The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 2 Spring 1999
Sywell's Characters - The Linnell Brothers
This series will provide portraits of those individuals who have played key roles in Sywell Aerodrome's development and activites
at various stages of its history
by Chris Parker
Two brothers who were instrumental in establishing Sywell as an aerodrome from the very earliest days were A J (Jack) and H G B (Geoff) Linnell from Wilby. They were the first to land on the fields which became Sywell Aerodrome in their Moth in June 1927.
Geoff had first learned to fly with the Royal Naval Air Service (Naval 16, later RAF 216 Squadron) during the First World War. He progressed to operational flying in Handley Page 0/100 twin-engined bombers, and had the misfortune to be forced down in one and taken prisoner following engine failure during a raid into German occupied France. Jack's war was conducted at ground level, and he experienced the horrors of trench warfare until being seriously wounded during the battle of the Somme in July 1916.
Geoff started flying again at the de Havilland School of Flying at Stag Lane in 1925. Soon afterwards he and Jack became two of the earliest private owners in England, buying their Cirrus Moth G-EBSA from de Havillands in 1927. Prior to purchasing the machine, Jack recollected many fast trips in his 1923 Alvis sports/racer down to Stag Lane to hire de Havilland machines under a subsidised scheme offering cheaper flying for ex-service pilots. At the time of buying 'SA, not many aerodromes existed for civilian use, and the aircraft was originally operated from a field near Lavendon on the Northants/Beds/Bucks border. Jack and Geoff managed to stimulate some interest in creating an airfield in the Northampton area, and a number of schemes were raised including one using land close by what is now the Manfield Hospital. These early ideas didn't materialise, but it was not long before the Linnell brothers, whilst looking for suitable sites from the air, put down on a field just to the north of Sywell village which was part of the land farmed by Harold Brown. Events then moved quickly, Harold Brown being amenable to the use of the land for flying. A small group of enthusiasts led and inspired by Jack and Geoff literally carved an aerodrome out of adjacent fields, had it operational within months, and went on to set up the Northamptonshire Aero Club. The site of this original Sywell aerodrome is within the boundary of the existing field and was situated close to the bend in the Holcot lane on the western edge. Jack continued with his flying training on the Club's new Gipsy Moths, and obtained his A' licence in 1929.
Things progressed rapidly from 1928 onwards, and reading any of the aviation periodicals of the late 20s and early 30s reveals that Sywell had rapidly become a major centre for private aviation. Rarely a week passed without some Sywell event or personality making the headlines.
A Sywell tradition led by the Linnells was the series of Air Pageants started in 1928. As well as exciting aircraft displays, these Pageants also featured a main 'novelty item', usually a self- propelled one constructed by Jack and Geoff on the chassis of an old Model T Ford.
The organisation and the physical size of Sywell changed rapidly during the 1930s, moving from the original fields cleared by enthusiasts, to a large aerodrome housing many private owners, a large commercial flying school, and an RAF training contingent. Always present and very active in keeping the Sywell flying and social spirit alive were Jack and Geoff. Between them they owned and operated a variety of aircraft. Starting with a new Gipsy Moth G-AAFK in 1929 and going on to include other Gipsy Moths, a Parnell Pixie, a Moth Major and a Hornet Moth. They made many trips abroad and in June of 1937 Jack took part in the adventurous 'Hungarian Pilots' Picnic' flying from Sywell out to Budapest and back in Moth Major G-ADAT and completing some 25 hours flying in ten days.
The Second World War, of course, stopped all private flying in the UK, but as soon as a resumption became possible at Sywell in 1947 the indefatigable Linnells were again the leading lights. As in the pre-war days, Geoff and Jack enthusiastically operated a number of aircraft, starting with an Auster Autocrat G-AGXG, and going on to Miles Messengers G-AIDK and G-AIEK, twin-engined Miles Gemini G-AKER and Comper Swift G-ABUS. 'EK still exists in airworthy condition flying in camouflage as 'Monty's Messenger' RG333, and the Swift is currently under restoration.
The 21st birthday of the NorthantsAero Club was celebrated in fine style by a traditional Sywell Pageant in May 1949. Prominent on the organising committee were Jack and Geoff. The show featured another of the inspired Linnell creations, this time the 'Sywellicopter' - a magnificent rotary winged device manned by a large team of Groucho Marx lookalikes which cavorted about the airfield, of course failing to become airborne, but in the process turning itself into a fine pyrotechnic display. The social side of the Aero Club also got going under the Linnell's leadership and again featured the Tramps Balls and Fancy Dress parties that had been such a popular pre-war feature. Together with several other keen Sywell based private owners the Linnells and their aeroplanes were regular visitors to air rallies both at home and in Continental Europe - Knokke-le-Zoute in Belgium, and Deauville in France being particularly popular venues.
Geoff retired from flying in the late 50s whilst Jack was ever-present amongst all his Sywell friends until the late 60s, flying his lovely aeroplanes for as long as he was able. His great kindness to, and interest in young people is fully remembered by many of us. He was never too preoccupied to patiently discuss flying, or to take many enthusiasts flying in the Messenger and Gemini. Jack was also connected with the commercial side of Sywell, being a director of Sywell Aerodrome Ltd right up to his death In 1983, and having in fact been so associated since the early 1930s.
It is gratifying to realise that in his final years Jack, ever cheerful in spite of physical infirmity and supported by his dedicated wife Betty, was able to share once again in the flying activities at Sywell through his association with the newly formed Sywell Aero Club as its first President.