A unique opportunity presented itself on Sunday when a few members visited Middle Wallop under the invitation of PNGC.
A Brief History (from internet sources and my local knowledge):
Middle Wallop has long been an active station and at some time or another been host to all three UK services and the USAAF. The station opened 1940 as RAF Middle Wallop which operated the Spitfire, Hurricane and Beaufighters.
In 1943 the USAAF operated the P38 Lightning and P51 Mustang. 1944 saw the RAF return with Mosquito’s before transfer in 1945 to the RN and back to the RAF in 1946 until 1957.
1954 saw the first operation of helicopters and the formation of the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit in 1955. In 1957 army aviation became independent of the RAF and the new Army Air Corps was born at Middle Wallop.
Mostly this comprised of rotary aircraft with helicopters such as the Gazelle, Lynx, Apache and Wildcat.
Activity has been much reduced in recent years with I believe much of the operation moving to Shawbury.
As I’m sure many of you are aware Portsmouth Naval Gliding Centre ceased operation at it’s long term home at the Former HMS Daedalus last year. Unfortunately the whole site was taken over by the council and subsequent commercial pressures left the PNGC with no option but to cease flying activity there after 69 years.
PNGC has since seen it’s fleet somewhat dispersed to the four winds with it’s tug on loan to Talgarth and gliders being utilised at various sites. PNGC has been operating from Upavon in conjunction with Wyvern and has been seeking a permanent home.
This weekend was an opportunity for PNGC to trial an operation at Middle Wallop and saw circa 50 launches by winch and tug on the Saturday.
A varied fleet of aircraft was present in the guise of K21’s, Puchacz, Duo Discus, Discus and numerous private gliders including a ‘flaming’ libelle.
A familiar runway designation of 26 / 08 was in operation with the winch and tug lines operating next to each other, there was even a familiar dip (although no slope) and some tree’s! A vast expanse of neatly mown grass was beckoning.
The opportunity arose to fly a Duo Discus and it would have been foolish to turn it down never having previously flown such a machine! After a briefing I was ready and the instructor having finished his cuppa (rarely seen without one) sat behind we were positioned behind the Robin for a 2k tow.
Not being the world’s most profilic tug customer there was a degree of apprehension as we set off (don’t drop the wing, don’t drop the wing) what felt like a fairly long ground run saw the Discus flapping its wings as we became unstuck! I was immediately struck by it’s stability and the silence! I have definitely never experienced anything as quiet and with the exception of the air vent it was super silent!
We were soon at 2k after an uneventful tow and released alongside the danger area of Porton Down turning back towards Broughton (undercarriage, check!). The lift was pretty much non existent but we didn’t encounter much sink either. I had been warned about the ‘slippery’ characteristics of the Discus and I was struck by how it retained height, it just kept going and going!
There was an excellent view to the coast with Fawley and the Isle of Wight tantalisingly close.
A very different outlook to the Park with nothing like the unudlating ground that we enjoy in our immediate playground.
We headed back towards the airfield with the LX9050 barking ‘Airspace’ yup we were in it (legally) and enjoying it too! After a couple of orbits over the houses of Middle Wallop and pre-landing landing checks complete (undercarriage, check!) we positioned for a right hand circuit (powered on a left hand circuit).
I had been warned about the very flat approach attitude and how closing the brakes would see the aircraft rapidly gain speed, this being an aircraft with a minimum 60kt approach with barely a sniff of headwind.
A long base leg and into the final turn saw me lined up (unusually) neatly to the left of the trees, speed on, brakes open, looking good, in the undershoot, brakes reduced, speed good, floating, over the peri track, touchdown! A landing I was very pleased with which earned a metaphoric pat on the back from the instructor too!
A real buzz and an ear to ear grin ensued.
Being a low hours, pre bronze solo pilot I have flown at a couple of different sites and in different aircraft each time (first time on type each time) and have found it really fulfilling. In my opinion it is really useful to fly as many different aircraft as possible as every aircraft flies differently BUT you have the skills to fly them (I’m sure there are some caveats in there somewhere).
To add to that, the same aircraft types also fly very differently in my (limited) experience.
Thanks to PNGC and the opportunity to fly a different aircraft in a very unique environment (I’ll take up the invitation to fly 805 the single seater Discus another time).