The Mercury Flying Club

by Ken Honey
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My thanks to Ken Honey and all those who sent in their recollections of the club

If you recall the club too, please drop me a line anytime

Ken is often associated with the Mercury Flying Club, and he has kindly detailed some of the Club history. Comments from MFC members follow after Ken's club history.

In 1962 I was flying for Silver City Airways at Lydd when it was taken over by British United Airways, and on 1st January 1963 the name changed to British Air Ferries. In late 1968, I was posted to BUA at Gatwick for training on to the BAC 1-11.

On the 1-11 Fleet I met Line Training Captain Freddie Underhill who told me about his BUA Flying Group that became the Wingspan Flying Club, and their Jodel aircraft. I was invited to join the group and carry out introductions and continuation training for Private Pilot’s Licence holders on the Jodel. A short time later, Fred said he would like me to take on the group but would leave his Jodel with us. This enthusiastic group also had members who wanted to obtain a PPL but in my view the Jodel was a most unsuitable trainer.
We then made an agreement with a Shoreham Flying Club to use their training facilities and Cessna 150 aircraft for PPL instructing.

This worked very well, and I encouraged Eric Rowley and Dennis McQuoid BUA, BAC 1-11 Pilots to obtain instructor's ratings. Several BUA Pilots joined us as flying instructors and all gave their time without payment. At some point the committee decided to use the new name “Mercury Flying Club.”
There were many dedicated helpers who were never named working very hard to establish the club and set the high standards that were maintained. Two names quickly come to mind, Bob Manning and Mike Edwards who had established an excellent Monthly Newsletter. Also, Mike Edward’s parents took all flying bookings, aircraft, Instructors and kept the programme up to date. Mike and Bob obtained their PPLs and became the first pilots trained by the newly named Mercury Flying Club.
On one occasion Mike Edwards was flying the Jodel on a cross country with Jim Patrick as a passenger when the propeller broke away, and according to the farmer who was watching, said the aircraft conducted a perfect forced landing into his field.

It was clear that we needed more suitable aircraft on which to learn to fly! We wanted to buy a Cessna 150, an aircraft with a standard instrument panel. Coupled with a small simulator, installed at the back of the club, this would be a great step in teaching students to gain their instrument rating.
My first step was to see if Sir Adam Thomson, the Chairman of BCAL, would be prepared to make the purchase.

I knew that this was a longshot but, after two visits to his office, Sir Adam agreed to guarantee me to the bank, for the purchase. The Cessna dealer in Leeds had aircraft in stock but as we needed extra equipment we had to wait or this to be fitted.

Jim Patrick from crewing was a very hard-working student that I often flew with, so Jim and I went to Leeds on 25th August 1972 and flew G-AZLK to Shoreham. A few years ago, it was a great pleasure to receive a telephone call from Captain Jim Patrick who was then flying jet aircraft for an airline.
The Press Office arranged a photo shoot, for Sir Adam so I flew LK up to Gatwick.
Membership and, flying hours increased, so we entered into an agreement with a Shoreham based company to use their fine new clubhouse. Over the course of a few years, changes continued at the airfield and the Club building was taken over by Spooner Helicopters who used the top floor Offices. Mercury formed a limited company and took over the lower large lounge including bar and catering facilities.

The proposed rent for this needed some long and deep discussions that paid off, and ended up rent free providing we provided reception coverage with a desk inside the main door. This meant hiring reception, bar, and catering staff. My wife Beryl was able to organise this. Up until this time Shoreham Airport restricted Mercury membership to Gatwick based Airline personnel.

In 1978 the agreement between Shoreham Airport and Mercury was revised and we were now allowed to recruit flying members from the general Public. Stuart, one of our sons was able to join and was taught to fly by our manager, Malcolm Jordan.
We recruited a permanent staff including a manager, and instructors who all worked very hard for us before most became airline pilots.

As we were a non-profit club, our aim was to keep the hourly rate for aircraft hire low, and this was possible because airline pilots would still instruct without payment. At one time the rate Shoreham based clubs was around £11 an hour when Mercury was charging £7. Our accountant, who was from the airline, worked hard to keep us solvent at these low rates. Also, a very professional Sales Manager, who had retired from a large Brewery, kept up a flow of members. This combination of people and activities seemed to work quite well, thanks to my wife, including her weekly visits to the Bookers Wholesalers store for drinks and food supplies. As my day job meant that I was away from the Club for quite lengthy periods, there was always lots of ideas to look at on return.

Over the years a good number of people went on to successful careers in the airlines after learning to fly with Mercury at

Barbara Harmer also learnt to fly with us and went on to be a First Officer with BCAL on the DC10. When British Airways took over BCAL Barbara became the first Female First Officer on Concorde. The Club kept growing, and we made an agreement with some private owners to lease their aircraft on an hourly basis. We were soon operating a fleet of aircraft and thankful to have recruited some very dedicated Mercury Managers who in my more frequent absences did a very good job.  They were very keen and progressed quickly to join Airlines.

On a BAC 1-11 trip my First Officer was an ex-Mercury Manager and in 1984 on the Airbus A310 another Mercury Manager. In 1986 more changes for Mercury. The Airbus A310 was sold and due to my age, I was offered early retirement. Beryl and I discussed this from all angles, and I decided to accept. There was just one more flight to make, First Officer Tony Johnston and I delivered Airbus G-BKWU from Gatwick to a new owner in Dubai on 27th May 1986.

One of the private owners, whose aircraft we used had often, expressed his interest in owning a Flying Club, and so he purchased Mercury. Following our non-profit policy, Shoreham Airport allowed the fuel bill and other airport charges to build up for payment at the end of the Summer. Our new owner covered all outstanding bills, then after eight months of temporary contract work on A310 Manuals for Cyprus Airways in Larnaca, Beryl and I retired to the West Country, that I had left forty-two years earlier. 

A member, Mike Selmes, drew a fine Mercury emblem that was used on all our paperwork.
Recollections from club members and those with a club connection.

From John Meighan
I did some hours with my instructor Mike Edwards from Flight Watch in a Cessna 150 G-AZLK.

From Ian Bagshaw
Yes, I remember the Mercury Flying Group.  They had a Cessna 150 G-AZLK.  I was checked out to fly the aircraft by, I believe, Capt. Ken Honey, at Shoreham Airport, on 4th July 1973.  I then flew the aircraft on several occasions during the months of July and August and on 13th August I flew Capt. Eric Rowley to Le Touquet, France, for lunch and back to Shoreham.  Eric, not being the pilot-in-command or the instructor, enjoyed his glass of wine with his lunch! After that, I returned to Lagos where I was based at the time.

I have some documents produced by Ken Honey which made reference to the Wingspan Flying Club.  I also have a copy of the Cessna 150 pilots' notes produced by him in January 1970. I purchased my own Cessna 150 in New Zealand in 2011 and the notes were still applicable.

I also believe that the first aircraft the Mercury Group used was a Jodel.  I remember it being parked in Hangar 3 and I worked on the port wing spar on my days off, which had been damaged in a previous accident.  This Jodel had a further accident, I believe, at Goodwood (no injuries but the aircraft was written off). Persons I know who had been involved in the Mercury Flying Group were: Capt. Ken Honey, Capt. Eric Rowley, Flt Engineer Brian Seares and if my memory serves me right, a Phil Cornford.

From Christina & Mike Selmes
Just read latest news letter and Mike remembers Mercury Flying Club at Shoreham, Captain Ken Honey, and flew with Mike Curtiss (who was a BCAL Pilot) on G-AZLK a few times.
He also designed the club logo for them using the letter M as a basis for flapping wings on a Cessna 150, payment for this was a free T-Shirt bearing the logo.

From Colin Varty
I remember the Mercury Flying Club at Shoreham very well. A great camaraderie with BUA/BCAL pilots instructing for free due to their love of flying. Highest level of teaching to airline standards and we used to have social get togethers too. Below photos of C150 and C172 aircraft I flew regularly. A second C172 was G-AWGD.
Recollections from club members and those with a club connection (continued).

From Phil Cornford
I have very fond memories of the club and it is where I learnt to fly way back in 1971 under the wonderful, first rate instruction from the great characters that were Captains Ken Honey, Denis Mcquoid and Eric Rowley. During 1971 and up to July 1972 we flew Cessna 150 aircraft belonging to the Southern Aero club and then with the help of Ken Honey as loan guarantor a brand new Cessna 150 was purchased, a shiny yellow and white colour scheme registered G-AZLK. I spent many hours flying this aircraft gaining my IMC and night ratings. Then flying it around the UK and a couple of trips across the Channel. These flying hours were necessary so I could then take the training and qualify as an instructor. I'm not sure when the club disbanded but my last log book entry for G-AZLK was on the 23rd February 1980. We had some great times down at Shoreham with social gatherings in the airport bar etc. The instructors gave their time both flying and in the classroom for free.

From Bob Millichap
I certainly remember Mercury Flying Club which was owned and very professionally operated by Capt Ken Honey who flew One-Elevens and latterly until his retirement, A310s. I was an instructor there for about three years working part time at weekends while I was in the Press Office. I spent many happy days at Mercury building up my hours and studying in my spare time to gain an Air Transport Pilot’s Licence. I qualified just as BA took over B.CAL and from there managed to switch to a professional flying career. My own instructor in my early days at Mercury was cargo sales rep Brian Dawson who was also a ‘self-improver’ as we guys were known and who went on to command BA B777s. In fact many, many Mercury part-time instructors went on to professional airline flying careers. I believe Ken Honey is now enjoying retirement somewhere in Devon and he would surely have some very interesting tales to tell about his superb Mercury enterprise.

British Caledonian - A Tribute