by: Bob (Former Senior Aircraftsman R.H. Swainson)
Laarbruch Flying Club Member No. 58
April 70 - Oct 72.
I arrived at RAF Laarbruch on 7 April 70 after a tour at RAF Watton in Norfolk. Within hours of my arrival I was put in touch with Flt. Lt. Bob Kirkham, a 3 Squadron pilot. I guess I had mentioned that I was a skydiver during the arrival process. Bob Kirkham was also a skydiver who also held a British Parachute Association instructor rating.
A few days later we made a jump together from Larry Browning's Cessna 182. The jump was from 10,000 ft. and we linked up in free-fall. I landed 50 yards from the target. Bob had wanted to start a parachute club and with my arrival - I was already a jumper with 275 jumps experience - it was soon put together. We obtained some parachutes from the RAF Sport Parachute Club in England and over the next year or so we trained a number of RAF and civilian personnel; they jumped from the Cessna 182 and the club's Dornier 27.
Bob Kirkham returned to England around the middle of 1971. The club had to close as there was no officer willing to run it and I was not a jump instructor at that time. I, however, was able to continue jumping on my own.
When I arrived at Laarbruch I also discovered the Flying Club. I had wanted to get a pilot's license for some time. The price of flying in England at that time as about £ 8/hr which was close to a week's wages. LFC rates, if I recall were 35-40 DM (about £ 5) hr). I signed up and made my first flight on 19 Apr 70 in the Auster (G-ATAX) with Martin Chilvers. Over the next year, I flew the Auster and a German registered Jodel (D-EPHF), which was around June 70.
I first flew the Bolkow (G-ATVX) on 8 May 71 and continued on that aircraft until Aug 71, then I was back on the Auster until Jan 72. I recall the Bolkow "Tripped" and became a "retractable" during that period. There were periods when the aircraft were unserviceable and that slowed down flight training. However, I finally completed my final handling test on 3 June 72 with Sqn. Ldr. Jones on the Bolkow, for a total of 43 hours. I completed a type conversion of the Auster a week later.
Over the 2 1/2 years I spent at Laarbruch I made a total 196 jumps, of these jumps, 82 were at Laarbruch itself from a variety of aircraft.
Cessna 182 39 jumps
Dornier 27 24 jumps
Auster 3 15 jumps
Beaver 2 jumps
Cessna 172 2 jumps
Total of 82 jumps.
The balance of my jumps (114) were made at various German, Dutch, Swiss, Cyprus and UK Clubs. Several of the jumps I made at Laarbruch were notable. In June 70, I made some test jumps on canopies for the new jump club and again in Sept and Oct 70. On 9 Sept 72, I made my first jump on my new paraplane canopy jump No 457, at that time "Ram Air" canopies were very new and only a very small number of jumpers were using them. I have no record of my landing distance from target. I suspect just landing on the airfield was okay.
On 7 Oct 72, I made a jump (No.469) on one of the gliding clubs parachutes . It was described as a back-pack MK 47. Because that parachute was in itself an emergency parachute there was nowhere to attach a second parachute, so I wore a second harness with "D" rings so I had a spare. The purpose of the jump was to show the gliding club people that the parachute would work as long as you pulled the ripcord in a timely manner.
My next jump was the following day, 8 Oct 72, No 470. It was a "Clear and Pull" out of the Auster at 10,000 ft. I believe Jake Jabobs was flying. I jumped out several miles away, the idea was to fly back to Laarbruch; we called these jumps "cross countries."
I did not get the wind calculation quite right and landed at Twisterden. My final jump at Laarbruch (No 471), also on the 8 Oct 72, was a routine jump at 3,000 ft. Final approach was a little wide, (cannot go around again like you can in an aircraft). So I landed in the ATC Parking Area. It was said that the space had recently been occupied by OC Op's new white Peugeot automobile (that information was in the "Laarbruch Listener" Paper). Recent emails suggest it was the Station Commanders Parking Area - whatever!
I left Laarbruch and was shipped off to RAF Thorney Island on the English Channel; I had a total of 70 flying hours. Within a month of my return to England I had joined two flying clubs, Goodwood near Chicheser, Sussex (had super hot Cherokee 140&180s ). I had the chance to use nav comms for the first time (the Auster and Bolkow, if I recall did not have radios) The other club was the Brighton Flying Group at Shoreham which had a Tiger Moth ( a real aircraft).
At the end of December 72, I decided to try a trip back to Laarbruch, I rented a Cherokee 140 out of Goodwood and flew to Ashford and then direct to Laarbruch, total time 3 hours and 15 minutes. The following day I flew the Bolkow again with Neal East as a passenger. Also that day, 31 Dec 72, I flew the Cherokee over to Kamp Lintfort for fuel for the return to England. I got off the ground the next day, 1 Jan 73 and made it back to Goodwood in 3 hours and 35 minutes.
In March of 73, I took some friends from Thorney Island to Amsterdam via Shoreham in a Jodel D 140. The weather messed us up but I had some instrument flying under my belt by this time and made it back via Ostend (at least one of my passengers will never fly again!). Also, in March 73, I flew to RAF Cosford to visit with Jake and John Chorley.
In May 73, I made another trip to Laarbruch, again with a Cherokee 140 out of Goodwood, the flight time was 3 hours and 25 minutes. Whilst there I made local flights with Pete Young and some other who I cannot remember. The weather closed in and prevented me from returning to England as scheduled, I sent a signal from the Ops Bunker (where I worked the first 6 months I was at Laarbruch) to my boss at Thorney Island ( I worked in FLT Planning) just like military pilots do outlining the situation. Two days later I got back off the ground but stopped at Ostend and again at Ashford. I guess it was late because it was the next day before I got back to Goodwood (and Thorney Island). My boss ( a Sqn Ldr Nav) was not amused, he had not got used to an SAC Pilot (by the end of my tour he had!).
That was the last time until now that I had any communication with Laarbruch or the Flying Club. After Laarbruch I started jumping at Compton Abbas near Shaftsbury in Dorset and Thruxton near Andover, Hampshire. In Aug 73, the jump club at Compton was closed by the airport owner. With that some of the members, including myself, looked at starting our own club with the owner of the local B & B providing start up money. The new Wessex Parachute Club started on 18 Aug 73. In Oct 73, the jump pilot decided he was going to be a flying instructor. I suggested that I could take over the flying, I had a little over 140 hours but 534 jumps which I felt helped to compensate for the lack of flying experience. They said okay, so I checked out in the Compton Cessna 172 (GATFL) and got started.
Over the next two years I spent most of my "off time" at Wessex, flying and jumping (we found a second pilot). By the end of 1975 I had some 460 hours, much of it in a Cessna 182 (G-ASJR) which had been purchased in March 74. In Nov 75, I flew the C182 to Bournemouth for its certificate of airworthiness (C of A). Unfortunately, the fellow who put up the money for the club and aircraft did not want to pay for the C of A, so that was the end of the Wessex Parachute Club.
I went back to jumping at Thruxton. At the end of 75, I became a basic jump instructor and upgraded to full instructor in the middle of 76. By this time, I had been shipped off to RAF West Drayton in West London. I was also jumping with a group of people at Goodwood on weekday evenings.
Jumping at Goodwood on weekends did not look likely at the time, so one of the jumpers did a deal with people he knew at Ford Airport near Littlehampton. No one in the group wanted to put money into a new club so at this time, I felt with my experience of club organization at Laarbruch and Wessex, a new jump instructor (700 jumps), jump flying experience (500 hrs), that I should make my move.
I purchased some parachutes and the Southern Counties Parachute Club was born. Over the next two years we struggled with the problems of airport access and the very big problem of residents complaints about anything that flys or jumps at airports. I had purchased a Piper Caribean 135 (G-APYI) which would hold 3 jumpers and got through three jump zones. Newspaper people in Littlehampton, Worthing and Alton areas expended a massive amount of print on my problems during this time.
In July 78, approaching 12 years RAF service I had to make a decision about my future. Promotion in a peace-time military was just about non-existent and I was still some 150 hours short of the UK commercial pilots license, so I made the decision to get out of the RAF and go to the USA.
The move to Fort Worth, Texas came after I saw an advertisement in "Flight International." The U.S. commercial only required 250 hours, I had more that double that. I arrived in early August 1978. My first flight on August 6, 1978 in a Cessna 150 ("Boy, if Orville Wright had flown one in 1903 it would not have counted"). I also started jumping at Seagoville, a parachute club on the southeast side of Dallas. By late September, I also started flying their jump plane, a C 182.
In late October 1978, I had my commercial license. I continued at Seagoville until February 1979. I had been looking for flying work but the jobs were not offered. I decided again to start my own operation. After a short search, I opened up a shop as the "North Texas Parachute Center" at Barber Field about 25 miles south of Fort Worth. I rented a C182. I stayed there for 2 years, then moved to Commerce, east of Dallas. I was there a year. Even though operations had been fair, I felt that I could do better. In 1982 North Carolina was very busy with jumpers, so I found a field and moved everything north.
I had purchased a C182 (N2427G) in October 1979. I discovered the move to North Carolina was not the right thing to do. I ran into field problems, this time from the airport owner's mother ( who proved to be the real boss) so over the next 5 years I made several moves to local fields but none were very successful.
In 1984 I took a job as a glider tow pilot at a gliding school. I had been a glider pilot in the Air Training Corps and the first 3 years of RAF service up to the posting at Laarbruch. One year of towing gave me 2000 tows and enough money to buy another plane, my C 182 had been taken back by the bank (engine was worn out anyway).
In 1984 at the gliding center, I met a young lady; she was into horses and I was into aviation. When I left the gliding school and restarted my jump operation with my new plane, a Piper Tripacer 150 (N8945D) we called the operation Pegasus Skydiving (Pegasus is the flying horse in Greek mythology).
In 1987 we moved to Jetmore, Kansas. The airport was available and the city council needed someone to keep the drug runners away. A DC 6 with a ton of dope had been captured by local police prior to our arrival.
With our move to Jetmore, we had stability, an airport authority that wanted us, my partner had a pilot's license and a few jumps. Also, in 1987, I traded the Tripacer for a C182 (N3862D). In 1992 my partner quit and joined the US Army. By 1994 the city council was tiring of the operation. It costs money to maintain an airport and it is politically more popular to spend money filling pot holes in the road than on an airport that few use.
I had hoped for years to find a place for myself. I then spotted the site I now own. It was advertised in "Trade A Plane". It was owner financed so I didn't have to put down much.
Redhills Airport is designated 60K2 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The runway is 2000 ft on 31.5 acres. A large hanger, two smaller building and my mobile home make up the facility.
Over the years the operation has grown. In addition to skydiving, I also offer air advertising with banners behind the aircraft and glider towing services. I have been to many gliding competitions, regional, national and the world gliding championships at Uvalde, Texas in 1991.
Now, in 2006 my mortgage is paid off, I have 2400 Jumps and 3300 Flying Hours. I purchased a second C182 (N2177G) when N3862D got banged up in 2001 (not by me!)
I use 77G for jumping, N62D is now repaired and is up for sale ( see my website). If I do not sell it, I may bring it back to the UK when I retire which can be any time after 2009.
It has been a long hard but fun ride since my first flight in the Air Training Corps in 1964. RAF Laarbruch 1970-1972 gave me my first experience of DZ organization and gave me the chance to get a PPL at a sensible price. I look forward to hearing from any of the old Flying Club members. I am not really computer literate so please write to the address on my website (no emails) www.pegasusairsports.com or phone (405)222-1445
Any phone numbers I get I will respond to, Oklahoma is UK minus 6 hours. I am in the UK Christmas and New Year so may be able to visit at that time.