1966 - The Lapwing Airshow
The Air Gregory group continued to expand during 1966, acquiring two more Piper Cherokee 180s, G-ASHX and G-ATJE for the Gregory School of Flying at Denham. During the summer, Gregory entered into negotiations with a number of holiday firms including Thomas Cook with a view to becoming a contractor to these companies to provide inclusive tour charter flights for the following summer season. His plan was to operate leased de Havilland dH106 Comets jet airliners from Manchester and Liverpool, alongside Vickers Viscount turboprops from Bristol and Cardiff. Although this plan came to nothing in the end, it showed how far ahead of his time Ken Gregory was, regional airport charter holiday services are far more common today than they were in 1966.
Despite the failure of the holiday charter plan, Gregory Air Services did enter the jet age in 1966. On 3 January they had purchased a Hawker Siddeley HS.125 Series 1 business jet, G-ASNU. Because of the lack of a hard runway at Denham, this was operated from Luton, a joint venture with Air Hanson who had support facilities there. Marketed under the name of Air Gregory this was a great success, it flew around 60 hours a month and was only late for one charter in the first 18 of those, the reliability and demand for the aircraft leading to the purchase of two more in 1968 which Air Gregory operated alone. However, this first aircraft was to be involved in an extraordinary incident in 1967, of which more later.
There were a number of events at Denham during 1966, two of which were partly organised by a group who had formed at the airfield only the previous year. The Lapwing Flying Group was a Civil Service club affiliated to the Civil Service Aviation Association. The three original trustees of the group were George Donaldson, Frank Quick and David Roberts, George Donaldson becoming the first chairman of the group. They purchased a Beagle Terrier, G-ASAD, to offer cheap flying and training to their members, a concept that proved so popular that the group boasted 50 members by the end of the first year. In June, the group were part of a party held at the airfield for all of the resident aircraft owners and their friends and families. This was a very successful gathering and allowed all of the various clubs and associations at the airfield to socialise and get to know each other.
The second event Lapwing were involved in organising came about because George Donaldson was not only the chairman of the group, he was also the President of the Farnham Common and Beaconsfield Branch of the Royal Air Forces Association. His aim was to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund, so pooled the resources of the two organisations to put on an air show at Denham on 24 September. Air Chief Marshal Sir John Baker opened the event which included two jet teams and a Shackleton from the RAF in the display. The programme is reproduced in full below and makes for interesting reading, especially as the Jet Provost team is mis-identified in it as the Red Pelicans from the Central Flying School. The show was a great success and considering this was a club only just over a year old, quite an achievement!
The success of the air display was not lost on a number of organisations who were to hold similar events at Denham for the next two decades. In fact, there was to be another the following year, as will be related next.