Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Sywell is an aviation gem. This aerodrome boasts some of the best General Aviation facilities in the UK. In fact, it has the awards to prove it. The Airport Operators Association have given Sywell the “Best General Aviation Airport in the UK” award numerous times. I’d heard from friends how great it was, so when the opportunity to visit the aerodrome arose, I jumped at the chance.
Sywell sits six miles out of Northampton in class G airspace. It was opened in 1928 as a civil aerodrome by Jack and Geoff Linell of the Northamptonshire Aero Club. The club became popular throughout the 1930s as Brooklands Aviation arrived to train new pilots for the rapidly expanding RAF.
During World War II, activities expanded again as the RAF increased their operations on the aerodrome. It wasn’t until the 1960s that it returned to civilian operation.
More recently, the aerodrome has been through an extensive program of development to attract further business. A new hard runway has been laid some 1300m long. There is also a hotel and restaurant along with two conference halls. New hangars were erected and fuelling stations were installed.
Such facilities have ensured that the airfield is home to a range of businesses. 2Excel have been at Sywell since 2005, with their corporate charter business and aerobatic display team, The Blades. It’s also home to Sloane helicopters, Brooklands Flying Club and Flylight.
As I had decided to stay for the night, I visited the check-in desk first. I was immediately struck by the 1930s Art-Deco styling, both internally and externally. The place looked grand. The redevelopment has captured the history with a lot of sincerity. I was also struck by the sheer size of the hotel and other facilities. For a General Aviation airfield, I was not expecting the services to be so large.
The Aviator hotel has 50 bedrooms in total, all of which are en-suite. I found them clean and neatly decorated in the same Art-Deco styling. Access to wireless broadband and auto weather reports by phone were available. The hotel is rated three stars and has achieved a Certificate of Excellence award from Tripadvisor.
After checking in, I headed over to the restaurant and bar to see what was on offer. I opted to have a lamb shank in rosemary sauce which was delicious and cost £13.95. The menu was reasonably priced and quite typical of a hotel restaurant.
However, the whole set up was atypical for a General Aviation aerodrome. I did wonder how all of this was supported by the membership. The barman told me that the surrounding business park provides a lot of business for the hotel, as does the corporate charter business. He also explained that the banqueting suite hall, “Hangar one” is very popular for weddings, conferences and trade shows such as AeroExpo. The hall has room for 500 people. “Hangar two” is a smaller suite with room for 200. After a couple of drinks in the bar, I was back in my room for an early start the next day.
The next morning was windy with 30kts blowing across the runway. The only aircraft movements were corporate helicopters and light twins. Being able to watch them from the clubhouse viewing terrace was a pleasant experience. The clubhouse, named “The Pilot’s Mess” has a cafe, although it was not open when I arrived. One of the features I liked was the speakers which broadcast the live ATC around the room and viewing terrace. One can easily imagine enthusiasts spending a lot of time on the terrace on busy summer days.
Brooklands Flying Club and Flylight are situated below the clubhouse. Brooklands have been at the aerodrome since the 1930s with flight training and engineering works. They operate a fleet of Aero AT3s, a Cessna 172 SP and a Dehavilland Tiger Moth for trial flights.
Unfortunately, they were closed on the day of my visit due to the weather.
I had a chat with Paul Dewhurst from Flylight and he showed me around his offices and the microlight hangar. Along with the SkyRanger Ninja and the school’s Eurostars, there were a number of flexwings tightly packed together and a couple of fixed wings in between. He also showed me around their engineering facilities which were at the back of the hangar. All in all it’s quite an impressive setup.
He told me how all of the private pilots benefit from the activity at the aerodrome. Apart from the hard runway, the aerodrome has three grass runways, a dedicated AFIS service, a fire service and both Avgas and Mogas on the pumps. A really neat feature is the ability to pay for your fuel by card at the pumps.
There is a small museum with some interesting exhibits such as a World War II link trainer and a Hawker Hunter which was acquired last year. There is also a Boeing 737NG fixed base Flight Simulator which is very popular with visitors and members.
Throughout the year there are many events, such as the Sywell Airshow and the AeroExpo trade show. It is suited for all of these as well as private pilots. I’m sure that in the summer it is a hive of activity with aviators and enthusiasts alike making it a great fly out destination.
Sywell has charm in abundance. The impressive facilities are married with a real sense of history. Although it boasts all of the modern amenities, it has the immersive feel of the glory days gone by. It is certainly a must visit for any pilot.
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