The Origins of the Leatherhead Model Flying Club by Stuart Tucker, former President
Leatherhead and District Model Flying Club (as it was originally named) was formed in July 1957 by three members of the Epsom Club who wanted a separate organisation in the Leatherhead/Dorking area.
These three – Ian McConnell, Mick Dias and Colin Burbridge took the roles of Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer respectively and within a short time there were about twenty members enrolled.
The flying activities at that time were control line and free flight but there was no official Leatherhead flying ground. Epsom Downs was used for free flight. Control line flyers flew wherever there was a suitable piece of ground. Advantage was taken, however, of local fetes where volunteers were invited to put on a display!
On 4th July 1959 Mole Valley Council clamped down and totally forbade our club’s control line display on the basis that it was ‘far too dangerous’! This, in spite of our assurances of safety rules and Third Party Insurance!
As a result of this in 1960 we visited the Council offices, spoke to the Chief Council officer and were offered the use of part of the ground at Fetcham Grove. An Agreement was drawn up based on the wording used by the Eastbourne Model Flying Club and in 1961 we started to have regular Sunday afternoon flying sessions. These continued for the next few years. During this time we made our own take-off base with a ski jump bow. Thus was born the first ski-jump for carrier borne aircraft which was later a feature of such Royal Navy carriers as ‘Ark Royal’ and ‘Invincible’ although we never got the credit for this invention!
In October 1963 we took part in the district’s first model engineering exhibition at the Dorking Halls where we had an area on the stage from which we flew electric powered ’round the pole’ models made from Kiel Kraft Kits. By modern standards this type of model flying was very basic but it drew the crowds for this three-day event and was considered to be one of the best exhibitions ever held at Dorking Halls. So much so, that the organiser, Syd White, was asked to have a repeat show in 1964. Further shows followed in 1965, 1966 and 1969.
As well as our Sunday afternoon control line flying we held fortnightly meetings on Friday evenings, firstly at Oddfellows Hall, Leatherhead and later at the Scout Hut in Queen Anne’s Terrace, Leatherhead. We would have talks, exhibitions and ’round the pole’ tethered flying. I recall that it was whilst we were in the process of setting up the circuit that one of our members, Arthur Ambrose, arrived and told us that President Kennedy had been assassinated! This was 22nd November 1963.
At this time John Kendall from Chessington was the only member who flew radio controlled models. As the years went on radio control flying became more popular. Control line flying ceased about 1977 and our final show was when we invited the Three Kings Club from Croydon to fly on our ground.
Radio control flying got going in a small way but the only suitable ground was on Effingham Common. Some delicate negotiations had to be carried out with Effingham Parish Council regarding sound meter tests to satisfy everyone that model aircraft could be flown in the district with a minimum of disturbance.
In 1981 we negotiated with Mole Valley District Council for a piece of land in the Leatherhead area suitable for radio control operations. It was thus that we came to obtain a licence on the ground that we presently use. Also in 1981 we paid £10 for a wooden shed which had been the property of Ronsons who had recently vacated the district. This shed served us well for about thirty years even surviving a move from one side of the field to the other near Rye Brook.
We were fortunate in gaining the membership of people such as Chris Foote and Tony Handley who were proficient model flyers. They were our first instructors who taught beginners to fly.
There were strict rules about overflying neighbouring field as we were hemmed in on all sides by the council refuse depot, the Cobham Pony /club and the football club. It has been important to learn how to fly within a strictly controlled area.
On 4th July 1987 the club held an ‘Open Day’ and members of the public were invited to see what model flying was all about. It was a very successful day blessed with perfect weather.
Attention to the mowing of the two runways has been mainly in the hands of Frank Bone who has given so much time and effort to keeping the runways in perfect trim. There have been occasions when the river has overflowed and the resultant flood in adjacent fields has put flying out of action until the waters subsided other than for those with planes fitted with floats!
As the years have progressed so has the standard of model flying. We have never been a club that had a very great interest in official competitions though those members who have flown at the Nationals have obtained prizes in the various classes.
We owe a great deal to the dedication of some enthusiastic members such as Val Knapp, Martin Desvaux, Chris Foote and Ted Dalley to name but a few. Some members took up flying full size aircraft as a career such as Peter Bugge and just recently Lee O’Brian.
Others, such as John Tanner, flew Spitfires during wartime and Stephen Moss who joined the club in 1967 and was always keen on aircraft construction eventually became an inspector in the Air Accident Investigation Board which carried out investigations into crashes such as the Lockerbie disaster. In 1996 Stephen gave a talk to members on his work in the Air Accident Investigation Board. One very memorable evening was given over to a talk by the Concorde Pilot, Brian Walpole who used to live in a large house at the top of Hawks Hill.
Leatherhead is not the oldest club in the country and certainly not the youngest but it has survived all manner of ups and downs and providing that the enthusiasm keeps going there is no reason why it should not continue or many years to come.