Aero club is still flying high after 40 years

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FENLAND Aero Club invited people living in the area to join in celebrations for its 40th anniversary at an open day on Saturday.

About 150 people turned out to take part in hangar tours and the chance to visit the air control tower at the Holbeach St Johns airfield.

Youngsters watching planes take off and land are: back (from left) ' Nathan Lynch, Kieran Stevens, Jamie Stevens; front ' Ryan Clark, Daniel Lynch, Nathan Stevens. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG070412-132TW

Youngsters watching planes take off and land are: back (from left) ' Nathan Lynch, Kieran Stevens, Jamie Stevens; front ' Ryan Clark, Daniel Lynch, Nathan Stevens. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG070412-132TW

Katie Booth, who is chairman of the events committee as well as looking after catering in the clubhouse, said: “It was an enjoyable day with a lot of support from members who helped to show people around. We picked up four new members and the flying school sold some trial flights as well.

“We wanted people to know we have been here 40 years because a lot of people forget or don’t know we are here. It was really a day to say: ‘You are welcome, come and join us and come and use us again’.”

The free day attracted 30 visiting aeroplanes, which kept the plane spotters happy, and there was a bouncy castle and other toys to keep the children occupied, as well as food in the clubhouse and home-made cakes on sale.

The club has supplied flying lessons to countless individuals in the area and boasts around 300 members, including non-flyers.

Alan Gray has been a member since moving from Sussex 22 years ago and puts the club’s continued success down to the same warmth and sense of belonging he felt when he first joined.

He said: “I’ve been flying light aircraft for a while now and when you move to a new area you look for that camaraderie that comes at these type of clubs, and the Fenland area has it in abundance.”

Of the 300 or so members, not all actually take flying lessons. Instead they prefer to socialise with other members in the friendly clubhouse environment.

Mr Gray explained: “People feel they have an association directly or indirectly with the club, which we try and encourage.

“Those who come and don’t fly bring their friends and family to eat at the clubhouse.”

The club was first established in 1972 by a group of friends, and after a local farmer arranged land for them to use, a couple of the members supplied their privately-owned aircraft to get the club off to a flying start.

Initially the club only had two planes, a Condor and a Jodel D117, which Mr Gray hopes will make a reappearance at the airfield at some point.

He said: “We are hoping the Jodel will join us this summer. It’s still around and belongs to a man in Kent. It is the only one left of the original two or three aircraft we started with.”

Over the years perhaps the club’s biggest claim to fame was ferrying Sir Clement Freud to and from local airfields by former treasurer Paul Coulton, who served for 30 years.

Owned and operated by its members, the club is a privately-owned, profit-making business, which trains people to fly commercially, around Fenland Airfield or even internationally depending on which type of licence is held.

Anyone wishing to join the club or contact the clubhouse can call 01406 540330.

Alternatively, if you intend to book lessons you can call the Flying School on 01406 540461.