit, with a fleet of Wellington Bombers and Avro Ansons. Each month, Wellesbourne completed the training over a hundred airmen, and by the end of the war, over nine thousand men had been trained at Wellesbourne.Wellesbourne

As well as training, the airfield saw some action. Thirty-four bombers from Wellesbourne took part in the 1,000-bomber raid on Essen, from which all returned home safely. Despite their safe return on that occasion, over the duration of the war, over three hundred men from Wellesbourne Airfield lost their lives in either training or bombing missions, along with 96 Wellington bombers.

The airfield was also targeted a number of times by bombers on their way to the industrial cities of Birmingham and Coventry.

After the war, Wellesbourne Airfield became home to a number of squadrons: firstly a glider training unit, then an aerial photographic unit, and later an advanced flying training unit.

DSC_0166RAF Wellesbourne closed in 1964 and was sold to the Littler family, who had owned the farm before the war. The airfield lay dormant until 1981, when some private flying started. Over the years, the popularity of Wellesbourne grew to what we see today, which is a thriving General Aviation airfield. Hundreds of thousands of people visit Wellesbourne each year, for the famous Saturday market, for the popular Wellesbourne Wings and Wheels event, or for a good old English fry-up in the Touchdown Cafe. The airfield is visited from the air by aviators flying in from all over the country to enjoy a day out at one of the best and friendliest airfields in the UK.

Today, the airfield’s most prominent landmark is a true piece of aviation history. In 1984, Wellesbourne took delivery of a Vulcan bomber.

Unfortunately XM655 no longer flies, but the engines are regularly run and each year on the Father’s Day Wings and Wheels event, during which the Vulcan demonstrates its power by completing a fast taxi on the main runway and lifting the nose gear. This event is open to the public.

You can take to the skies from Wellesbourne yourself with Air Experiences. A flight from this WWII airfield can cost as little as £50, and you can go sightseeing on a light aircraft flying lesson, go on an exciting helicopter experience, or even try your hand at aerobatics.

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How many people does it take to run an airfield?

Leaving big international airports aside, how many people are involved in helping you get airborne on your first flight?
A surprising number of people are employed at general aviation airfields to ensure you get into the air safely. We go behind the scenes at our local airfield to show you just some of the people helping to get you in the air.

Air Traffic Controller

Control Tower

Control Tower

The controller at a small airfield is generally only responsible for movements on the ground, such as pilots taxiing from parking to the runway and vehicles moving around the taxiways. Once aircraft are in the air, the controller will only pass ‘information’ to the pilot; there are generally no direct instructions, leaving the decision-making to the pilot. You may hear the phase on the aircraft radio ‘at your discretion’, which is the controller ensuring that the pilot understands that he must make his own mind up. This is seen as safer, as the pilot is the person in the aircraft and ultimately is in the best position to make the decisions.

An Air Traffic Controller’s (ATC) work isn’t easy: handling multiple aircraft (both passing the airfield and training flights), the controller’s work is a bit like a conductor of an orchestra. He or she is the person who monitors all movements on and above the airfield to ensure everyone stays safe.

Engineering

Gift ExperienceEvery year, an aircraft must go through an MOT (otherwise known as a Certificate of Airworthiness). During this maintenance every part of the aircraft is checked, with the undercarriage coming off, seats removed, and even at times the wings removed. This annual servicing is nothing like a car MOT; unlike a car, if a problem arises in an aircraft it cannot just pull over to the side of the road. For this reason, aircraft maintenance is highly regulated, with engineers being certified with years of training. All parts are traceable right back to the person who made a bolt, and everything is checked by an independent person before the aircraft is released for service.

As well as the annual service, every 50 hours the aircraft is flown it must have a smaller check during which oils and fluids are changed, hinges greased and the general condition of the airframe is checked. You may think that’s it, but at the start of every day the pilot must also check the aircraft for fluids, control surfaces, and any knocks or dents to ensure he is happy to sign the aircraft as flyable for that day.

Fire Fighters

Airfield Fire Training

Airfield Fire Training

For an airfield to be licensed for training there needs to be fire crew during operational times. Because general aviation is safe, their skills are thankfully rarely required. At the airfield you may see fire crews helping out with refuelling aircraft, runway inspections, airfield maintenance and assisting pilots with moving their aircraft.

Airfield fire fighters, just like normal fire fighters, go through regular training, with some airfields having mock-up aircraft for practising fire drills. Aircraft fires are very unusual, but if one should occur it’s good to know that your airfield has fire crew on standby, trained in the handling of flammable liquids such as aviation kerosene and jet fuel.

Instructors

At most airfields there are various different levels of instructor, and for different types of aircraft. Firstly there are ‘fixed wing’ pilots (there are normal light aircraft such as Cessnas) and there are ‘rotary wing’ pilot (these are helicopters). Normally, instructors specialise in teaching one or other of these disciplines; it is very unusual for instructors to teach helicopters and aircraft, though this is normally only because of the cost involved in training to become an instructor in both.

Flight Instructor

Flight Instructor

Instructing takes a special kind of person who has gained many hours’ flying, skills, experience and most importantly patience. Taking to the skies for the first time can be a little nerve-racking, but a good instructor will reassure you and within minutes of being airborne will have removed all your preconceptions and concerns, allowing you to look out the window and enjoy the view. Before you know it, the instructor will be letting you fly the aircraft.

Refuelling

Refueling

Refuelling

Every aircraft needs fuel to enable it to get into the air, so there will likely be a fuel bay on-site at an airfield. Most light aircraft use AVGAS 100LL, which contains lead used to prevent engine knocking (detonation). The LL means low lead, although the amount is about four times what it was in old leaded automotive fuel. The other main type of fuel used is Jet A1, which is for used in jet-powered aircraft and the newly introduced diesel-powered light aircraft. AVGAS currently sells for just under £2/litre, while Jet A1 is less than half this. Refuelling is often carried out by the on-site fire crew as part of their multiple roles on the airfield, though pilots also refuel their own aircraft.

Give the gift of flight to someone today – check out our flight experiences.

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