Farewell Filton

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Another UK airport closes

Bristol Filton airport closed today, with the last flight departing around noon. It’s a sad day for local aviation, with the airport having been opened in 1910 by the Bristol Aircraft Company. Since then, the widest runway in the UK (91 metres) has seen the first flights of Concorde and the Bristol Brabazon.

The weather was good though, and quite a few GA aircraft were flying in for the occasion. Both Bristol Aero Club PA28’s flew in from their new base at Kemble, with many pilots taking turns to fly their last circuit. All slots were booked beforehand.

Cadged a lift

I’d arranged to fly in the right hand seat in a Socata Trinidad TB20 from Gloucester. It’s only a 10 or 15 minute flight from there, but seemed more fitting that driving from home. It was also a good chance to see what one of these is like, and how the avionics works.

When I turned up at Gloucester Airport, John was moving the aircraft out of its hangar. Being a bit heavier than the PA28’s I’m used to, they have a motorised tow – it looks a bit like a lawnmower but has one large wheel. You attach it to the nosewheel, pull the cord to startup and then use it to push or pull.

TB20 Parked
TB20 parked up at Bristol Filton

Both John and Steve own a share in the plane, and had agreed to fly one leg each, letting me sit in the RHS both ways. John had preflighted externally already, so we shut the hangar doors, hopped in, and watched John meticulously walk through the checklist. Gloucester has an ATIS which told us the tower and approach frequencies were combined, but it must have just changed when we called up on the approach frequency and had to switch to tower.

Quick change from departure to approach

Departing to the south, the powerful engine in the TB20 accelerates you more quickly than a PA28. Noticeable, but I’m not saying its anything  like a Spitfire or other aerobatic aircraft. We tried to switch from Gloucester tower direct to Filton Approach, but had to talk to Gloucester Approach first (immediately asking to change frequency again). Filton had our details, and with some 20 miles to run we could clearly see the Severn Estuary, Thornbury and the Bristol metropolis.

Approaching Filton Airport
Approaching Filton
Inbound to Bristol Filton
Final approach into Bristol Filton

We were cleared for a right base join and with little fuss turned onto final for a smooth touchdown. We parked up on taxiway Bravo and were quickly offered a lift by car across to the main terminal building on the other side of the airport.

Parked visiting aircraft
Visiting Aircraft parked up in line on taxiway Bravo

Party atmosphere in the terminal building

Cakes and coffee were in abundance, with plenty of well wishers out to provide a good sendoff on the airport’s last working day. We chatted to a few other pilots, including those from Bristol Aero Club, and took a few more photos. The BBC was filming and had reserved a seat on the last flight out, in a Citation jet.

BAC Fleet at Filton
Bristol Aero Club Fleet (the two nearest) parked up at Filton
Bristol Filton Control Tower
Bristol Filton Control Tower

Straightforward departure

At around 11:15, we worked our way back to the aircraft with Brian, the airfield Ops manager, giving us a lift back. Steve’s turn to fly this time, and when I pointed out that you need to call for start here (after he’d started up), he switched off again – something I hadn’t meant him to do. ATC had arranged for anyone who wanted to be one of the last aircraft out that they could line up in pairs on the main runway and would be streamed off in pairs. Steve preferred to leave just beforehand, and we departed with a climbout and right turn.

Lined up
Lined up on 27 prior to final departure
Climbout departing Filton
Farewell Filton – taken on climbout

Quick shot of the controls

On the way back, I had a chance to play with the controls a little – making a few orbits and gentle turns. The plane is very stable and easy to handle, and I can see why it’s said to be good platform for IFR flight. The avionics include the latest Garmin 650 which has a MUCH nicer user interface than the old 430 which I’ve used several times, with touch screen panel and easy entry of codes and numbers. It’s certified for GPS LPV approaches, but is not completely automated – the pilot has to turn the knob on the HSI to the new heading at each waypoint.

TB20 instruments
TB20 instrument panel

VFR approach

We asked for a practice GPS approach back into Gloucester, but they were too busy and so went for a standard VFR overhead join. Steve showed me how the HSI was set to the runway heading well in advance, improving situational awareness throughout the arrival. There was a bit of excitement as another aircraft pushed in front of us, flying a wide “bomber” circuit which made him difficult to spot. Other than that, it was a straightforward approach, landing and return to base. A big thanks to John and Steve for taking me along.

Sad to see Filton close, but the professional Ops and ATC, good weather and excellent turnout made it a fitting sendoff. The opportunity to have some RHS time in the TB20 (especially with its enviable avionics fit) was very rewarding. At lunch we met Peter, a well known aviation forumite, who also owns and operates a TB20.

That afternoon, it was announced that the Filton Airport site had been sold to a London-based property developer for £120 million. We also learnt that BAe will donate over £2 million to the Concorde aircraft museum which will remain at the site.

Time today: 0:00 (RHS seat time doesn’t count)

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