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Classic Meteor makes final flight into history

Classic Meteor makes final flight into history

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. Even though we are only a few weeks into the new year, 2019 is already proving to be a significant one for British aviation and not for entirely positive reasons. As this week has witnessed the final national tour of the RAF’s long serving Panavia Tornado strike jets, before they are finally withdrawn from service next month, we are going to take this opportunity to feature two early year developments which have made the aviation headlines and induced more than a little angst within the enthusiasts community. As the start of the year has also been particularly busy ay Hornby Hobbies and it is not possible for your intrepid Flight Specialist to be in two places at the same time, this edition of Aerodrome had been taken over by two of our most ardent supporters, both of whom were good enough to supply us with pictures they managed to take at the respective events they attended, allowing us to illustrate the following two features. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Derek Rusling and Steve Kimpton for allowing us to use their pictures, as we report on two of the years early season aviation developments. Our first stop is a cold and grey Bruntingthorpe airfield, followed by a first visit of the year to the Imperial War Museum Duxford, with both journeys made to mark the passing of two aircraft types from different eras of Britain’s jet aviation heritage.

Non flying future for unique airworthy jet nightfighter

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With its long, slender fuselage and unmistakable Meteor heritage, the NF.II nightfighter was always a popular display item with Britain’s aviation enthusiasts

Many aviation enthusiasts are pragmatic enough to realise that the ownership, maintenance and ongoing operation of historic aeroplanes must be prohibitively expensive in most cases and the people who graciously allow us to enjoy their aircraft are probably doing so out of their own love for historic aviation. We also know that the British enthusiast has been extraordinarily lucky over the years with the sheer number of classic aeroplanes which have filled our skies and the variety of aircraft which have taken part in our many Airshows, however, we also know that this situation can change in the blink of an eye. Amongst my own enthusiast group, we often discuss at the beginning of every year how we need to try and get to as many shows as we can over the next few months, as this could be the last year that things are as good as they have been and conversely, at the end of each season, discuss how the Airshow season past may mark the end of our ‘happy times’. Although we all understand that things will probably have to change at some point in the not too distant future, news that a much loved former Airshow performer is about to make its final flight and head for something of an uncertain future will always be a cause for some sadness and is just what happened during the first days of this new year. Despite winter conditions and the stresses of returning to work after the Christmas holidays, news that Gloster Meteor NF.11 WM167 was scheduled to potentially make her final flight to a new home at Bruntingthorpe, had enthusiasts wrapping up warm and descending on this Leicestershire airfield site, hoping to pay their final flying respects to a British aviation icon.

As Britain’s first operational jet powered fighter and the only one to see combat during the Second World War, the Gloster Meteor occupies a significant position in the history of British aviation, developed under a cloak of secrecy during wartime conditions and going on to serve the Royal Air Force long after the end of WWII. The aircraft entered service at the beginning of July 1944, with six of the most capable fighter pilots from RAF No.616 Squadron receiving intensive conversion training at Farnborough, before heading back to their home station to pass on their knowledge to the rest of the squadron’s pilots. Converting from their Spitfire VII fighters, the first flight the pilots would have in this highly advanced jet would be their first solo, as all the first Meteors were single seat fighters and must have required every ounce of their flying experience to negotiate the situation effectively. RAF Meteors were first used operationally on 27th July 1944, when three jets were patrolling high above the Kent countryside, hoping to intercept the feared V1 Doodlebugs which had been raining down on Britain since the middle of the previous month, with the speed and unobstructed pilots view of the Meteor making this an idea aircraft with which to tackle this terrifying menace. Significantly though, the RAF were in no mood to rush the Meteor into combat over Europe, as they did not want to risk their new jets until pilots were more proficient in their operation and they certainly did not want one to fall into enemy hands.

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Pictured at her Coventry Airport home back in 2003, this picture shows how the aircraft’s radar housing nose dominated the profile of the Meteor NF.II

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Looking like a cross between a Meteor and a Canberra, this beautiful aircraft marked an important period for British aviation and another variant in the successful Meteor family

The Gloster Meteor would go on to become an extremely successful aircraft in RAF service, as well as seeing service with several overseas air forces. With the final target towing Meteors only retired from RAF service in the 1970s, the aircraft would go on to post an impressively long service record and indeed two modified Meteors are still providing essential support to the ejection seat manufacturers Martin-Baker. Of the many variants of the aircraft to see RAF service, the slender  NF.11 nightfighter was arguably the most attractive, with its lengthened fuselage and prominent radar housing nose giving the aircraft a particularly distinctive profile. The NF.11 was developed as a replacement for the ageing de Havilland Mosquitos which were still soldiering on in RAF service, with the first examples arriving at their assigned squadrons in 1951. Pilots converting from Mosquitos were relatively pleased with their new aircraft, as it offered them a performance improvement in most situations over their previous aircraft, although the heavy canopy framing was a constant source of criticism. Significantly, the adoption of an airborne interception radar unit (which was adapted from a set originally developed for use in the WWII USAAF P-61 Black Widow nightfighter) housed in the lengthened nose of the aircraft, required the fighters guns to be repositioned from the nose to wing mounded positions outward of the engine nacelles. Thought by many to be the most aesthetically appealing variant of the Gloster Meteor family, the NF.11 retained many of the classic features of the early Meteors, with its lengthened fuselage, tandem cockpit layout and ventral fuel tank all giving this aircraft an extremely distinctive appearance.

Final flight for Britain’s only airworthy Meteor nightfighter

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Aviation star and its escort. Meteor NF.II WM167 was accompanied by the equally handsome Vampire T.II of the Vampire Preservation Group on its final flight from Coventry Airport

Gloster Meteor NF.11 WM167 was built under licence by the Armstrong Whitworth Company at their Baginton (Coventry) factory in 1952 and entered service with RAF No.228 Operational Conversion Unit at Leeming in August of the same year. Other than a short spell in storage with 33 Maintenance Unit at Colerne, the aircraft would spend the next 6 years at Leeming in the nightfighter role, charged with protecting UK airspace from the unwanted incursion of Soviet aircraft and an escalation of Cold War tensions. In January 1961, the aircraft returned to Armstrong Whitworth for conversion to TT.20 standard and a new career as an airborne target tug. Allocated to the A&AEE at Boscombe Down, the aircraft was used in target towing trials, before being delivered to Flight Refuelling Ltd and a ten year stint towing targets under an MoD contract. Finally declared surplus in 1975, the Meteor was put up for sale and purchased by famous Warbird collector Doug Arnold and his Warbirds of Great Britain facility at Blackbushe, where he immediately set about returning the aircraft to its original NF.11 nightfighter configuration.

The Meteor would pass through the hands of a number of different owners over the years, but also appeared at many Airshows and fly-in events during that time, an important and extremely attractive example of Britain’s aviation heritage and the very embodiment of classic jet aviation. Over recent years, the tightening of regulations governing the operation of classic jet aircraft have seen the show appearances of the world’s only flying Meteor nightfighter and the last remaining privately owned aircraft of its type in the UK becoming few and far between. Part of the Classic Air Force aircraft collection at Coventry (close to where the aircraft was manufactured back in 1952) until relatively recently, the aircraft was sold to a US collector, who intended to eventually ship the aircraft to the US and operate it on the Airshow circuit over there. Tragically, the new owner was killed in a flying accident and the future of the aircraft was in some doubt, until it was announced in 2018 that it had been purchased by the Classic British Jets Collection at Bruntingthorpe. As plans were drawn up to fly the Meteor to its new home, enthusiasts were alerted to the fact that the world’s only flying Meteor NF.11 would soon be making its final flight and preparations were being made to allow this historic occasion to be experienced by members of the public. As we all prepared to negotiate the excesses of the Christmas holidays, the date of this ferry flight was set – Saturday 5th January and if you wanted to see the aircraft arriving at its new home, you would have to make your way to Bruntingthorpe airfield.

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Inspecting its new home, Meteor WM167 arrives at Bruntingthorpe after performing a final series of airfield flypasts. The aircraft is still wearing it’s RAF 100 tribute marking on her tail

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It’s all about the nose. From this angle, it is clear to see what has to be considered the most prominent feature of the Meteor nightfighter variant

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In the care of her new owners, the Meteor is prepared for the first night at her new home. She will be maintained in ground running condition and will hopefully be a start attraction at forthcoming Cold War Jets days at the airfield

Living not too far from Bruntingthorpe, aviation enthusiasts and Aerodrome supporter Derek Rusling was determined that despite the sadness of this occasion, he had to witness the arrival of the latest aviation acquisition at Bruntingthorpe and took his place on the airfield on a cold and dreary January morning. Derek has attended many of the Cold War Jets Open Day events at Bruntingthorpe in recent times, which seem to be growing in popularity with each passing year and whilst the Meteor nightfighter will certainly be an impressive new addition to this collection, it is sad that it will probably bring about the end of its long flying career. After a wait which tested the resolve of those in attendance, the Meteor finally appeared above the airfield, in company with popular de Havilland Vampire T.11 trainer WZ507 (of the Vampire Preservation Group) and proceeded to perform several passes along the runway, as if symbolically showing everyone what they would be missing in the years to come. All too soon, the Meteor touched down on the huge runway at Bruntingthorpe, to begin a new career as part of this magnificent collection of preserved jet aircraft. It will be maintained in ground running condition by the technicians at the airfield and will hopefully become one of the star attractions at the regular Open Days, which see large numbers of classic British jets performing powered taxy run demonstrations down the runway at Bruntingthorpe, allowing enthusiasts the opportunity to still experience the sights, sounds and smells of these delightful old jets.

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Although always thought of as a handsome looking aircraft, the heavy canopy framing of the NF.II variant was never liked by aircrew and enthusiast alike

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One final look at Meteor WM167 back in her Airshow performing days and a picture taken in 2003 at the airfield were the aircraft was produced 51 years earlier

Derek was glad that he made the effort to be amongst the crowds welcoming the Meteor to its new home on this poignant occasion, even though it marked the passing of yet another much loved UK Airshow performer. He apologises for the fact that his pictures were all taken on a mobile phone, but we are extremely grateful that he allowed us to feature them on the blog and to provide our readers with a record of this rather sad, if historic day for British aviation. Whilst we were all warm in our homes, Derek was doing a sterling job on behalf of Aerodrome readers everywhere and we are extremely grateful. Perhaps later in the year, we will be able to update this feature and bring you pictures of the first taxy run performance of this delightful aircraft – watch this space!

Nationwide tour for RAF Tornado trio

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A proud moment tinged with more than a little sadness, Steve’s picture of the Tornado Trio over IWM Duxford marks the beginning of the end for the aircraft in Royal Air Force service

After almost 40 years of exceptional service, the end for the RAF’s last remaining Panavia Tornado GR.4 strike jets is almost upon us and yet another significant post war aviation type is heading into the aviation history books. Determined not to allow the achievements of the Tornado to pass unheralded, air and ground crews who are the final custodians of this aircraft’s heritage have just completed an ambitions national tour, with a formation of three Tornados flying three different routes on three consecutive days. This undertaking was intended to allow as many people as possible to take one final look at the RAF’s ‘mighty fin’ in Britain’s skies and for the last crews in RAF Tornado history to overfly locations which had connections to the aircraft during its long service career. With aircraft serviceability issues impacting on which of the last remaining Tornados were able to take part in the flypasts on each day, the weather appeared to be kind to enthusiasts and aircrews alike and each leg of the tour seemed to proceed without too much incident. Even though the RAF’s last remaining Tornados share the same home base as the latest F-35 Lightning II aircraft which represent the future of the Royal Air Force, it is the ageing strike jet which is commanding all the attention at the moment, with enthusiasts from all over the country doing their utmost to have one final quality moment with Panavia’s finest.

Once again, work commitments prevented me from trying to catch a glimpse of the ‘Tornado FINale’ flypasts, even though they were scheduled to overfly nearby Samlesbury and Warton on Tuesday, however my friend and regular Aerodrome contributor Steve Kimpton had arranged some time off work and was intending to be at IWM Duxford for the southern leg of the flypast tour on Wednesday. Fully aware of his aviation responsibilities, he promised to send us a couple of pictures, so we could share in this significant moment in British aviation history and allow Aerodrome readers who were also unable to catch the Tornado formation, to take one final look at the aircraft in RAF service.

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Proving that he selected the right position for his photographic record of the day’s events, it looks as if the Tornados flew right over Steve’s head during their solitary tribute flypast

Arriving at Duxford a little later than he had originally intended, Steve said that the airfield was extremely busy, with traffic backing up to the M11 roundabout and the main car parks already full by the time he joined the queue. Possibly not expecting the flypast to attract such numbers, IWM parking attendants were having to direct cars into the airfield itself, just as they would during one of the regular Airshow days at the airfield. Thankfully, Steve managed to get in well before the Tornados were scheduled to arrive and took up his position at the M11 end of the airfield, hoping that this would be the best spot from which to document the occasion. In fact, Steve likened the numbers and palpable excitement to the similar tour undertaken by Avro Vulcan XH558 prior to its flying retirement back in 2015. As visitor numbers continued to increase, the formation of three RAF Tornados came into view and every camera on the airfield was trained in their direction. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the aircraft made a single evocative pass, before heading off for the next location on their farewell tour and perhaps the final time that the aircraft will see such numbers paying their respects to its many aviation achievements. Once again, I would like to thank Steve for sending us these pictures and allowing us to share them with fellow Aerodrome readers.

Veterans Appeal by Newark Air Museum

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Newark Air Museum are looking to make contact with former aircraft and personnel who worked with either the Harrier, Sea Harrier or Canberra in RAF or Royal Naval service

Our friends at the impressive Newark Air Museum have asked us to inform Aerodrome readers about their latest initiative and an attempt to make contact with aviation veterans and former service personnel. Their plans towards securing the visiting displays at various museum events during 2019 are well under way and they now wish to turn their attentions to attempting to establish contact with RAF and Royal Navy personnel who served on the following aircraft types – Harrier, Sea Harrier and Canberra.

On Sunday 14th April, the museum is hosting a Harrier day, which is a special event with visiting displays and cockpits to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Harrier ‘Jump Jet’ entering British military service. Whilst they do have some contact with former Harrier and Sea Harrier personnel, they are still extremely keen to hear from other people with experience on these aircraft types.

The following month, on 18th May 2019, the museum is hosting another Canberra Saturday event, which is dedicated to the Canberra aircraft and personnel who flew them, which once again will feature visiting displays. They are now trying to re-establish contact with many former Canberra personnel who attended a previous Canberra event, but whose contact details were recorded before the new GDPR regulations came into effect.

The aim of this appeal is to allow them to gain a better understanding of the likely number of attendees, allowing them to make the necessary arrangements more effectively. The museum’s event organisers are keen to hear from any former personnel and ideally they would like anyone intending to respond to this request to send them an e-mail, via their usual admin@newarkairmuseum.org address. To further assist our preparations, it would help if they could indicate whether it was the Harrier or Canberra event that they were planning to attend. The museum will acknowledge each email received and if people bring along a copy of the email to the event, they will also receive the reduced admission rate on their arrival.

Both events will be open to the general public who will be able to view the visiting displays and cockpits - these visiting displays are already listed on museum website. Normal museum admission rates apply: Adults £9.00, Over 65s £7.50, Children £4.50 and Family ticket [2 adults & 3 children] £24.00

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 aerodrome@airfix.com, where we will be only too pleased to hear from you.

For those who enjoy time spent contributing to social media, all the latest Aerodrome and aviation related discussions are taking place right now on the Airfix Aerodrome Forum, where your contributions will be most welcome. Again, if you have any specific comments, questions or suggestions for future editions of Aerodrome, please do feel free to drop us a line and let us know your thoughts. We also have our popular Airfix Facebook and Corgi Facebook pages, along with Airfix Twitter or Corgi Twitter accounts available for viewing – please could we ask that you use #aerodrome when posting about an aerodrome topic.

The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 8th March, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.

Thank you so much for continuing to support our Aerodrome blog and for this latest edition, to Derek and Steve for kindly sending in their fantastic pictures.


Michael

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