My flying logbook tells me that at 1530 on 22 February 1982 I landed for the first time at Condover airfield, south of Shrewsbury in Shropshire after a 90 minute flight from Gloucestershire in very poor visibility.
I can still recall the thrill of arriving in a new county where I would spend five happy years living and flying. I had been aerial crop spraying for a couple of years in Norfolk and wanted to ‘do my own thing’ and life all seemed too good to be true.
But we only had land line phones, the post and VHF radios in those relatively innocent and simple pre internet days.
I would be working with a great Shropshire friend John Fergusson who would operate the Bedford loading lorry and whose parents still farmed near Telford, so local and invaluable help, who already knew the county very well. We also had a Norfolk marker Ian – who rushed around in a Renault van marking the fields and generally preparing the work all over Shropshire, Herefordshire, Staffordshire and Wales.
We all lived together in a large rented house in Bayston Hill, close to Condover and having been brought up and schooled in East Anglia for the first years of my life – I was always keen ‘to go over the horizon’ and find new challenges. It has always been notoriously difficult for anyone to get a steady job in aviation, close to where one lives.
East Anglia is notoriously flat and has therefore always has been relatively easy to fly from as there are no hills or mountains to deal with. I was looking forward to the new challenges of flying in Shropshire which I found to be utterly beautiful and magical, as the locals were very warm and welcoming, which I was told was due to the fact that their farmers went to weekly livestock markets and enjoyed banter and fun.
My Father had previously moved to live and work near Oswestry – so apart from having close family there I soon made lifelong friends amongst the locals over the next 5 happy years.
In the winter of 1982, I needed to keep working so I went out to Kenya and flew there at 10,000’ above mean sea level, spraying barley for The Kenya Brewery, but I also nearly killed myself several times as flying at high altitude required new skills but it was a great experience living with the Maasai for three months.
I would then over winter in safer South Australia where I continued aerial spraying and first developed aerial fire fighting over four years.
By 1987, I had got married to a Norfolk girl who was living in Shropshire and were becoming aware that aerial spraying was going out of fashion as it was being replaced by low pressure, wide boom ground sprayers, so we decided to change my aviation career as anyone has to do in life – by flying larger, supposedly safer aircraft and we moved to Warwickshire to be nearer to the main airfields of Coventry, Birmingham, Luton and Heathrow.
Ironically, I nearly lost my life on my last ferry flight back to Old Buckenham, Norfolk on 17 September 1987, my mother’s birthday with added pressure to return as I got lost in heavy rain and low cloud in the Midlands but got back to Norfolk, eventually.
But leaving Shropshire to fly larger aircraft would prove to be a serious mistake for me and countless others – as I now know that jet aircraft are not safer.
I now chose to return to both live and fly in Shropshire and take up new careers – exactly 40 years on.
2 March 2022