Complaints about activity around Scampton - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Complaints about activity around Scampton

Complaints about the Red Arrows from any source were few and far between and mostly from outside Lincolnshire. Most of the inhabitants in the Scampton area had lived locally for many years and, by and large, they were delighted to have the Red Arrows nearby. I received many letters to say just that. Every now and again though, someone from the Scampton local area did lodge a complaint and most of those concerned one or other of the Synchro Pair flying overhead the Cliff villages or over nearby Welton and Hackthorn.

The main runway at Scampton runs roughly north east/south west and there is a slight downhill gradient at the north-eastern end. Just off that end, beyond the long bend in the A15, is the tiny village of Hackthorn and just off the other end of the runway are the delightful North and South Carlton villages. There was no way the Red Arrows could avoid flying over those villages in the course of a normal training sortie because the display line runs along the line of the runway and extends several miles beyond each end. It must have been extremely noisy for those villagers in the Vulcans days, up to the end of 1981. On full power for take-off, or for a missed approach, the Vulcan engines made a very distinctive noise that seemed to rip through the air and could be heard for miles around. There was then a period of just over a year when Scampton base was on care and maintenance and the airfield itself was closed. The Red Arrows arrived in 1983, the Central Flying School shortly afterwards, and from then on the number of sorties flown from Scampton increased enormously but the aircraft were smaller and less noisy that the Vulcans.

Long as it is, the Scampton runway was not long enough one morning for a Jet Provost training aircraft. Somehow the pilot managed to let his aircraft run gently but ignominiously down the slope and off the north-eastern end. It finished up in the front garden of a house. The pilot and his student were not injured and were quickly collected by the crash crews who were able to approach the scene from the airfield side via one of the crash gates. I was despatched by the Station Commander to go round via the main road, apologise to the occupants and ascertain whether there was any damage to their property that might lead to a claim for compensation.

From the village side it took me some time to identify exactly which garden had gained a Jet Provost. I parked on a side road, found the correct house and knocked on the front door. There was no reply but I could hear noises from within so I went through the garden gate and round to the back, half expecting to see the occupants examining the aircraft. A man came out of the rear patio doors just as I was contemplating the Jet Provost, which was resting drunkenly amongst the flower beds at the far end of the long garden. The man was dressed in a velvet smoking jacket. He looked quite flustered and was nervously smoothing his hair down. All he needed was a cigarette in a long holder and he could have passed for Noël Coward.

"Good morning, sir," I said. "I’m Tony Cunnane, the public relations officer at the airfield. I've come to apologise for the Jet Provost that has finished up in your garden." He looked to where I was pointing and was shocked. Even though there must have been considerable noise from the fire engines and ambulance immediately after the crash, the man was obviously unaware until that moment of the aircraft in his garden, or that anything untoward had occurred.

The Tucano, which gradually replaced the venerable Jet Provosts from 1989, was a turbo-propeller aircraft and although it was not exceptionally noisy in terms of decibels it did make a particularly irritating noise which could clearly be heard even when the aircraft was flying several thousand feet above the ground. Tucanos started generating noise complaints almost from the day they arrived, which was about the same time as I arrived at Scampton. The MoD were aware of the problem and I was able to assure people that something was being done to reduce the nuisance. That 'something' was still being done when CFS moved out in 1995 and Scampton closed down.

I had scant sympathy for noise complainants who had recently moved into the Scampton area and only then discovered they were living in the vicinity of a busy airfield. When I am searching for a new place to live I don't rush straight into a purchase just because I've found a house that meets all my needs and desires. I check on Ordnance Survey maps to see if there are any nearby military or civilian aerodromes; I visit the area in the morning and evening rush hours to see if there are any regular traffic snarl-ups. If there is a nearby pub or club, I check at closing times to see if there is any noisy activity. Only when I'm satisfied on all those counts do I start thinking about committing myself to the purchase.

It is a case of caveat emptor. If you move into a house close to a busy airfield you should expect noise. One day I watched a news item on Yorkshire Television which showed a small group of people who had been queuing outside the main gate at Scampton for up to 14 days to buy surplus RAF married quarters on the station. Some of the houses are so close to the taxiways that you could reach out and almost touch the aircraft from the bottom of the garden as they taxi past. I hoped those people had done their homework properly - this was before it was known that the whole of RAF Scampton was to close down. On the other hand, of course, they might have been really keen fans of the Red Arrows.

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