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Westwood Works 1903-2003

The Company Aeroplane

Baker Perkins joined the ranks of the big corporations with the acquisition of its own aircraft G-ARBR, a twin-engined Piper Aztec "resplendent in the company livery with the logo on its tail". The aircraft was acquired in December 1960 and was piloted by Captain Patrick.

For the aviation buffs, the aircraft was a Piper PA-23 250 Aztec, an enlarged and more powerful development of the Apache - with 5 seats instead of the Apache's four. Powered by two Lycoming six cylinder 185kW (250hp) O-540 engines, Aztecs were first delivered from late 1959 and production ceased in 1982. The Baker Perkins aircraft - delivered in December 1960 - was a fairly early model - constructor's number 27-170 (the 170th of the more than 4,000 PA27s built). It had quite a long life, being scrapped in France in May 1987.

Captain Patrick served with Bomber Command in WW2, flying 97 missions with a Pathfinder squadron as a pilot on Lancasters and Mosquitoes. He was awarded a DFC and Bar.

John Hardy recalls the first flight pictured below:

"The flight to Stuttgart was the aircraft's maiden flight and Captain Patrick was accompanied by another pilot as neither was fully familar with the controls. On the outward leg, we landed at Stansted for customs clearance (Stansted being at the time little more than a tin shed), where we were informed that the weather on the leg to Germany was expected to be horrible. Indeed, on landing at Dusseldorf, we were told that we were the only aircraft to land there that day - hence the poem composed by Sheila Hardy's father, Noel Donald".

1960: G-ARBR As newly delivered (December) 1960: The First Flight (December) Poem Commemorating the First Flight We understand that G-ARBR was taken off the British Register in August 1966. It was then registered in France as F-BOES until being scrapped in May 1987 at Tarbes Laloubere
Baker Perkins Aircraft Mitchell's Dove and Aztec with G-ARBR on the field behind Westwood Works G-ARBR. Photo (c) National Transport Archives (NA3T) G-ARBR. Photo (c) Dave Gardiner 1960's - The Company Piper Aztec and Captain Patrick

In some of the photographs, the aircraft is shown with the "pregnant golfball" corporate log on the tail fin. This would have been added in 1962. It is understood that the Aztec was delivered from Kidlington in red livery with "Baker Perkins" along the fuselage but it has been confirmed that it was repainted in the new corporate "blue-green" livery introduced at the same time as the logo.

The aircraft flew from a field behind the Works - the remains of Westwood Airfield (See below and Outside Views). A contemporary account described the experience:

"The R/T became quiet as we left the crowded air thoroughfares of London and in half an hour familiar landmarks started to show in the moonlit snow beneath us a brickfield, the junction of two rivers, the gleam of the railway, and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree outside the Royal Oak.

"Our pilot called up our local control a high sounding phrase covering the spare pilot who sat in the cockpit of another company's executive plane in the hangar and gave information about the movement of livestock and other vital factors affecting our runway. 'Alpha Romeo Bravo Romeo to Control'. (No concessions to procedure even on the home lap). 'E.T.A. one nine zero five. Please illuminate the runway'. 'Control to Bravo Romeo, Roger'.

"A few minutes later we could see the eight oil flares that marked the smoothest way between the two fields of frozen sugarbeet. No, seven one seemed to have been blown out by the wind. 'Control to Bravo Romeo. Watch it, mate, when you come in our Land-Rover has broken down in the middle of the runway and we can't shift it. Keep to the north side and you should have room'.

"'Bravo Romeo. Roger'. Down below we could now make out the dark outline of the Land-Rover, side and tail lights on, and for good measure a red lantern on the bonnet. Our pilot brought us in crisply, and on the ground the Land-Rover looked less hazardous than from the air. At any rate we missed it. We taxied to the hangar, disembarked and pushed the Piper in, blowing frozen fingers while we heaved the heavy doors of the hangar closed"

(Extract from "Executive Flight" by David Ogilvie, published in the "Bedside Guardian 1962-63")

The other company's executive plane referred to in the above extract was a De Havilland Dove (G-AOYD), owned by Mitchell Engineering Limited. Another visitor to the field behind Westwood Works was a Piper Aztec belonging to Mitchell Construction.

John Hardy also made many landings at Westwood. It is not known whether John's account describes the procedure in place before or after David Ogilvie's experience (see above) but it is clear that despite his comment at the end, landings in the Aztec after dark were full of interest!

"The runway at the airfield behind Westwood Works was a grass runway. In the winter months, when the aircraft was arriving in the late afternoon/early evening in the dark, the BP Travel and Office manager, Mike Jubb (a former RAF pilot) would receive a radio message in his office from Captain Patrick that he would like to land in about a quarter of an hour.

Mike Jubb then got into his Morris Minor to drive the four minutes to the aircraft hangar, get out a dozen or so paraffin flares and position them either side of the runway. If there was low cloud or mist or fog (as there used to be in those days, Mike would then get in his car, wait until he heard the aircraft circling overhead, then fire a green Very Light into the air at the beginning of the runway, get in his car and chase down to the other end of the runway where he let off a red Very light to show the end. In this way the pilot could line up the two lights and know where exactly to touch down.

We never had an accident!

RAF Westwood had been a Flying Training School during WW2, having opened in August 1932. The FTS moved out in April 1946 and a Maintenance Unit took over for only two years before the airfield was put on a care-and-maintenance basis. The airfield had remained grassed throughout its life and was therefore considered unsuitable for post-war flying. However, for about two years, British European Airways used the field as a helicopter base for a regular mail service. In the early 1960s, whilst Baker Perkins and Mitchells were using the area to house their three aircraft, Peterborough Council were planning the development of what were to become the North Bretton, Ravensthorpe and Westwood housing estates. With the impending closure of the airfield, George Clifton, head of Peterborough and Spalding Aviation Ltd, a company formed by Baker Perkins Ltd, Mitchell Engineering and Mitchell Construction Co Ltd to manage the operation of the three aircraft, made attempts to save it for civilian use. Unfortunately, this was in vain and the airfield closed during February 1964. The Baker Perkins Aztec was moved to another disused airfield - Woolfox Lodge, by the A1 just north of Stamford, opposite the Ram Jam Inn.

(NOTE: A record of the development of Westwood Airfield over the years can be found in the background to the aerial views of the Baker Perkins factory in Outside Views)

Woolfox Lodge, a wartime bomber station, was used in later years as a relief landing ground by training aircraft, but the runways had deteriorated to such a degree by the spring of 1954 that the airfield had to be closed to flying. In 1960 a Bloodhound missile site under No. 62 Squadron was positioned in a secure area adjacent to the A1 road near the former technical site. (Later the site of a large Eddie Stobart transport depot).

This new home proved inconvenient and, following a significant fall in profits, the directors decided that it could not justify to the workers a reduction in the company profit sharing scheme payout when the annual cost of running the plane for the executives had risen to a total of £19,000 - considered at the time to be a staggering sum - for the pilot's salary, fuel, maintenance, insurance, landing fees, rental of the hangar etc. and the aircraft was disposed of. We understand that G-ARBR was taken off the British Register in August 1966. It was then registered in France as F-BOES until being scrapped in May 1987 at Tarbes Laloubere

It is not known if the two Mitchells aircraft were also relocated to Woolfox Lodge but they were flying out of Connington airfield in 1966/67, being used by some Baker Perkins personnel during the major re-organisation project carried out for United Biscuits. (See also History of Baker Perkins in the Biscuit Business).

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