With fly-ins being the heart and soul of the United Kingdom’s general aviation scene, AeroResource’s Jamie Ewan popped up to Sywell Aerodrome, Northamptonshire, for a look at the recent Sywell Radial and Trainer fly-in organised by Andrew O’Dell.
Found in the heart of Northamptonshire, Sywell Aerodrome opened in 1928 under the watchful eyes of brothers Jack and Geoff Linnell, occupying just the western portion of the current airfield. From its early days, the picturesque grass aerodrome was a hub of activity with air races and displays from the onset – in fact, it was the place to be! Now, more than eight decades on, the airfield is still buzzing with a plethora of types calling the aerodrome home and numerous others ‘dropping in’ for a visit.
Set around two themes – radial engines and training aircraft – 52 aircraft were due to converge on the airfield for the event but sadly more than half of them were forced to cancel due to the inclement weather blighting most of the country. Attendees affected included the Turweston based Travel Air Mystery Ship replica, Mark Stott’s St Athan based Percival Pembroke, Aces High’s Douglas C47 Skytrain and the world’s only airworthy Jet Provost T.3 out of North Weald. Despite the October weather, 20 aircraft managed to touchdown on the day joining three aircraft that had arrived the day before – those being North American T-6G Texan G-DDMV wearing fetching California Air National Guard marks, Auster AOP6 (TW536/G-BNGE) owned by Kevin Hale and the seldom seen de Havilland DH.100 Vampire T.11 (WZ507/G-VTII) of the Vampire Preservation Group. The latter being just one of the fly-in’s highlights.
Arriving at the end of its first flight since July in the hands of Mark Hooton, this particular jet is thought to be the only airworthy example of the T.11 in the northern hemisphere. As well as that distinction, the aircraft is without doubt at the forefront of the UK’s classic jet scene being the first ex-Royal Air Force jet placed on the UK civilian register in 1980. During the afternoon of the event, those in attendance were lucky enough to see the aircraft take to the air for a very brief local sortie de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk T.10 WD286 (G-BBND) – a welcome sight and sound as this twin-boomed wonder shrieked though the skies passing the ‘Chippy’ over the airfield. That said, for many it was the jets de Havilland Goblin 3 engine that took centre stage as it spat out its characteristic tongue of flame while bellowing into life. After their flight, the two aircraft taxied and shut down on the hardstanding by Sywell’s iconic tower and close to a visiting Tiger Moth forming an impromptu line-up of de Havilland’s training masterpieces. Jon Higgin’s delightful looking de Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk T.10 (WG308/G-BYHL) adding to the days de Havilland count – two Chipmunks, three Tiger Moths and one Vampire.
Despite the loss of the Jet Provost T.3, the grey skies blanketing Sywell were filled with the scream of another of North Weald’s jet residents powered by a similar Rolls Royce Viper – Swords Aviation’s BAC Jet Provost T.52. Wearing the unique colours of the often forgotten South Arabian Federation Air Force (which later became the Air Force of South Yemen) the aircraft sustained minor damage during a number of ground attack sorties between 1967 and 1975 – a genuine combat veteran.
Operating with Aerolegends for a number of pleasure flight’s, the radial engine of the Texan (G-DDMV) was joined by the putter of Sywell based de Havilland Tiger Moth K-4259 (G-ANMO) and growl of the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk IXT PV202 (G-CCCA) Rolls Royce Merlin throughout the day. It was rather fitting to watch the Tiger Moth depart with the Texan (known as the Harvard in Royal Air Force Service) and Spitfire following closely behind – the training footsteps of many who went on to become ‘The Few’.
Two further examples of North American’s ‘Pilot Maker’ were on hand with AT-16 Harvard Mk.llb FT391 (G-AZBN) and AT-16 Harvard IIB (G-AZSC) making it through the weather from their home at Goodwood – both aircraft being built by Canadian company Noordyn in 1942 and 1943 respectively. The company built over 3,950 of the type under license in an effort to help North American Aviation who were busy with the full-scale production of their P-51 Mustang. With Richie Piper of the Great War Display Team and Sam Worthington-Leese doing the honours, the snarl of the two Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasps filled the grey Northamptonshire skies – even more so when they departed for home at the end of the day. At full power the tips of the propeller travel at supersonic speeds as they bite into the air, creating one of those ‘noises’ in aviation on par with the the Hunter’s ‘blue note’ or the ‘howl’ from a well-known Avro jet! Sadly, three other T-6s due succumbed to the weather making up some of the days unfortunate cancellations. Joining Sam in the back of G-AZSC was 91-year-old Peter Hale – a Second World War Harvard and Spitfire veteran; the latter he flew with 41 squadron. As both aircraft ticked over before departure home, one has to wonder what memories came flooding back to him.
Joining Kevin Hale’s Auster AOP6 was Arthur Boon’s smart looking Australian Navy schemed Auster J-5G Cirrus Autocar (G-ARKG) appropriately named Skippy. Based at a private strip just outside of Oakham in Rutland, both the Autocar the AOP6 were built at Auster’s home of Rearsby, found just 40 miles to the north of Sywell in Leicestershire. Although the aircraft never served with the Australian Navy, Skippy represents A11-301 that was one of two J-5Gs operated as land based communication assets by the service. The original A11-301, which was just three behind its ‘twin’ on the production line at Rearsby, still flies in Australia under the serial VH-MRD.
A lot of the story of the visiting Auster AOP6 is sadly unknown, but what is includes it being the thirteenth of the variant delivered to the British Army at the then RAF Middle Wallop in May 1946. From there it went to serve with a number of units at the base including 657 Air Observation Post Squadron before transferring across to the British Army of the Rhine at RAF Buckeburg, Germany in 1952 where it’s said to have remained for almost a decade. Where the aircraft was (or what it was doing) throughout the sixties, seventies and most of the eighties is a mystery but the story soon picked up again in 1987 when the aircraft was rebuilt as G-BNGE.
When it comes to radial powered training aircraft most in the aviation world will instantly think of a type made famous by the Soviet Union – the Yakovlev Yak-52. Of the seven Yak-52s due, three managed to make it to Sywell – Dom Wilkinson and Justin Sheehy out of Popham with G-YAKI (better known as YAK-ONE) and G-YAKX along with Nigel Wilson in G-BXJB from Elmsett in Suffolk. Powered by the Ivchenko M-14P 9 cylinder radial engine, all three are ex-Soviet Air Force machines built by Aerostar of Romania in 1986, 1991 and 1987 respectively.
Lawrence Hawthorn added a Chinese feel to the day with Nanchang CJ-6A Chuji Jiaolianji G-BVVG and its 285hp Zhuzhou Huosai HS-6A radial piston engine. The literal translation of Chuji Jiaolianji being Primary Trainer the CJ-6A was designed and built by the China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force as a basic trainer (with whom G-BVVG served) and the type took to the air for the first time in 1958.
Derek Sharp’s immaculate Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 XX614 (G-GGRR) was joined by three Slingsby T-67 Fireflys (G-BYYG, G-SKYC and G-BLPI) to represent two examples of the west’s most popular trainers – both of which are still in civil and military use. When compared to the rugged, almost agricultural looks of the Nanchang and Yaks, the Bulldog and Firefly look somewhat diminutive and almost toy like. G-GGRR, a 1974-built example of the Bulldog, has recently undergone a two-year ground-up rebuild including a new Lycoming IO-360-A1B6 engine and, although not confirmed, it’s believed that this is possibly the only one of its type currently gracing the skies that is not operating a reconditioned unit.
Based just 30 miles to the north of Sywell the ex-RAF Saltby (now Buckminster Gliding Club) is home to one of just two Slingsby T61F Venture T.2s to still wear its original red and white Royal Air Force Air Cadets markings – ZA634 (G-BUHA) better known as Charlie. Owned and operated by the Saltby Flying Group with Chris Hayball flying Charlie in on the day, ZA634 is responsible for giving many youngsters their first taste of flight and first solos from May 1980 until the aircraft was demobbed in the early nineties.
Powered by a single Lycoming R-680E3B nine-cylinder air cooled radial engine, Nigel Knighton’s White Waltham based 1942 Gullwing Stinson V77 Reliant (G-BUCH) is one of just two based in the UK – sadly the planned meeting of both machines at Sywell was unable to take place with the second Gullwing unable to attend at the last minute. One of 500 built under the US’s lead/lease program for Great Britain during the Second World War, G-BUCH saw active service with the Fleet Air Arm as Reliant I FB653. Sent back to the States at the end of hostilities, the aircraft now wears an elegant looking three-tone red and cream paint scheme. Sat on the damp grass at Sywell the aircraft showed its executive style, charisma and charm and most importantly – ramp presence! Here is hoping both aircraft join forces at a future event.
Another type in attendance with a huge amount of ramp presence is often referred to as one of the most beautiful aeroplanes ever built – Beechcraft’s D-17S Staggerwing. Showing off the sleek lines of the type was Paul McConnell’s Popham based example (NC18082) wearing its stylish yellow and green paint-job. Powered by a 450hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 Wasp Junior radial engine, the 1937-built machine has been a resident in the UK since arriving in March 1990.
Although only there by chance, the the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum’s rather splendid Westland WS.51 Widgeon (G-ANLW) found itself as the unexpected star of the event. The machine, which houses a single 520hp Alvis Leonides 521/2 nine-cylinder air-cooled radial engine which is said to still fire up albeit amid a lot of smoke, is normally hidden away in the tight confines of the museum’s Boulton & Paul hangar. Roaded up to Northamptonshire, the chopper was at Sywell to take centre stage at based company Sloane Helicopter’s anniversary celebration marking two decades as the UK and Ireland’s distributor of AgustaWestland helicopters. Starting life as a WS.51 Dragonfly, the machine was converted to a Widegeon along with with two other airframes in 1957; the conversion seeing a larger cabin capacity plus the rotor head, blades and gearbox changed to those of a Westland Whirlwind. After conversion, G-ANLW took the distinction of being the very first helicopter to land at London Heliport on April 8, 1959 prior to its official opening a month later.
The undoubted star of the day however was Thomas Leaver’s stunning Travel Air 4000 (NC5427) which has recently arrived to the country from the US. Wearing the colours of Pacific Air Transport (despite never operating with them) this particular machine rolled out of the factory 87 years ago as a Travel Air 3000 before being converted to a 4000 in 1944 for crop dusting duties. Conversion included replacing the 180-hp Hispano-Suiza ‘Hisso’ Model E engine with a Continental Wright J-5A that produced 40hp more. Crop dusting in Arizona until the seventies, it was left to rot under the baking sun for a number of years before a two decade restoration effort was undertaken; the aircraft being made airworthy in 1991. Based out of Compton Abbas – the aircraft battling through the weather to get to Sywell – it is a superb addition to the UK’s historic general aviation scene.
Even with the loss of some of the expected participants, the day had some fantastic aircraft on show – a combat veteran jet, ex-Chinese and Russian Air Force operated machines, the seldom seen (in 2015 at least) Vampire T.11 and even a radial powered helicopter albeit by chance. Unlike the hustle and bustle you get at an airshow where you bump into friends and end up rushing off to ‘get that shot’ or ‘need to get that serial’ the day offered plenty of opportunity to sit and catch up while watching the days goings on. It is fair to say that Sywell offered a laid-back affair, many aeroplanes, laughs and memories and even the weather couldn’t dampen the day… despite trying!