Pilot remembers golden days

John Kenning in the cockpit of nhis FlyBe plane
John Kenning in the cockpit of nhis FlyBe plane

A commute by car into work sends an airline pilot’s heart soaring as landmarks he passes at Doncaster Sheffield Airport are imbued with memories of when he was an air cadet there at the former Finningley Airfield.

Finningley Airfield closed in 1996, only to be reopened as Doncaster Sheffield Airport 10 years later in 2006. John Kenning, now 40, and a pilot since December 2017 with FlyBe at the airport, remembers when he flew Chipmunks there from the age of 13 during the 1990s.

He said familiar landmarks during his daily drive into work cast his mind back to his halcyon days when he climbed into the cockpit of the two-seat Chipmunks.

He added: “Some people think I’m a little crazy to view the current airport with such nostalgia. But I spent a lot of time at Finningley and I remember it as it was.

“Both me and my twin brother, Andrew, now a part of the logistics team at RAF Marham in Norfolk, had some great times there.”

John, a former doctor of pathology and microbiologist for the NHS, working for Leeds Teaching Hospitals, gained his commercial pilot’s licence on June 29, 2013.

The father-of-four from Hambleton near Selby, is married to Faye, who works in A&E at Scunthorpe Hospital.

Despite having four children, Jack, seven, Molly, five, James, three and Timothy, eight months, and a busy job, he had a stint as a flying instructor out of Sandtoft Airport in North Lincolnshire.

On March 3, 2016, he became a full time pilot at Manchester Airport for FlyBe before landing his dream job in Doncaster.

But it’s his days at Finningley he remembers most fondly: “I was so keen on aircraft that I helped out with lots of odd jobs at Finningley. I joined the cadets at 12, but only got a chance to fly at age 13.

“I spent about four years in total there, but then I left to do A-levels and my life went in a different direction but I never lost my love of flying and aircraft.”

He added: “I remember looking out over the empty airfield and memories of what it was like came flooding back.”

He later flew a Grumman GA7 aircraft after obtaining his commercial pilot’s licence, before graduating to his current passenger aircraft. He said: “We had a member of staff who was based at RAF Finningley, we spent lots of time there – camping in the back garden of the officers’ married quarters.

“We spent lots of time around the base, doing ATC activities such as competitions and generally helping out where we could.

“We were all very enthusiastic. I remember helping to move the squadron leader’s office from the old navigation school to the brand new building (now Whittle House). It was an interesting evening which involved a walk through the base to the old school, down long dark corridors filled with pictures of courses past.

“There were lots of spooky stories about the old building and I think we were all on edge that evening. My first flight at Finningley was in a Chipmunk aircraft and the same aircraft is still flying but is in private hands.”