Flying Adventure

Lundy Sunday

This remote island is home once a year to one of the UK’s most unusual fly-in venues. Dave White made his first trip this year – and loved it…

For many years – call it decades – I have wanted to visit Lundy Island by air. I feel there’s something about islands that makes them perfect for GA (assuming there is a runway!), but Lundy has always had that extra bit of mystery and whiff of hazard about it.

“at 400m long, the strip is quite short”

That’s probably because, at 400m long, the strip is quite short, the approaches come over a 400ft cliff, with all that brings for up-and down-draughts, plus the hump-backed strip is typically reported as having stones and rabbit holes along its length. 

Outside of organised events, the airfield is used for grazing, so there may be sheep to be chased off. If that wasn’t enough, there is a substantial stone wall right at one end….

Selection of visitors, with Old Light beyond

The airstrip on Lundy dates back to at least 1934. Aircraft such as a DH84 Dragon (which lost its undercarriage on that threshold wall), GAL Monospar and Short Scion of Lundy & Atlantic Coasts Air Lines flew to Lundy from an airfield at Barnstaple – a site that’s now within the boundary of Chivenor. Tourist flights, post-WWII, flew to the Island by Auster, but apart from some Flying Farmers’ Association events in the 1960s/1970s there was relatively little use of the strip, until a team of pilots and enthusiasts changed that with a plan for a fly-in at the turn of the century.

Every year since then, there has been a fly-in organised by Pete White, a stalwart of the Aeronca Club (he flies a beautiful Chief, G-IVOR), the LAA Devon Strut and the Feet Off the Ground flying charity. Pete first flew to the island in January 2000 on a whim from Bodmin. After his visit, in conjunction with the island’s owners and operators, he organised the initial fly-in for that August, which included ferrying people in from Eggesford Airfield during the day.

One of the four visiting Tiger Moths

The first decade of Lundy Fly-ins was under the banner of the PFA/LAA Devon Strut, but it is now organised by ‘The Lundy Team’, which comprises the Landmark Trust, the National Trust, plus Pete with John Colgate and their small team of volunteers. The only break in 20 years was during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001. This year though, while the UK COVID-19 lockdown had been a threat, the situation improved sufficiently, which meant that a responsible, socially distanced event could take place.

In previous years I had either been otherwise committed, or chickened out… or something else. This year, at last, the stars aligned and I was determined to go. My concessions to the challenges of Lundy were to take the spats off and practise short landings at my home strip.

And so it came to pass. Having reviewed Pete’s excellent and comprehensive PPR briefing notes, we had a glorious trip down in blazing sunshine with my passenger Mark Saunders (born a local, and whose aircraft had gone tech the day before) acting as a tourist guide to North Devon and reporting the local gossip.

Stone marking arrival of Trinity House to construct the first lighthouse

As we got closer we began to hear other aircraft calling up Lundy on SafetyCom and also see some of them on the SkyDemon/SkyEcho combination. It became evident that some weather was localised around the island and not quite so glorious as over the mainland.

as we coasted out we could see there were rain showers ahead, precluding the planned overhead join”

St. Helen’s Church tapestries and info board

Sure enough, as we coasted out we could see there were rain showers ahead, precluding the planned overhead join. All the other inbounds were showing excellent airmanship reporting position and intentions concisely. So, we fitted in and announced that we were to join downwind for 24 at 1,000ft – about as high as we could get at that part of the circuit.

Scrappy join to final

As we came onto a wide base, to deconflict from two or three aircraft ahead, there was a small shower between us and the strip, which meant that I overshot the centreline a bit, resulting in a somewhat scrappy join to final. Never mind, we were far enough out to rectify that happily, although I do apologise to the aircraft behind me… I think the gap was enough not to cause him too much of an issue.

As we came onto short final, a number of things became apparent: The white rocks marking the strip, the briefed up-slope at the 24 end, and the entrance to the parking area off to the left.

The fly-in attracted over 80 aircraft

the thing that caught my attention most was the low stone wall just at the 24 threshold”

But the thing that caught my attention most, as I had expected it would, was the low stone wall just at the 24 threshold. This was described very well in the briefing notes, and so I was prepared to pass low over it before touchdown on the up-slope beyond. As we rolled to a stop, my worries faded – the strip was fine. No massive rocks, no Godzilla-sized rabbit holes. I was glad I took the spats off, though. That said, Pete does point out that the far (06) end can be really quite rough, so my opinion may have been different had there been an easterly on the day.

Quarter Wall Bay with MS Oldenburg at the landing stage

After booking in and paying a very reasonable landing fee (which included visitors’ contribution to the Landmark Trust), we watched a few arrivals. In total 80 aircraft flew to Lundy, including over 30 vintage types. As FLYER’s bossman, Ian Seager, pointed out, as probably the best-attended UK one-day GA event in 2020, it might be worthy of the name ‘LunkOsh’.

One of the arrivals after us was a red Carbon Cub, built and flown by Mark Albery, a FLYER Forumite, and recently repatriated from California. My passenger Mark had last met Mark A and his Carbon Cub a year ago when they had bumped into each other at AirVenture. So, from Oshkosh to LunkOsh – who’d have thought?

Some exploration beckoned while we were here, so we headed for the Marisco Tavern, the island’s only pub, which is no distance at all from the strip. It does a mean lamb burger, after which we walked the short distance to St Helen’s Church, which dates to 1880, passing a blue postbox on the way. It is blue because the GPO pulled out of Lundy in the 1920s and Lundy Post is now run out of the island store. It claims to be the oldest private postal service in the world, and produces highly collectible ‘puffin’ stamps and franks.

Marisco Tavern

Inside the church are impressive modern tapestries of local scenes and fascinating information boards about island history, wildlife, economy and other Lundy specifics.

Carrying on down the hill leads to the landing stage at the south-east of the island, in Quarter Wall Bay. (There are three main walls constructed across the island, known as Quarter Wall, Halfway Wall and Three-Quarter Wall. None of them are the wall at the runway threshold.) The MS Oldenburg was alongside having delivered passengers and cargo on its rounds from the mainland. She previously operated ferry services to Wangerooge and Helgoland, both also have airfields so some readers may have seen her there!

The lighthouse here is one of two, which replaced the much taller ‘Old Light’ by the airstrip – and appealingly is available to rent as holiday accommodation. Old Light is apparently disused because, being at the island high point, it frequently found itself hidden by fog and low cloud – somewhat defeating its point…

Back at the airstrip, we spent some time enjoyably talking to many other friendly flyers including Ellie Carter who soloed on her 16th birthday, got her licence on her 17th last year, and since then has racked up lots of hours and experience in a fabulous Piper L-4 Cub in USAAF markings, generously supported by the Cub’s owner Richard. She clearly has some excellent mentoring and is on track for a flying career, and with her enthusiasm and evident application I reckon she is bound to make a success of it.

Then, sadly it was time to leave. At which point my pax realised he had lost his iPad. It could be anywhere, but luckily this is a small island… But he thought he’d probably left it in the church, so we retraced our steps there – no joy. Mark then walked all the way back down the hill again, checking walls and seats on the way. Still no joy. Back via the village store and the pub – nope – and finally, dejectedly, back to the strip. At which point a very honest chap walked up to Mark and asked, “Is this your iPad?” He’d found it in… the church. He wasn’t even one of the visiting pilots, he was a holidaymaker who had come across on the Oldenburg, found the iPad and searched the photos for clues then came up to the aircraft to find us. Top chap.

Spot the runway!

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