Thunderous day at the Yorkshire Air Museum
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. As we head towards the final few weeks of this current Airshow season, we finally have official confirmation that we have just enjoyed the joint hottest summer on record, perfectly timed to coincide with this year’s centenary commemorations of the establishment of the Royal Air Force. With the UK Airshow industry receiving a welcome attendance boost this year, the subject of aeroplanes and aviation history has been brought the attention of many more people who would not normally attend air displays and it is to be hoped that RAF 100 will leave a legacy of inspiration for years to come. As we all prepare to attend our final shows of the year, could I please ask Aerodrome readers to think about our own blog tribute to RAF 100 and a special Readers Edition we are planning for a little later in the year. We know that we have some extremely knowledgeable readers out there, many of whom also happen to be proficient photographers and for our special RAF 100 tribute edition, we are hoping to feature a selection of readers images and short descriptions of what this year’s RAF centenary commemorations meant to you. The subject of your submission can be absolutely anything, as long as it relates to RAF 100 and I suspect that the explanatory reasoning behind each picture will detail how you feel this relates to the commemoration. The images could feature your children enjoying an Airshow, a model project you have been working on, or an RAF veteran you were privileged enough to meet in this significant year, but as long as you feel it is representative of the RAF Centenary, we are very much looking forward to seeing and hearing about it. We will start to collate submissions immediately, so please send in your RAF 100 tributes to firstname.lastname@example.org at your earliest convenience.
In this latest edition of Aerodrome, we will be staying ‘Up North’ and paying a visit to the magnificent Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, as they hold one of their regular 'Thunder Days' and allow some of their prized aviation exhibits to spread their wings for the weekend. With aircraft as contrasting as the diminutive SE5a replica and the mighty Handley Page Victor taking part, we will be taking our place in the sizeable crowd that descended on this former WWII airfield, hoping to enjoy a unique aviation experience.
Home for a Halifax
Illustrious Elvington resident Handley Page Halifax ‘Friday the 13th’ attracts visitor from all over the world to see this rare example of Britain’s second four engined heavy bomber to enter service
Anyone who has already sampled the delights of the Yorkshire Air Museum at the former RAF Bomber Command station at Elvington near York, will undoubtedly be extremely complimentary about what has to be considered one of the most fascinating and authentic aviation experiences in the country. Now remaining as one of the few historic aviation sites in the north of England, Elvington has so many things to offer that it is one of those venues which encourages multiple visits each year and boasts a spectacular collection of aviation artefacts, all presented in exquisitely restored period buildings. Elvington also has one of the most authentically restored former RAF control towers to be found anywhere in the world, along with a unique collection of restored aircraft, several of which can only be seen at this museum. Add to this the many special event and activity days held at Elvington and the opportunity for visitors to gain an understanding of what life was like on a WWII Bomber Command station and you can see why this museum means so much to so many people and keeps them coming back time after time.
Just one of the many highlights of a visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum, their magnificent control tower is arguably the most authentically restored WWII building of its type in the world
The history of the site is very much linked to the Second World War and was originally constructed with a grass runway to act as a satellite station for nearby RAF Pocklington, but was completely re-constructed with three hard runways just a couple of years later, re-opening in October 1942. The first residents at the station were No.77 Squadron with their Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bombers, but these were soon traded in for the much more capable Handley Page Halifax. Indeed, the Halifax is still an important aircraft in the history of Elvington as the museum is home to the only complete example of the bomber on display in Europe, an extremely impressive sight and one which has truly given the museum international recognition. Constructed over a ten year period by a talented and extremely dedicated team of volunteers, the aircraft is actually a composite build using many original Halifax components from several aircraft, as well as some specially manufactured parts. It is undoubtedly the pride of the museum and when laying your eyes on this mighty bomber when you first walk into their main display hangar, you are in awe of the men who flew and operated these beasts, as well as the team who saw this impressive build project through to its completion. The aircraft has been finished to represent one of the most famous Bomber Command aircraft of the Second World War, Handley Page Halifax LV907 ‘Friday the 13th’ a bomber which completed an impressive total of 128 operational missions during the war, bringing its crews home after every one. Elvington’s Halifax is not that original aircraft, which was ingloriously scrapped at nearby Clifton Airfield after spending some time on public display in central London after the war, but it is a fitting tribute to the brave crews who fought the night bombing campaign against Germany during WWII. It is also one of the most impressive aircraft exhibits to be found anywhere in the UK and is reason enough to make an aviation pilgrimage to Yorkshire.
The Ship’s Kitten
With the pilot preparing his aircraft for its engine run, this image shows the diminutive stature of the ‘Eastchurch’ Kitten single use high altitude fighter replica
Although I never need much of an excuse to pay yet another visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum, my most recent visit was to attend the latest in their successful ‘Thunder Days’, where not only are the museum’s fascinating exhibits available for inspection, but also several of their aircraft are scheduled to perform engine runs, including both the largest and smallest aeroplanes at Elvington. Sunday 19th August saw the latest of these events taking place and with the excellent summer weather forecast to hold for the day, bumper crowds turned up to see, hear and smell a selection of various aero engines being put through their paces, clearly underlining the enduring popularity of this kind of added value aviation event.
One of the first aircraft to fire up its engine for the benefit of the gathered masses was perhaps one of the museum’s most unusual, an extremely diminutive biplane which many dismiss as something of an aviation folly or even a child’s miniature replica of an aeroplane. This is, in fact, a fascinating aircraft from the early days of the Great War and an attempt to provide Britain’s largest warships with a simple aeroplane capable of challenging a major aerial threat which Germany had unleashed against her enemy. The beginning of 1915 saw a major escalation in hostilities during the Great War and witnessed Germany unleashing her significant airship force against the British mainland, causing consternation amongst both military planners and the general public alike. Seemingly able to make their attacks at will, this threat brought the war on the European continent to Britain’s doorstep and had to be stopped by all means. Underlining the frantic nature of the military response at that time, the Admiralty began to pursue the adoption of a simple, lightweight fighter aircraft, which could be operated from hastily prepared wooden decks at the front of larger ships, perhaps over the top of their main front batteries. The aircraft was intended to be a single use machine, launched when the patrolling vessel detected the drone of an approaching airship and diching in the sea after dispatching the intruder. It was hoped that the pilot would be picked up by his assigned ship, but such was the nature of the desperate situation Britain found herself in, this was of secondary concern.
Although probably dismissed by many in the crowd, the tiny Kitten fighter has a fascinating story to tell about the air war which was developing in the skies above Europe during the early months of WWI
The task of developing a suitable aircraft fell to the Royal Naval Air Service Experimental Construction Depot, at Port Victoria on the Isle of Grain, who produced two prototype aircraft, the PV7 ‘Grain’ Kitten and the PV8 ‘Eastchurch’ Kitten. The ‘Eastchurch’ Kitten proved to be the better of the two designs and proceeded to a maiden flight on 1st September 1917, where powered by a 45 hp ABC Motors produced two cylinder Gnat engine, the Kitten managed to attain an impressive top speed of 95 mph. The tiny little aeroplane was described as extremely pleasant to fly, offering the pilot an exceptional field of view from his seated position, which placed his head and shoulders above the top wing and in line of sight with the single Lewis machine gun with which the aircraft was armed. Unfortunately, the Gnat engine proved to be both underpowered and unreliable, which stalled development of the aircraft to a point where the airship raiders were no longer a threat and consequently bringing about the cancellation of the project.
Image F – More familiar to many people in the Elvington crowd, this Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a replica was one of the aircraft taking part in the engine running ‘Thunder day’
Working from nothing more than some faded plans and two grainy photographs, a small army of museum volunteers set about producing a scale replica of the ‘Eastchurch’ Kitten, which took many years to complete. With the basic fuselage built many years ago, the project stalled until being given a new impetus in early 2010, due to the impending centenary commemorations of the Great War. Taking a further four years to complete and at a cost of around £10,000 and many hundreds of man hours, the Kitten turned its engine for the first time in February 2014 – unfortunately it would not be using one of only 17 original ABC Gnat engines which powered the aircraft back in 1917 as these have long since been consigned to the aviation history books, but rather a conveniently apportioned car engine, which was appropriated from a Citroen 2CV. Rather than being dismissed as something of a toy aeroplane, the museum’s ‘Eastchurch’ Kitten replica tells a fascinating story from the early days of British military aviation and the search for a disposable high altitude fighter to answer a specific call to address a very real threat to our national security.
A ‘Brigand’ of Buccaneers
Built locally, the Blackburn Buccaneer is now an important aircraft type at the Yorkshire Air Museum
Providing a stark aviation contrast to the diminutive and underpowered Kitten fighter, Elvington is now home to an impressive collection of a particular type of Cold War British strike jet, one which is inextricably linked to this region and one which enjoyed successful careers with both the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force. The Blackburn Buccaneer was an effective low level strike and reconnaissance aircraft, which was designed from the outset to be extremely rugged, capable of operating from the decks of Britain’s relatively small aircraft carriers and performing a particularly demanding role. Its rugged, no nonsense design approach was underlined rather effectively by the aircraft’s manufacture and flight testing procedure – constructed at their Brough facility, each Buccaneer was transported by road, on its own undercarriage, to the company’s Holme-on-Spalding Moor facility for flight testing, a journey of around 16 miles. This is quite significant to Elvington’s Buccaneer collection, as the former Holme-on-Spalding Moor airfield is only 12 miles from Elvington and is close enough to claim that their aircraft have ‘come home’.
YAM’s Buccaneer No.2 is wearing distinctive Gulf War markings
Representing the final scheme worn by RAF Buccaneers, this third example has the wrap-around grey and green camouflage
I am using a little poetic licence with the title of this section, as I have no real idea how to describe a group of three Buccaneers, however, the word Brigand really did seem to fit the bill nicely, so I went with that. In the county which proudly produced the Buccaneer, it is certainly one of the highlights of any visit to Elvington that you can see three preserved examples of this distinctive aircraft, one of which is kept in ground running condition. Perhaps of even greater significant than this, each one is presented in a different scheme from throughout the service career of the aircraft, one in Fleet Air Arm scheme, one wearing a distinctive Gulf War scheme and one in the final wrap around RAF camouflage scheme from its final service days. Although each of these aircraft have an interesting story of their own, for the purposes of this review, we are going to concentrate on the star of this Thunder Day event, Buccaneer S.2 XN974.
Built at Brough as the first production Mk.S.2 Buccaneer, XN974 was taken to Holme-on-Spalding Moor airfield to make its first flight on 5th June 1964 and was destined to spend much of its career in testing and development flying. Going almost immediately to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, it was also used as a trials aircraft for deck landings at sea on board HMS Eagle and later sent to the US for hot weather testing. On its flight back to the UK, XN974 achieved a record for a Fleet Air Arm aircraft flying the Transatlantic route, as it managed the flight from Goose Bay to Lossiemouth non-stop, without refuelling. In 1971, the Buccaneer changed service and was delivered to the Royal Air Force for use as an avionics and weapons system testbed aircraft, used extensively by British Aerospace out of their Warton facility. In this role, it proved significant in developing high altitude air-to-air refuelling capabilities with the BAe Tornado, in preparation for the Gulf War and the RAF’s contribution to this conflict. With the impending withdrawal of the Buccaneer from RAF service, British Aerospace donated XN974 to the Yorkshire Air Museum and was flown to Elvington on 19th August 1991 – after beating up the airfield in one final show of the Buccaneer’s awesome capabilities, she landed at the former RAF Bomber Command station and into a new career as a much loved museum exhibit.
A series of images showing the Buccaneer ‘runner’ at Elvington, which thrilled the crowds with its taxy and wing folding demonstration. It is resplendent in the Royal Navy scheme it wore when it was first delivered to the Fleet Air Arm
As a ‘runner’, XN974 has long been a star of both Elvington Airshows and YAM Thunder Days since its arrival, performing taxy runs down the runway and operating the folding wings and rotary bomb bay, which were two significant features of Buccaneer operations. After over 20 years however, the Buccaneer, which was still wearing the wrap around RAF camouflage in which it was delivered in 1991, was beginning to look a little the worse for wear and it was decided that following her 2016 winter maintenance schedule, the aircraft would emerge from the hangar looking very different to the way she went in. Undergoing almost 18 months of quite significant renovation, XN974 was given a much needed mechanical and technical overhaul, ensuring she could remain as a ‘live aircraft’ for the foreseeable future and her paintwork was removed and updated to one from the earliest days of her career. Shedding her dowdy RAF camouflage, the Buccaneer was returned to her original colourful Fleet Air Arm livery and was testament to the effort and expertise of a volunteer team led by Andre Tempest, who many will know as the owner of the mighty Handley Page Victor which is also on display at YAM. Unveiled in its smart new scheme at a press event in the summer of 2017, XN974 not only looks great in her Royal Navy livery, but she sounds fantastic too, with the noise from her two powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engines instantly transporting Elvington back to the Cold War era and the successful product of a local aviation company. Even when on normal static display, this handsome new scheme makes XN974 one of the undoubted highlights of a visit to this impressive museum.
Elvington’s aviation Leviathans
Of huge interest to British aviation enthusiasts, Elvington’s mighty Nimrod is maintained in ground running condition and makes for an extremely impressive sight
Wearing her iconic Gulf War scheme, Handley Page Victor XL231 is the largest aircraft on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum and would happily speed up and down the runway, if given the opportunity
If Handley Page Halifax ‘Friday the 13th’ is the WWII aviation star of the Yorkshire Air Museum’s collection, it can also boast a pair of Cold War British aviation classics which can rival the Halifax both in terms of historical importance and physical stature. We will be producing individual Aerodrome tributes to both Handley Page Victor K.2 ‘Lusty Lindy’ XL231 and Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR.2 XV250 at a later date, so we will not include too much detail of either aircraft as part of this ‘Thunder Day’ review. Having said that, both of these magnificent Cold War sentinels are maintained in ground running condition and their sheer size ensures that when the engines on these beasts are brought to life, people will travel great distances to enjoy what is still a significant aviation experience.
It is always enjoyable to have the opportunity to admire rare and beautifully preserved aircraft wherever they may be on display, but the chance to see one come to life on a former RAF airfield is very special indeed. Both of these mighty RAF aircraft were flown in to the Yorkshire Air Museum’s Elvington site following their withdrawal from RAF service and thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of talented and extremely passionate volunteers, both the Victor and Nimrod have been maintained in ground running condition and have both performed fast taxy runs down the length of Elvington’s massive 3000m runway in years past. The highlight of any ‘Thunder Day’ event usually sees each of these aircraft take their turn in powering up their engines and showing that they are still very much alive and for anyone with a link to either aircraft type, this can be both a memorable and moving experience.
The impressive Nimrod was one of the world’s most capable maritime patrol aircraft and its retirement left Britain extremely vulnerable to the treat of Soviet submarine incursion
For this latest event, the Nimrod had the honour of going first and with the crowd positioned behind barriers at a safe distance and with fire crews standing by, providing their professional reassurance, the four Spey engines of this maritime patrol aircraft were started in sequence. As you can imagine, this makes for quite an impressive sound and when all four engines are turning and the power is applied, you get the feeling that this former guardian of our sea lanes is just begging to be allowed to head towards the runway, for a quick circuit of the airfield, or perhaps just one final anti-submarine patrol. The aircraft is currently positioned in a hardstanding revetment which has high grassy earthworks to three sides and when the pilot engages a high power setting to the four Speys, you really do get the feeling that they have enough thrust to blow them away. Thankfully that didn’t happen and the Nimrod eventually shut down its engines and enjoyed a rapturous vote of approval from the gathered masses.
Starting its service life as the last of Britain’s three V-Bombers, the Handley Page Victor would go on to have a longer service career that either of its Valiant or Vulcan predecessors and would end its life as a capable airborne tanker, serving through both the Falklands and Gulf Wars. With its unique shape and impressive size, the Victor must be considered as one of the most distinctive aircraft to have ever seen Royal Air Force service and as such, this magnificent example has been a huge attraction at the Yorkshire Air Museum since its arrival in November 1993. Still wearing a Gulf War ‘Desert Pink’ scheme and featuring the nose artwork which was applied during its deployment to the Gulf Region, ‘Lusty Lindy’ is maintained in exceptional condition by its owner Andre Tempest and his trusted team of volunteers and days like these allow them the opportunity to show the crowds what their old girl can still do.
A dedicated team of volunteers give up much of their free time to ensure Victor ‘Lusty Lindy’ is kept in tip-top condition and ready to thrill the crowds during the latest Elvington ‘Thunder Day’
Bringing the latest Elvington ‘Thunder Day’ to a spectacular close, the Victor team prepared to fire up the aircraft’s four powerful Rolls-Royce Conway engines, which during its service career could push the bomber/tanker to speeds in excess of 620mph. These preparations included dismantling and moving the metal security fencing at the rear of the aircraft, before the Conway engines could do the job for them. Requiring a similar level of knowledge, professionalism and teamwork to safely execute this procedure as would have been the case during its service career, the Victor crew meticulously prepared the aircraft for its starring role and at the appointed hour, the engines fired into life as instructed. As was the case with the Nimrod previously, once the pilot increased the power settings, it appeared as if this massive aircraft was straining on its brakes, just waiting for an opportunity to accelerate away and once more climb into the air where it belongs. After a deafening few minutes of this magnificent Rolls-Royce symphony, the power to the engines was cut and the museum quickly return to the normal sounds of a busy day, with the crowds slowly dispersing and the Victor crew performing their well drilled post engine run procedures, ensuring that the next time they are called upon, the Conways perform as required.
Attending an event such as this Yorkshire Air Museum’s ‘Thunder Day’ really does give you a sense that these places which preserve our aviation heritage are very much reliant on the unstinting support of an army of committed volunteers the length and breadth of the country, who willingly give what time they can spare to ensure that museums can remain open and their aviation exhibits are in excellent condition for us all to enjoy. I would like to dedicate this review to anyone who has ever helped in the restoration of an aircraft, or volunteered their time at a museum or site of aviation interest, so that the rest of us can enjoy a day in the company of these magnificent aeroplanes – although we rarely get the chance to do so, we really do appreciate your efforts.
A visit to the Yorkshire Air Museum is something to look forward to at any time of the year and whether you are looking for a day of quiet aviation discovery, or a slightly noisier and more immersive aviation experience, the YAM website will provide you with all the details you will need when planning your next visit. I would like to thank the museum staff, volunteers and Andre Tempest and his team for their hospitality during my ‘Thunder Day’ experience and I very much look forward to discovering more of Elvington’s delights in the very near future.
Who will ride the Lancaster?
Regular readers will be keen to find out if they were lucky enough to be the fortunate winner of our spectacular Aerodrome 100th Edition competition, where we had a significant aviation prize awaiting one lucky reader. Joining the Avro Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ team at East Kirkby for one of their taxy ride VIP Days next year, this was by some margin the most impressive prize we have ever offered on our blog and resulted in a great many of you placing your entries early and keeping your fingers crossed. Drawn at random from the list of correct entries, our lucky winner has already been notified of his/her success by e-mail, but has yet to get back to us, so we are unable to publish these details at the moment. If you entered our Aerodrome 100 competition, please check your e-mails over the weekend, as you may have a very pleasant surprise awaiting you. Please get in touch with us, so we can finalise all the necessary details - we look forward to joining our winner as they enjoy a day with ‘Just Jane’ and intend to bring you full details in a future edition of Aerodrome. Congratulations to our as yet annonymous winner and thank you to everyone who helped to make this competition and our Centenary blog such a success.
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 even more aviation goodness. 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 addresses at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org 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 21st September, where we look forward to bringing you more interesting aviation related features then.
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