Being a fan of transport and tanker aircraft, attending a nightshoot at Bruntingthorpe with three of the resident ex-Royal Air Force examples was certainly not a hard decision to make. Ben Montgomery travelled up to deepest darkest Leicestershire for an evening of spotlights, tripods and Cold War heavy metal.
The context and background of this shoot doesn’t really need significant introduction (Ed – however if you want to know more, have a look at these previous article from a Cold War Jet Day and Lightning Nightshoot), such is the popularity and renown of Bruntingthorpe as “the” location to go in the United Kingdom for a fix of Cold War airframes, kept alive by teams of dedicated volunteers.
Whilst both the Handley Page Victor and Vickers VC-10 advertised for this event are permanent fixtures at Bruntingthorpe and reliable performers at the regular Cold War Jets Days, the more transient exhibit was the Lockheed TriStar. Retired from RAF service in 2014 and, along with five others, flown for the final time into Bruntingthorpe, TriStar K.1 ZD951 is one of the last of its type. Sadly, it seems likely that these tri-jets may well end their days in Leicestershire – the apparent purchase by AGD Systems Corp in 2015 having yet to see any obvious progress towards a departure. Either way, with the TriStars most likely destined for the scrapman or the skies this may well have been the last opportunity to capture an example of all three classic designs at the same time.
Victor K.2 XM715 ‘Teasin’ Tina’ is one of only two surviving Victors of this variant, of which both are still capable of running under their own power (the other being the second K.2 survivor XL231 ‘Lusty Lindy’ at Elvington).
XM715 was built as part of the final batch of Victor B.2 bombers, and first flew on the final day of December 1962. Ten years later, XM715 commenced the conversion from its B.2 bomber role to a tanker, and was designated as a K.2 – first flying in this configuration three years later in 1975. Having served in both the Falklands (participating in Black Buck 7 – the final mission of the type) and the Gulf War conflicts, XM715 was retired from service in October 1993. Purchased by the Walton family (who more famously also bought Vulcan XH558 from the MoD), XM715 was delivered to Bruntingthorpe in 1993 where she has remained since – bar an accidental airborne excursion during a taxi run in 2009 – making XM715 the last Victor to fly.
TriStar K.1 ZD951 was one of two of this mark (the other being ZD949) operated by the Royal Air Force, having been purchased from British Airways and converted by Marshall of Cambridge Aerospace in the 1980s. ZD951 holds the honour of being the last TriStar in military service, as it was the final example to be ferried to Bruntingthorpe shortly after darkness fell on March 25, 2014. ZD951 is now the sole remaining variant of the K.1 as ZD949 was scrapped at Cambridge in 2014 after the Royal Air Force cancelled the planned upgrades to a full glass cockpit.
The aircraft was also selected to commemorate 30 years of TriStar operations in 2013, and retains those (minimalist) markings on the tail which are in essence a stylised version of the 216 Squadron Crest (“an eagle, wings elevated, holding in the claws a bomb”) together with the 30 years motif. Sadly, the aircraft looks a little worse for wear now, having spent around 18 months out in the elements at the Leicestershire airfield. Whilst not much can be told of the true condition by examination of the exterior alone, hopefully the deterioration of its appearance does not hide larger problems.
Like TriStar ZD951, VC-10 ZD241 is the last example of its type – the four other K.4 models having been scrapped between 2004 and 2011. First flown in February 1968 as G-ASCM for BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation), ZD241 was delivered to the Royal Air Force in 1995 after conversion to K.4 standard at Filton, Bristol. ZD241 spent the majority of its final year of service on detachment to the Falklands with 1312 Flight, returning to the UK shortly before retirement in March 2013. It had seemed for a while that the longest serving VC-10 in the RAF, C.1K XR808 (better known as ‘BOB’) would be preserved at Bruntingthorpe after plans to fly it to the RAF Museum at Cosford changed – but eventually this aircraft was dismantled and transported by road to Cosford. ZD241 is now one of two complete VC-10s remaining at Bruntingthorpe and the only one to retain power, after being purchased and refitted with four Rolls Royce Conways. After the first engine run on March 31, 2014, the restored aircraft was unveiled publically at the Cold War Jets Day in May of that year.
The aircraft continues to carry the tail markings of 101 Squadron, together with the GJD Services crest – GJD purchased the aircraft to save it from the scrap man’s axe in 2013. Fittingly, the scroll of Leonard Cheshire VC has been retained on the port forward fuselage – a tradition carried over from the original C.1K models, which were each named after a Victoria Cross winner.
“Treble Tanker” Event
The event started just after 3PM, and was scheduled to coincide with a routine anti-deterioration run of VC-10 ZD241. What was billed as a taxi run – which for Bruntingthorpe usually means speed and power – was more of a gentle trundle. Arguably, this made little difference to the experience, as the viewing area was the start/finish point for the run, by which point the aircraft would have been brought to a slow speed regardless.
The intention was to position the VC-10 for good photography in what remained of the daylight (whilst sunny, a constant and strengthening haze blanketed the airfield), and then bring its compatriots alongside. A great idea in practise, but the difficulty of positioning an aircraft perfectly for a photo required some later minor adjustments – minor in this sense being a relocation several hundred feet further along the runway.
Bonus points to TimeLine Events for requesting that the aircraft were moved after being initially positioned, as the background was not overly clean. This was due in large part to the stopping position of the VC-10 following its brief taxi run, preventing displacement further down the runway. A huge thanks is due to the Bruntingthorpe team – who happily moved aircraft several times to get it “just right”.
One of the annoyances with the event was the lack of control during daylight – resulting in few opportunities to capture the aircraft with clean backgrounds. However, before we can aim any criticism about this at TimeLine Events, it’s worth remembering a few truths. Firstly, in order to shoot these aircraft well, the ground space needed was massive – and also required a rather wide angle lens to accomplish. This gave a huge background area which would need to be kept clear at all times – clearly not feasible as not everyone wants the same image! Leading from that point, the sun changed sides of the runway during the shoot, and in order to keep shooting with the sun the crowd would have to be moved – effectively at the same time – from one side of the runway to the other.
The plus side to the event was a very courteous set of attendees. Not once did I hear complaints or shouting to clear a shot – as frequently can be heard at other night events or indeed around airshow static parks! This was just a pleasantly restrained group of likeminded people intent on having an enjoyable afternoon – exactly how it should be. This good neighbour mentality was in further evidence through the assistance experienced ‘nightshooters’ were giving to the newer initiates amongst the crowd. It was rewarding to see people sharing hints and tips on technique, and also sharing equipment like remote shutter cables where possible.
Although the hazy evening effectively killed any sunset, a wonderful five to ten minute period of blood red skies more than made up for it, with great silhouette opportunities of all three aircraft – which had yet to be lit. The close proximity access made it all the more impressive, with the TriStar in particular looming over its colleagues.
The nightshoot ran largely as advertised, with three Cold War tankers nicely lit and posed on the Bruntingthorpe taxiway. The lighting provided for a TimeLine Event shoot is always more than adequate (despite appearing to the naked eye to be rather weak – remember that the camera can see it quite differently!), but lighting three large aircraft concurrently was a challenge. Indeed, the generator did cut out a few times because of the electrical load, but the team were swiftly on the case – removing or moving lights as appropriate to ensure continuous illumination.
Sadly for some, the advertised personnel who were supposed to attend and pose for photos were not available. For those who were interested in the aircraft and the significance of the three together that was not an issue, but TimeLine Events are pretty well known for their re-enacting element, so a good portion of the audience were left disappointed. The knock on downside to this was that there was no access to the aircraft to turn on any lights during the shoot.
By the end of the (bitterly cold!) evening, everyone needed some hot food and a hot drink. Whilst drinks were on hand from the team at ‘Brunty’, the food was not in attendance as the owner of the burger van booked for the event had forgotten us! Certainly their loss, and the gain of whatever catering facilities were reached first on leaving the event.
Dropping £50 for a photo event always leaves a bit of a risk – it’s a lot of money placed on the faith of the organisers, as well as the good fortune of pleasant weather, aircraft serviceability and many other factors. This is the second TimeLine Events nightshoot I’ve attended, and both times I came away happy with my selection of images. With these types of events typically being pricier than ever, there are certainly worse ways to part with your hard-earned cash. Certainly, I’ll be back for another go when the right set of aircraft present themselves.