The sound of the Iconic Buccaneer roars across the sleepy airfield at Elvington as the aircraft is brought to life for a run during the last ‘Thunder Day’ of the 2012 season. Jamie Ewan reports for AeroResource from the home of the Yorkshire Air Museum.

A Brief History

The Yorkshire Air Museum is one of the largest independent air museums in the UK and is also the home of The Allied Air Forces Memorial. Located on the former World War II Heavy Bomber base, the museum is home to a unique collection of aircraft from a Replica Cayley Glider to the Panavia Tornado GR4. The collection also includes some rare gems such as the De Havilland DH98 Mosquito NF.11, Handley Page Halifax II and a Dassault Mirage IIIE. The base has the distinction of being the only airfield to be used by the French heavy bomber squadrons (No. 346 (Guyenne) and No.347 (Tunisie)) during the Second World War. In the early 1960s, the Blackburn Aircraft Company at Brough, near Hull, used the runway for test flying the prototype Buccaneer aircraft, of which the collection fittingly has two examples. Afterwards, the RAF used the runway to practise circuits and landings, with aircraft coming from RAF Church Fenton and RAF Linton-on-Ouse. RAF Elvington finally closed in March 1992 and was sold by the Ministry of Defence in January 1999.

Thunder Day – September 2nd 2012 Participants

Blackburn Buccaneer S2B – XN974 – 2 Runs
De Havilland DH.104 Devon C2 – VP967 – 1 Run
Hawker Siddley Nimrod MR2 – XV250 – 1 Run
Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a (Replica) – F943 – 2 Runs

With the Gates opening at 10:00AM and the first run scheduled for 11:00 there was plenty of time for visitors to wander around the museum and chat to crews working on the participants for the day. The crews were more than eager to talk about the various aircraft and restoration projects on going throughout the museum site which is packed from pillar to post. With both the SE.5a and the Buccaneer both due to take part in runs before lunch it was soon time for the Fire Crews and Staff to get ready in position. The Buccaneer however did develop a hydraulics issue during her first run, which included a brief taxi, but thankfully after some attention from the devoted team of engineers, it was decided that she would be able to take part in the afternoon run, albeit in the form of a static run only.

Unfortunately the resident Handley Page Victor XL231 ‘Lusty Lindy’ (one of only two running examples) wasn’t taking part in the runs during the day, but was still attracting attention with her unique shape and size. “Lusty” is currently in the process of being repainted by the team of volunteers who look after her. We hope to see her in her prime at a future event.

Soon after these first two runs people started to look skyward for the scheduled flypasts from one of the BBMF. Right on time, the sky was humming with the sound of a Merlin engine as MK356, the Flight’s Spitfire Mk LFIXe appeared in the sky from the South West low and fast. The aircraft performed 3 flypasts including a superb topside pass, before heading off South on a busy weekend for the Flight.

The afternoon session engine runs started with the Museum’s Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2, XV250 ‘Maid of Moray’. It was decided that due to fuel cost only 2 of the aircraft’s 4 thirsty Rolls Royce Spey engines would be started up. Before the engines were turned over for their run, a Minutes Silence and the Last Post was played in memory of the Crew sadly killed in the loss of XV230 whilst on Operations in Afghanistan. Rather fittingly as the Silence ended the APU kicked into life and a mass flypast, led by a Fokker Triplane Dr.1, appeared from the West over the airfield. The aircraft including a Ryan PT-22 / ST.3, Miles Magister and a Bucker Bu 133 Jungmeister, allfrom Brieghton Flying Club. As the mixed formation of type performed flypasts from various directions the Nimrod’s engines kicked into life! As the Number 2 engine started up, what appeared to be a fuel leak appeared but all was deemed well for the run to continue. With the roar of 2 Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans echoing across the airfield, the Bucker Bu 133 Jungmeister (G-BVXJ), adorned in Spanish Air Force Markings, performed a stunning solo display routine, including various flick and stall manoeuvres. A fine example of display flying and airmanship! Whilst G-BVXJ departed back westwards, XV250 powered down and the airfield was once again quiet.

Nimrod XV250 was built at Woodford as an MR.1 aircraft and first flown on 21st January 1971 and delivered to the RAF in February of that year. Converted into MR2 configuration in June 1982, the aircraft flew from its home base of RAF Kinloss until its retirement in March 2010. The Maid of Moray was flown for the final time to the Yorkshire Air Museum in April of 2010, after the Nimrod fleet was withdrawn from use.

Soon after XV250, it was the turn of the Museum’s Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a replica to take centre stage with her run. The aircraft, powered by a 200 hp Wolseley Viper Engine, has been meticulously restored to very close to original standard by the Museum. The aircraft is a fine example of the type made famous by action in the First World War. The SE.5a was one of the outstanding fighters of the First World War, of which about 5,000 were produced, serving with twenty Royal Flying Corps squadrons over the Western Front. They also equipped the 25th and 148th Aero Squadrons of the US Air Service. Four squadrons flew the type on Home Defence duties.

One more unusual item due to run up after the SE5a, was the De Havilland DH.104 Devon C2 VP967. The aircraft, built in 1948, was delivered to the Royal Air Force later in that year, operating in the United Kingdom and Germany. VP967 was later fitted with more powerful engines as a C2 variant of the Devon. Acquired by the Museum in November 2010, the airframe and engines have been lovingly restored to full running order. Hooked up to the Electric starter, and with the fire team in position, it initially appeared there wereissues getting the engines to tick over, but after carefully priming them for a few moments there was bang from the one of the de Havilland Gipsy Queen engines and a plume of white smoke. Before long the engine was purring away as all 6 Cylinders performed in superb harmony. The Devon was to perform a short taxi run down the tarmac – a superb sight and sound as VP967, adorned in 207 Squadron Markings, headed off slowly down the airfield.

The final act of the day was the second run of Buccaneer XN974. After being towed to her area for her Static run the crews got to work removing the blanks and hooking up the Jet Starter Pack. As people started to gather in front of the aircraft, the sun shone brightly on the aircraft. XN974 was the first production S.2 aircraft, making its first flight from the British Aerospace airfield at Holme-on-Spalding Moor on 5 June 1964. After a long and successful career as a trials aircraft, Buccaneer XN974 was flown into retirement at Elvington in 1991. The roar of two Rolls-Royce RB Spey Mk.101 turbofans soon sounded across Elvington as the Engineer powered both up to full power. After an all too brief period, silence prevailed, broken only by the sound of various super cars using the track found on the airfield, and the aircraft was soon being towed back to her hard stand. Another successful run, judging by the smiles and laughter coming from all involved.

With the economic climate being the way it is it, a chance to see preserved aircraft in full running order roar once again is one not to be missed! This was evident by some 3000 people who attended this well run and entertaining event, all of whom left with huge smiles and ears ringing! We can’t wait for the next Elvington ‘Thunder Day’!