On a recent trip to Lincolnshire I found myself at Wickenby Airfield, home to Thruster Microlights and Fly365 flying school. The man I’m here to talk to is Malcolm Howland who heads up the flying school and also works for Thruster.
I first asked Malcolm about the history of Thruster and their aircraft. Apparently the original Thruster, the Gemini, was an Australian design, used, amongst other things, for herding sheep. The design was imported to the UK and approximately 10 Geminis were built here before the TST was introduced. Following the demise of Thruster Australia, Thruster UK continued, buying the tooling and jigs from the Australians and continuing production in Camelford, Cornwall.
Eventually the company was bought by Gordon Pill, had a name change to Tempest Aviation and moved to Wantage in Oxfordshire. The company brought in an engineer to update the wing aerofoil, improving the performance and creating the T300. Production went on of these tail-draggers until the early 1990’s. Gordon then developed a nose-wheel variant which became the T600.
Malcolm became involved with Thruster quite by chance. Following redundancy he trained to become a flying instructor and flew into Wickenby whilst on holiday. The owners of Wickenby invited him to set up a microlight flying school at the airfield which he did. The early days of the school – Fly356 – saw flight training on the Thruster and a flex-wing and one day he offered the airfield owner, Steve Turley, a flight in the Thruster. He loved the aircraft so much that he decided to learn to fly one and eventually bought his own Thruster. Quite by chance again Steve met Gordon Pill and upon hearing that Gordon was thinking of selling up decided to buy the company. After much effort the company was purchased, all of the CAA approvals and licenses were put in place and the manufacturing facility was moved to Wickenby in 2006.
Manufacturing of Thrusters recommenced following the move in 2008.
The company now offers new build T600 Sprints and, of course, full support for spares and repairs for existing Thruster aircraft. A customer can now walk through the doors at Wickenby, buy an aircraft, get training on the Thruster at Fly356 and pick up all the necessary spare parts for the aircraft. As the Thruster is built and flown on an LAA permit, owners can service and repair their own aircraft under the LAA inspection regime, again making the flying experience much more affordable.
Malcolm warns Thruster owners not to use unofficial spares for their aircraft. He claims that they have a ‘chamber of horrors’ featuring parts that owners have tried to save money on by getting a friend to manufacture for their Thruster. Not only is it extremely unsafe to use non-approved spares it may also not be much of a saving.
The Thruster has proved to be very popular with flying schools in the UK. Malcolm estimates that 70-80% of microlight schools use Thrusters. He puts this down to the aircraft’s almost agricultural build quality making them ‘almost student proof’.
Using the Jabiru, 2.2 litre, 4 stroke engine allows the aircraft to fly around using approximately 12 litres per hour providing very economical flying using unleaded mogas.
Malcolm says that the school is continuing to do well as they offer a complete training choice from flex-wing through to Thrusters and on to class A aircraft.
You can see more info on Thruster by visiting their web site.
Fly 365 can be found here.
Wickenby Airfield is well worth a visit even if you don’t want to fly. It’s an ex-WWII Lancaster Bomber base, approximately 10 miles NE of Lincoln and there’s an excellent little cafÃ©, viewing patio and a small museum in the original control tower.