January is normally a pretty dull month for aviation. The airshow season is a dim and distant memory, night shoots and other events are quickly fading and generally the weather precludes too many of us from getting out and about. Couple this with the usual post-Christmas blues, and it’s as good a time as any to have a look back at the last 12 months and some of the particular highlights of what has been, in retrospect, a rather wonderful year.
From our perspective, we put out a bumper number of articles (the challenge will be to beat that this year!) and pushed them out to a greater number of readers. The FighterControl forum continues to thrive, breaking first the 10,000 barrier in January and then 12,000 by the end of the year. CivilianAviation, whilst smaller is on the increase and heading towards 2,500.
During the year – for us – there were three key events that we all agreed could be seen as particular highlights of the entire season and as such they are presented below as the AeroResource Team 2014 Highlights.
Canadian Lancaster Tour
If anyone had asked at this time last year what the likelihood was of a visit from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Lancaster “VeRA” to our shores, most would have been more likely to bet on TSR.2 flying again. They’d have lost a lot of money though, and it was some disbelief that we all listened to the Royal Air Force announcement back in the early part of 2014. Whilst in the event the tour may not have been to the liking of everyone – particularly those hoping for dynamic solo displays akin to its performances back home – it cannot be denied that this was one of those rare events that actually was once in a lifetime. For this reason, and for the incredible response that the Lancaster pair drew from the airshow-going public, this tops our list for 2014.
Global Strike Command Deployment
There was a time when B-52s in the UK would not have made quite such an impact as they did during June 2014, but times have changed. B-2 Spirits on the other hand, will always draw a crowd. With three of the former and two of the latter deployed to the UK for the Global Strike Command deployment this summer, RAF Fairford became “the” place to be for two weeks in June and it certainly seemed that the majority of the enthusiast community spent at least one day at the base.
Red Arrows 50th display season
It doesn’t seem quite right putting the Reds into third place for such an outstanding achievement. Outside of the new 50th Season design – from the RAF Media Centre at RAF High Wycombe – there wouldn’t appear for most people to be too much of a change from the Reds, just their usual professionalism and unwavering high standards. Which is what, over the last 50 years and 4,500+ displays we’ve all come to expect, isn’t it?
Other than that, and because we all had vastly different experiences over the year attending different exercises, events and airshows, we’ve put together our individual top 3 memories of last year. Agree or disagree, these are what made our year as aviation enthusiasts.
AeroResource, FighterControl and CivilianAviation are lucky enough to have the support of a number of sponsors and once again we extend our gratitude to Squadron Prints, MPB Photographic, Aviation News, and 4Aviation for their support of the sites throughout the year.
As we move ahead into 2015 we look forward to bringing you even more content on AeroResource and hope that the year ahead brings even greater aviation highlights for everyone whether your interest is military, civilian or general aviation.
On behalf of the AeroResource team
For me, 2014 was another busy year of airshows although significantly less visits to local bases as I would have liked. Unfortunate illness also kept me away from the USAF bomber deployment to Fairford which was a real shame however I was lucky enough to fly with the 100th ARW on a refuelling mission with F-15Es from RAF Lakenheath. Along with UK airshows, I also managed to get abroad for Luchtmachtdagen at Glize Rijen and the first weekend of Air14 at Payerne. Both excellent airshows with many great memories and Payerne will no doubt remain as one of the best shows I’ve attended for a long time.
Choosing just three highlights from the year is a tough job. Looking back through photo’s I had taken during the year reminded me of many displays that I had forgotten about – not due to being poor but simply because I had seen so many. Seeing the Travel Air Mystery Ship at Shuttleworth, Hellenic Air Force F-16 at Luchtmachtdagen, the Dutch B-25 display and land at Seething and the Canadian Lancaster at Duxford will all last long in my memory.
Dakota gathering at Duxford D-Day Airshow
During the D-Day invasion the C-47 played an important part transporting paratroops, towing gliders and ferrying supplies and it was therefore apt that the Duxford D-Day show had a total of five examples on the ground at one time including two from the United States – ‘Whiskey 7’ from the National Warplane Museum at Genesso, New York and ‘Union Jack Dak’ from Connecticut. Seeing a formation of four in the air was, for me, the highlight of an excellent show and a fitting tribute to one of my favourite WW2 era types.
Behind the scenes at Culdrose Airshow
Thanks to Wildcat Aerobatics, I was invited to spend three days with them at the Culdrose airshow. Flying down from Norfolk to Cornwall was by far the easiest way to travel and, once there, I had a chance to really see what goes on behind the scenes at an airshow. A unique opportunity that has really given me an insight into some of the unseen issues that can occur during the running of the event and was also lucky enough to chat to Lt Cdr Gotke in the evening following his emergency landing of the RNHF Sea Fury during the display.
SwAFHF Saab Draken, Waddington Airshow
Having travelled to Sweden during 2013 in the hope of catching the Draken along with dashed hopes of it attending with the remainder of the SwAFHF at Waddington the same year, it was an instant ‘must see’ when it was announced for Waddington 2014. As far as I can recall, it was my first time for seeing a Draken in a flying display and was certainly not disappointed even after a sprint back to my camera when the Sunday display was shifted to an earlier display slot when I had wandered in search of food!
2014 was a big year for me – very much a case of putting the time in and getting the results. My biggest personal achievement was completing my Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and leaving student life behind for the real world. It did mean that I didn’t get too much time out and about before June, but the second half of the year was rather superb. I was lucky enough to fly with the B-52s during their deployment here, as well as being able to catch the Canadian Lancaster at several venues (including its one-off formation with the Vulcan) – although these rival and probably exceed some of my chosen highlights, I’ve excluded them as they are included in our review of the year at the top of this page.
Antonov An-225 at East Midlands
This for me was almost pre-ordained. I remember wanting to catch the An-225 arriving at East Midlands for its last visit, which just happened to be during the first few weeks of my degree. I didn’t get it, but after a long (five year!) wait, it turned up again in the very last week. Some delays leaving Riga in Latvia meant that the light, which would have been marginal, had turned to a warm summer evening glow. Not being overly active in the civil aviation world, it was also very cool to see what an effect phone apps like FlightRadar24 have had, with nearly everyone at the threshold (which could well have been all of Leicestershire) fully up to date on the position of the flight, even if they were not enthusiasts per se. All round it was a really pleasant community atmosphere, and a great way to spend a summer evening. What a way to see the world’s largest aircraft for the first time!
Comet Display – Old Warden Pageant Airshow
One of the greatly awaited debuts on the airshow circuit in 2014 had to be the De Havilland DH.88 Comet at Old Warden. We’ve had a healthy amount of warbird “return to flights” over the last few years, but the Comet is something special. I won’t go into the unique history of this extraordinary piece of British Engineering (if you’re interested, read my review of the show). In my opinion it was the unique atmosphere that made this event so special. With the Comet unable to fly in the stronger crosswinds earlier in the display, the decision was made to keep it until the very end – way past the time the show “officially” ended. That the vast majority of spectators stayed spoke volumes as to the interest in this debut and in terms of the display, it was just what you would hope for from the Comet – showing off the speed that made it so successful. The last light of the day turned the deep crimson colours of the aircraft a uniformly rich red, and it just looked sublime. For those that like well lit topsides (and call me boring, I do), those were also in good supply. Enough said – a beautiful evening.
“Just Jane” Nightshoot at East Kirkby
Before this year, I’d never been to East Kirkby or seen Just Jane. For many, 2014 must have been the Lancaster year, with all three running examples together in the UK. I missed all of the summer events, but was tempted by the TimeLine Events nightshoot in October. Without wanting this to sound like an endorsement for their events, although the £50 price tag almost put me off, shelling out the cash was well worth it. Certainly some will disagree, but when an event is run well, and you come away with exactly the image that you have in your head beforehand, the satisfaction is pretty significant. It was also my first opportunity to see a Lancaster running at night. For anyone else who is lacking in the “thunderous-roar-of-merlins-at-night” department, get to East Kirkby next year. You will not regret it.
There were many highlights in 2014 for me, from the season opener at Abingdon being blessed with sunshine, to the Midair launch of the Hunter and Canberra pairing, to the stunning location of the Dawlish airshow and seeing both Lancasters flying together for the first time. RIAT was a pleasing 6 day event, good weather, and some great aircraft including the Polish SU-22’s, but devoid of American heavy participation once more. However, RAF Fairford did see some bomber action a month before RIAT, with 2 B-2A Spirit’s and 3 B-52H’s deploying and operating from Gloucestershire – something that saw me making a dash from the RAF Cosford where I was about to watch the airshow in an attempt to catch them arriving.
Tristar Retirement – Final Air to Air flight
It has been a sad 12 months for the RAF’s Heavy Lift aircraft with the retirement of the VC-10 and Tristar from service. In March of 2014 I was invited to RAF Brize Norton to witness the final Tristar Air to Air sortie where the media and a few lucky enthusiasts were invited along to witness the event. Two Tristars launched with one photographing the other tanking 3 Squadron Typhoons. The aircraft I was on was lucky enough to be the aircraft tanking the Typhoons who would formate on our wings prior to refuelling with an extra bonus of flying in formation with the other Tristar allowing some great photo opportunities. Getting the specially marked anniversary 3 Squadron jet formatting on our wing was just the icing on the cake. Prior to returning the old girl back to Brize we had a little tour of the country, shooting approaches at Cambridge and Bournemouth airports. It was my fifth and final flight on a Tristar, and a real honour to witness the last air refuelling from one of these classic and iconic jets.
McDonnell Douglas F-15D 86-0182, RAF Lakenheath
I spent 10 days in October over at my old Suffolk haunts of Mildenhall and Lakenheath and was lucky that the F-15C’s of the 493rd FS were flying nonstop, hot pitting for sortie after sortie. On the 7th October after a bleak morning of weather the sun popped out just as a recovery commenced. It allowed for some glorious sunshine to light up the Eagles with dark moody bac drops, really popping the aircraft out. I was particularly happy to get both F-15D’s in this stunning light. However, just 24 hours later, word of a crash in Lincolnshire involving an F-15 had come through. Luckily the pilot had ejected safely, rescued by an HH-60 of the 56th RQS, and there were no injuries on the ground. The aircraft in question turned out to be F-15D 86-0182 belonging to the 493rd FS, the very aircraft I had photographed the day before. Although it was a sad demise of the aircraft, the pilot had thankfully survived, and I feel quite fortunate to have a photo of this aircraft in such stunning light in my collection.
VMFA 314 visits RAF Lakenheath
Another great highlight for me also took place in the first week of October at RAF Lakenheath. Rumours of VMFA 314 F/A-18’s staging through Lakenheath on their way back to NAS Miramar had surfaced all week. After various delays, on the 3rd of October in cold, misty and complete darkness the first six jets arrived from NAS Sigonella which was frustrating to the massed photographers who had gathered to see these rare Jets in the UK. However there was a chance to grab the second wave of six aircraft the following day. With the rumoured arrival time of around 2pm and stunning blue skies, hundreds of enthusiasts sat patiently stalking they’re pray. Unfortunately the aircraft had been delayed again with their ETA around sunset and it would be touch and go if the light would hold. It was also a tough call of where to photograph them from, into the setting sun or try to get them lit in the fading light. I decided on staying at the forest entrance to go for the silhouette shots and, as the sun disappeared below the horizon with the sky turning a beautiful dark yellowy orange, the aircraft called up Lakenheath approach. Patience paid off, and with the ISO cranked up to 2000, the aircraft landed individually with streamers pouring off the wing tips. Two days of stalking, in freezing conditions was worth the wait and the choice of location paid off handsomely.
2014 was a relatively quiet year for me with only a handful of airshows and spotting trips, but there was still some fantastic highlights from the never to be repeated CWHM visit to the UK to a hop over to Belgium for the Belgian Air Force Days airshow.
There are a couple of highlights worth a short mention. First would be the often forgotten or overshadowed Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Whisky 7’ which also crossed ‘The Pond’ from the National Warplane Museum – Geneseo, New York. W7 was over for the D Day celebrations and also took part in the Duxford D Day anniversary show. The final appearance of the Hellenic Air Force A-7 Corsair II at RIAT is another and 336 Mira brought two aircraft over – one of which won the award for Best Paint Scheme.
Three Avro flypast, RAF Marham Families day, Thursday 21st August
RAF Marham Families day was fortunate to have a flypast by the Vulcan flanked by both Lancasters. After much confusion from the commentator on which direction they flypast would happen and much anticipation from the attendees, the three sisters soon came into view from the 06 end and what an amazing sight it was to have them in the sky at the same time. During the flypast XH558 climbed away with the Olympus howl leaving the sound of eight Merlins along with cheering and clapping from the crowd, a sight and sounds never to be forgotten.
Belgian Air Force Days, Kleine Brogel 12-14th September
I spent three brilliant days at Kleine Brogel in September with some great company. The weather played havoc during the morning of both show days but once that cleared up, the show produced some great highlights including an old school display from the Polish Mig 29 complete with tail slide and an outstanding Czech Air Force Mi-171 role demo making it hard to pick just one main highlight and the show was topped off with great food and some very drinkable Jupiler beer.
RAF Tornados leave Afghanistan
Five and half years after they arrived in Afghanistan and with 7 different Squadrons making 19 deployment rotations (which meant some squadrons, 12 (B) and 31 Sqn, doing 4 separate deployments) the Tornados finally left Afghanistan on Tuesday 11th November. Although I personally wasn’t there to witness their return (and for some jets they still haven’t after being diverted Cyprus to take part in the airstrikes in Iraq against IS /ISIL) after speaking to crews and personnel who had been out to Afghanistan it filled me with pride, the service and sacrifice these people make. It is also testament to how good the Tornado GR4 is that 40 years after the prototype flew the jet is still at the forefront of the RAF arsenal and can still deliver in the twilight of its service career.
Well that was 2014 and I have to say what a belter of a year it was! It is fair to say that for me 2014 has been my best year in the game with trips all over the world including the UAE for the Red Bull Air Race Season opener and out to the States for a week at Oshkosh as well as ventures into Europe. The skies over the UK have been graced by some superb types and sights and I’m glad to have witnessed a number of them – two visits from the AN225 Myria (East Midlands and Doncaster), CWHMs stunning Lancaster for a tribute like no other to Bomber Command, two Polish SU22 Fitters tearing the skies apart at RIAT to name but a few. To list them all would take up a number of pages there have been that many personal highlights!
This year has seen a number of types ticked off the list that I could only have dreamed of seeing such as a flying Westland Whirlwind return to the air, a GeeBee chasing its engine around the wild blue yonder and even a MiG-17 chasing a F86 with its burner blazing in stormy skies. As well as all the trips to various events, fencelines, shows and museums it’s been absolutely amazing and a pleasure to meet so many people (especially with the advent of social media!) everywhere I have been. Let’s hope it continues and 2015 beats 2014 by a mile. Happy spotting one and all!
Fairey Gannet T5 XT752/N752XT at EAA AirVenture – Oshkosh, USA
It is often said that Oshkosh is the ‘Aviation Mecca’ when it comes to the sheer number of aircraft and types in attendance and 2014 was no different! With military types spanning pretty much the entire historical period of powered flight you are sure to ‘bag’ something different. For me this year the ultimate catch came in the form of Fairey Gannet T5 XT752/N752XT better known as ‘JANET’. Having seen a number of preserved Gannet’s in museums, my first sighting the world’s only flying example came on the Monday of the event as the aircraft held off to the East waiting for NASAs WB-57F N927NA (Canberra 53-3918) to arrive – a sheer dot above the horizon. The sight of the aircrafts unique cranked wing and sound of the Double Mamba as it flew a low flypast and broke into the circuit was rather spine tingling! Its fair to say the aircraft is truly a ‘Ugly Duckling’.
Air Force One – RAF Fairford, UK
Like most people in the world of aviation photography I have a list of types that I would love to see through the viewfinder. This year saw number of ticked off that list on my travels but it was at RAF Fairford in September that saw a personnel highlight removed from my aviation bucket list. With the NATO Summit taking place in the UK, United States Air Force Boeing VC-25A (747-2G4B) 92-9000 operated by the 89th Airlift Wing out of Joint Base Andrews arrived under the callsign ‘AIR FORCE ONE’. With the light slowly starting to fade the rather stunning looking jet, adorned in the Presidential Scheme, appeared from the North-East and flew a rather superb visual circuit for runway 09. The spectacle of the jet and the ensemble to transport POTUS to the Summit was one to behold – but more importantly Air Force One was in the bag!
The past and present of the Belgian Air Component – Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belguim
With the Belgian Air Component celebrating a ‘Century Plus’ at Kleine Brogel a number of unique formations and flypasts took place during the event. One such flypast, which in my eyes will be very hard to beat, saw an F16 and a Blériot in the same piece of sky. With a difference of 65 years between the pairs respective first flights, the sheer difference in speed, size and technology is astounding. BAC Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon FA-84 in the hands of Solo Display pilot Captain ‘Grat’ Thys and Mikael Carlson in the Blériot IX (actually a Thulin A – Swedish built version) flew a incredible set piece allowing the F16 to pass the Blériot IX at show center. One of the first aircraft the BAC had with one of the latest in the air arms inventory… one word – stunning!
For me 2014 was quite a busy year on both the civil and military side of things. On the civil side I had countless visits to Heathrow, most people know I’m big fan of civil aviation as well as military and LHR almost became a second home for me during 2014. On the military side the real highlight for all of us I think had to be the bomber deployment to RAF Fairford and an amazing couple of days spent chasing B-52s and B-2s from all angles. One image from that deployment that will stay with me for a while is seeing a B-52 hugging the ground, smoke pouring from the engines as they power back up after a touch-and-go – simply amazing. Chasing RC-135’s at RAF Mildenhall was also a highlight, albeit frustrating at times. All in all a good 2014 with a good mix of airshows, exercises and civilian action covered.
Red Flag 14-2
My first time out at Red Flag and it was quite an experience standing in the middle of the two runways as wave after wave of fighters, bombers and tankers took to the sky. The recoveries were just as impressive as a steady stream of aircraft returned from the training ranges. Looking back one of the highlights was being able to photograph the 65th Aggressor Squadron aircraft for the first and last time following its deactivation.
Anatolian Eagle 2014
The annual international Anatolian Eagle exercise held at Turkey’s Konya air base always guarantees some interesting participants and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Mirage 2000s from Qatar and Jordanian F-16s were among the highlights but the real star items were the Turkish Air Force F4-E Phantoms. Along with some great access and wonderful hospitality from the Turkish hosts I’m already looking forward to going back to Konya.
As mentioned, for me London Heathrow became somewhat of a second home in 2014. I was involved with quite a few of the test trials for the new Terminal 2 building from the early stages right through to full scale passenger tests. I never tire of going to LHR, from the winter days when the light is perfect you can come away with some beautiful images right through to the summer months when the early mornings and late evening golden light can make even a plain looking A320 look that bit more interesting with all the fan blades lit up and the tiniest details picked out by the low sun. 2014 at LHR was very much a changing of the old to the new with 747’s and 767’s being retired and A380’s and 787’s taking over but this did mean that standout highlights for me of them banking out of LHR this year.
2014 was a big year for me: Graduating from University and starting a full time job have resulted in fewer opportunities to get out photographing aeroplanes, but I tried my best to make use of my final long summer holiday by taking in airshows at home and abroad. Trips to the US, Switzerland and Japan were undoubtedly the highlights of a busy year, but did result in me missing some superb UK opportunities such as the B52 and B2 deployment to Fairford.
It was difficult to choose three aviation highlights of such a great year, but tried to add some variety and unique events that were personal highlights for myself. I look forward to getting back out there in 2015 to spend some more quality time with good friends and good aeroplanes.
Experiencing a full day of flying at JASDF Hyakuri
Hyakuri is a word used in hushed tones within the military aviation enthusiast community: A mythical land in the east with spotting towers and exotic phantoms and the base certainly met all expectations during a visit in June. From the beautiful aircraft to the Spartan toilets at the spotting towers (complete with snakes!), my day at Hyakuri was one of the most memorable days I’ve had since picking up a camera. If you’re thinking of going, just do it!
Swiss Air Force Centenary at AIR14
The Swiss Air Force’s AIR14 show at Payerne was widely agreed to have been one of the best in 2014. I attended for both weekends, which after illness and a bit of sightseeing resulted in seven whole days on base (and fourteen killer walks to the car and back!). In a show filled with impressive acts from around Europe, the Swiss set pieces were on another level and a great example of how to celebrate a centenary (Take note RIAT 2018).
Dawlish SAR ‘Formation’
I had to mention this in my highlights as Dawlish is my favourite airshow in the UK. The effort that goes in by a dedicated team of volunteers to run this small show in such a beautiful location was rewarded this year with a unique photo opportunity: As the Royal Air Force Sea King HAR.3 ended its display, newly restored Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ729/G-BVGE took to the air and hovered as the Sea King transited past, much to the delight of the photographers on the hill.
My year started with a very quiet period at my local, RAF Lossiemouth, as the preparation for the move north of the Typhoon Force at RAF Leuchars was well underway. With the disbandment in March of 12(B) Squadron and 617 Squadron, Lossie was down to just one Squadron of Tornado GR4s. However there were a few highlights to keep the locals entertained. Namely the first landing of a United states Air Force KC10A Extender at Lossie and Exercise Joint Warrior 14-1 in April to name a few. The summer was filled with various trips away including a week with some of the Lossie guys to various bases in England, to which the highlight was an on base visit to RAF Lakenheath for some F15 action.
The second half of the year was just as busy, with the first of the Typhoons having moved in, Lossie was beginning to look like an active airfield again. A day trip to Prestwick for their airshow was a must. To see and hear the formation of two Avro Lancasters was something not to be missed, they didn’t disappoint. In September the second Typhoon Squadron arrived and thus, unfortunately ended fast jet operations from RAF Leuchars. Exercise Joint Warrior 14-2 in October was another highlight, with Tornado ECRs from the German Air Force and Swedish Air Force SAAB Gripen C and Ds operating from Lossie. The year ended with some very nice activity at Lossie – a deployment of Maritime Patrol Aircraft, the first live drop of a Paveway IV from a RAF Typhoon and a second KC10A visit to name a few. With the standing up of II(AC) Squadron in early January and a few airshows already booked, 2015 for me is looking promising already.
Lossie Taking Over Northern QRA – 1(F) and 6 Squadron’s Move North
It would be hard not to mention this, as it has opened a new chapter for the Moray base but unfortunately ended one in Fife. The arrival of the Typhoons of Numbers 1(F) and 6 Squadron was long in process but with the first Squadron arriving June 20th, it marked the end of a lot of doubt for many. In early September, 1(F) Squadron arrived and 6 Squadron crews completed the first live intercept from RAF Lossiemouth. There has been a further four live intercepts since Lossie’s takeover of Northern QRA.
RAF Lakenheath Base Visit – June 5th
Maybe not a highlight to photograph F15s for many, but since they’re not the most common sights up my way this had to be included. An opportunity arose for a base visit to RAF Lakenheath and what a day it turned out to be with 9 ½ hours on camp and the best access I’ve ever witnessed. The USAF personnel were very accommodating and we were well and truly spoiled.
Helicopter Assault on Kinloss Barracks – Joint Warrior 14-1 – April 7th
With flying operations having ended at the former RAF station at the end of July 2011, the news that Kinloss was to be “attacked” during Exercise Joint Warrior 14-1 was welcomed by many Moray enthusiasts. The gathered crowd were certainly treated to a fantastic show of how to tactically deploy and deliver troops on the ground quickly. Helped by the crews playing ball and keeping it low on departure, everyone who witnessed it went away very happy.
My own aviation activities were significantly curtailed in 2014, but it was still an excellent year for displays and events. It felt like a very busy year with many events showcasing newly restored, rare or unique aeroplanes, with unusual formations taking to the skies. For me, there were many great things to see – some familiar, some for the first time and others, probably, never to be repeated including the Canadian Lancaster. However, despite some fantastic highlights last year involving ‘prop’ aircraft I have opted for three from the jet world.
Midair Sqaudron Launch Event, Cotswold Airfield
Being a child of the 60/70s I was really pleased to attend the official launch of the Midair Squadron in April and witness a formidable display by two of my favourite aircraft – the Canberra and Hunter at their home base of former RAF Kemble (Cotswold Airport). Providing a pairs and separate solo displays, the all-over silver scheme works well against both blue and cloudier, darker skies as the aircraft are put through their paces reminding us of jets that served in their hundreds only a few years ago. It is the Canberra that particularly attracts attention, being the only currently airworthy example and just days later it provided a fitting finale at the opening airshow of the year – Abingdon – where it was extremely well received.
The Gnat Display Team
I have always enjoyed seeing the Folland Gnat and remember it flying with both the Red Arrows and 4FTS at RAF Valley, as well as regularly visiting Bitteswell aerodrome for servicing. The Heritage Aircraft Trust operating from North Weald as the Gnat Display Team has made sterling efforts to preserve and continue operating the type for public display. A long-held aim to add a third aircraft to the team was realised in 2014 with Folland Gnat XS102 (G-MOUR) being returned to the skies. Now resplendent in the colours of the RAF’s Yellowjacks aerobatic team of 1964, it bears the serial XR992 and the yellow/black tail of the leader’s aircraft. The Gnat Display Team undertook a number of 3-ship displays last summer and also flew in 50th anniversary formation with the Red Arrows during public displays at RIAT and Waddington. These are great aircraft operated by a friendly and welcoming team – long may their success continue.
RAF Voyager tanking sortie
In the spring I was privileged to spend time with AirTanker and the RAF at Brize Norton whilst writing a magazine article about the development and introduction into RAF service of the A330MRTT Voyager. Then, in the autumn I was invited to join the first media flight on the aircraft and flew on an extended AAR mission over the North Sea refuelling Typhoons. I’ve had a life-long interest in AAR and to be able to witness the professionalism and skill of the aircrews of the Voyager and Typhoons at close-quarters was a fantastic experience, which included occupying the cockpit ‘jump’ seat during take-off. The photograph shows Typhoon FGR4 ZJ917, flown by 6 Sqn (although in 3 Sqn markings) receiving fuel from the port wing pod of Voyager KC3 ZZ334.