St. Mary’s Airfield

The first reference to flying at St. Mary’s appears to be 1917: the 34th Squadron of the Royal Navy Air Service were based at Porthmellon, including “seaplanes and flying-boats”.

The first commercial service was offered in 1937: twin-engined De Havilland Dragon biplanes which used a local golf course as their landing strip. They offered a service between St. Mary’s and St. Just-in-Penwith on the Cornish coast.

In 1939, High Cross Farm was converted to an airfield and has been known ever since as St. Mary’s Airport. Surprisingly, it is the 10th busiest regional airport in the UK! The islands have a healthy tourism industry and are a major exporter of flowers but it’s amazing to me that such a little airport could handle all that traffic. St. Mary’s is strictly PPR and has a transit corridor (SFC-2000 ft) between Land’s End (Penn an Wlas) and the islands.

I planned to use runway 15/33: the primary runway which was originally given a partial hard surface during World War II. Now it is 600 metres of asphalt, which isn’t much but it’s still better than runway 09/27 at 523 metres with only 273 of them asphalt.

There’s no flying at St. Mary’s on a Sunday – no one goes in or out. Visiting pilots are warned that a sudden and unforecast deterioration of the weather is not uncommon and, whilst PPRing, I was told to be prepared to turn back due to unexpected poor visibility.

None of this put me off. Not even the note in Pooleys:

Warnings: Pilots should exercise extreme caution when landing or taking-off as the aerodrome is severely hump-backed. The gradients increase to as much as 1 in 13 at runway ends.

I’m not very good at visualisation, so the one in thirteen gradient bit didn’t particularly bother me. If I’d realised that it matched the steepest slope in the Bernina Railway in Switzerland, I might have paid a bit more attention.

Category: Miscellaneous,

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