Farewell RAF Lyneham. Hopefully we’ll be back.

In the weeks and months leading up to the imminent closure of RAF Lyneham, several plans for relocating the Club to another airfield were suggested. We were obviously keen to remain at a military airfield (we are an RAF Flying Club after all!), but sadly the proposed new base fell through at the last minute.

A week or so ago, an email went round to all the Club that I’d been expecting for a while. The Club’s last action at RAF Lyneham was to be a formation flight for all of the Club’s aircraft (3 Warriors, an Arrow, a Robin and a Firefly). I’d mentioned to the aircraft owners my desire to be part of whatever the last flight turned out to be (even if it were a simple ferry flight from Lyneham to the new base) and this was the invitation I’d been waiting for.

I immediately fired off a reply expressing my interest to be part of the flight. The intention was to have two ‘qualified’ formation pilots in each aircraft, along with passengers depending on the number of seats available in the aircraft.

A few days before I was told that I’d been allocated a seat, so I had an eye on the weather in the days leading up to day. The weather didn’t look particularly great to me, but at 7:30 this morning I received a call from Roger informing me that the flight was likely to go ahead.

Headed over to Lyneham in good time for the proposed 16:00 (local) departure (aren’t I always early!) and sat in the Club as various Sky Gods arrived, and then attended the briefing with everyone else. As the briefing sheets were passed out, I was ‘nominated’ to listen to the briefing in lieu of the pilot of G-ELUE who hadn’t yet arrived. As I looked at the briefing sheet, I saw that there were to be only two people travelling in GLUE, with me in the right hand seat!

Briefing complete, Martin asked me to check the aircraft out while he went over a few last minute things with Roger. Once completed we all came together for some photographs, before mounting up and getting ready to go.

Getting ready for the off

Getting ready for the off

Roger was ‘lead’, so handled all of the radio calls to Lyneham. I tried to be as helpful as possible to Martin by taking down all the details given over the radio, allowing him to concentrate on the flying. Once the engine was running, we were all given taxy clearance and headed out towards the threshold of 24. 7 aircraft all turned into wind for power checks and pre-departure checks, before thumbs ups were passed along the line indicating to Roger that we were all ready.

Roger received our departure clearance (again, dutifully copied by me) and then we were all cleared for takeoff. We headed out onto the runway, with Roger in the lead and us slightly behind and to the right. I hadn’t fully realised that this was to be a full ‘stream’ takeoff, with all aircraft departing simultaneously. As we waited for the final aircraft (the extra Chipmunk that was to act as a camera ship) to announce that it was in position, Martin explained the signals that Roger would make to synchronise the departure of the first three aircraft.

All aircraft were soon in position, and the stream takeoff began. We all accelerated down the runway, waiting for Roger to reach flying speed. We all rotated together, and began the climbout towards Chippenham. My next surprise came almost immediately, when I realised that the formation would be maintaining this spacing for the flight. I think I’d expected it to be a pretty ‘loose’ formation, but in actual fact it looked like it would almost be possible to jump from one aircraft to the other!

Close formation with the leader

Close formation with the leader

Roger began a turn to the left, and again Martin explained the procedures for maintaining the formation in the turn. We headed down towards Calne to allow all the other aircraft to join the formation (the Robin for example is pretty underpowered in comparison to the others) and we then carried out a number of turns to allow the camera ship to get some good shots. At one point the camera ship got a little close to the formation, and the Archer had to drop out briefly before the Chipmunk cleared the position and allowed him to rejoin a few seconds later.

Camera ship in the distance

Camera ship in the distance

The weather for the day was far from ideal, and I remember thinking a few times that I probably would have chosen to abandon the flight if I were making it myself. The air was pretty turbulent, and it was clear that the pilots in the formation were having to work incredibly hard to maintain their positions. Despite my limited duties (making infrequent frequency changes was about it!) I felt like I was really working hard on this flight! Martin made a point of asking me a number of times if I was Ok (the answer was always an immediate ‘Yes’) and had me occasionally check the position of the aircraft off to our right (luckily a bright yellow Firefly, so not hard to spot!).

Firefly off to our right

Firefly off to our right

After these turns were complete, we then repositioned for the first of the low level passes over Lyneham, this one using runway 36. We dropped down to about 300 feet AGL to make the pass over the airfield. In some ways I almost wished I weren’t part of the flight at this point, so that I could enjoy the spectacle from the ground! I guess I’ll have to wait to see the photos taken from the ground to see how it looked from there.

Tower, this is Ghost Rider, requesting flyby

Tower, this is Ghost Rider, requesting flyby

Once clear of Lyneham we headed North, before turning to the East to pass close to Royal Wootton Bassett (a name most people should recognise due to the incredible turnout for the numerous repatriations of fallen service personnel). We passed close to the edge of the town, before positioning for another low pass over Lyneham, this time using runway 24.

Clear of Lyneham again, a few of the aircraft were cleared in turn to disperse, as they weren’t accompanying us to Kemble. They broke off in turn, and the remaining 4 aircraft began to position for the arrival at Kemble. Surprisingly Kemble Information announced that they were ending service for the day at 1700 local (the time we arrived in the overhead) – I’d have thought they would have wanted to see the relatively rare spectacle of a formation of spamcans!

Positioning for a run and break at Kemble

Positioning for a run and break at Kemble

We joined left downwind for Kemble’s runway 26, and headed in for a ‘run and break’ manouevre, that allows a formation of aircraft to get adequate spacing in readiness for landing. Roger broke off, and then Martin counted to 8 before we broke off at 500 feet into a 45 degree banked turn to position ourselves behind Roger. The rest of the flight seemed strangely ‘normal’ after the adrenaline rush of the preceding 35 minutes or so, as Martin brought us in for a landing as Roger cleared to the right hand side of the runway (landing with one on had been approved by Kemble in the lead up to the flight).

Short Final for 26 at Kemble

Short Final for 26 at Kemble

My limited knowledge of Kemble (been there once as a pilot, and a number of times as a planespotter with Catrin!) then helped as Martin tried to spot the grass taxyway. We followed Roger, and parked alongside him. As we passed the Tower area I spotted Luned and Catrin waiting so gave them a wave (they were my lift back to Lyneham so I thought I should be pleasant!), I later found out that most of the occupants had also waved!

My lift!

My lift!

We parked up, covered and chocked the aircraft, and then headed over for a quick debrief with Roger.

The formation's track

The formation's track

So, this chapter of flying from RAF Lyneham is now over. It’s been announced today that Lyneham will remain a military facility, so we can only hope that the next user will also be in the field of Aviation, and there will be the possibility of us returning there one day.

Since gaining my PPL back in June 2008, the vast majority of my flying has been from Lyneham. The Club has a fantastic atmosphere and excellent facilities. Hopefully a more permanent base can be found soon, and eventually we might be back to Lyneham one day. I’ve had some good times there, it really is a shame to leave.

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