Southport Aero Club Members at Hesketh Park, October 1956
The Southport Aero Club was formed on the instigation of two Southport men, Mr. Eric Baker and Mr. Henry Harker. The inaugural meeting took place at the St. John Hall, Southport in July 1951. Messrs. David Vernon, Wilf Bold, Cyril Clumpus also attended the inaugural meeting with others who did not join, and together the five men formed the initial membership. Plans were made to purchase an aircraft and the Club was admitted to membership of the Popular Flying Association as Group No. 62.
Eric Baker had been in the Civil Air Guard at the beginning of WW2 and flew various aircraft: - Moth Minor, Lysander, etc. Henry Harker had worked for Norman Giroux on his Southport beach pleasure flying during the summer months. David Vernon had learned to fly with Wright Aviation at Hooton Park and Woodvale during 1947 and went on to join the RAF flying Tiger Moths, Harvards and then Gloster Meteors, being posted to 257 Sqdn. at Horsham St. Faith in 1950 before being demobbed in 1951. The other two were not pilots but were keen to learn.
The club was unable to gain permission to operate at RAF Woodvale and Mr. Giroux felt that the beach airfield at Hesketh Park was not suitable for flying training. During this period members who wished to fly did so either at Liverpool or Blackpool using aircraft at these bases. The committee decided to approach the Ministry of Aviation at Grove Park Liverpool for their views on the impasse over use of an airfield and their verdict was that it was a Licensed Airfield and therefore open to any aircraft. So permission was finally given for the club to operate there. At this time, the club appointed Mr John Formby as Chief Flying Instructor who was employed at that time flying the Spitfire "Thum" Met. flights out of Woodvale. Early in November 1955 the committee of the club, along with Mr. John Formby went to Honiley to look at a Tiger Moth G-ANOD, which the club bought for £250.
David Vernon went to Honiley to fly the Tiger Moth up to Southport, but fog developed and he made a precautionary landing in a field near Wrexham. The aircraft was secured for the night to a telegraph pole with a policeman on guard. The next day the CFI Mr. Formby came to the aircraft and flew it back to Woodvale.
The Inaugural meeting of the Southport Aero Club in July 1951
From the following month, we operated off the beach training pupils to fly and a number were sent solo.
There was an incident on 27th May 1956 when an instructor was flying with a pupil. The aircraft was over the beach when severe vibration commenced. It was so bad that the instructor had to completely throttle back and carry out a "dead stick" landing, fortunately on the beach strip. A spark plug had come out of the cylinder and of course complete compression was lost on one cylinder causing the vibration. The plug was reinserted, tightened up and flying continued. The aircraft had only just come off a 50 hour check and obviously the plug had never been properly tightened up.
We started out charging 45 shillings an hour (£2.25) but this soon had to be increased to cover costs. The club prospered and considered operating a second aircraft which would be an enclosed cabin type and suitable for touring. To this end we purchased a Foster Wickner Wicko G-AFJB in September 1956.
In 1959 the club borrowed an Auster, G-AJIH, from Barrow-in-Furness which was flown for a short time. Early in 1960 the Tiger was due for a C. of A. renewal and with the ravages wrought on it by the beach landing strip, needed a lot of work. Unfortunately, the club could not afford this cost and sadly the Tiger Moth was sold for the princely sum of £109.
During the period when we had no aircraft we had decided that it was no longer possible to operate off the beach as it ruined the aircraft. We made representations once more to the Commanding Officer at Woodvale who recommended to MOD and the Air Ministry that we should be given permission to operate out of Woodvale.
G-ARHC The Forney F1A Ercoupe which was leased by the Club
The Club declined to purchase this aircraft
and it was returned to Air Rent in 1965
In early 1965 Air Rent asked us to guarantee 400 hours in the year, but the club felt it could not attain this figure.The club was offered the Aircoupe to buy for £2,750, but the club declined and G-ARHC was returned to Air Rent at Sywell on 6th March 1965.
At the end of that year the Colt was sold, and replaced by a Cessna 172B G-ARMP. G-ARMP was operated throughout 1967 and the club attracted many new members who wanted to learn to fly. The 172 was really not the machine for this role so the club bought a Cessna 150, G-ATNX for training which released the 172 for touring purposes. In early 1968, the club was busy enough to borrow the Tri-Pacer G-APTP again.
Piper Colt G-ARST
Cessna 150 G-ATNX at the Old Liverpool Airport
Founder members of the Southport Aero Club, in co-operation with Sefton Council's Coast & Countryside Service have erected a memorial at the site of Hesketh Park Beach Aerodrome used by the club between 1956 and 1960. Lord Fearn unveiled the memorial with three of the original club members in attendance, John Mulliner, Quentin Jones and the late David Vernon (seen below with the plaque mounted on its stand).
John Mulliner is Chairman of the Southport Shoreline Interest Group, and has recently published a book on North-west flying, SUN, SAND & SILVER WINGS