Flying club aims to get new aviation course off the ground
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A group of enthusiasts build, maintain and fly classic aircraft at a field not far from Norwich. Reporter STUART ANDERSON met a few of them to hear about a new aviation course they are planning to launch.
Stepping into the hangers of Felthorpe Airfield takes you on a journey through aviation history.
Felthorpe Flying Club members have bought, built and borrowed some of the most memorable small aircraft that have ever soared skywards.
The collection includes an Isaacs Spitfire and its ‘little cousin’ - a Chilton D.W.1 monoplane - a Hawker Fury biplane and even a replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.I triplane.
And now club members are hoping to inspire the next generation of aviators and aircraft engineers by launching a training course to share their passion for maintaining and flying the machines.
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The club’s chief engineer, 81-year-old Michael Powell, 81, said: “There’s a global shortage of engineers of all kinds, and there’s a growing shortage of aviation engineers.
“We wanted to do something about that, so we started off by teaching some of the owners of the aircraft here how to maintain their own aeroplanes.
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“I put together a series of talks/seminars on aircraft maintenance, and it got quite a good response.”
Mr Powell said as the idea broadened local schools became interested, and they were now looking to build links with commercial aircraft firms that offer apprenticeships, as well as the International Aviation Academy Norwich, based at Norwich Airport.
He said: “We wanted to include schools and academies because the shortage of engineers starts there.
“We’re trying to put before people, particularly young people, what’s involved in aviation engineering and what opportunities it offers.”
Mr Powell said civil aviation in the UK lived in the shadow of commercial aviation, even though it had a £2bn turnover a year and involved 15,000 light aircraft, whereas there were only around 800 commercial airliners.
Mr Powell, who lives at Upton, originally got into gliders when he was in his 20s, which led to a lifelong love of aircraft.
He said: “Gliders seemed to be a bit like sailing, I like the idea of flying on the wind. Then I thought it would be nice to go somewhere, and for that you need an engine. I’ve always been an engineer so I got into that side of aeroplanes, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Another club member, Dr Peter Brueggemann, said interest in aviation was “slowly booming”, even though it was not a cheap hobby, and the price of aircraft fuel had risen in recent years.
Dr Brueggemann, 57, from Melton Constable, said: “You fly because you’re fascinated with it, you don’t think about the cost. I do flight exams at Norwich Airport, and we’ve had a quite a few young pilots coming up.”
Originally from Essen in Germany, Dr Brueggemann spent a decade fulfilling a lifelong dream to build a replica of the famous red triplane flown by First World War fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron.
Dr Brueggemann said: “I’ve always been fascinated by this plane and the story behind it. The First World War, as we know it from photos and footage, is black and white, but when you see what aeroplanes from the war were actually like, people are absolutely fascinated.
“I bought the plans for this plane from America even before I got my private pilot’s licence. After I got that here in Norwich I started flying a Tiger Moth, to get used to flying old aircraft.”
Dr Brueggemann said every piece of the triplane had to be hand-made.
He said: “The wood has to be of a high quality and the steel has to be approved. You can’t just buy some parts from B&Q. There are about 26 checks they do to make sure you’re doing everything right.”
He first flew the triplane last year, an experience he said was not for the faint-hearted.
“It’s a beast,” he said. “It’s so agile it can turn around almost on a 50p coin. You have to be so careful, I had to learn not to take risks.”
The flying club has about 50 members, and Felthorpe has about 20 aeroplanes spread across four hangers.
Mr Powell said the course would start in autumn, with opportunities for work experience and flying. He said participants would learn about opportunities in civil aviation as well as the Royal Air Force, thanks to another club member, retired Air Marshall Sir Christopher Harper.
Anyone interested in finding out more can email Mr Powell at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 0789 9916445.