Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club: pioneer flyers
PUBLISHED: 15:36 21 September 2017
David Hastings recalls the history of the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club, formed in the early days of flying
It was on February 25, 1927 that the vision of A.A.Rice, to form a flying club to serve the city of Norwich and the county of Norfolk became a reality. On that evening the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club was formed. It was a cold and wet day, but this did not prevent many pilots from flying to Mousehold Aerodrome to support the inauguration.
Among those who flew in were Lady Bailey – soon to become Champion Lady Pilot of the Year – Bert Hinckler, who in the next year flew solo to Australia in 16 days and Lt. Comper, who will be remembered by older pilots as the producer of that very attractive single seat aircraft the Comper Swift.
The first clubhouse was a small wooden building which provided room for an office and pilots’ room, which could hold about a dozen enthusiasts. The first aircraft was an Avro 504 (G-EBPJ) and George Lines was the instructor as well as mechanic. Then, thanks to the many people who supported the club and with splendid co-operation of the city authorities and Boulton & Paul, a hangar was converted into a first class clubhouse including a 40ft lounge seating 50, a bar, steward’s quarters and four bedrooms.
Through the generosity of Henry Holmes and James Hardy, a Gypsy Moth (G-EBQX) was flown to Mousehold by Captain Broad, test pilot at de Havilland, and presented to the club. From then the club advanced rapidly to become one of the leading flying clubs in Britain.
It became an official training centre for the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was chosen as a turning point for the King’s Cup air races and held an annual air display which would feature Royal Air Force Battles, Blenheims and Whitleys. Regular air services were operated to the midlands and the north.
Then came the Second World War and the club suspended its activities, with one of the first bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe on Norwich destroying the club buildings. At the end of the war came the bitter blow that Mousehold was no longer to be used as an airport but in 1959, thanks to support from the Royal Air Force, the club was able to re-start at Swanton Morley. The climb back began with two aircraft, a Tiger Moth and an Auster. In 1962 the bold decision was taken to purchase a very modern design of training aircraft built in France; the Rallye 880B.
Soon pilots numbered over 100 so two further Rallyes were purchased and the Auster was retired. In 1964 the club was chosen by the Air League to pioneer their highly successful junior members scheme.
Close links were established with RAF Coltishall; a Rallye Commodore was bought for foreign touring and a Miles Gemini was available for twin engine training. The club also worked closely with Wing Commander Ken Wallis and provided two trial pilots for his unique autogyro.
The club now had over 300 members with up to 50 student pilots under training and also opened a branch at the new Norwich airport, but sadly flying ceased at Swanton Morley in 1995 with the closure of the airfield.