Buccaneers on the move and aviation scene update

Buccaneers on the move and aviation scene update

Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.

Over the past five years, our Aerodrome blog had published several event and review articles featuring aircraft which are based and in many cases operated, from the former RAF airfield at Bruntingthorpe, in Leicestershire. Over the years, the various aircraft owners and groups based at this airfield site have gained a reputation for being the custodians of Britain’s Cold War aviation heritage and have attracted many thousands of enthusiasts to the numerous events they have staged. Unfortunately, you can never take anything for granted in the world of historic aviation and changes which have been rumoured for some time have recently come to fruition and some of the groups who care for these magnificent aircraft are going to need our help.

In the latest edition of Aerodrome, we are going to be looking at one of the groups currently based at Bruntingthorpe and how they are planning to deal with a situation which should see two Blackburn Buccaneer aircraft travelling to a new home over the next few weeks. We will also see how a slight relaxation of the restrictions the nation has been coping with over the last few months has led to some positive steps for one of the country’s best loved aviation museums and how seven ‘Queens of the skies’ gathered at Manchester Airport in preparation for their hastened withdrawal from service. In an edition which reflects something of the current state of aviation in the UK, there is some sadness, some positivity and a great deal of optimism for a brighter future.

Buccaneer pair to hit the road

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

For almost 20 years, enthusiasts at Bruntingthorpe have restored, maintained and operated two former RAF Blackburn Buccaneer strike aircraft to an incredibly high standard, to the point where they now regularly blast down the runway under their own power

A British aircraft which can trace its development history back to the 1950’s and a massive naval expansion programme undertaken by the Soviet Navy, the Blackburn Buccaneer has to be considered as one of the most distinctive of Britain’s post war jet aircraft and one which would go on to see service with both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force. With the Russians expanding their naval forces by introducing large numbers of their new Sverdlov Class Cruisers, the Royal Navy were concerned that they would not be in a position to mount an effective defence against this new threat with their existing force alone. The state of the country’s finances at that time dictated that Britain would not be in a position to counter this move with a similar expansion programme of their own, so it was quickly decided that a capable new naval strike aircraft would be the answer, one able to operate from existing carriers and possess the ability to effectively detect and destroy the new Soviet vessels.

The new aircraft would be the first of its type to be developed from the outset as an ‘under radar’ design and would need to provide excellent performance at low altitudes, as well as the capability to deliver nuclear munitions if required. Clearly, these requirements would place particular demands on any aircraft, however, the new jet would also need to achieve all this whilst operating from one of Britain’s diminutive aircraft carriers – this would have to be a very special aeroplane indeed.

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

Naval heritage. The Buccaneer can always be relied upon to display its naval heritage whilst entertaining the crowds on one of the annual Cold War Jets open days at Bruntingthorpe

Developed under a cloak of international secrecy, the favoured design was submitted by famous British naval aircraft manufacturer Blackburn and was referred to as the Blackburn Advanced Naval Aircraft (BANA), an acronym which would stay with the aircraft throughout its life and attract a somewhat predictable nickname of the ‘Banana Jet’ – come to think of it, its fuselage did look a little banana like. Although well versed in the production of naval aeroplanes, this would be the company’s first jet aircraft and the demanding performance criteria would dictate that the project would pose many manufacturing and development problems for the Blackburn team, not least the fact that the strength and durability of the aircraft would require components to be worked from solid blocks of metal.

The technology required to undertake this kind of work would usually be sourced from American companies, however, this would not be possible in this case, as the lead time would be an unacceptably long three years – Blackburn set about producing their own bespoke machinery. Clearly, producing an aircraft capable of withstanding the rigours of carrier operation and the stresses associated with fast, low level operations dictated that their new aircraft would have to be tough, but this strength would come at a cost. Building in the necessary levels of strength and durability into the design resulted in an aerodynamic penalty and the performance of the aircraft would therefore be compromised, nevertheless, what they eventually produced was a truly exceptional aeroplane. Their Buccaneer may not have been supersonic, but it was manoeuvrable, built like a brick outhouse and the most capable aircraft of its kind the world had ever seen – it also just happened to be the heaviest aircraft the Royal Navy had ever operated from a carrier.

Dedicated to Buccaneer preservation

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

A labour of aviation love. The TBAG enthusiasts have maintained their aircraft to such a high standard that they almost look as if they are ready to take to the air at a moment’s notice – if only!

With British aviation credentials such as these, it is no wonder that the unique attributes of the Blackburn Buccaneer has impressed service personnel and captivated enthusiast over the years and when the aircraft was finally withdrawn from RAF service in 1994, there was no shortage of museum suiters hoping to offer them a new home. As impressive as the sight of a preserved Buccaneer might be, there is one group of volunteers here in the UK who had something much more exciting in mind for the legacy of this magnificent aircraft, to maintain two impressive examples in ground running condition. Taking this one step further, both aircraft are also capable of performing fast taxi runs under their own power, allowing the general public to experience the power and majesty of this classic Cold War warrior for themselves.

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are a committed organisation of volunteers dedicated to the preservation and maintenance of two former Royal Air Force Blackburn Buccaneers in fast taxi condition and as such, are the only group of their kind in the world. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to attend one of the Bruntingthorpe Cold War Jets Days in the past will be fully aware of the professionalism of this group, as both of their aircraft regularly thrill the crowds with wing-folding demonstrations of the aircraft’s naval heritage, before blasting down the runway and looking for all the world as if they are still more than capable of taking to the air and delivering a lethal blow to any potential enemy.

Their continued operation is due solely to the endeavours of the group’s volunteers, who all spend much of their spare time working on the aircraft, bringing their skills and various trade expertise to a project dedicated to preserving the legacy of this magnificent aeroplane. Perhaps of even greater importance than this, the team also help other groups and museums who may have Buccaneer related problems, whilst also providing support for any number of aircraft anniversary events, squadron reunions and former aircrew experience days – these people genuinely do live and breathe Buccaneers.

The two aircraft they have under their charge are XX894 and XW544, both S.2B variants and both former Royal Air Force machines. Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XX894 was delivered to the RAF in December 1975 and would go on to have an active 19 year service career which included operations in the Gulf War and the destruction of an Iraqi An12 ‘Cub’ transport aircraft. Towards the end of her service career, this Buccaneer was repainted in the colours of a No.809 Naval Air Squadron aircraft, which operated aboard HMS Ark Royal during 1978. This presentation change was to allow the aircraft to take its place in an evocative official photoshoot to mark the retirement of the Buccaneer.

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

Although they are the same variant of aircraft, the two Buccaneers operated by TBAG could not look more different. Marking the RAF career of the type, XW544 now wears the camouflage markings of a No.16 Squadron machine

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

Paying its respects to the senior service, XX894 was repainted in these No.809 Naval Air Squadron markings during the final months of Buccaneer service, taking its place at the head of an iconic official photoshoot to commemorate the legacy of this magnificent aircraft

Following its withdrawal from service, the aircraft spent time in storage at several locations around the UK, including St Athan, Bruntingthorpe, Kemble and Farnborough, before arriving back at Bruntingthorpe for the final time in 2003. The aircraft came into the possession of The Buccaneer Aviation Group in 2011, who have been maintaining and displaying the aircraft ever since.

Blackburn Buccaneer S.2B XW544 was built at the famous Brough factory in Yorkshire and delivered to the RAF in 1972. During a relatively short service career, she would serve with the RAF in Germany and with the No.2 Technical Training School at RAF Cosford. On retirement, XW544 was deemed surplus and ultimately ended up in a scrap yard near Shawbury, sitting forlornly on her belly, a pale shadow of her former self. She was discovered there by enthusiasts, purchased and underwent rudimentary preservation to ensure she did not deteriorate further. Eventually, the aircraft made its way to Bruntingthorpe, where its future was secured and a concerted period of restoration could be embarked upon. She is now in running condition and is a far cry from the hulk which was found languishing in a Midlands scrap yard.

TBAG are on the move

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

With the recent rumours of changes at Bruntingthorpe causing concern amongst Cold War jet enthusiasts, not to mention the volunteer groups based there who are dedicated to the preservation of these aircraft, members of The Buccaneer Aviation Group felt that they needed to be proactive at this critical period in their history and decided to find a new home for their two Buccaneers. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak with Michael Overs, the groups Retail Operations Manager, who was able to give us the official line on recent developments and the group’s future plans.

From the very outset, Mr Overs was keen to stress that TBAG have an excellent relationship with the owners of the airfield and that they will always be grateful for the magnificent support they have received over the past 20 years. Whilst they very much understand the pressures which brought about the changes at Bruntingthorpe, their own desire to create a legacy for their operation and maintain the restoration work of the past 20 years forced them to begin looking for a new home for their Buccaneers. Initially, two attractive venues offered to help the group, however, a third site came into consideration following a chance meeting in connection with the groups Buccaneer cockpit section attending an Airshow event earlier this year, an event which eventually fell victim to the current pandemic restrictions.

Earlier this month, The Buccaneer Aviation Group announced that the new home for their aircraft would be Cotswold Airport, the former RAF Kemble. An airfield steeped in RAF post war jet heritage, Kemble was seen as the ideal fit for their future plans and this exciting development will also see the groups volunteers providing active care for aircraft already based at the airfield – two Canberra PR.9s, a Hunter T.7 and a Folland Gnat. All they have to do now is to arrange for their two Buccaneers to be transported to Kemble and they are going to need our help.

The Buccaneer Aviation Group are on the mover to Kemble on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

Not your usual removal job. The skills of a specialist heavy haul company will be needed if these huge aeroplanes and all their spares and equipment are to make the journey from Bruntingthorpe to Kemble safely and as you would expect, this kind of support does not come cheap

Clearly, this is going to be an extremely costly exercise for TBAG and if the truth be told, the impact of associated costs is difficult to quantify at this stage. In addition to dismantling, transporting and re-assembling both aircraft, there are police and highways agency costs to factor in, plus any number of potential ‘unquantifiables’ and for a ‘not for profit’ organisation which relies solely on donations and event/shop sale proceeds to exist, they have a sizeable financial problem. To this end, the group recently launched a Crowdfunding appeal to help with these costs and to date, they have been humbled and greatly encouraged by the support the project has received. The team are very much aware that everyone is under enormous pressure at the moment, but would appreciate any help people could give them in supporting this aviation relocation, no matter how small that help may be.

Having witnessed an encouraging start to their appeal, it is hoped that the team can start to look forward to planning their imminent move and a bright future for their beloved Buccaneers at Cotswold Airport. Any amounts raised over and above the figure needed to facilitate the move will be put towards their ultimate aim of securing a covered home for the Buccaneers and associated equipment, because no matter how rugged these aircraft may be, long term exposure to the elements will undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on their continued preservation.

The TBAG team have promised to send us pictures of the move itself and their arrival at Kemble for inclusion in a future edition of Aerodrome and I am sure a great many people will now be looking forward to attending the first public event to be staged at their new home. For any additional information regarding this fascinating project, please visit The Buccaneer Aviation Group website or e-mail Mr Michael Overs directly. In the meantime, let’s help to get them over the line with their relocation expenses.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Michael Overs for spending the time to discuss the Buccaneer move with us and to wish him and his team every success with their relocation.

Important first step for Newark Air Museum

Newark Air Museum on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

As we are now fast approaching the end of June and the vast majority of the UK Airshow schedule for the year has fallen victim to this hated pandemic and the social restrictions it caused, aviation enthusiasts have to take comfort in looking for potential ‘green shoots’ of a return to some semblance of normality. With that in mind, we were recently made aware of a development which might just point to a slightly brighter future for us all and an important first step towards the eventual re-opening of one of the UK’s most popular aviation venues – the re-opening of the Newark Air Museum shop.

The past few months have been a challenging time for the entire population, however, operations such as NAM who rely on revenues generated by visitors and shop sales have been particularly badly hit and it may take them some time to recover the lost ground of prolonged enforced closure. We enjoy a fabulous working relationship with the good people at Newark Air Museum and are only too pleased to share their recent press release with our Aerodrome readership, particularly as it represents a positive step forward for them and historic aviation in general. Here is what they had to announce:

Great News – Museum Shop Re-Opening

The Newark Air Museum (NAM) is a registered charity and throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, NAM has been trying to generate vital funding by selling aviation kits and books through its associated trading operation the Newark Air Museum Shop. Until now, this has been via and ‘Order & Collect’ system, however, recent changes to the non-essential retail trading guidelines means that NAM is now in a position to re-open its shop from Tuesday 16th June 2020. A robust Covid-Secure Risk Assessments has been completed for the Shop and it will operate on the following basis:

· The Shop will be open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
· Opening times will be 10am to 11am for museum members and 11am to 4pm for the public
· Only one shopper will be allowed into the Shop at a time & there will be a contact number by the entrance for people to use to gain access (please bring your phones)
· Social distancing measures will be in place and Covid-Secure procedures will be used
· Contactless payments are preferred, but credit cards, cheques and cash will be accepted
· Shoppers will be encouraged to collect kits and books off the displays themselves; but they will be discouraged from opening kits and spending time ‘reading’ the books
· Normal access routes to the Shop will be in operation i.e. off Drove Lane via the entrance next to the Motor Auction Site
· A queuing area has been set up outside in the car park, but it is important to note that there will be NO access to the wider museum site, display buildings or café.

Newark Air Museum on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

The Airfix team were fortunate enough to be allowed to scan Newark’s magnificent Avro Vulcan B.2 XM594 in support of their new 1/72nd scale kit project. As one of the museum’s prized aviation assets, enthusiasts will be looking forward to the day when they can admire this aircraft from inside the fence once more – not too long now hopefully

To help people to decide whether or not to come and shop, NAM has created virtual product lists, which feature photographs of the key sections of the Museum Shop to try and provide an idea of what is in stock. Shoppers are encouraged to email in to request copies of these lists for these main product areas:

Airfix Aircraft Kits, Airfix Quick-Builds, Italeri Aircraft Kits, Revell Aircraft Kits, Tamiya Aircraft Kits, Trumpeter Aircraft Kits and Assorted Aviation Books.

For any such enquiries NAM will email details explaining how customers can check stock availability and request a price for the items. As things start to operate normally, the availability of some stock lines may change and NAM cannot be held responsible if items are no longer available when customers arrive at the shop. The museum trustees appreciate that this is not a perfect solution, but it does act as a step towards normal opening, whilst at the same time, helping to generate vital funds at this challenging time. This gradual reopening process will also provide valuable information on how social distancing measures may need to be implemented across the wider site in preparation for eventual museum reopening.

A clear indicator of better things to come, we wish our friends at Newark every success with their shop reopening and look forward to catching up with them in person very soon.

For full details, please check the Newark Air Museum website.

‘Queens of the sky’ gather at Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport marks the retirement of Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 747-400 fleet on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

The current plight of the airline industry has forced Virgin Atlantic to immediately withdraw their seven Boeing 747-400 airliners from service, gathering them all at Manchester to await their fate

The impact of the world response to the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly have wide reaching implications for many years to come, with the aviation industry likely to be one of the sectors which will suffer most. Like many other operators, the recent period of extended flight inactivity has been disastrous for Virgin Atlantic and has forced them to advance the intended retirement date of their fleet of seven Boeing 747-400 jets, aircraft which have become firm favourites with both passengers and enthusiasts over the years. Despite being arguably the most interesting civil aviation aircraft type still in regular scheduled service, the ageing Jumbo is now not as fuel efficient as many of the more modern types, even though it can still show these younger upstarts a clean pair of heels when it comes to aesthetic appeal.

The service withdrawal of Virgin’s 747 fleet has been muted for several years now and has seen enthusiasts flocking to airports such as Manchester, Gatwick and Glasgow to enjoy the sight and sound of these beautiful aeroplanes whilst they still had the opportunity. On any spotting day, if your were lucky enough to catch more than one Jumbo, you would certainly count yourself extremely fortunate and would probably find yourself in the company of many other like-minded enthusiasts.

Despite the fact that Virgin had previously announced their intention to withdraw their 747s from service in the near future, the relatively recent news that service disruption caused by coronavirus had prompted this to be brought forward still came as something of a shock – all remaining aircraft would be withdrawn with immediate effect. In preparation for their disposal, all seven aircraft were positioned to Manchester Airport, where they would gather for one final time, as a high profile indicator of the current plight of the airline industry. As soon as lockdown restrictions allowed, enthusiasts attempted to view this sad sight for themselves, knowing that it would definitely be the last time they would be able to do so. An airport which had been so closely linked with Virgin Jumbo operations for the past few years would now be associated with their demise.

Manchester Airport marks the retirement of Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 747-400 fleet on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

A sad sight. Like most airports, Manchester is extremely quiet at the moment and at the time of taking this picture, all seven Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 747s were parked at various positions around the airfield

If Virgin officials thought their Boeing 747 fleet would be allowed to retire without attracting huge levels of public interest, they were to be sorely mistaken in that misconception, although I suspect they were fully aware of just how attached people were to these aircraft. Underlining the enduring popularity of this historic aircraft, advanced notification of the first Jumbo’s final flight from Manchester would see thousands of people descending on the airport to bid an emotional farewell to this much loved Queen of the skies. For this auspicious occasion, even Manchester’s Runway Visitor Park made its post covid-19 re-opening and slashed its parking prices, in anticipation of a bumper crowd of Jumbo well-wishers. Airport officials arranged for the departing aircraft to taxi past the viewing park and hold for a few minutes, allowing everyone to obtain some last photographs of this Manchester icon. The aircraft then turned at the threshold of the taxiway, before backtracking past the visitor park and heading for the runway and final departure.

As it turned out, the crowds in the packed Visitor Park were not the only people paying their respects to the Virgin Jumbo on her final departure, as it seemed that every vantage point around the entire airfield was taken up by enthusiasts and members of the public alerted to this historic occasion – there were literally thousands of people there all waiting to see just one aircraft. Such was the interest in this departure that several enthusiast groups even arranged to stream the event live for the benefit of those who were unable to make the trip down to Manchester on the day.

The first Virgin Boeing 747-443 to leave Manchester in this distressing retirement development was G-VGAL ‘Jersey Girl’ at around 3pm on 2nd June, her destination being Ciudad Real Airport, which is situated in south central Spain. The airport has a reputation as being something of a ghost airport, having spent almost seven years unused after opening in 2010 at great expense. With the climate in the region being conducive to the long-term storage of aircraft, it could be that Virgin’s 747s will stay there awaiting a freight buyer, although some reports state that Ciudad is also home to a specialist aircraft dismantling company. Although not confirmed by Virgin, it is thought that the 747s which make their final flights from Manchester down to Spain will be taking to the air for the last time, a sad end to the careers of these beautiful and extremely hard working aeroplanes.

Manchester Airport marks the retirement of Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 747-400 fleet on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

Heading for Manchester’s runway for one final time, the crowds turned out in force to see ‘Jersey Girl’ as she headed for retirement and a decidedly uncertain future. From a historic perspective, it was important to grab a couple of shots featuring this magnificent aircraft and Manchester’s distinctive control tower. Virgin’s Jumbos will be sorely missed in this part of the world

Manchester Airport marks the retirement of Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 747-400 fleet on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog
Manchester Airport marks the retirement of Virgin Atlantic's Boeing 747-400 fleet on the Airfix and Corgi Aerodrome blog

At the time of writing this latest edition of Aerodrome, two of the seven Virgin Jumbos have now been flown to Ciudad Real, with the remaining aircraft scheduled to join them in the near future. As they all make their final Manchester departures, it now seems certain that they can expect thousands of well-wishers to take up vantage points all around the airfield and speed them on their way, waving one final farewell to aircraft which have earned a special place in the hearts of a great many people. More than just an enthusiast favourite, it seems as if the Boeing 747 series of aircraft have earned a special place in the history of aviation and will be sorely missed by one and all.

I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our aerodrome@airfix.com address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.

In between new editions of our blog, the aviation related conversation continues over on the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and we can also be contacted on either the Airfix or Corgi Facebook pages, in addition to Twitter for both Airfix and Corgi - please do get involved in the discussions and let us know what you think about Aerodrome.

The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 3rd July, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.

Thank you so much for continuing to support our Aerodrome blog.


Michael

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