The ground shaking scream of four Rolls Royce Conways rips the air around the sleepy village of Bruntingthorpe as a VC10 pours on the coals and powers down the airfields runway during the recent Cold War Jets Day. Jamie Ewan was there for Aero Resource to have a look at the day’s action.
Found 5 minutes down the road from the birthplace of the jet engine, Bruntingthorpe has become a hub for aircraft preservation with a rather unique collection of aircraft within its massive 6.5 kilometer site. Looked after by various groups and individuals, these icons of the jet age have been saved from extinction unlike many of their stable mates which have been reduced to mere memories and pictures.
Opening in 1942, ‘Brunty’ became home to No.29 Operational Training Unit RAF with Vickers Wellingtons. Soon after the war the airfield was used by Frank Whittles Powerjets Ltd for top secret testing of jet propelled aircraft. After a period of inactivity the USAF became the guardians of the airfield basing various heavy jet bombers there during the height of the golden years of the Jet Age.
Now, over 70 years on, Bruntingthorpe is home to some of the most iconic names in Bristish Aviation History such as the English Electric Lightning, Handley Page Victor and DeHavilland Comet. However there is a twist with Bruntingthorpe – unlike most aircraft collections around the world which very rarely see the light of day, most of the jets are of a special breed and many of the Cold War warriors found on the airfield live on to roar once again
With the sun shining down on the huge expanse of the airfields 3000 meter runway, the gates were opened giving the early birds a chance to get up close to the jets as the final preparations were made. One very noticeable change on the airfield from last Augusts Open Day is the sheer amount of aircraft awaiting their fates at the 06 end of the airfield including the unmistakable shape of the Royal Air Forces ex TriStars which arrived in March of this year.
As well as being able to have a look at the days runners, the rest of the collection was available for closer inspection, including ex Fleet Air Arm De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 XJ494, ex German Air Force Lockheed F-104G Starfighter 22+35, BAE Systems Sea Harrier FA2 ZD610 as well as various cockpit sections including ex German Air Force McDonell Douglas F4F Phantom II 37+75 which has recently arrived back at the airfield. All of these are in various levels of restoration and preservation work. Other aircraft including Sepecat Jaguar T4 XX145 adorned in her Raspberry Ripple scheme and Folland Gnat T1 XP535, painted as XR993 in the colours of the RAFAT, were squared away in one of the airfields ‘RUBBS’ whilst ongoing restoration work in carried out.
The undoubted star of the day, as well as the static display, was ex Royal Air Force Vickers VC10 K4 ZD241/N. Arriving at Bruntingthorpe at the end of its last flight from RAF Brize Norton on 21st March 2013 at 12:48 local time, the aircraft was placed alongside another fellow ex RAF and Brize asset, Lockheed L1011-385-3 Tristar C2 ZE705, during the days proceedings. Originally, it was hoped that another VC10, XR808 or ‘BOB’ as it is more commonly referred to, would be readied for taxiing at Bruntingthorpe but a change of plan has seen the aircraft earmarked for static display at the RAF Museum at Cosford. Work has already started to dismantle the airframe and prepare the jet for its road trip to the museum.
With the change of plans for the allocation of airframes, a decision was made by the group responsible for the aircraft – the VC10der Loving Carers group – that K4 ZD241/N would instead be preserved, operated as the sole running VC10 in the world, with stablemate K3 ZA147/F (ex East African Airways 5H-MMT) being dismantled to provide a spares stores. Vickers VC10 K3 ZA147 was the last ever VC10 to to fly when she was delievered from RAF Brize Norton to the airfield on September 25th of last year. Ernie Marshall, chief designer for the VC10, once said that he ‘wouldn’t be surprised to see a VC10 flying in 50 years’ and thanks to various service life extensions the type managed a career spanning 51 years and 3 months.
Taking to the air for the first time on Febuary 26 1968, ZD241 started her flying life as G-ASGM and entered civil service with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) on 6th March 1968. Retired from civil service in 1981 the aircraft saw out the remaining years of the eighties in storage at the then RAF Abingdon. In the the early nineties G-ASGM was one of five selected airframes chosen for Tanker conversion work (to K4 standard) at Filton for the Royal Air Force to help the VC10 fleet replace the Victors. Work was completed in early 1995 and the aircraft took to the air as a tanker under the RAF Serial of ZD241 on May 10 the same year. Delivered to 101 Squadron based at Brize Norton on June 9 1995 it saw out its RAF service at that base until final delivery to Bruntingthorpe in accordance with the drawdown and final retirement of the type from RAF Service.
The sheer size of the VC10 was apparent when the aircraft was slowly towed out in the afternoon as part of the day’s finale with the jets 45 meter wingspan swarming over the crowds next to the taxiway. Backed up to the threshold the aircraft was prepared for start by the crew as the aircraft, adorned in GJD stickers on the engine nacelles and forward fuselage, glistened in the afternoon sun. As the aircraft was being pushed back slowly down the runway the crowds were treated to three stunning passed by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire PR Mk XIX PM631 in the hands of the BBMF boss, Squadron Leader Duncan Mason. The growl of the aircrafts Griffon engine a welcome addition to the day.
One by one the immense Conway engines were started until a gentle roar became a shriek of power and ZD241 was ready. The sheer amount of power could be felt as the aircrafts Conways shrieked into a howl and the ground started shaking as it lurched down the runway on full power. Disappearing over the ‘hump’ the engine sound was soon replaced with car alarms and the applause of the crowds. Back tracking to its parking spot, the aircraft was parked 45 degrees to the crowdline and shut down and the smiles of the lucky guests on board the aircraft for the run were priceless. After the run it became apparent that the fusible plug on the left hand main gear forward inboard wheel had operated causing the wheel to slowly deflate. Designed to operate if the aircrafts brake heat rises to a point where the wheels temperature increases, the bolt has a metal core that melts when the tyres temperature rises to a point where it could explode due to the increased gas pressure in the tyre.
Sadly a couple of the usual Open Day participants were unable to perform due to technical gremlins. Ex Polish Air Force PZL-Mielec TS-11 Iskra 1080 sadly sprung a fuel leak last year and is in the process of a refit to fix the problem. A rather difficult job due to the location and small size of the jet. Unfortunatley De Havilland Comet XS235’s Ground Power Unit developed an issue before the event and, with no replacement available, ‘Canopus’ was pulled from the event.
Unfortunately both Blackburn Buccaneer S2B XX894 and Hawker Hunter T7 XL565 developed technical issues on the day and had to be pulled from the line up although not without trying by all those involved to rectify the gremlins (The Buccaneer Aviation Group worked late into Saturday night removing the XX894’s port wheel and looking at the issue). The crowds did however get a chance to have a look in XX894’s cockpit and have a close up look at this piece of iconic aviation history. Although XL565 wasn’t able to run for the gathered crowds they did see the aircraft shrouded in a huge plue of acrid black smoke as the cartridge starter was fired – sadly without the sound of the jets Rolls Royce Avon Mark 22 bellowing into life.
Thankfully, two of Blackburns finest were still on hand to let their Speys shake the ground. The Buccaneer Aviation Groups stunning looking XW554 in her 16 Squadron scheme and XX900 of Cold War Jets making her first public run in years, pirouetted around showing of the unique lines of the Buccaneer and some of the features, including the jets unique rotating bomb bay. Exercising the wings, airbrakes and arrestor hook as well, both jets hammered down the runway on full chat with XW554 even managing to raise the nose wheel off the deck.
As the morning progressed the air around Bruntingthopre was filled with the buzz of various light aircraft arriving on runway 24. With a blustery crosswind it was rather interesting to watch the pilots fly their various approaches to land. At 1055 the crowds were given their first taste of jet noise with Hunting Percival Jet Provost T.3 XN637 as the aircraft passed over the airfield with a fast fly through before entering the circuit to land on arrival from its home at North Weald. Built by Hunting-Percival at Luton in 1961 it remains the last genuine Jet Provost T.3 flying anywhere in the world.
Backtracking from the 06 end to its parking space, the shape of another five Jet Provosts could be seen behind shimmering through the heat haze almost as if they were a mirage in the Kalahari Desert. Joining XN637 were T3 XN582/95, T3 XN584/E, T3a XM365, T4 XP672/03 and T5 XW290/MA/41 in a crescendo of noise and with various schemes carried across the different airframes. Pirouetting about the runway the aircraft lined up in an Echelon left formation and powered up before blasting down the runway in a stream take off run – the air filled with the high whine of the jets Viper engines. Returning back to park in front of the crowds the air was filled again with the scream of a Viper in the air as another Jet Provost, T5 XW324, broke into the circuit and landed over the top of the returning jets – a fantastic sight and sound.
XM635, adorned in a smart looking red, white and blue scheme was back out on the runway later on in the day joining up with the collections rather smart looking ex-Romaninan Air Force Aero L.29 Delphin ‘RED 53 ‘ 39519 for a rather well though out East-meets-West trainer duo as they twisted and turned around each other.
One of the more eye catching jets at Bruntingthorpe is resident English Electric Canberra B(I)8-B6 MOD WT333. Adorned in a ‘Raspberry Ripple’ scheme, the aircraft started its segment with its party piece – the cartridge start. With the ground crew in place and the aircraft ready, the Port engine was covered in three jets of black smoke streaming out as the jets ignition was turned on and the cartridge fired. This causes the high-pressure gas to shoot down a pipe at an incredibly high velocity and forces the motor to spin engaging the starter gear. Repeated on the starboard motor, the crowd were treated to the aircraft dancing around the threshold before shrieking down the runway with her Avon’s at full power.
While all of the runs by the smaller jets were taking place the crowd couldnt 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 XV226, as the crew spooled up its engines the sheer power being produced could be seen by the tree’s at the 24 bending under the immense jet wash from the four Rolls Royce Spey’s. As the crew relased the brakes, there was an earth shattering roar as the jet screamed down the runway giving the crowd a good covering of grit. A silence soon fell as the jet disappeared down the airfields runway only to be broken by the sound of car alarms. Victor ‘Teasin Tina’ also gave the crowds a fantastic blistering run with her Rolls Royce Conways in full swing powering down the runway before being obscured by the huge drag chute as it disappeared over the hump.
One of the highlights that always takes centre stage at Brunty is the Lightning Preservation Group’s two stunning English Electric Lightnings F6’s – XR728/JS and XS904/BQ. The chance to see just one Lightning light up its burners is one not to be missed and the LPG didn’t disappoint. The public had a chance to get up close and have a look at these simply gorgeous machines as they sat on display inside their Q-Sheds.
With XR728 /JS selected to be the days runner, the jet was towed from the Q Shed through the crowds and positioned on 24 as the ground crew prepared it. As preparations were made and the aircraft readied, the flightline seemed to attract more people all hoping for a sight of a living, breathing Lightning strutting its stuff and the airfield was soon alive with the sound of the aircrafts Avpin starter as the pilot and ground crew started the jets engine for its ear deafening run. As the crescendo of two Rolls Royce Avon 301R’s grew, the aircraft taxied around showing of the glorious lines of the jet before stoping and splitting the the air for a brief static burn. Once finished the aircraft was held on the brakes before storming down the runway in a curtain of heat haze as the burners were lit.
With such a wide variety of aircarft on show during the day the crowds at Bruntingthorpe were well and truly treated to a ground shaking day!