Airfield Profile: Goodwood

PUBLISHED: 16:16 16 December 2014 | UPDATED: 16:16 16 December 2014

NICK BLOOM (c) SINGLE USE ONLY

This south coast airfield is internationally renowned for its racing and flying events, but what is it like to fly to at other times?

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I don’t know about you, but the reports of grand airshows, motor racing and other events have stealthily crept into my perceptions of Goodwood, rather to its detriment. The result was that I had stopped thinking of it as a relaxing airfield to visit. All those pictures of Goodwood events in Old Timers and Pilot Notes suggested gatherings of the great and good, and musterings of gleaming WWII fighters and other immaculate restorations. People in expensive fancy dress and collectable cars. Not for the likes of me, in my built-to-a-budget Currie Super Wot with my ‘dead dog’, 1970s-vintage flying jacket, scuffed shoes and oil-stained cloth flying helmet.

Also, the last few times I went to Goodwood, I had a long, tedious journey by road. But when I measured the distance and worked out flying times, I realised it could be flown in just an hour. I wouldn’t even have to refuel−the Currie Super Wot has a two-and-a-half hour endurance.

Editor Philip and I had been looking at the airfields covered in the magazine and agreed that it was high time Pilot did Goodwood again, so I said I’d go.

So here I am, at 700ft, bright and early this August Friday morning undergoing the slow torture to bottom, hearing and mental processes that is Currie Super Wot flying. We’ve just floated over Basingstoke and that, if I’m not mistaken, must be Lasham off to port, although with so many large aircraft, could it be Odiham? In which case this heading will take me into Oakhanger HIRTA, about which I know nothing except that it’s on the map. But then I see the town, motorway and railway line that confirm that I’m where I should be, pick a mark on the horizon to keep a steady heading, note the compass reading and press on. I fail to identify Colemore Common, make a positive identification of Petersfield, pop over a line of hills and there, bang on the nose is an airfield that can only be Goodwood. (By the way, its proper name is ‘Chichester (Goodwood)’.)

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I’ve been listening on the radio, and even at 10.20 am on a Friday, it’s pretty busy, with maybe half a dozen aircraft taxying or in the circuit. I hear another one make a joining call and follow up the responses with a joining call of my own. I’m received and confirm ‘R32’ and the other details. The FISO (Goodwood has a Flight Information Service) makes a joke about it being a long time since he was 32−silly, but it breaks the tension and makes me feel welcome. I’ve got a runway layout clipped to my instrument panel: even so, it takes some anxious computing to determine that arriving from the north on a right-hand circuit and joining downwind behind the other arrival means that I want the airfield on my right. And then I catch sight of the other arrival, a PA-28, and follow it in. Its circuit is ten times the size of the ones I fly at home, but ideally positioned for me to fish out my camera and take some photographs of the runway layout. As instructed to by the FISO, I taxi over to a group of club Cessna 172s and pull the mixture to stop the engine. As I climb out my host, Rob Wildeboer, arrives.

First, his name, Wildeboer, is because he’s half Dutch. He’s been the Aviation General Manager for five years. Before that he was Chief Engineer at Goodwood Engineering. Aged 44, he’s actually been here pretty much all his life, coming straight from school as an engineering apprentice. Rob learned to fly in 1991, qualified by the CAA as a post-C of A test pilot and is embarking on a Flying Instructor course with Goodwood Flying School. So the chap who sets the tone for flying at Goodwood is not one of the ‘suits’ with no flying experience you find running some airports−he’s one of us: a pilot with lots of engineering experience. To Goodwood he’s ‘one of us’ too; you could say that the place is in his blood.

He is certainly an expert when it comes to the airfield’s history, which he proceeds to relate to me. Supplemented by some research on the Internet, it goes something like this. The first Duke of Richmond purchased Goodwood House and the estate in 1697. In 1802, the third Duke set up the horse-racing course, which has been in operation ever since. So by the 1930s, the ninth Duke of Richmond − Freddie March to his friends − was an aristocrat with a stately home and a large estate. (Tenants today include a Rolls-Royce factory and two golf courses.) 
In 1936 he added a hillclimb course for racing cars. The estate also housed Freddie’s business, building aeroplanes and making propellers. The propellers were later used on Spitfires in WWII. The business had a landing strip, but when war came it was a different part of the estate that was turned into a fighter airfield, RAF Westhampnett. That fighter airfield became the Goodwood we know today. Freddie and his pilot friends used to race cars around the perimeter and this led in 1948 to the construction of Goodwood Circuit. This 3.8 kilometre race track hosted Formula One races, nine-hour endurance races in the 1950s and − in the later 1950s until 1964 − the legendary Tourist Trophy sports car race. Two events are run annually today: the Goodwood Festival of Speed (late June or early July) and the Goodwood Revival (September). Both of these automotive events have a strong aviation presence. The Freddie March Spirit of Aviation display coincides with the Revival and there is a static aviation exhibition at the Festival of Speed.

The airfield inside the racetrack was used after the war by racing drivers and visitors to the estate. Goodwood Flying School started in 1968 with a small fleet of PA-28s and Robins, and Goodwood Engineering followed soon afterwards. Today, these two companies − plus Goodwood Aviation and Goodwood Aerodrome − are owned by Goodwood Road Racing Company, which is part of the Goodwood Estate, owned by the present Lord March, who is the grandson of Freddie.

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I have long wondered, so I ask Rob; are the flying displays, automotive racing and airfield a rich man’s hobbies, costing more than they make? “Certainly not,” Rob assures me. “All the companies are expected to show a profit, and they all do. The events are hugely popular with the public (200,000 over four days at the Festival of Speed) and the airfield is busy and has plenty of tenants. Having said that, in latter years, there has perhaps been a stigma around the place. It’s been seen by some on the rumour circuit as elitist, expensive and unfriendly. My appointment by Lord March was partly to address that. He decided it was time we had an Aviation General Manager, because Goodwood aerodrome hasn’t always presented itself consistently. He had a clear idea of what he wanted it to be and fortunately that coincided with mine. We both wanted a lively family airfield mixing traditional and modern flying that would attract the general public into aviation... in fact following in the Freddie March tradition. Freddie was all for aircraft for the common man; he designed light aircraft and was planning to import Tipsys, but was stopped by the outbreak of WWII.”

The airfield hosts fly-ins for the LAA, vintage Pipers, Chipmunks, Moths, Austers and others, and visitors are encouraged to camp. One recent move was to waive landing fees for aircraft built before 1966. (For a PA-28 the current fee is £19.20. Outside parking is £120 a month, hangarage around £350.) Another was to recruit FISOs who would recognise their role in welcoming visitors and be understanding−all the current FISOs have PPLs themselves. The flying school’s ageing fleet wasn’t fully reliable, “One aircraft would have one navigation instrument U/S, another, a different one and all the others would be in use, so the customer would be disappointed,” remembers Rob. So he arranged for the club to replace the fleet with Cessna 172s with glass panels. It also has a Harvard on its books, for self-fly hire for a selected few (five currently) and for warbird-style trial lessons. The school will soon be adding a Super Cub for tailwheel and farm strip training, which will be used for banner towing too. “We are also evaluating the PS-28, for which we are a Flight and Distribution Centre,” adds Rob. He explains that a Rotax-powered trainer would cut fuel costs. “However, it would have to be one that wasn’t too slow on the approach, in order to fit in with other circuit traffic.” He likes the PS-28 for that reason, but has reservations about the delicacy of handling required by such ultralight aircraft. “Students need an aeroplane that is stable and easy to fly accurately,” he says, “and the PS-28, while fine for the private owner, needs careful handling in the flare”.

RUNWAY IMPROVEMENTS

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Another improvement is a programme to level the runways and improve their drainage. One of Goodwood’s best features is its multiplicity of grass runways; essential for tailskid aeroplanes like the Super Wot. I must say, I hadn’t thought them to be particularly lumpy. However, tenants on the airfield include some surprisingly heavy aircraft−there are two Pilatus PC12s−and of course, it has to cope with heavyweight WWII fighters.

A new hangar was built in 2010 to cope with increasing demand. Finally, the clubhouse and restaurant complex is going to be pulled down and built anew this winter. “But the new design will retain all the present touches to remind you that you’re somewhere with lots of aviation history behind it,” says Rob.

Another of his innovations has been to do everything possible to make the airfield a good neighbour, including paying a visit to noise-complainers in their homes to reassure them that they’re really being listened to. The airfield is bound by local council agreements, and that’s why it’s essential for visitors by air to comply with the PPR requirement and look up the noise abatement procedures in a flight guide.

There are around one hundred aircraft based at Goodwood, encompassing a wide variety from twins and turboprops to microlights, and Pitts Specials and Stearmans to Spitfires, plus the usual Cessna and Piper singles. There are also nine locally-based helicopters. Phoenix and Elite (previously Blades) are helicopter companies based on the airfield. Both offer PPL(H) courses and Elite provides charter services and is Goodwood’s preferred rotary-wing charter provider − including on-the-day ferrying to the Festival of Speed and Revival from strategic locations to enable visitors to beat the traffic. Elite has just added a Guimbal Cabri to its fleet.

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Conciair Air Charter is another company based here and offers among other services its popular Normandy Battleground Tours, currently in a Piper Chieftan. Another tenant is Flight Calibration Services, which has three PA-31-350s and a DA-42 and installs and maintains ILS and aerodrome lighting systems. Goodwood Aero Club has 750 members and the fixed-wing school has 45 students and six instructors, including part-timers. Rates for the school 172s and the Super Cub (when it comes) are around £175 an hour solo, £222 dual. Training goes up to IMC and Night, but has stopped short of training for a Commercial licence since the late 1980s. However, Rob says he may re-introduce Commercial training once the runways have been overhauled.

PACKAGES AND THE HOTEL

Rob tells me, “We had some market analysts here, on a brainstorming session and they were astonished at how accessible flying is for ordinary people. One concept that arose from that is a ‘go solo’ package, for people who have the money, but not the time for a full PPL. It could be a fantastic opportunity for a couple staying at the Goodwood Hotel to come and try this out along with the Spa and the Golf Course. It’s all about playing to our strengths and maximising what we have here at Goodwood. This is a 12,000-acre estate with an organic farm, Goodwood House tours, two golf courses, the motor circuit − which usually has something on to watch – a horse racetrack and the Rolls-Royce factory, which will give you a tour if you book ahead.”

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However, Rob has his aviator feet firmly planted. He says hi-viz jackets won’t ever become mandatory at Goodwood, and he is equally determined to keep it an all-grass airfield.

By the way, I looked up the Goodwood Hotel. Offers on its website include: ‘Fly the Downs’, £270 per person; ‘New Year’s Eve’, dinner, dancing and casino, £105; ‘Classic car breaks’, £108; and ‘Drift Experience’ in a Toyota 150mph GT86 sports car, £270. Prices include a stay in the hotel.

The school Cessnas each get around 500 hours utilisation a year and a significant proportion of that − forty per cent − is trial lessons, including ‘Fly the Downs’. Forty per cent is high, but I’m not surprised, because Goodwood has some up-market towns on its doorstep: Portsmouth, Bognor Regis, Worthing and − only a mile away − Chichester. The locals are well-heeled, not short of leisure time and, generally speaking, cultured enough to have a sense of history. Surely the area’s prosperity is one reason why Ultimate High and the Boultbee Academy decided to base themselves here in 2012. (Ultimate High has two Extra 300s, a T67 and two Bulldogs; and Boultbee a pair of two-seat Spitfires, a Harvard, two Chipmunks and a Tiger Moth.) Plus, the airfield itself has lots to offer both companies: a beautiful location, those grass runways, an engineering facility, a good restaurant and helpful, supportive airport staff.

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TOP GUN AMBITIONS

It’s time I met some of the punters, so while Rob prepares a school Cessna − he’s promised to take me for a quick circuit − I introduce myself to Mark Dusek, a builder about to have a ‘Top Gun Experience’ in the Ultimate High Bulldog for his fortieth birthday. Mark flew Chipmunks−aerobatics included − in the ATC and, 
“If money were no object, I’d learn to fly”. He’s bought his family with him and they’re going to watch.

Next I meet James Kinane, an ‘A’ level student who’s juggling a PPL course with his school studies. He flew one lesson this morning and he’s hoping to get another in this afternoon. He aims to be a commercial pilot, “or I might end up flying a piston engined warbird such as the Mustang or P-40... the P-40 Kittyhawk’s my favourite actually,” he tells me. His dad is a volunteer with The Fighter Collection and through childhood took him on frequent visits to Duxford. James does volunteer work on the airshow circuit now, so his looks like a reasonable dream to me; I’ve met Spitfire pilots who started out in the same way.

Outside, I buttonhole a pair who’ve just landed in the Ultimate High Bulldog: pilot Mags Cunningham and her passenger, Robert Grosvenor, a 44-year old computer operator and aeroplane nut. He’s just had The Aerobatic Experience, and as well as the Bulldog he’s sampled the L-39 jet, T-6 and a bunch of helicopters including the Russian Mil-M18, plus the JetRanger, EC120 and EC135... and he’s had ten hours of flying instruction. “When I get time, I’ll finish the course and maybe one day have my own Bulldog,” he says. Mags says, “He flew it very well. I didn’t need to touch the controls.” Lunching at one of the tables outside I meet Simon, Steve, Grant and Isobel who are on a break from the Rolls-Royce factory (they all work in the Dealer Development Department.) “We often come here to escape from the office,” they tell me. “It’s the aeroplanes that make it therapeutic, and we’re proud of the Rolls-Royce connection with aeroplane engines. That’s one of ours in that Spitfire.”

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Rob takes me for the promised circuit in a club Cessna, pointing out the Rolls-Royce factory, the hillside racecourse, Goodwood House and other landmarks. The clouds have lifted since my arrival and we have a clear view of the coastline, the sun glinting off the Channel. Goodwood truly is a beautiful airfield in an exceptionally scenic location.

After landing we continue with a tour of the hangars, which has me snapping away with my camera. The site has lots to look at, a great deal of it ‘set dressing’ and at times it’s a bit like touring a film studio. The car manufacturers who were sponsoring Goodwood events needed increasing amounts of space for displaying their wares − modern cars − so an Art Deco front has been added to one hangar to give the impression that you are walking into the Earls Court building in the 1930s. The antique bicycle repair shop, complete with 1940s-style bicycles, is another example; not, as it appears, a survivor from an earlier era, but ‘set dressing’.

MANY INTERESTING AEROPLANES

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In the hangars, there are many interesting aeroplanes to photograph, including Tracy Curtis-Taylor’s Stearman, the one she flew solo from Cape Town to commemorate Lady Heath’s epic 1928 flight. Other notable aeroplanes include a rare Curtiss Robin, awaiting its first flight after restoration, and the club CFI’s DH60 Moth, with its wings folded. One hangar has enormous floodlights in the ceiling − it’s where cars are showcased during one of the events. And the latest hangar to be constructed is where Lord March holds his VIP Ball. Around 1,400 people dine and dance in here and each year, Lord March wearing his ‘Creative Director’ hat comes up with a different theme. “Last year,” says Rob, “It was the Wild West and we had horses and giant cacti in here.” One steel and tinted glass building we walk past houses the Boultbee Flight Academy; offices on one side, the other houses the company’s aircraft.

Outside one hangar, near the fuel pumps, I meet one of the locally-based pilots, Mark Coppen, a 58-year old dentist. He’s prepping his Saratoga for a flight to Bournemouth, where it’s to have its upholstery refurbished. “I’ve been flying from here since 1983,” he tells me. “It’s friendly and they do a complete service looking after my aircraft. It’s a great place to eat and drink, very pretty and with easy access to France.” Mark subsequently emailed me the following: ‘In 2003 I flew to Portimao in Portugal with the family, but completed the last leg without them because of a rough running engine. The locals were unable to fix it. Rob, who I was aware of as chief engineer, but whom I barely knew, jumped on an Easyjet and came out and solved the problem... The bill was no more than it would have been had the engine been repaired at Goodwood.’

A Thruster I saw taking off earlier has just landed, so I go over to say hello. In the cockpit are Mike Dawson, a retired teacher and Paul Sansby, a Civil Engineer. The aircraft, which is group-owned, is based at Goodwood and they’ve just taken it to Sandown for ‘a jolly’. “This is a great airfield,” they tell me, “friendly and with a real sense of history.”

Next on our tour is the place where Rob used to be Chief Engineer, Goodwood Engineering, which has its own hangar and is a Pilatus Service Centre and Cessna Authorised Service Facility (as well as other types − 85 locally-based aircraft are looked after here). It looks like an above-average working environment; air conditioned and well-lit. No fewer than five of the ten engineers are PPLs. I meet one of several who are currently at work, Joe Volke, who is 31 and a graduate of the light aircraft engineering course at Northbrook College in Shoreham. Before coming here he worked at Lasham and Farnborough. Joe got his PPL at 24 and has recently gone on to get a CPL and IR and is going to try for a job with the airlines. “I aeromodelled in my teens and have always loved aeroplanes,” he says. “This is a fantastic place, my roots are here and there is such a variety of aircraft and of people. There’s a real buzz to the place and there is always something new.”

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It’s time to go, so I climb into the Super Wot, Rob swings the propeller and the C90 burbles into life. A few radio calls plus a short taxi to the runway and I’m airborne, remembering to angle right as I climb over the airfield perimeter to avoid one of the noise-sensitive villages.

Goodwood is not the elitist place I had thought it was. It’s a little busier mid-week than most airfields and it does have noise-abatement procedures and several runways to confuse you (unless, like me, you have a layout handy). However, should you fumble and get anything wrong, you’ll be cheerfully forgiven. It’s that sort of place... and absolutely packed with interest, with a great restaurant, a vibrant atmosphere and an abundance of wonderful aeroplanes.

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