The scream of four Rolls-Royce Avon 301R afterburning turbojets yells out across the rather busy airfield at Bruntingthorpe, as a pair of English Electric Lightning F.6s blast down the runway during their starring role in the August Cold War Jets Day. Jamie Ewan was there taking a look at the latest Cold War Jets Open Day for Aero Resource.
Located in the sleepy little village of Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire, the former RAF Bruntingthorpe opened in 1942 as home of No. 29 Operational Training Unit RAF (OTU) operating the Vickers Wellington. After the war, the airfield was used for the top secret test flying of jet propelled aircraft built by Frank Whittles’ Powerjets Ltd company. Now, some 70 years later, ‘Brunty’ is home to a rather unique collection of aircraft including some of the most iconic names in British aviation history such as the Hawker Hunter, Handley Page Victor and de Havilland Comet. However, unlike most aircraft collections which rarely see the light of day, these machines are of a special breed and are maintained in running order so they can roar once more.
Arriving at the airfield just after the gates opened, the early birds were greeted to a rather grey looking airfield with low cloud and the 06 end of the airfield obscured by clag, almost hiding 3 VC10’s awaiting their fate.
One VC10 that has avoided the scrap man at Bruntingthorpe is the Cold War Jets Museums latest acquisition, XR808, more commonly known as ‘BOB’ within the aviation community. Originally earmarked for the RAF Museum at Cosford, this aircraft is now staying at Bruntingthorpe whilst one of the stored VC10’s will be dismantled and sent by road for permanent display.
Arriving on July 29th, XR808s retirement was the latest stage of the planned drawdown of the reliable but ageing VC10 fleet prior to its replacement by the latest RAF acquisition in the form of the Airbus A330 FSTA (Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft) christened the Voyager. Starting life as a VC10 C1 in May 1967, XR808 was the last of the type to be converted to C1K standard in October 1996. After some 47 years of RAF Service, XR808 proved that the VC10 was a formidable aircraft for air transport, VIP passage and a world class tanker platform. In 47 years the airframe amassed a staggering amount of time in the air (some 43865 hours) and is a true example of outstanding British design and engineering.
Sadly the paperwork needed to allow the aircraft to take part in the event with a live run was not completed in time however, all being well, XR808 will be allowed to let her 4 × Rolls-Royce Conway’s howl at the next Cold War Jets Open Day in May 2014. Once the remaining VC10’s in RAF service have been retired, XR808 will become the sole VC10 to be maintained in running condition. The team at Bruntingthorpe did however manage to get XR808 approved to take part in the static display and allow the crowds to get up close and even have a look in the cockpit.
Another exciting prospect for next year is the proposed public debut of the collections Hawker Hunter GA11, WT806. Starting life as an F4, the aircraft was later converted to a GA.11 and operated by FRADU and was also part of the Blue Herons display team. Arriving at Bruntingthorpe in late 2010, WT806 has gone through a rather fine restoration effort and is now back in Royal Navy colors.
Most of the collections aircraft were on display for the public including some potential future runners in the form of ex-German Air Force Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 22+35, Sepecat Jaguar T4 XX145 adorned in her Raspberry Ripple scheme, BAE Systems Sea Harrier FA2 ZD610 and Gloster Meteor NF13 WL405 which is destined for the Jet Age museum at Staverton. All being well and with a successful search for suitable engine’s for each of the jets, it is hoped that they too will take their place on the flightline and once again make the ground shake at a future open day.
Sadly, not all of the aircraft listed were able to take part due to technical issues in the days leading up to the event. English Electric Canberra B(I)8 WT333, known as ‘Treble Three’, encountered a loss of power on the port engine that will have to be removed to rectify the issue. Ex-Polish Air Force PZL-Mielec TS-11 Iskra 1080 sadly sprung a fuel leak and if it materialises to be the main tank the engine will have to be removed to remedy the issue. Unfortunately, De Havilland Comet XS235’s ground power unit picked up a gremlin as it was being prepared for its run. The team tried their best to solve the issue to no avail and sadly had to cancel the slot. A serviceability issue also prevented TBAG’s Blackburn Buccaneer S2B XX900 from also taking part in the event having been due to join XW544 for a pairs run.
Before long, the afternoons events were starting and runway 24’s threshold was amassed with no less than 4 Hunting Percival Jet Provosts in the form of 3 T3a’s XN542,XN584,XM365 and a single T4 XP672 adorned in a rather fetching Air Defence Grey scheme. Soon the jets were performing an elegant ballet of carousels and figure of eights before the 4 jets lined up in an echelon right formation on the threshold for a stream launch – a rather fine way to start the afternoon entertainment and something not seen at an Open Day before. The T4, XP672, was soon back on the runway with the collections rather smart looking ex-Romanian Air Force Aero L.29 Delphin ‘RED 53 ‘ 39519, which earlier had taken centre stage with a solo run prior to this rather well thought out East-meets-West trainer duo.
The Jet Provosts were also on hand for the second to last run of the day, with Jet Provost T3 XN637 leading a trio of the types in a fast run with a twist. XN637, built by Hunting-Percival at Luton in 1961, is actually an airworthy example of the type and had flown into the airfield earlier on from its home base at North Weald and remains the last genuine Jet Provost T.3 flying in the world. Leading T3a XM365 and T4 XP672, the 3 jets powered down the runway in unison until XN637 slowly climbed into the Leicestershire skies, as the collections two examples had no choice but to slow down and watch their stable mate climb away.
Sadly with WT333 going tech, it was down to Hawker Hunter XL565 to show off a typical cartridge start. Sitting on the end of runway 24, the aircraft was shrouded in a huge plume of acrid black smoke as the cartridge was fired and the heavenly sounding Rolls Royce Avon Mark 22 bellowed into life. The aircraft is actually in the process of being rubbed down for a repaint, with the tail pipe area looking patchy and it is hoped it will be joined by the GA11 in May in her new scheme.
Whilst all of the runs by the smaller jets were taking place, the crowd couldn’t help but notice the ant like figures working round two of the collections ‘Big Ladies’ namely Handley Page Victor K2 XM715 ‘Teasin Tina’ and Hawker Siddley Nimrod MR2 XV226.
First to run was the Nimrod and as the engines spooled up the sheer power being produced could be seen by the tree’s at the 24 end bending under the immense jet wash spat out by the 4 Rolls Royce Spey’s. As the crew released the brakes there was a earth shattering roar as the jet screamed down the runway on full chat giving the crowd a good covering of grit. A silence soon fell as the jet disappeared down the airfields 3000 meter runway, only broken by the sound of car alarms. ‘Tina’ also gave the crowds a blistering run with her Rolls Royce Conways in full swing as it powered down the runway before being obscured by the huge drag chute as it disappeared over the hump.
The true stars of any of Bruntingthorpe event are the Lightning Preservation Group’s two stunning English Electric Lightnings F6’s – XR728 and XS904. The chance to see just one Lightning light up its burners is one not to be missed, however August 2013 was the first chance in over four years to see both of LPG’s Lightnings run together. Before the jets were positioned on 24 in echelon, they had been on display outside the Q-Sheds for the public to get up close and have a look at these simply gorgeous machines. As the jets were readied, the flightline seemed to attract more people all hoping for a sight of these living, breathing Lightnings strutting their stuff.
The airfield was soon alive with the sound of the aircrafts Avpin starters as the two pilots and ground crew readied the aircraft for what was to most the highlight of the event. As a crescendo of 4 Rolls Royce Avon 301R’s split the air, XR726 lit the burners and blasted down with stable mate, XS904, not too far behind in a stream fast taxi run. The sight of two Lightnings, on full burner, with the glow of the burner in the nose cones is one to behold.
As the heavenly roar of Avons died down, the silence was again broken by the sound of car alarms going off and the humble growl of two Rolls Royce Merlins as Supermarine Spitfire MkXVI TE311 and Hawker Hurricane MkIIc LF363 from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight appeared on the horizon for a trio of stunning flypasts. As the Spitfire and Hurricane went about their business, the two Lightnings slowly approached back up the runway creating a unique sight of fighters both old and new. Fittingly as the BBMF departed with wing waggles the deep, grumbling growls of the piston fighters was slowly replaced by the whine of jet engines.
The last run of the day fell to The Buccaneer Aviation Group and their superbly presented Blackburn Buccaneer S2B XW544 in stunning 16 Squadron scheme. Having already given the crowds a full run earlier in the day showing off the jets folding wings, arrestor hook deployment and rotating bomb bay, the aircraft closed the day in style with a simply thundering run down the runway towards the lowering sun.
A top effort by everyone involved in a fantastic days action. Where else can you see Cold War warriors living and breathing in close proximity? ‘Brunty’ is certainly becoming a hub for the classic jet lover and the jet noise addict!