Paul Fiddian's 2011 blogGAR Entries

AUG 03 2011
blogGAR: The Year of the Hawker Hunter

I’m sure most, if not all, GAR readers will know that 2011 marks the Hawker Hunter’s 60th anniversary. Exeter-based Team Viper has contributed much so far this year to the Hunter celebrations and I’ve enjoyed watching their displays at several venues. Beyond that, though, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a fair bit of ‘extra’ time in the team’s company. In January, I visited them twice at their home base while, in May, I was able to watch the team practice at RNAS Yeovilton, along with Karl and Geoff. The second January visit produced some really quite special photo opportunities, against the background of a breaking morning and a rising sun. Given that the visit now seems like it was an awfully long time ago, plus the fact that the Hunter’s actual birthday (20 July) has now passed, I thought it was high time that I put a blog together!

On Saturday 15 January, Team Viper was set to carry out its first full formation flight involving new member, T.7 WV372. This gorgeous II(AC) Squadron-schemed machine had arrived at the start of the year and quickly assumed the role of lead aircraft. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great, with strong gusts and low, drifting cloud, so there was no flying, but there was the chance to have a leisurely wander round the Hunter Flying hangar and, especially, to inspect the new T.7 up-close. At one point, the lovely raspberry-rippled FGA.9 XE601 was pulled out of the hangar and looked as if it might be going up, but it was soon put back away again. From my perspective, though, it was still a useful day: I got some much-needed tripod practice and the chance to speak to team leader, Chris Heames (Viper 1), about the new acquisition and his plans for the coming season. Having now seen the full routine, it’s been especially satisfying to see what he described coming to life in front of my eyes, particularly the more spectacular elements of the display such as the opposition passes.

Given that, flying-wise, nothing had happened that day, I was invited back the following week to watch and capture the team’s departure to the Al Ain Aerobatic Show. This sounded REALLY promising! Through a series of messages with Viper 2, Gerald Williams, throughout the intervening week, I established that the departure time was 0800hrs and that he and the other pilots were arriving at Exeter Airport significantly earlier than that! I thought about the prospect of glorious, early morning light streaming softly onto the five Hunters as they were being prepped and flown out of Exeter and into the warm Middle Eastern winter. It also occurred to me that any photoshoot I had in mind could equally be a write-off, if the snowy weather that we’d experienced in recent days returned. What wasn’t in doubt was that I’d need to set out pretty early in the morning - an 0430hrs departure, as it turned out! The first thing that I noticed as I was driving on site was that, in theory, the support team must have been up at a really ungodly hour, as they were already hard at work inside the hangar! The next thing was that one airframe was already outside, but not a Viper Hunter – rather, Jonathon Whaley’s F.58, Miss Demeanour. Freshly-repainted, it sat partly in darkness, partly illuminated by the hangar lights. I think I actually said “wow”, or “win”, or something like that out loud and then set about splashing it with Canon flash from as many angles as I could.

If an impromptu ‘Miss D’ nightshoot had been my lot that day, it would still have been well worth it, but shortly afterwards, the team’s Hunters started to be pulled out, one by one, with XE601 leading the pack. By about 0800hrs, four aircraft were lined up, ready to go – and I had the luscious sunrise I’d been dreaming of - but the PR.11, XG194, remained inside and, as it turned out, wouldn’t be able to join its team mates at all. The next few hours provided a whirling carousel of photo opportunities but a lot of frustration for the team, with XE601 experiencing a series of technical problems and, ultimately, not making it all the way to Al Ain. WV372, GA.11 - XE685 - and T.7 - G-VETA - most certainly did make it, however, having taken off from Exeter at about 1330hrs in the end. Their experiences at the show are covered in our previous Team Viper Does Al Ain piece but, for me, there followed a satisfying drive back home and a pleasant afternoon of picture editing.

I didn’t see Team Viper again until the end of May but, again, this proved to be a most excellent day. I arrived at RNAS Yeovilton too late to see the first Viper practice (with no real excuse...my journey was well under half that undertaken by Karl and Geoff!) but did have the pleasure of watching and photographing the second. The visit produced some other goodies, too, including the two USN C-2A Greyhounds detached to Yeovilton in connection with Exercise Saxon Warrior and a USN Hercules that arrived to drop off the spare parts needed to fix one of them.

Less than a month later, I was at my first show of the season (a late start for me, this time!). Cotswold Airshow 2011's enjoyed extensive coverage from us already, so I won’t go over it again, bar commenting that the second day produced Team Viper’s first public five-ship display and it was splendid! Miss Demeanour’s brilliant performances over the weekend and the participation of it and the Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation’s F.6A and T.8C in the big finale were two more highlights of what was an outstanding event. I hope no one minds me including yet another shot of the Cotswold Airshow’s Hunter formation but, as with the aircraft itself, you can never really have enough...can you?!

Since then, I’ve seen Team Viper perform once more at RNAS Yeovilton, but this time at Air Day, where they were very well-received. I would have seen them at RIAT, too, but for the weather on Saturday morning and, as it stands, I probably now won’t enjoy another Viper performance until next year. Even so, 2011’s already proved to be truly the 'Year of the Hunter' and it’s given me some excellent days out.

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2011-08-03 - Phil Elliott
Worked on this type of aircraft in the 80s, mostly Trainers, its a very simple aircraft compared to today's technological type, but well put together and clean in flight. Enjoyed working on these, keep them flying, good luck to the flying and engineering crews.

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