Seething and Gt Massingham – Saturday 5th October 2019

Things very rarely go to plan in this flying lark and infinite flexibility is the name of the game usually as the weather doesn’t play ball. This fly out day was no exception and with almost constant rain for the preceding 10 days and a stubborn cold front lurking over the country to the west of Reading that threw the planned visits to Thruxton and Compton Abbas which is grass into doubt when I checked the TAF’s the evening before. With quite reasonable weather to the east, it was a case of cancelling Thruxton and Compton and making up a plan B. That was to visit Seething and Gt Massingham instead. It’s been a number of years since the group have been to either so with hard runways at both and the very nice Dabbling Duck Pub at Gt Massingham in the frame for lunch they seemed a natural choice.

On the morning the forecast was actually right and we gather to get the aircraft ready. A call to both Seething and Gt Massingham confirmed that we were very welcome and with a further call to ‘The Duck’ to get 12 in for a late lunch at short notice everything was shaping up nicely for Plan B. Tony Chapman and Peter Howarth were joining us from Stapleford in the Arrow ‘EB’ so after updating them we were good to go.

This wasn’t going to be a difficult one, once away from Stansted the airspace and nav were going to be pretty easy for our experienced crews and so it proved. After departing 02 at NW we headed out towards Chelmsford and on towards Colchester. With Wattisham closed on a Saturday it was simplicity itself with a service from Southend and then onto a very cheery Norwich Radar controller at Ipswich.

There was a bit of cloud around at 2000ft but nothing to concern us as the tranquil Suffolk countryside slipped past beneath us. At 10 miles we gave Seething a call and received confirmation that 06 was in use with a right-hand circuit and an overhead join was requested due the amount of traffic. The familiar old wartime ‘A’ pattern layout soon came into view even though now there is only the one runway of 06/24 and an 800m insert on the old original runway.
Overhead at 2000ft and descending on the dead side with a right turn to join the crosswind leg at the 1000ft agl circuit height worked as it should and we had a good mental picture of those ahead and those still on the way in. A slightly extended downwind for traffic ahead, base and then that lovely picture turning final for 06.

Right base 06 at Seething

We were all in safely and the only issue had been Tony and Peters Arrow was overhauling a much slower aircraft in the circuit which necessitated a go-around, however, there was no problem with that and they were in on the next circuit. Seething is a delightful airfield, lots of parking but only one taxiway which can be congested. It’s very welcoming and we had arrived when the clubhouse was packed with Waveney Flying Group members who own and operate the airfield. It’s great to see gatherings like this and shows that GA can still be very much alive. We were only there for a very pleasant cup of coffee before moving on to Gt Massingham although we did take time to visit the memorial to the US 448th Bombardment Group who operated B24 Liberators from Seething from 1943 to 1945 with 146 aircraft and 350 crew lost in that time.

Whilst we have been chatting the wind had come around a bit which favoured a 24 departure which was useful as this saves a time-consuming backtrack, especially with 6 aircraft to getaway. With engines started we headed down to holding points A and with B on the other side of the 24 threshold we could spread out nicely for checks and then depart in turn.

With the noise abatement procedure followed we changed to Norwich radar again informing the controller as we headed out towards the coast at Gt Yarmouth that we planned to follow the Norfolk Coast anti-clockwise all the way around to Brancaster before turning south and inland towards Gt Massingham. The weather was still great, the odd bit of cloud but light winds and after all the rain of late the air had been nicely washed out and was crystal clear.

The Norfolk Coast ahead of us north of Gt Yarmouth.

Following the coast around at around 1200ft was a delight and always a view that I never tire of with the mixture of beaches with dozens of seals and then the cliffs as one gets towards Cromer and Sheringham. Apart from the bird sanctuaries further along the only thing to avoid is the easily visible Bacton Gas venting site up to 3500ft where the North Sea rigs piped gas comes ashore.

We said goodbye to Norwich as the signal was fading at our height and gave Marham Zone a call on 124.150 but as expected being a Saturday there was nobody home. The usual procedure for Gt Massingham is to speak to Marham all the way through to final at but in this case, it was simply a case of making blind calls to ‘Marham Traffic’. We had agreed between us to join crosswind for 04 with the first aircraft in ensuring that was going to be the correct runway for the conditions. They didn’t need to confirm as a handy pall of smoke rising in the distance acted as the perfect marker before we could see the windsock. I’ve been into many times but approaching from the north gave an odd unfamiliar view, however, it’s easily spotted as it sits just northwest of the old RAF base of West Raynham which is now a gigantic solar panel farm. So around the circuit and in for final on 04 keeping a very close eye out for any agricultural machinery on the 900m of the useable runway which is the original 1944 concrete and still in incredibly good condition.

Right base for 04 Gt Massingham.

With the village of Gt Massingham out to our left, we slipped onto the runway and being nicely spread out worked well as landing 04 requires a backtrack all the way to the threshold where it’s a right turn onto the old peri track. This is now a public footpath so caution needs to be used as there are often walkers and most of them seem to have dogs. Parking is by a large hanger and the £10 landing donation and movements books can be found in an ancient mobile chicken coup in the corner. All very quaint and rural. This is what GA flying is all about to me.

All parked up at Gt Massingham

There is a footpath which leads into the village and given the rain was actually quite dry although the nettles need to be treated with respect. Using the footpath one pops out in the centre of this picture-postcard Norfolk village with the large duck pond, the traditional village store and large impressive church dominating the green.

Opposite the Green is the Dabbling Duck, a gastropub with a well deserved excellent local reputation.

The Dabbling Duck with some of the boys.

The boys at lunch.

Lunch for the 12 of us in the ‘library’ was extremely nice and was enjoyed by all the local mussels and chips really hitting the spot for some of us. Having suitably stuffed ourselves with the nights starting to close in it was time to have a wander back to our aircraft.

I’ve mentioned this before but standing on these almost silent old wartime airfields with a gentle breeze and the occasional chirp of the birds it’s easy to get lost in what stories of heroism and tragedy these old runways could tell and to see and hear the ghosts of the Bostons, Mosquitos and B17s that took off from this very same concrete all those years ago. Many of course failed to return and although Seething’s 350 crew lost is tragic enough it is just over half of Gt Massingham’s 600 crew losses.

Jogged back to reality by the starting of an engine Tony and Peter were heading directly back to Stapleford whilst the rest of us were returning to North Weald. There was a different choice of routes, some of us heading west towards Kings Lynn and then tracking south towards Royston and the Luton/Stansted gap and the others heading directly south and east around the Mildenhall/Lakenheath combined MATZ to approach North Weald from the east.

Getting airborne from 04 and turning right Paul Cook and myself in VB were taking the easterly route through the top of the Marham MATZ and down the long water channels towards St Neots. There was a distinctly autumnal look to the slightly darkening sky as we headed back through the gap and descended to 1300ft for TMZ 2 before slipping in for 02 at North Weald.

A very nice day, Plan B worked, a nice uncomplicated route, great scenery, a super lunch and two historic airfields which hadn’t been visited before by several of our members.

This was the last day fly out of 2019 and we can only look forward to hopefully doing some night flying in November. From there it’s into a new programme for 2020 and who knows what that will bring?

Thanks to all our members for your support and making the fly outs the success they have been for many years now.