Rob Wildeboer - 30 years at Goodwood Aerodrome

25th August 2016

On the 4th of August 1986, a 16-year-old named Rob Wildeboer began his career in aviation at the Goodwood Aerodrome. Thirty years later Rob is still in the job and, most importantly, still passionate about what he does.

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Rob started at Goodwood straight from school as an apprentice aircraft engineer, cycling five miles to and from his Fishbourne home each day as he was too young to drive. His love of aviation had been a constant through his childhood, as he explains. “I have been interested in aeroplanes since I was a kid – I was always building Airfix models, building radio controlled models, going to airshows,” he says. “My parents supported me with it and though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, when this opening came up I jumped at it. I guess I haven’t really looked back from there!”

It is safe to say that from the very start, Rob enjoyed his work. “For the first two years I didn’t take any leave because I didn’t want to miss anything and I was enjoying it too much – they had to force me to take holiday!” he laughs. His dedication was quickly rewarded with career progression and opportunities to get behind the controls. In 1990 he learned to fly and then he self-studied to become a licensed aircraft engineer. Test flying aeroplanes gave him the chance to pilot a lot of different machines and he would regularly take to the sky when a new part had been fitted. 

“I think flying makes you a better engineer and being an engineer makes you a better pilot,”

Rob Wildeboer

He enjoyed a short stint as a chief inspector before becoming the chief engineer. He took on the general manager job for six years, did his flying instructor rating and then his aerobatic rating to be more involved with the resident Harvard. Bringing that aircraft to a point where it could be offered for flight experiences for customers was a project that Rob oversaw.

But the Harvard project is just one of many projects Rob has been at the forefront of and in his 30 years it is fair to say that he has witnessed a great deal of change. He explains; “When I first started here we had a few of the buildings and it was quite busy but in a sleepy way! We looked after about 40 aircraft and we’re now up to around 90. Lord March put so much investment into the site, especially to get it fit to host the first Revival in 1998. Just as an example, there were 75,000 trees and bushes planted and big spectator banks were put in to help the acoustics. To see the site benefit from that amount of investment has been the biggest change for me. The events have given us the springboard to increase our own creativity.


Further changes during Rob’s tenure have been the hosting of a Spitfire academy (Boultbee) and aerobatic flights company (Ultimate High) as permanent residents of the aerodrome. The diversity among the hangers is impressive, with planes, helicopters, motorised gliders and autogyros all using Goodwood as a base.


Anybody with an aviation itch can come and scratch it here

Rob Wildeboer

At the end of the day in which we spoke, Rob had flown Goodwood’s Cessna, Harvard and Piper Supercub, proving that his job is all about variety.

This year will be the 10th Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Exhibition and Rob has been pivotal in its creation and development. It stands as one of the highlights of his year, and he is keen to point out that it is unique. “To be able to share vintage aviation with the public is just fantastic. It is the only place that I know of where people can come and get right up close to live aircraft,” he says.

Goodwood recognises the Aerodrome as a really important part of the organisation. “There is a core team who are passionate about making the business work. We all feed off each other and we’re driven by a passion for aviation – I’m surrounded by people who want to be around aeroplanes for the rights reasons,” he says. But in 30 years of the same job, Rob has also seen many people come and go. “I have worked with a lot of different chief engineers, general managers, directors and more – some of them I miss greatly, some of them I don’t miss so much!” he laughs.

There has also been a number of highlights – too many to list – but Rob counts two very special occasions as ones he will never forget. “To see Ray Hanna fly along the start line at the first ever Revival, where he piloted the Spitfire lower than the grandstands, is up there with the best moments of my time here. And having Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, judge at the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Exhibition – that was pretty cool!” he says.

But for Rob, his motivation is the future, not the past. He says; “One of the great things is not knowing what is around the corner. Where are we going to go from here? Are we going to end up with electric trainers that are carbon neutral? Are we going to have more gliders? Will we get more kids involved? There is such a lot still to be done and with aviation it’s very humbling as there is always a huge amount to learn.

“The history here is indelible and I’m proud of that, but I am as excited about the future. My 30 years has gone in a blink and the minute I have my spirit for what I do dampened is the minute to go and do something else. But at the moment there are endless possibilities here and every day is like a new day.”

Rob Wildeboer has achieved a lot in his 30 years at Goodwood Aerodrome, but the question is; what can he achieve in the next 30? The sky is very much the limit.

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