FLYING AT NICKEY NOOK

The flat lands of the Fylde and Amounderness stretch inland to the A6 (the M6 was only just being invented), and then there are some modest hills before you reach the Bowland Fells and the full Pennines. Jack Aked had many contacts through his garage customers, and socialising, and his agency for Land Rovers sold to many a farmer. Stanley Anderton invited Jack to look at Scorton Fell, which he farmed, and perhaps even owned. Nickey Nook is actually the valley south of the fell, which contains Grizedale (another one !) and its early drowned valley reservoir. The fell peaks at 705 feet above sea level, rising about 600 feet from the plain east of Scorton village. Radio masts and two more artificial reservoirs are visible just to the south.

You must have seen it, flown across it, and merely noted that it is not a very good landing area. It would not cross your mind that this was a potential site for a gliding club. But read Jack's reports to Sailplane & Gliding, very enthusiastic about his new hill-soaring site. Go to have a look. Park on the verge at 512489. Climb the hill, it's less than 300 feet at about 1 in 5, and explore the landing ground. Can you credit that 84 glider flights were made here, with only one keel cracked by a hidden boulder ?

The plateau is not level or smooth, and gives perhaps 600 yard runs for a winch cable. Heather, bracken and rough pasture, roamed by only a few sheep. Not many obstacles, just a few straggly trees and a small reedy tam. Good for a picnic, but no picnic for gliders. The 'hill soaring faces' comprise a short ridge facing north-west, about 300 feet at 1 in 3, and a better slope facing south, but shielded by another hill. West and south-west winds would not be deflected much. A strong wind from the north-west, or perhaps south, that was just on the limit for safe ground-handling, might just give some marginal hill soaring, but not to useful heights, or to give an easy circuit to land back on top. Landing grounds are sparse near the foot of the hill, so marginal hill-soaring would be rather chancy.

On Sunday 29th September 1957 an early finish at Squires Gate prompted a cryptic comment on the log sheet "off to the hills". The team had to do much spade work to drive a rough track up the fell, so that Mr. Anderton's tractor could tow the trailer and winch up to the top, there was not an existing track. The winch was purpose built in Aked's garage, Ford V8 engine, first used at Squires Gate on 6th and13th July 1958. Jack logged "I operated the manual pay-on gear. " Flying expeditions were pre-arranged, and weren't blessed with much wind, or in the best direction.

 

On the 10th August 1958, Jack Aked made the first four flights in the Eon Baby, and the launch times only spread across half an hour. Shirley Clapham noted visits to the site on 5th and 26th October 1958, "walked the hill site with Mr. Morton", a neighbouring farmer. On the 16th November "took Land Rover and knocked down walls". Then on the 30th November 1958 they took the Eon Baby again, and flew from "Morton Ridge". Launch to 500 feet, "green ball" but duration 4 minutes. Seven flights were made in an elapsed hour and a quarter, best launch 550 feet. They launched twice from the "Anderton Basin", getting 750 feet, and Jack noted "some green" again on one flight. The wind was between calm and 3 knots maximum, from the north...

 

Months went by, until on the 17th May 1959 Jack invited the press to visit, and took the T.21 to Nickey Nook, for the first and only time. The reporter's breathless prose hung in the clubroom at Chipping for many years, became very faded, and was rescued by me. I have transcribed it, and reproduce it here. At least he seemed to enjoy his brief ride, once his stomach and nerve revived. We have a good set of proof copies of the photographs (did we ever buy any copies ?) The wind was light, and from the east, so quite unhelpful. 24 launches were made, some members got two. Free rides went to the news reporter, Mr. Morton, and Richard Anderton (the son of the farmer) who flew twice, but his father declined. Four hours cleared the lot. Best launch 750 feet, and the next take-off logged four minutes later, with a different P2. Jack did all the flying. Ask Alec Lunn for his impressions, he flew on that occasion, and solo in the Eon Baby on other days. Ask John Gibson for the opinion given by Andy Gough (of the RAFGSA) on this site, by now it might be just printable. He was not in favour...

On the 7th June 1959 they went back with Eon Baby, and seven members were let loose, using the "Anderton Basin". Shirley Clapham noted the run as south-west, and logged 4 minutes from 750 feet, then 5 from merely 450. Jack logged "gain of height slight, but on one flight I went up from 600 to 1300feet ". Presumably in a thermal ? 21 launches were packed into 5 hours.

The next visit was on the 13th September 1959 when 16 flights were made in just over 3 hours, in8 - 10 knots from the east. Gordon Bleasdale had his first four goes. Shirley Clapham had 5 circuits at 3minutes each, from 750 - 850 feet, and was unfortunate to be the one to crack the keel on that hidden boulder on an "up slope heavy landing".

The last visit could have been very nasty, and it stopped all thoughts of persevering with this site. The log sheets are lost, but Gordon Bleasdale was there. They had wondered if a launch site at the foot of the hill would save the slog of hauling the trailer up the fell, so they were offered a field, called the "Sumner Site", and launched Gordon to land on top. Only the winch had to be hauled up for launching to proceed. This time there was a fair breeze fkom the north-west, and hopes were high, yet Gordon didn't get much help from the hill as he flew past, nor on subsequent flights. Significant hill soaring was not achieved. Worse still, the chosen launch run meant that the approach to land carried the glider back over the lee face of that south-facing slope. Bad, inadvertent wing drops were experienced by Gordon Bleasdale and Ivor Stretch, while on the base leg. This led to premature scrambled landings, although at least the wing that dropped turned them towards the fell top, and no harm was done. They diagnosed severe wind gradient, downwash and "clutching hand", so after a huddled and worried discussion it was unanimously decided that Gordon should fly back to the trailer, they should go home, and never return.

So ended the Nickey Nook trials and tribulations on l5th May 1960. 84 launches had been made,during six days of flying, spread over 21 months.

With hindsight you could say that it had been doomed from the start, and yet it was a brave attempt. Much later, Jack Aked tried to claim that he was looking for a glider airfield, not a hill soaring site, to escape from Squires Gate. But this won't wash, his reports to S & G Club News always described it enthusiastically as the "new hill soaring site". They are appended here, to give the authentic flavour.

It gives me no great comfort to claim that I condemned Nickey Nook from the outset. Gordon was a close colleague in Warton wind tunnel department, so I heard good reports. I had not yet accepted that Jack's outfit was worth encouragement, and Jack had not welcomed me. (I had a Silver C, and he hadn't, although as CFI he was told that he ought to........) After the Scud 3 group at Warton had faded in1957, 1 had to journey to the Long Mynd for an occasional fix. Lytham to Asterton took four hours in those days, two to escape from Lancashire down the A.49 through Wigan and Warrington. So I would have welcomed a local soaring site, and I immediately took a walk up Scorton Fell, glanced around, shuddered and walked away. Went to Beacon Fell and gazed around the horizon, I have the photos to show it, wife and babies in the foreground. Within ten years we had found Lower Cock Hill Farm.

Mind you, we would have been allowed aerotows from Scorton, once the noise of the M6 arrived ! As I said, take a walk and admire it for yourselves. Some non-flying day, ask me to lead a party, and we'll take Gordon, Alec, John and Shirley (who all flew there), preferably with a video camera.

SOURCES.

Club Daily Flying Logs.
Personal log books of Jack Aked and Shirley Clapham.
Sailplane & Gliding,
Club News reports.
Newspaper report.
Personal comments from Alec Lunn, Shirley Clapham, Gordon Bleasdale, John Gibson.