Memories of landing at Dunsfold Airfield nearly 50 years ago……

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  • #922


    This invigorating new web site has prompted me to recall my flight into the then Dunsfold Aerodrome in September 1970. On the fateful day in question I had hired a 4 seater Piper Cherokee from The Kent and Surrey Flying Club at Biggin Hill, Kent of which I was a member. I was keen to exploit my new flying skills and qualification – Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) whilst at the same time illustrating the picturesque aspects of southern England to my three American visitors.

    The weather on that September Saturday afternoon was forecast OK for visual flying conditions and remained fine throughout the flight. I commenced by overflying Shoreham airfield, then flew over Thorney island – then an RAF Station, and Tangmere, which used to be, in order to illustrate to the visitors the location of some of the previous Battle of Britain airfields which I considered then and now to be a really important aspect of our Nation’s history. I had flight-planned to circle The Needles Lighthouse and then to return to Biggin Hill via Crawley and the southern part the Gatwick air traffic control zone. The US visitors were captivated by the views en route which included the Isle of Wight and The New Forest.

    From turning above the Needles Lighthouse I had chosen an intended heading to the North East/East and Gatwick and then to Biggin Hill. Then I made two errors:

    1. I overlooked over the Isle of Wight to monitor the directions shown by my two mandatory compasses (magnetic and gyroscopic) which are intended for the pilot to double-check his/her position and direction
    2. I failed to identify features of the landscape below me which act normally as navigation aids for the pilot flying by visual flight rules

    So I was – without accurate and empathetic compasses, momentarily dis-oriented, without patterns of trees, roads and towns beneath me to fix my attention on reaching the Midhurst/Petworth area. I was in a fix or perhaps a lack of one! By then I could see the skyscrapers of Croydon on the horizon to the north east so I chose to head for Croydon to give me time and direction to reach the Gatwick Zone.

    This trip was becoming a serious adventure/event. As we headed, hopefully, for Croydon I was continuing to search for alternate airfields at which to land en route. Suddenly appeared a remarkable dream airfield to the north of my flight plan; not active (weekends quiet) runways 250/110 degrees headings, excellent black expensive tarmac. I then enacted the 2 rules of carrying passengers: Their safety and security.

    I decided to land there and then. I circled the threshold of the runway as a precaution and landed, after using plenty of runway. Within minutes a black Land Rover (Jeep) appeared; two polite policemen in uniform approached me and my guests who by now were festooned in cameras!!!!! As I recall due to the security implications of the Harrier development elements of the Official Secrets Act were in play – hence the speedy arrival of the boys in black. After we exchanged details with the police we re-boarded the plane and with the care of Gatwick zone reached Biggin Hill airfield.

    I remember Dunsfold aerodrome as one of the most attractive natural sites for an aerodrome – anywhere in the UK. I am aware that many former aerodrome employees still live in the Dunsfold area and sometimes still wonder if any former aerodrome employees remember that day – I certainly do!

    John Gelling

  • #1077


    Thanks for relaying your story John. Keep them coming.

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