Gliding first began at Crowland Airfield in March 1968 by the Perkins Gliding Club. Their previous site Spanhoe Airfield, an ex U.S.A.F. Wartime airfield had come under the hammer (literally) the previous winter with the runways being broken up for hard core.
Preliminary enquiries by club member Mr. Jack Lovell paved the way for club officials to negotiate the use of the airfield at Crowland with the owner Mr. J.W.E Banks. A keen aviator himself Mr. J.W.E Banks had his own aircraft, a Miles Messenger based at Crowland in what is now the number two hangar. Thanks to his assistance and encouragement the club decided on a trial period.
Originally it was thought that the site might prove unsuitable, as it is only 15 miles from the Wash. After the first season despite worse that normal weather conditions the club decided to accept Mr. Banks offer to use the airfield until 1970 when the situation would be reviewed.
During the winter of 68/69 the hangar was dismantled at Spanhoe and re-erected at Crowland. During the latter part of 1968 aerotow facilities had been made available thanks to Derek Wilcox and Harry Fenley using either a Tiger Moth or a Beagle Terrier which was ferried over from Cranfield.
To make gliding a more viable proposition from Crowland Airfield it was felt that regular aerotow facilities were desirable. Harry Fenley decided to buy the Beagle Terrier from his other syndicate partner(s) and to base the aircraft at Crowland. The fact that he lived at Little Staughton near Sandy in Bedfordshire did not seem to be a deterrent.
The club fleet at that time was as follows: –
1. Slingsby T21B open cockpit two-seat glider for training purposes.
2. Eon Baby open cockpit single seat glider for early solo pilots
3. Eon Olimpia 2 single seat glider.
4. Slingsby Skylark 2 single seat glider.
With aerotow facilities being available on a regular basis it was felt that a more modern two-seat glider was needed. A five-man syndicate headed by club stalwarts Reg Bradshaw and Haden Haresign purchased a new Bocian 1E, which arrived on site on the 16 May 1969 at a cost of approximately £1500.
Phil Cracknell an ex member of the club decided to base his Skylark 4 at the club, as he did very little gliding himself permitted suitably qualified pilots to fly it. This aircraft arrived on site in June 1969 and in July of that year Messes Fidler, Fenley and Martin purchased an Italian MORELLI M100S single seater.
Disaster struck on the weekend of 12 & 13 July 1969 when two accidents occurred resulting in the T21B and the Eon Baby being severely damaged to such an extent that they were written off. Fortunately the pilots sustained no injuries.
On a brighter note on 27 July 1969 the first two recorded 5-hour Silver C leg flights were achieved. Hayden Haresign flying the Bocian to complete his Silver C and Harry Fenley flying the M100S who also cloud flew to 8000 feet during the flight.
By the end of 1969 gliding was firmly established at Crowland Airfield with many soaring flights achieved. The myth that the fen area having a scarcity of thermal activity for extended soaring flight had been dispelled.
However problems were looming on the club front. Perkins were down to one single seat glider, the Olympia 2 (the Skylark 2 was owned by the Baker Perkins Sports Club whose members flew as associate members of the club.) and were negotiating the purchase of a Bocian 2 seat glider to replace their two written-off gliders. A restriction was to be placed on the number of “Non Perkins” members so that there were equal numbers of each. As Perkins members were outnumbered by 2 to 1 and the majority of the equipment was non-Perkins this caused a crisis situation. It was perhaps understandable that the Perkins Sports Association which was created for the benefit of its members – employees of Perkins Diesel Engines should not wish to appear to be financing a venture where its own members were outnumbered.
Despite various discussions at committee and club level, no agreement could be reached. A special meeting was called by “Non Perkins” members, to which all members were entitled to attend where the decision was taken to form an open club, which was to be known as the Peterborough and Spalding Gliding Club.
The British Gliding Association whilst sympathising with those members wishing to form a new club, had to support the existing club who opposed the formation of a new open club being formed and operating from the same site. A stalemate was reached. Meanwhile Perkins had taken delivery of the new Bocian, which arrived on site in May 1970.
The object of the new club was to further the sport of gliding in the area and to offer membership to the general public. Once again with the support of Mr. J.W.E. Banks which without his help the new club could not have evolved, Peterborough and Spalding Gliding Club was formed on 1 June 1970 operating along side the existing club. Flying was under the overall control of Roy Taylor, the chief flying instructor of Perkins Gliding Club. Founder members were Tony Fidler (Chairman), Jack Lovell (secretary) Gordon Figg (treasurer), Reg Bradshaw (chief flying instructor), Hayden Haresign (deputy chief flying instructor) and Harry Fenley (Tug Master).
The club started with virtually no assets, the Bocian two seater and the M100S being syndicate owned, the Skylark 2 owned by the Baker Perkins Sports Association and the Beagle Terrier tug owned by Harry Fenley. Initially there were 25 members of which only three were instructors, Reg Bradshaw, Hayden Haresign and newly qualified assistant rated instructor Tony Fidler.
The club was by now desperately in need of a hangar, here again Mr. J.W.E. Banks came up trumps, that he just happened to have a dismantled hangar at his other airfield at Witham-on-the-hill. He offered the use of this hangar to the club with no strings attached providing the club was willing to collect and erect it themselves. This was done by a number of volunteers to whom the club owes a debt of gratitude. This hangar is still in use today, over 25 years later.
On the 26 September 1970 the Bocian was severely damaged in an accident at the end of an instructional flight. Congestion at the launch point caused pilot in charge Tony Fidler to extend the final glide, the wing tip caught a bush near the runway the result of which the glider cart-wheeled and dropped from ten to fifteen feet. Both pilots escaped without injury, the glider was not so lucky.
Perkins gliding club kindly offered to cater for our trainees whilst the Bocian was away being repaired.
During the early part of 1971 the hangars having been completed by the end of February, a further concrete sectional building was purchased for use as a clubhouse.
The club negotiated a grant from the sports council and bought the Bocian from the syndicate on 1 August 1971 who in turn bought the Cracknellâ€™s Skylark 4.
The first dinner dance was held at the Georgians in Market Deeping in March 1971, which was attended by 82 members and friends, including several visitors from other clubs. It was hoped that this would become an annual event.
With only three instructors there was an urgent need to supplement this number and arrangements were made to hold a BGA instructors course to be run on site by the new Assistant National Coach John Heath. Five suitably experienced pilots were persuaded to attend the course.
By the end of the first year of operations the club membership had risen to around 50, the club was confident that this could be increased to 65-70 during the second year.
During May 1971 John Bowles and Mike Stillingfleet took the Bocian to Swanton Morley as they were having a flying week. On Tuesday May 18 Alf Warminger flying his Phoebus 17 flew the first UK 500Kms. Out and return from Swanton Morley, launching at 10:30 and landing back at 19:18.
This spurred Tony Fox and Fidler into action. The following morning they set off by road with the M100S in tow en route to Swanton Morley. This excursion culminated on Friday 21 May 1971 with Tony Fidler in the M100S accompanied by John Bowles and Mike Stillingfleet in the Bocian flying back from Swanton Morley to Crowland. Both gliders arrived back at Crowland, but not without one or two anxious moments. Mikes wife kindly offered to run the pilots back to Swanton Morley so they could collect their cars and empty trailers, not forgetting Tony Fox who had completed his five hours for his Silver C duration in the Norwich Soaring Group’s Skylark 2. A memorable few days for all concerned.
Also in August a syndicate comprising of Jack Wayman, Tony Noble and Fred Logins purchased a Slingsby Capstan side by side two seater, which was made available for club use including instruction.
The club introduced a flight booking system for the Bocian during the winter period of 1970 with the aim of avoiding delays for air experience flights and for prospective new members.
In order to promote gliding in the area, local newspapers were invited to send reporters along for a flight. The club received some useful radio publicity following a visit by one of their roving reporters, a number of passenger evenings were arranged for organisations for their members/employees to experience gliding.
A skylark 3 arrived from Husbands Bosworth purchased by a syndicate in 1972 and a Slingsby Tutor purchased by Mike Stillingfleet also joined the fleet.
On the Tugging side, realising the vulnerability of relying on one tug Harry Fenley purchased a Beagle Terrier, which became known as the “Yellow Peri” for obvious reasons.
Further developments occurred in 1972; the Slingsby Capstan was purchased from Jack Wayman and Tony Noble with Fred Logins retaining his share. Jack Wayman and Tony Noble purchased the M100S enabling Tony Fidler and Brian Essen to buy a renovated K6E from Dunstable. A further K6E was purchased by a syndicate comprising of Norman Brown, Eric Goodwin, Tony Noble and John Delaney.
By mid 1972 the club had grown to operate two tug aircraft thanks to Harry Fenley, and owned a Bocian, 2/3 of the Capstan and the Skylark 2. Six syndicate aircraft were also based at the club, the M100S, a Skylark 3, a Skylark 4, two Schleicher K6E’s and the Tutor.
The site despite initial doubts has proved to be a reasonable thermal site with soaring flights too numerous to mention, resulting in many Silver C certificates being obtained over the years.
Several 300Km triangles were flown as early as 1973/4, Messieurs Fidler, Haresign and Goodwin being the first to obtain Gold C distance / Diamond Goal certificates.
Over the years the club has gone from strength to strength with around 80 – 90 members, complemented by two tug aircraft, 3 modern two seater gliders for training and early solo flight and two solo gliders. At the last count there were about 30 syndicate or privately owned gliders based at the club. In addition, the Club have now negotiated a lease with J.W.E Banks and thus obtain the long sought after security of tenure to enable the Club to move forward with longer term projects.
The club has always been active in promoting and encouraging gliding in the area, during the summer months flying evenings are arranged for numerous organisations so that their members / employees can experience the thrill of gliding. Many new members have joined through just such an experience. It is thanks to the efforts of club members who volunteer to provide the expertise required to fly the aircraft, the ground crew to launch the aircraft, administer the airfield and look after our visitors that we can continue to offer these trial lessons both during the evenings and at the weekends in addition to our club members’ flying.
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Update: July 2018
Our club has just celebrated its 50th year.
This article was written by Tony Fidler in 2008. Tony continues to be an active flying member.