In a village named White Waltham, just west of Maidenhead in Berkshire, lies a general aviation aerodrome with a rich history – I describe my experiences at the airfield so far and why I believe it is key to keeping general aviation alive.
One of the reasons as to why I chose this subject matter was because I am currently training for my private pilot license at, reportedly, the biggest grass aerodrome in Europe – White Waltham Airfield. As of writing this article, I am in my third day as a member of the local flying club and done 12 hours towards my private pilot license so far. Now, you may be wondering as to how I managed to hit 12 hours in three days, but I actually moved from a flight school just down the road from White Waltham which had management issues – so this flying club was my saviour and I am ever grateful for it.
White Waltham Airfield has a rich history, originally being set up in 1928 by the de Havilland family to house the de Havilland flying school. It was then taken over by the government in 1938 as the base for the Air Transport Auxiliary during the Second World War, and was then home to RAF Home Command Communications Squadron – who taught Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, to fly a de Havilland Chipmunk in 1952. The airfield was owned by the RAF until it was bought by the current owners, West London Aero Club, in 1982. Nowadays, the club offers private pilot training as well as a variety of other different ratings to be sought such as aerobatics, tailwheels, and instrument ratings. Social events also occur throughout the year.
Upon arrival, the atmosphere was very different compared to my predecessor – having been offered complimentary mugs of tea and coffee all the time and making sure I was settled in with this new chapter in my journey. I knew I would enjoy this flying club. Since joining I have also spoken to many different people, with many different aviation backgrounds, and all of them have been friendly and easy to approach – including my instructors.
There is no doubt that White Waltham Airfield emanates the true spirit of general aviation and is one of the key airfields in keeping general aviation alive beyond 2030. With over 150 aircraft situated in this large aerodrome it would be a shame knowing that by 2050 all these aircraft that are seen at the airfield will not be allowed to fly unless in exceptional circumstances. The reason for this is because of the new legislation signed by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy – with the target of the UK ending its contribution to global warming by 2050. This means that all modes of transport including light aircraft registered in the UK must produce zero carbon emissions.
While it is great hearing about all these new electric cars, rail developments and airliner developments, I can only wonder if the general aviation sector is falling behind. Manufacturers and aerospace companies such as Tecnam, Bye Aerospace and ZeroAvia have all introduced designs and prototypes for hybrid and electric aircraft – but is the art of flying going to be lost? Will these new general aviation aircraft become too computerised, meaning the skills of a pilot become less and less? What about the most widely used manufacturers for trainer aircraft, Piper and Cessna? What have their developments been in the target to become emission-free? And finally, should airfields such as White Waltham be lost of its general aviation heritage and be hounded by these new hybrids?
While I understand that in circumstances like these it must be done, I also worry as to what the general aviation sector will look like – and if I will see a Piper PA28 landing at White Waltham again in 2050. This is why the general aviation industry that we know today must be preserved for as long as possible, and airfields such as White Waltham and Compton Abbas are vital in doing that.
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