Long Haul Cub – Perth to Wickenby and back by Russell Myles
I’ve been a member of the Vintage Piper Aircraft Club (VPAC) for about 30 years now, but only recently found myself as the owner of “L4 Grasshopper” India Yankee. I thought that it was about time that I attended one of the regular VPAC fly-ins. Days off were consulted and a plan was made to take the Cub to the “Northern Meet” at Wickenby, near Lincoln. Ironic that I would fly south for four hours to get to the “Northern” Meet!
I had been monitoring the forecasts for the week before…initially it looked like the whole thing would be a washout due to the weather, but as the days counted down it started looking promising – clear skies on the way down and a little bit greyer on the back. Imagine my surprise when I checked the Newcastle weather on departure morning…no wind, visibility 500m in fog with broken clouds at 100ft about the airfield.
The weather at Perth looked nice, so the decision was made to prep the aircraft and check the weather in a bit – the cloud was probably just lifted fog which should dissipate as the day warmed up. Or so I hoped.
Packing the Cub was pretty straightforward – overnight kit on the front seat, spare oil in the boot and a lifejacket for the overwater bit.
By the time I had pulled the aircraft out the weather at Newcastle had improved sufficiently to launch. In fact the weather all the way down was lovely. We weren’t the only long distance voyagers from the Scottish Aero Club that day …Ollie and Ali were off to Ireland, later that day I got some photos from Ali of a lovely Cub in the hangar at Athboy. It even had built in USB ports! I got serious USB envy, as I was relying on a series of powerbanks to keep Skydemon running.
The planned route was Perth – Eshott – Gamston and then stay the night. Originally I wanted to camp at Eddsfield but Edd had rung back to say there was no fuel. Camping was ditched in favour of a hotel. Such hardship!
There was a bit of a headwind on the way to Eshott but after about an hour and a half the combine harvester graveyard near Alnwick hove into view and shortly thereafter we were on the ground at Eshott where the refuel was quick and efficient.
The weather was by now glorious, with very little cloud way off in the distance, still a little headwind and very warm. It was lovely to trundle along the coast at 500ft waving to people on the beaches out of the Cub’s open door and window. To stay out of the Newcastle control zone you have to fly offshore a little bit. St Mary’s Lighthouse:
South of Teesside, as we came over the top of the North York Moors, way way off in the distance on the horizon I could make out the chimney and cooling towers at Drax power station. I swear that sucker stayed in the front window for an hour until we finally got to it. With the headwind we were doing about 50 knots groundspeed and I first saw it 50 miles away so yes, an hour.
Last time we went to Gamston, we had to fly around the Class D airspace at Doncaster Sheffield Airport. The airport closed last year and the airspace was removed, so this time it was straight over the top.
No photos from Gamston – they don’t allow now them due to the sensitive nature of some of the motor industry testing that uses the runway, but suffice to say the refuel was fast and efficient, reception helped me with taxis to the hotel, and the sleep was the sleep of the exhausted!
Next day, after a huge hotel breakfast, we took off for Wickenby. The original plan was for a short 25 minute transit routing around the Red Arrows restricted area at Scampton, but an early morning check of the NOTAMS showed that the restricted area was deactivated, so I was able to plan a more direct route. The Cub flies so low that I still had mobile signal and was able to double confirm just before entering.
We followed another Cub into the circuit at Wickenby, landed, and made our way to parking. Landing just behind us was Dave Dash in his L4 which parked next to us. Dave had flown in from Great Oakley, near Harwich.
Dave’s Cub is a lovely permit-to-fly machine, and the two of them looked great sitting together on the grass like Cubs are supposed to do.
Already parked up was Glen Molloy’s restored Italian Army Super Cub. Glen was my first ever flight commander on my first ever operational squadron in the RAF. His Cub won the award for “Best Restoration” at the LAA rally. He and a gaggle of other aircraft had flown in from Sleap, near Shrewsbury, via an overnight camping stop at Sackville Farm, and the nearby pub!
Also flying in from Sleap was Paul Latham in his yellow J3, which shares a hangar there with Glen’s Super Cub and a couple of others. Known as “The Vulture Squadron” they normally fly together but this time Paul flew in on the day and missed the camping at Sackville Farm. Paul was also on my first ever operational squadron in the RAF – it was great to see them both after 30 years…
Another old friend was Richard Keech, who used to fly Boeings out of Manchester for Air2000. We flew together a couple of times on both the 757 and the 767. Richard and Mike and Charlie run the VPAC – their “merch” selling skills are second to none and I somehow ended up with a VPAC hat.
With a long way to go home I wasn’t able to stay for the whole day, but the good news was that there was a hefty tail wind for the trek up the east coast. We, the Cub and I, said our goodbyes and headed off over the Lincolnshire countryside. It’s pretty obvious why it’s called “Bomber County” – the flat landscape lends itself to quickly building airfields in times of need. The man who owned and farmed the land at Wickenby, one Mr Bowser (a good aeronautical name in itself) got a call one morning from surveyors to say his land might be used for an airfield and the bulldozers were hard at work clearing the site by 3pm the very same day! Times of need indeed.
First fuel stop northbound was Breighton, the home of the “Real Aeroplane Club” who operate a fleet of various exotic and vintage aircraft. The Cub was warmly welcomed and the self-service fuel pumps were simple and quick to use.
After fuelling up the aircraft was pushed to the grass to free up the pumps and let me visit the cafe. It was only a 30 minute stop but the aircraft received quite a bit of attention from the photographers. One even had what looked like a 20-foot selfie stick to get a better angle. Sometimes standing on a bollard just isn’t enough…
From Breighton it was off to Eshott, with the 20 knot tailwind pushing us along quite nicely. We parked up alongside one of the Eshott Chipmunks and fuelled up, ran in to pay and launched off again.
For the last leg I climbed as high as the cloudbase allowed, up to about 4000 feet, to get as much advantage from the increased tailwind at altitude, and made for Perth. Finally landed at 1805 and almost needed a crane and a chiropractor to help me get out of the aircraft. Cubs aren’t easy at the best in times but after two days in the cockpit…
One hotel room, two taxi fares, numerous refuels and landing fees, a new hat and an RAF Wickenby mug, plus 8 hours 30 minutes flown over the 2 days – all for just 3 hours on the ground at the VPAC Fly-In.
Totally worth it!