More than just a museum, AIRBASE, the new attraction from Classic Flight is set to raise the bar for vintage aircraft collections. Ben Montgomery and Phill Loughlin visited for AeroResource to see what all the fuss is about, and to view Classic Flight’s latest acquisition.

Air Atlantique is almost a household name in the classic flight community, and AIRBASE is old news for some. However, a new initiative from Air Atlantique is trying to make it much more of a visitor attraction, and introduce a feeling of a live, working airbase.

Air Atlantique have been based at Coventry for over 20 years now, and are the UK’s largest collection of flyable classic jets – as well as being home to many classic civilian aircraft as well. Trevor Bailey, the CEO of Classic Flight, explained:

“Throughout Air Atlantique’s history the airline has built up a reputation for flying rare, historic and unusual aircraft. It has long been our desire to open up this collection to the public and share the sights, sounds and even smells associated with an eclectic fleet of old aircraft.”

Enter AIRBASE, a 37,000 square feet complex, where visitors can see the Air Atlantique collection, and watch as they go through pre-flight checks, start up and depart. As well as viewing the fantastic aircraft that live here, engineers, ground crew and pilots will be on hand to talk to visitors, and answer any questions they may have. Additionally, AIRBASE promises to provide a “hands-on” aviation experience , with taxi rides in their DC-6 Cloudmaster and flights in a range of classic aircraft, including the Percival Prentice, De Havilland Dragon Rapide and the De Havilland Dove. AIRBASE are also planning to provide aerobatic flights in their Chipmunk aircraft.

The closure of Coventry Airport has delayed plans slightly, with AIRBASE now planned to open to the public on the 29th May, rather than a date earlier this year as was originally intended. The airport was recently purchased by Sir Peter Rigby, which has returned some stability to an uncertain situation.

Aircraft to be present at AIRBASE include Jet Provost T.5A XW433, Canberra T.4 VN799, Canberra B.2 WK163, Venom FB.50 WK436, and the most recent arrival, Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.2 XV232.

On the 31st March 2010, the RAF Nimrod MR.2 fleet was retired, after 41 years of service (the first of 49 aircraft entered service in 1969). Various examples have found their ways to museums and airfields, such as Bruntingthorpe, Elvington and now Coventry.

XV232 arrived on the morning of 11th May , after flying from RAF Kinloss. After two flypasts, she flared in to land for the final time. This is not just an ordinary Nimrod, she still holds the record for the longest distance operational reconnaissance mission ever flown. On May 21st 1982, XV232 departed Ascension Island, on an epic 18 hour 50 minute mission, which covered 8,453 miles. Their aim was to search for enemy warships at sea, before the landing assault at San Carlos began. Flown by Crew No.5 from 206 Squadron, this record has still to be broken!

Although XV232 is set to never fly again, life for her is not over yet. The plan is to keep her in full running order alongside the other classic jets at AIRBASE, so that she may still continue to conduct taxi runs along Coventry’s runway. One tentative suggestion is that these taxi runs could well carry passengers, although it remains to be seen whether this would be economically possible or not.

When not running, the plan is to open the Nimrod up, to allow visitors to view the inside of the jet (in keeping with AIRBASE’s “living, hands-on” theme). RAF technicians were on hand on arrival to strip out the valuable and sensitive mission kit, but are trying to leave as much equipment as possible in the jet, to allow a feel for what flying on an operational Nimrod would have been like.

At 12:36PM, Sqn Ldr Stuart Roxburgh, of StanEval, RAF Kinloss, handed the MOD Form 700C (Aircraft Maintenance Form) to Mike Collett, the President and Founder of Air Atlantique, signifying the end of the RAF career of this “Mighty Hunter”, and the start of her new life.