A Section Devoted to Aeronautical Affairs
Winning the 1980 “Dawn-to-Dusk”
The bend of the Thames at Greenwich slid under the yellow fabric-covered wing as we turned onto track for the final leg. Past Crystal Palace, Croydon and KenIey, over the M25, and there was Redhill ahead, standing out like a bowling green in the bright evening sunlight. We joined overhead, the T indicated 26 and, with the Gipsy’s reassuringly reliable throb dying away, we eased off the height, turning downwind left hand. Brakes off, mixture rich, fuel on and sufficient for the overshoot, hatches and harnesses . . . we slid towards the turf for our thirty-second landing of the day. Round out, hold off . . . hold off as our gracious Stampe’s wheels wait patiently for the moment of touchdown. An ounce more back pressure she settles delicately on all three . . . anything else would have been sacrilege after all the practise we’ve had today! The time is 2017 hrs. — fifteen hours forty-seven minutes since our first take off at 0430 hrs. that morning.
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The Dawn to Dusk is organised every year by the Tiger Club at Redhill and must be the only flying competition where you can, literally, “do your own thing”. In simple terms the rules require a day’s flying of not less than eight hours between 0430 and 2115 on any day in June. The project, in flight plan form, is submitted to the organisers prior to the flight and a log-book, on which the entry is judged, is submitted subsequently.
The initial problem, therefore, was dreaming up a project which would produce an interesting day’s flying. But, because of some earlier connections with “God’s County”, planning started early in the new year on a History of Yorkshire Aviation and the Past and Present in the County. Yorkshire’s contribution to the history of aviation is considerable, from the first aviation meeting ever in this country taking place on Doncaster Racecourse in 1909, to the construction of the successful R100 at Howden in the late 1920’s and the incredible statistic of over 90 military airfields established in Yorkshire during the two World Wars.
The planning stage involved sending out over a hundred letters to airfield owners, operators, air traffic controllers, farmers and aviation historians. It had originally been my idea to do the trip solo, but my typist and long-standing family friend, Amanda Mitchell, became so enthusiastic about the whole project that I invited her along to share the workload; definitely one of my better decisions.
The choice of aircraft was not difficult. Because of the nostalgia element I had originally considered a Tiger Moth but because of all the planned landings on tarmac runways it had to be a Stampe, for its tail-wheel and for its brakes that were definitely to prove a bonus on some of the smaller fields. But apart from that, as Michael Jones said when he caught me still sitting in the cockpit savouring my first flight in a Stampe: “Now that you’ve flown one of these you won’t want to fly a Tiger again”. — Maybe, Michael, maybe. However, once this decision was made it became Tiger Club Stampe SV4b G-AWEF’s “Dawn-to-Dusk”. She exalted in every flying moment, never gave a moment’s anxiety, patiently tolerated my clumsy handling at the low-speed end of her performance, and positively shared our exhilaration of open-cockpit flying when over the timeless beauty of the sunlit Yorkshire Dales. It was the start of a love affair which, sadly for my Bank Manager, shows no sign of waning in its intensity.
During March, April and May, WEF, Mandy and I made a number of flights together. We checked engine speed and air speed against fuel consumption — we came up with 80 knots at 1,900 r.p.m. burning about seven gallons of Avgas and a quart of W80 an hour; we practised our forced landings and short-field landings (we never did have the latter completely hacked) and we finally mastered hot-starting the Gipsy. (We tried everything but with no consistent results as, on the day, time was going to be at a premium — but finally Barry Dyke, CFI at Thruxton, came up with the unlikely but elective formula — prime, suck-in four times, blow out fifteen.)
The replies to our letters came in thick and fast and finally we were able to work out a route which included two airports, nine RAF airfields, eleven miscellaneous airfields, eight disused airfields and five farmer’s strips. The en-route timings had to be accurate, not only for the competition itself, but because of one minor operational detail — we were to do it non-radio.
The night of Sunday 15th June was spent at Redhill, having ensured WEF was at the front of the hangar loaded with spare “talking box” (for our intercom), an extra gallon of Avgas, four quarts of W80, chocks, rags and finally “talking hats”, knee-pads and maps. All other kit journeyed to Yorkshire in our caravan nobly towed by our enthusiastic ground party (for want of a better description) — Sara Hlild. Sunday dawned with a strong southerly wind and a forecast of low cloud and rain. We reckoned we would get ahead of it, when disaster struck — WEF was found to have a blown exhaust gasket. We had all day to position to Yorkshire for the actual dawn start the following day but the weather could have prevented this. Our saviour was cheerful Jim Ellis, who went out of his way to put WEF to rights, give us a swing and send us on our way about an hour later, just ahead of the frontal rain. The flight to Leeds, via Sibson for refuelling, was uneventful apart from flying through some very heavy rain just about the time we crossed the frontier into Yorkshire. A green from the tower as we joined downwind for one-five was reassuring and the second one cleared us to land. A typical welcome awaited us, both at the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club and at Yorkshire Light Aircraft, where we and WEF respectively were “fed and watered”. The afternoon was spent studying weather for the morrow with Ray Bagshaw (Leeds ATC) and John Fenton (YAC) — not too bad; rechecking that each of the fuelling stops could supply our needs — no problem, and repairing the leading edges of the prop tips damaged by the rain — actually David Greenwood (YLA) kindly did that for us. Mandy had meanwhile surprised me by taking it upon herself to be responsible for lovingly cleaning all the oil from WEF’s fuselage every time we landed. After watching an impressive thunderstorm pass over and checking its progress on the Leeds ATC Radar, we took off for Doncaster where we arrived twenty-five minutes later for a top-up of fuel, before the final positioning over the road to the Racecourse itself. Here the landing between the railings gave little margin for error and I was glad when it was over. After tucking up WEF for the night and devouring a greasy meal provided by a local “chippy”, we set our battery of alarm clocks for 0330 (is there such a time in the morning?) and turned in.
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The alarms go off in quick succession. Now for the most difficult decision — to go or not to go. It is barely light enough to see but there is a definite cloud base at between three and four thousand feet, with a light south-westerly breeze — this, together with the previous day’s forecast, makes it a “go”. The girls produce a quick breakfast; we prepare WEF for flight and car out a very careful inspection — all is well and by 0415 Mandy is strapped in and, with pen poised, is ready to go. Rear switches on, fuel on, brakes on, chocks in position, and I lift the port cowling and prime her until the Avgas trickles from beneath.
“Brakes on, throttle closed, switches off”, I cry — Mandy repeats it back; then: “Sucking in”. I pull the prop. over four times.
“Contact”; at the first swing — nothing.
“Off” I reach up again and take the yellow tip in my right hand.
“Contact” — at the second swing the roar of the Gipsy reverberates across the racecourse. While the engine warms I climb aboard and go through the contortions of strapping in. Helmet on and Mandy’s voice comes through immediately: “OK ?”
“Yeah — fine; how are you?” I know she’ll say “Oh fine” and she doesn’t disappoint me!
I run up the engine and check each mag in turn — no problem. I close the throttle and wave: “chocks away” to Sara: she obliges and waves cheerily as with a burst of power we taxi away. 0426. Nice timing. We taxi half-way up the Leger Mile and with another touch of power WEF swings around into the wind . . . T.T.M.F.G.H.H. and full free movement in the correct sense.
0430 hrs — “Here we go”, throttle wide open, stick forward; the tail rises immediately. The ASI winds up to 40, a touch of back pressure and she’s airborne . . .
“All right . . .!,” I , cry . . .
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The first leg to Doncaster was only a minute and we stayed on the ground long enough to take a photo before setting course for RAF Finningley. It was good to be actually flying the route after so much preparation. Four minutes after take off from Doncaster we landed at Finningley — a gentle rain had started, which made our reception-committee of one Wing-Commander, one Flying Officer (WRAF) and one Sergeant all the more surprising. Flying-Officer Barbara Paxton signed our landing certificate and five minutes later a similar ritual was repeated at RAF Lindholm. Another eight minutes and we sank on to the lush green grass at Cowick Hall where, as no-one was there to meet us, we took a photograph as proof of landing. The disused airfields at Burn and Breighton were next to greet us at 0504 and 0513, before we photographed the site of the airship factory at Howden at 0518. By now the cloud had lowered, it was raining steadily and there was a corresponding reduction of visibility. British Aerospace went out of their way to welcome us at Holme on Spalding Moor at 0524 and at Brough at 0536. Brough, of course, is famous for it being the principal home of Blackburn’s, who featured importantly in the historical side of our project. Dick Chandler, ex-Blackburn test-pilot, signed our landing certificate at Brough while we took a photograph of the only surviving Blackburn 82 which had been kindly pushed out of the hangar for the occasion. During the flight to Paull we had an impressive view of the Humber Bridge now nearing completion and passed south of Hull, Amy Johnson’s birthplace. It was still raining when we landed at Paull at 0553, where we took a photograph of the first production Blackburn Beverley (out of a total of 47 built) which now has its home there. We were denied permission to land Leconfield (0501) and Driffield (0613), as these airfields are now used by the Army as driver-training schools. The cloud was now down to under 1,000 feet and the visibility about a mile. When we arrived over Cottam at 0616 there was a low layer of cloud below us obscuring most of the airfield, so we decided to give this one a miss. It wasn’t much better at Camaby but we saw enough to land there at 0623 and take a photograph of what is left of this wartime FIDO-equipped airfield. So by the time we landed at Bridlington in appalling visibility and steady rain at 0632 we were cold and wet and almost ready to quit the attempt. It was at Bridlington that we refuelled for the first time and were able to have a well-earned cup of coffee with an old friend, John Medforth, who had hoped to escort us some of the way in his recently complete Taylor monoplane; sadly the paperwork wasn’t through, so this wasn’t possible.
Soon after seven o’clock we had a look at the weather and decided it had improved sufficiently for us to continue, although there was still a fine rain. We took off at 0721 and routed down the beach at Filey where Robert Blackburn had a cliff-top hangar and workshops before the 1914-18 war. We didn’t land as originally planned at Chris Jackson’s small strip at Lebberston because it was, as he had warned us a couple of days before, full of cows; so we set course for Brompton, the home of the “Father of Aeronautics”, Sir George Cayley, which we photographed at 0733. Des Stephen’s strip at Moor Farm, Hesterton, was next, where we landed at 0739 but Des wisely stayed in bed! Pat Nutt welcomed us at his strip, Great Car Farm, at 0746 with the rain dripping off the end of his nose while it was just as wet at Carl Wilkinson’s strip at Knapton, where we landed at 0755. Teesside ATC had kindly phoned Carl to ask him to inform us that runway-24 was in use there and we set course for Wombleton and the section over the Yorkshire Moors. But the weather had closed in forming an apparently solid wall of cloud and rain across the Vale of Pickering, so we backtracked and routed up the coast to rejoin our planned route at Whitby, where we photographed the Abbey and Captain Cook’s Memorial at 0817. We then routed along Marske Sands, where Robert Blackburn flew his first aeroplane in 1910, to Redcar and Teesside, where we got a green as soon as we appeared, to land at 0917. We were royally received by the Duty Officer at SATCO, who had arranged a swift refuel and a very welcome coffee.
We were on the ground at Teesside for forty minutes during which time the front went through, followed by excellent weather for the rest of the day — the forecasts had been right albeit about four hours late. The next section took us across some of the most beautiful countryside in the land, past Richmond and its magnificent castle; Tan Hill, where is located the highest pub in England; Great Shunner Fell, Hawes, and then down Wensleydale, to land at RAF Catterick at 1042. Here Flight-Lieutenant Chris Sundaram, the enthusiastic OC Flying, met us on his bicycle and briefed us for landing at RAF Leeming and RAF Topcliffe. At Leeming, home of the Central Flying School, we joined amongst the Jet Provosts before getting a green verey and landing at 1058. Waiting on the ground for us was the immaculate Hornet Moth of Squadron-Leader Simon Bostock, who was to escort us to RAF Dishforth. We touched down at Topcliffe, closely followed by the Hornet Moth at 1111.
The next stop was Jim Lassey’s little strip at Bagby where mercifully the wind, now doing well over 20 knots, was straight down the slot. Simon circled overhead during the landing and rejoined as we set course for the next refuelling stop at Sutton Bank, the home of the Yorkshire Gliding Club. We both touched down at 1124, where we were warmly welcomed by CFI Henry Doktor and his members, even to the extent of a vast plate of sandwiches to accompany the coffee.
With Simon still alongside we lifted off from Sutton Bank at 1157 and overflew Dalton because of a 90-degree cross wind on the only usable piece of the disused field before joining the circuit at RAF Dishforth. Waving cheerio to our DH/RAF escort, we landed after the now expected green verey at 1208. The crosswind again prevented our landing at the disused wartime Halifax base at Tholthorpe so, after again joining amongst the JP’s, we got the green to land at Linton-on-Ouse at 1218. On leaving Linton I had a complete “brain lock” which caused us to spend five unnecessary minutes looking for Marston Moor. Mandy recorded in the log: “Charlie lost his temper” —she was right of course! From here we overflew Rufforth, York, and Castle Howard before landing at Pocklington at 1255; RAF Elvington, where they overshot two JP’s to let us in, at 1305; Amster Mantis at 1313, and RAF Church Fenton, where Group-Captain “Tinkle” Bell insisted on signing our landing certificate, at 1320. At 1329 we were three minutes earlier than our planned ETA for our refuelling stop at Sherburn in Elmet. Once again everyone went out of their way to make our 33-minute fuelling and coffee break as smooth as possible and it was great to see John Fenton and Sara Hild who had come over from Leeds to find out how we were doing.
The next section was planned to take in some famous Yorkshire landmarks: Harewood House, Harrogate, Fountain’s Abbey, Brimham Rocks, Acar House Reservoir, Great Whernside, Grassington, Malham Tarn, Settle, Bolton Priory and Howarth (home of the Bronte sisters). It was during this section that Mandy wrote: “I have a numb bum,” — she wasn’t the only one! We landed for fuel at David and Pat Whytham’s airfield at Crosland Moor at 1529 and received another warm Yorkshire welcome. The crosswind take off up the hill at 1616 was interesting and we set course for Emley Moor TV mast and then south for Sheffield, where Amy Johnson obtained her degree at the University. Then we made for Barnsley, where Fred Raynham carried out a precautionary landing in the first Avro 504 in the 1913 “War of the Roses” race between Avro’s (Lancashire) and Blackburn’s (Yorkshire); the latter won. Just south of Ferrybridge we met Yorkshire Aeroplane Club’s 172 G-AROC as previously arranged, flown by John Fenton, which was to escort us into Leeds. We photographed the old Blackburn factory at Olympia works near Roundhay Park (Soldiers Field), from where many of the Blackburn aircraft flew, and then the same again at Appley Bridge, where Claude Graham White flew Willy House’s Bleriot Monoplane in 1909. From here we joined the circuit at Leeds and made our last landing in Yorkshire on 28 at 1707. Again everything was done for us in typically generous Yorkshire way — WEF was stuffed with Avgas and W80 and ourselves with sandwiches and coffee. A couple of schedules delayed our departure, but we bid Leeds a reluctant farewell soon after 18.00 heading south. The homeward bound leg, with refuelling stop at Sibson, was made in perfect weather and was a fitting conclusion to a splendid day’s flying.
The satisfaction of having achieved most of what we’d planned, together with friendships renewed and the many new friends we made on the way, were reward enough. Neither could we have achieved what we did without the kind and generous assistance given by so very many people — to them we owe our sincerest thanks. But later it was announced by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Chairman of the “Dawn-to-Dusk” panel of judges, that we had won the competition and the Duke of Edinburgh Trophy. We also used the flight to raise £5,000 for charity. — Charles Shea-Simonds