Classic Hawkers at home
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular delve into the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. With the Christmas holidays now just a distant memory and so many months ahead of us before we can even begin to think about attending our first Airshow of the year, it really is time for some drastic blog related action. At times like this, there is nothing better than scouring the Aerodrome archives and coming up with an interesting review from an aviation event which took place a few years ago and we think we may have managed to come up with a suitable antidote for all this fog and cold weather we are all currently enduring. In this 111th edition of Aerodrome, we are going to be looking at an enjoyable open day event I attended back in 2005, which was hosted by the impressive, yet somewhat elusive Hawker Hunter Aviation Limited, based at RAF Scampton. As you would expect, there was an impressive collection of classic Hawker Hunters on display, but many in attendance were also hoping to see a couple of rather more exotic aircraft which were reported to be on the airfield, during their visit. With an interesting selection of exclusive images from the event to share with you, classic jet aviation takes centre stage in this latest edition of Aerodrome.
Very fast targets for today
Our safety briefing took place in front of former Swiss Air Force Hunter F.58 J-4066, which is now ZZ190 and one of the hard working HHA Hunters engaged in defence simulation duties
For the majority of aviation enthusiasts the world over, the opportunity to get close to historic or contemporary military aeroplanes is usually restricted to Airshow events or perhaps the odd day spent around the perimeter fence of an air base, especially if you are in full time employment and have family commitments. If an occasion ever arises when you can break free from the Airshow crowds and enjoy a slightly more immersive experience, perhaps at a venue which is usually restricted from public access, it goes without saying that most of us would grasp such an opportunity with both hands. Back in 2005, UK enthusiasts were becoming increasingly aware of a rather unusual operation based at RAF Scampton, who were using a collection of airworthy ex-military Hawker Hunters to provide flying support services for the Ministry of Defence. Interestingly, this group were also reported to be the owners of a pair of classic Cold War jets from either side of the Iron Curtain and there were persistent rumours that both could potentially be on the verge of returning to the air and joining the Hunter fleet in providing a rather unique service for the British military. Just as this mysterious operation had ensured the attention of UK enthusiasts, they published details of an exciting open day event, where attendees would be invited to find out a little more about the flying services they offered and the classic aircraft they operated. As numbers were restricted, it was a case of acting without delay and I am pleased to say that I was one of the fortunate ones to be granted a place. Hardly able to contain my excitement, I cleaned my camera equipment and prepared for a little trip to Lincolnshire and a day which would prove to be both enjoyable and extremely memorable.
Classic Hunter line-up. This impressive collection of Hawker Hunters greeted the enthusiasts who attended the first HHA open day in 2005
Hunter infatuation. HHA pilots were on hand to provide enthusiasts with details of what it is like to fly this classic jet fighter against current aircraft types
This rather famous Hunter was formerly the lead aircraft of the Patrouille de Suisse, the Swiss Air Force version of the Red Arrows and was the star of many a European Airshow
Operating from RAF Scampton, the former home of the famous Dambusters and the current home of the Red Arrows, Hawker Hunter Aviation Ltd had an impressive collection of classic jet aircraft, several of which were maintained in airworthy condition. Founded in 2000, their aircraft were housed in facilities on the north-western side of the airfield, well away from the day to day operations of the Red Arrows and visitors to the Scampton Heritage Centre, which really did add to the perceived mysterious nature of their work. A highly professional organisation, HHA are a CAA and MoD approved company who provide government agencies and defence contractors with essential fast jet support in a multitude of areas, including threat simulation, targets for surface units, target towing, army support and aggressor aircraft support. Seizing on an opportunity to offer this specialist support due to ever increasing defence costs and the need to secure the most cost effective solution to military requirements in every case, the company employs former experienced military pilots to operate their fleet of ex-military jet aircraft. With a fleet of around 17 aircraft at their disposal, HHA have been operating on the UK military register for over 12 years, however, the nature of their business dictates that enthusiasts are rarely allowed access to their classic aeroplanes. When they do appear at Airshows or perform a flyby at one of the few remaining operational RAF airbases around the country, they are of huge interest to enthusiasts and can always be assured of attracting a large crowd of admirers, or at the very least having every lens in the vicinity trained in their direction.
At the time of my memorable visit back in 2005, HHA were in the final stages of securing their UK military operator’s licence and were receiving quite a lot of press attention. Despite this, RAF Scampton was not a usual venue for the UK enthusiast and the HHA facilities were on the far side of the airfield and well away from prying eyes. Even though the Red Arrows had been resident at the base since 2000 (the second period in their history that they had called Scampton home), the base was not a regular venue for an Airshow event and they did not make a habit of inviting members of the public onto the airfield. I think I am also right in saying that the Scampton Heritage Centre was not running tours at that time either, which made an invitation to the base and secretive HHA facility all the more attractive, especially as we all thought we were going to somewhere likened to Britain’s equivalent of Area 51.
This former RAF Hunter F.4 was also one of the aircraft later sold to the Swiss Air Force, but brought back to the UK when they were withdrawn from service. Although it appears to wear an RAF scheme, it retains the nose number from its Swiss service (J-4105)
Although we were all looking forward to finding out a little more about the current and indeed future operations of Hawker Hunter Aviation, this visit was very much about their aeroplanes and we were all looking forward to spending some time with an impressive collection of former military Hawker Hunters. We were also very much aware that their aviation inventory included a Blackburn Buccaneer and a Sukhoi Su-22, both of which were described as being in airworthy condition and potentially capable of joining the Hunters on defence contract work in the future. Would we be fortunate enough to see these magnificent aircraft or would they be hidden away from prying eyes? Let’s take a look at all the aircraft we managed so see during our visit.
Hawker Hunter Mk.58
Performing the ground running demonstration, Hawker Hunter F.58 ZZ191 is arguably the most famous aircraft owned and operated by HHA and is still regularly seen flying in UK skies
Forming the backbone of the HHA fleet, the Hawker Hunter is regarded as a thoroughbred amongst post war jet aircraft designs, with its aviation credentials underlined by the fact that these magnificent aircraft are still performing military duties almost 65 years after the first Hunters entered RAF service. Initially intended as an air superiority fighter, the Hunter was the first Hawker jet design to enter RAF service and later proved to be a highly adaptable aeroplane, becoming one of the most successful post war British military aircraft, with some 2000 airframes being constructed. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Hunter is its stunning good looks, as it is a perfect exponent of the phrase, ‘if it looks right, it is right’. Despite being one of the most aesthetically pleasing aircraft ever to take to the skies, the Hunter was also a devastatingly effective fighting aeroplane, which went on to see service with many of the world’s air forces as an extremely reliable and cost effective asset. Indeed, the Hunter proved to be such an effective aircraft that the manufacturer built up a rather lucrative trade in buying up surplus former military Hunters from around the world, refurbishing them to zero time standard and selling them on to another grateful owner. Perhaps the most capable of the Hunter variants was the Mk.58 produced for the Swiss Air Force, which utilised all the many qualities of the Hunter and transformed it into an exceptional ground attack aircraft.
Hunter ZZ191 was one of the star attractions in an impressive static aircraft display at the 2017 Scampton Airshow
The HHA fleet of aircraft includes no fewer than ten former Swiss Air Force Hunter Mk.58s, including one particular aircraft which caused quite a stir at last year’s Royal International Air Tattoo with its spectacular new paint scheme. Carrying the Swiss military registration J-4058, this Hunter was purchased by the Duxford based Old Flying Machine Company following the end of its military service and famously performed at a number of Airshows in the hands of its new owners, where it carried the UK civilian registration G-BWFS. It joined the Hawker Hunter Aviation fleet in 2002, where it was given the civil registration G-HHAD, but it has since returned to the military register as ZZ191. The smart new scheme applied to this aircraft will clearly help it during the execution of its threat simulation and aggressor aircraft duties, particularly as the side profile view appears to intentionally cause confusion as to the identity of the aircraft resembles a BAe Hawk trainer at first glance. These aircraft are equipped with state of the art electronic wizardry, which allows them to effectively simulate an impressive array of aircraft and missile threats, making these Hunters incredibly useful assets to the UK military. Wearing this unique new scheme, ZZ191 is also one of the most distinctive aircraft in Britain’s skies and a real hit with the enthusiast – not bad for 1950s aviation technology.
Same aircraft, different year. As the pride of their fleet, Hunter ZZ191 now wears this distinctive and imaginative scheme, which befits an aircraft which is still providing an effective military service to this day. She is pictured here helping to mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force at last year’s Royal International Air Tattoo
During my visit, we were initially taken to one of the storage facilities on site and given the all important safety briefing in front of one of the former Swiss Air Force Hunters, which was undergoing deep maintenance. The engineering staff engaged by HHA all have a vast amount of military experience behind them and were only too happy to regale us with sales of their service days and how their Hunters were amongst the best maintained aircraft in the world today – it was clear that this was going to be a real indulgence in all things Hawker Hunter. Once allowed on the apron outside, we could see the collection of magnificent jet aircraft which had been arranged for our viewing pleasure, including an impressive formation of classic Hunters. I took my place in a long queue of people hoping to sit in the cockpit of one of the aircraft and once I had settled into position, I was shocked to discover just how little room there was. With one of the HHA pilots perched at the back of the open canopy, providing a fascinating guided tour of all the systems, I remember thinking that this was quite a claustrophobic workspace and you must have to think and act really quickly when flying a Hunter. At 6ft 3ins, I am not a small man, but at that time I was rather svelte and definitely fancied myself as a potential fast jet pilot, but this dream was shattered by my knowledgeable guide, as he informed me that I would never be considered suitable for flying operations in a Hunter. Feeling more than a little aggrieved, I enquired ‘why not’, at which point he simply pointed to the instrument panel and my long legs positioned beneath it - ‘If you were forced to eject, you would be leaving your lower legs behind in the aeroplane’. Fair point I suppose … a career flying Hercules transport aircraft didn’t seem too bad after that.
Blackburn Buccaneer S2B
Such a distinctive aeroplane, at the time this picture was taken, it was hoped that Buccaneer S2B XX885 would soon be returning to UK skies as one of the most capable aircraft in the HHA fleet
The mighty Blackburn Buccaneer has been receiving plenty of attention in the modelling world over the past few weeks, following the announcement of the new 1/72nd scale model project over on the Airfix website. This rugged naval strike jet was a technological triumph for the British aviation industry and at the time it entered service with the Fleet Air Arm, it was the heaviest aircraft to have ever operated from a British carrier and was our most capable strike jet. It would go on to have an illustrious service career with both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force, earning a reputation for possessing incredible stability when operating at high speed and at low level – an extremely demanding environment for a modern to ply its trade.
The Buccaneer owned by HHA is XX885 (G-HHAA) and was one of the last aircraft to be built, delivered straight to the Royal Air Force in 1974. After a service career which saw it representing Nos 12, 15,16 and 208 Squadrons, along with time spent with No.237 Operational Conversion Unit, XX885 was sold at auction on 16th March 2000, where she was purchased by Hawker Hunter Aviation. She was inhibited and transported to their facility at RAF Scampton by sea and road, instantly becoming one of the most interesting aircraft on the British civilian register. This famous aircraft saw service in the Gulf war, where it flew on seven operations and was credited with the ground destruction of an Iraqi Antonov AN-12 Cub transport aircraft. This airframe also happened to be the final Buccaneer to pass through the British Aerospace factory at Woodford to receive its mid-life upgrade and as a consequence, represents one of the most ‘modification complete’ Buccaneers in existence. The aircraft was acquired with the intention of securing specific advanced low level, high speed threat simulation contracts and was maintained in what is essentially an airworthy condition. At the current time, the Buccaneer is maintained in such a condition as it could be re-activated for flight at short notice, but it has been decided that this will only take place once a definite contractual arrangement for its unique services was in place.
The Buccaneer is a huge aeroplane, which has a particular capability of operating at high speed and at low level – should it be required, it would act as a unique target aircraft in HHA operations. This aircraft saw service during the Gulf War and retains its ‘Sky Pirates’ artwork
The sight of this immaculately presented Buccaneer at the 2005 HHA Scampton event really was a treat for everyone in attendance and being allowed to admire it at close quarters really did afford us an appreciation of the sheer size of this aviation behemoth. Just looking at the massive undercarriage legs makes you wonder how much power was needed to push this beast into the air, as they really do appear to be made out of blocks of solid steel. At the time of our visit, rumours abounded that the Buccaneer was about to make its imminent return to the air, which was obviously fantastic news not only for the HHA team, but also for UK aviation enthusiasts, who had a great affection for the aircraft. This optimism seemed to be born out during the day, as XX885 appeared to be the subject of significant official attention during the day, resulting in it being rather difficult to obtain a clear shot of the aircraft standing unobstructed. Unfortunately, this did not ultimately prove to be the case and to this date, the Buccaneer has yet to fly under the ownership of HHA, although the aircraft is clearly maintained in a condition which could see it return to Britain’s skies once more at relatively short notice – let’s keep our fingers crossed.
There was much interest in the Buccaneer, as it was thought this event would mark its return to the British military register. It certainly appeared to be in exceptional condition
During a rather noisy ground running demonstration, the Buccaneer saluted the gathered enthusiasts by cycling through its wing folding procedure several times
The undoubted highlight of the 2005 Hawker Hunter Aviation open day saw the Buccaneer being prepared for a ground running demonstration, which also included several cycles of the wing folding procedure being performed and finally allowing for some clear pictures of this beautiful aircraft to be obtained. XX885 looked and sounded immaculate and really did appear as if it could just head off to Scampton’s runway and blast off to terrorise the Soviet navy at a moments notice. As we filled our senses with the sight, sound and smell of this magnificent aircraft, the pilot was already making his final checks and in what seemed like much too short a time, the Buccaneer fell silent once more and we knew that this fascinating event was drawing to a close. As magnificent as the Buccaneer might have been and not wanting to undermine its undeniable aviation credentials, I have to admit that it was not the most exotic aircraft on display at Scampton that day – this honour went to a Cold War warrior from Eastern Europe.
Sukhoi Su22 M-4 ‘Fitter’
Eastern Block air power, the Sukhoi Su22 was perhaps the most exotic aeroplane on display during this enjoyable HHA open day event
Almost a direct operational competitor of Britain’s Blackburn Buccaneer, even though it was never intended for operation from the decks of an aircraft carrier, the Sukhoi Su22 represented classic Soviet produced air power from the Cold War period and was an extremely simple and robust aircraft, capable of effective operation, even under the most demanding of situations. Perhaps more directly comparable to the RAF Tornado, this was a fast, low level strike jet, equipped with terrain following radar and capable of supersonic flight – a no nonsense design, the ‘Fitter’ may not have had too many frills, but it was as tough as they come. Also possessing a limited air-to-air capability, the Su22 was produced in large numbers and was supplied to several non-Soviet air forces as a capable and cost effective multi-role jet.
This particular aircraft started its service life with the East German Air Force in 1986, being taken on strength with 2/MFG 28 at Laage, but after less that four years of operational flying, it was prematurely retired due to the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent political changes in Eastern Europe. The re-unified German military kept these aircraft in airworthy storage for a number of years, however it must be remembered that these were extremely capable combat aircraft in widespread service throughout the world and these low time airframes still had plenty to offer. Seven of the aircraft were taken on strength by the German Test and Evaluation Centre at Manching, with this aircraft being amongst that number and it was re-coded as 98+14. Originally maintained and flown by former East German Air Force personnel, West German pilots were soon brought up to speed and the aircraft were used extensively on test and evaluation trials for the next seven years.
The Sukhoi is all about brute power and should its services be required, it will provide supersonic threat simulation and a real challenge for those attempting to intercept it
This proved to be a rather unusual picture on the day, as the Su22 always had a large crowd of people around it and I was lucky to grab this relatively unobstructed image
The aircraft was secured by HHA at the beginning of 1999, following a lengthy period of intense negotiation and was flown to RAF Scampton by a German Air Force test pilot. Interestingly, when it arrived at HHA’s facility, it became the lowest flight hours aircraft in their fleet, having only clocked up 767 flight hours in 743 flights. Although many enthusiasts hoped that this interesting former Eastern Block fighter would go on to become a regular attendee at Airshows up and down the country, the ‘Fitter’ appears to have suffered the same frustrations as the Buccaneer and is maintained in such a manner as to be easily returned to airworthy status, should a firm operational requirement be identified for the aircraft.
Although you could never really confidently describe the Sukhoi Su22 as a handsome looking aircraft, you certainly cannot deny its appeal, either as a fantastic representation of effective, no-nonsense Soviet air power, or simply by the fact that these are extremely rare aeroplanes in the UK. With a colour scheme which bears more than a passing resemblance to the US F-105 Thunderchiefs which took part in the Vietnam War, the aircraft also sports a rather striking ‘Tiger Tail’, which was presumably added for a Tiger Meet Airshow whilst it was still operating in Europe. The aircraft itself really does look as if the Russians just continued to bolt more and more equipment onto the airframe, confident that it possessed so much power that it would readily accept anything the threw at it. From a purely functional perspective, the ‘Fitter’ is an extremely capable warplane and should there ever be an operational requirement for this aircraft under the HHA banner, it will be the most potent aircraft in their inventory and pose a significant threat for any platform charged with intercepting it. As an exciting aviation throwback to the days of the Cold War, I am certain that I am not on my own in hoping that I have the opportunity to see this magnificent aircraft flying in UK skies before its prolonged inactivity ends any hope of such a sight.
This magnificent looking Cold War strike jet is still owned by HHA and was one of the aircraft they presented in the static aircraft display at the 2017 Scampton Airshow
Even though over 13 years have passed since I attended this fantastic day as a guest of the Hawker Hunter Aviation team, I still remember this as one of my most enjoyable aviation experiences. Not only did I have the opportunity to get close to their unique collection of classic jet aircraft, but I was also allowed a fascinating insight into their unusual line of work and the exciting plans they had for the future. We were able to speak with ground crew and pilots alike, all of which were both passionate and knowledgeable and only too happy to spend a few moments chatting about their interesting day jobs. Like many in attendance, I admit to hoping that this would be the start of an appealing annual aviation event which would definitely see me heading back to Scampton each year for more of the same, but this did not prove to be the case, making the pictures I managed to take on the day all the more valuable. A selection of HHA aircraft did take their place in the impressive static display at the 2017 Scampton Airshow, which also included their new former Luftwaffe McDonnell Douglas F4F Phantom, but despite hopes that this would turn out to be the return of a major Airshow to the county of Lincolnshire, it seems as if this was just a one-off event. Should HHA ever decide to organise a similar open day event at their facility, I would advise anyone with an interest in military aviation to jump at the opportunity to attend, but hopefully not before I have secured my own ticket – you have to be a little bit self-centred where aeroplanes are concerned, especially if there is a chance that former Luftwaffe Phantoms could be involved. If such an event ever takes place, I will do my utmost to ensure that a suitable Aerodrome review quickly follows.
I am afraid that’s 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. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of our blog, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at email@example.com, where we will be only too pleased to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 8th February, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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