As Rachel waits for her 2023 heli flying season to get underway, she recalls her visit to the marvellous Classic Motor Hub, which, as it happens, has a handy helipad out the back!
2 March 2023
With five of the five helicopter bookings I’ve made so far this year cancelled due to weather or aircraft availability, I’m still patiently waiting to get back into an R44 and get the 2023 heli flying season on the go. In the meantime, I’m reminiscing about an excellent discovery I made in the earliest days of my PPL(H).
The Classic Motor Hub is a car showroom unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Located in the heart of the Cotswolds, it’s a mecca for the discerning petrolhead, and conveniently, it has a helipad out the back.
You don’t have to be in the market for an expensive car to visit. It’s marketed as ‘the ultimate destination for classic motorists’, but it’s open to the general public and there’s a nice little coffee house and gift shop. It’s just an all-round great place to pop into for anyone with even a passing interest in old cars.
If, like me, you enjoy destinations where the automotive and aviation worlds collide – Goodwood and Bicester being other prime examples – then this is one to add to your list, whether your engine powers a set of rotor blades or a vehicle of the wheeled variety.
Because, funnily enough, the Classic Motor Hub is actually on an airfield, albeit not one at which you can land an aeroplane anymore (as you know, I make a point of not flying to other airfields by helicopter, as it’s a lot cheaper to take an aeroplane!).
It’s on the site of what was once RAF Bibury, which started life as a relief landing site for South Cerney, where the Airspeed Oxford was the aircraft of choice. The airfield soon became a base for the Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons whose job it was to keep Cheltenham and the area south of Birmingham safe.
Flying at RAF Bibury ceased in 1944 and the airfield closed the following year, presumably not seeing any aviation activity until much more recently, when the peace began being shattered, in the best possible way, by the arrival by air of folk with big car budgets – and of course by the likes of me.
The first time I landed there was in the humble R22, not long after I’d passed my skills test. I had decided to do some flying with an instructor to build up my confidence with off-airfield landing sites post-licence.
You don’t get to practise many off-airfield landings as part of the PPL(H) course, and I was determined to do some additional training before letting myself loose on them with passengers – something I feel strongly is the right thing to do.
The approach to the Hub is across open fields whatever direction the wind happens to be in, so in that sense it’s relatively straightforward. The tricky bit comes when you reach the raised bank, topped with a fence and awkwardly placed wind sock.
You have to come into a high hover over the fence, make very sure your tail is clear of said fence, and then drop gently onto the helipad on the other side.
It feels like a very confined parking area, but we subsequently did a ‘lunch club’ outing there with my helicopter school and managed to get in with four R44s, so there’s actually a deceptive amount of space.
Fast forward a year and I was feeling confident enough for the responsibility of carrying a passenger, so I took my friend, FLYER’s very own Jonny Salmon, into the Hub. It was a day of frankly silly logistics engineered so that we could also fly Jonny’s RV.
We met by road at Jonny’s farm strip, which coincidentally is a stone’s throw from the Hub. Jonny then flew me in the RV to Wellesbourne, where we hopped into the R44 for me to fly us to the Hub. We then did the reverse trips later that day, making a total of four journeys back and forth between more or less the same place. Only in aviation!
Having flown in a couple of times previously, my first landing at the Hub in the R44 went without a hitch despite some breezy conditions. On the way out, it was a vertical take-off to clear the buildings and fence, and en route back to Wellesbourne, Jonny took a brilliant photo of me flying, which you’ll have seen if you’ve been reading FLYER for a while or if you follow me on Twitter.
The most impressive of the showrooms is undoubtedly the original blister aircraft hangar, now so full of treasures that it’s hard to know what to look at first. Of course, the ‘exhibits’ change all the time, as it’s an actual showroom rather than a museum and things get sold. Which, of course, means it stands up to regular visits.
Every time I’ve been, there have been all sorts of marvellous old vehicles to see, with the occasional modern high-performance car thrown in for good measure. Many have notable racing or production heritage, and to see them all assembled in such a historic setting is wonderfully evocative.
A glance at their current ‘car of the week’ shows me this 1926 Bentley 3-litre Red Label Speed Model Tourer (3/4½), which was the 1926 Vanden Plas London Motor Show car. On a previous visit, I’d got to see a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTS, one of only 20 ever made and one of Ferrari’s rarest cars. So you get the general idea.
The Classic Motor Hub is one of the places I often cite when people wonder what makes a PPL(H) ‘worth it’. Much as I enjoy flying to other airfields with my fixed-wing hat on – and you can go a lot further with your flying budget – nothing beats the variety and challenge of landing off-airfield.
Helicopters definitely open up a world more opportunities for exploring interesting places by air, and as the Classic Motor Hub proves, it’s not just fancy hotels.
Now, if the weather gods could kindly play ball for my next booking, hopefully I’ll have a new trip to tell you about next month.