We haven’t done many airborne adventures so far this year, mainly because we haven’t had the time or weather. This year’s first trip happened a few weeks ago when we flew down to White Waltham Airfield, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. As someone who likes upmarket cafes, I’m trying to seek out nice ones at airfields, but this is proving to be quite a challenge. The only really excellent one I’ve found so far is the Pilot’s Hub at Redhill Aerodrome, though the one at Kemble is pretty good too. All the other ones I’ve been to seem to serve at best pub grub and at worst greasy spoon fare. But I’d heard good things about the one at White Waltham, and that meant it had been on our list of airfields to visit for quite some time.
As you can see in the photo above, there were a few showers around by the time we were about to set off from our home airfield, but they were isolated enough that we’d be able to fly around them. More problematic were the thermals, which bounced us around a great deal. For that reason, I did all the flying and Lee did all the navigating and radio work, as I find that I sometimes feel a bit airsick when I’m not at the controls (just as I do as a passenger in a car). The thermals made maintaining a particular altitude rather a challenge. We’d rapidly gain a couple of hundred feet going through a thermal, and then suddenly start falling when going through an area of sinking air, so I was constantly having to adjust the throttle to try to stay level. You might not think that it matters that much, but it does when Air Traffic Control have told you to maintain a particular altitude, or when gaining too much height could put you in danger of busting airspace. So it was a very hands-on 40-minute flight to get to White Waltham, and the intense workload meant I have no photos from the way down.
The flight took us over the top of Oxford Airport and then through the RAF Benson zone, so there was a fair bit of radio work to keep Lee occupied while I was flying. After the bouncy flight, we were rather glad when White Waltham came into view. It’s a grass airfield, and although there are several runways, they’re quite hard to spot. We had our work cut out trying to figure out which was the one we wanted! Add to that the additional pressure of the proximity of Heathrow Airport and the need to avoid infringing its airspace, and the mandatory overhead join at White Waltham, and we had a fairly stressful last few minutes of the flight. Here’s Gwenn parked up when we finally got to our parking spot.
First impressions of the airfield weren’t great, if I’m honest. The grass parking area was very overgrown, and there were dying aircraft lying around on the parking, which made the airfield feel a bit unloved. I’m constantly on the ride-on lawnmower at our airfield to keep our little flying club looking tidy and well-kept, so I was surprised to have to park Gwenn in long, practically meadow-like grass (you can’t quite tell how long it was from the photos).
I guess I just expected it to be a bit smarter, maybe with some impressive historic hangars along the lines of Old Warden, and I had also imagined that there would be a proper air traffic information service on the radio. After our initial radio call on the way in, none of our subsequent calls were answered, and we didn’t exactly get the warmest of welcomes when booking in after we landed, either. We kind of expected better from a reputable London airfield where the Duke of Edinburgh learned to fly, and one that traces its history back to its founding by the famous de Havilland family in 1928. On the plus side, the landing fee for the motorglider was only £7 – less than we were expecting.
Still holding out hopes for a posh cafe, this being near London and all, we were also a tad disappointed by that. It was certainly no Pilot’s Hub!
It was about the sort of standard of your average British pub, though they did have smoked salmon salad on the menu, which is what I had. Lee had a sausage and onion baguette. The food was pretty good, and nicely presented, but overall the place felt more like a gliding club clubhouse than a smart cafe.
After lunch we had a brief wander around some of the hangars before making our way back to Gwenn.
The flight home was a little smoother, in places at least. I managed to get this photo of Oxford Airport:
While Lee got this one of the showers we saw. Luckily we managed to avoid them all!
He also got one of us :)
I’ll leave you with one of the beautiful Gwenn parked up back home.