It’s August Bank Holiday weekend, the smell of Avtur fills the air and the sound of cold war jets resonate around the Leicestershire countryside. Shaun Schofield reports from his annual pilgrimage to Bruntingthorpe.
No season would be complete without taking in at least one of Bruntingthorpe’s Cold War Jets Open Days. The airfield is becoming something of a Mecca for those of us who have a passion for classic jets, providing the last remaining opportunity to see many of the collection’s aircraft operating under their own steam.
One of the great things about Brunty is how quickly things progress between visits. There is seemingly always a new aircraft on show, or an existing restoration nearing completion, which keeps things fresh for those of us who can’t resist coming back year on year.
This year’s newest resident has been well documented, arriving just a few weeks before the open day; VC10 XR808. ‘Bob’ has taken the place of ZD241, which was originally earmarked to join the collection, but will now sadly be scrapped, leaving ‘808 as the sole VC10 in running condition once the remaining two in service have been retired.
Due to the inevitable paperwork issues, the open day came too soon to see ‘808 perform a fast taxi – it’s time will come at next May’s event. Nevertheless, it took pride of place in the static park, and proved a very popular attraction, with people queuing throughout the day to have a look inside the aircraft.
‘808 should be joined by a newly-restored Hunter in May. GA11 WT806 has been lovingly brought back to life over the past months and is earmarked to make her public debut next year. Resplendent in Fleet Air Arm colours, it will make a fine addition to the roster of ‘runners’.
Another future runner will be the ex-German F-104G. The search for a suitable engine continues, but when it’s found, the Starfighter will be restored to take its place on the flightline of future open days. That is sure to be quite a sight! For now though, the jet was lined up in the static row, where it was joined by the raspberry ripple Jaguar, Sea Harrier FA2 and Meteor NF13. All three are similarly engineless, and whilst the Meteor is destined to join the Jet Age Museum at Staverton, the Jag and SHAR are very much part of the collection, with the former also earmarked to become a future runner. Exciting times ahead!
That’s enough of what’s to come, time to focus on the day itself. Unfortunately, there were technical issues that prevented many of the regulars from taxying. The Iskra, that was due to run alongside its Eastern European counterpart, the L-29, had developed a fairly severe fuel leak, whilst the Canberra had developed a loss of power in the port engine. The Comet’s ground power unit also fell afoul of technical gremlins, which also prevened the airliner from running.
Despite the setbacks, a full afternoon’s entertainment was had. Kicking things off were no less than four Jet Provosts – three T3s and a single T4. Although perhaps not the most popular of jets in the collection, the sight of four of them pirouetting before a stream launch down the runway was certainly impressive and, again, something that hasn’t been seen before at an open day.
JPs would feature strongly throughout the day, with the T4 later teaming up with the L-29, which had earlier performed a solo run, for an East-meets-West trainer gathering. The T4 would also join up with two more T3s for the penultimate run of the day. One of the T3s was in fact an airworthy example that had arrived earlier in the afternoon, and the jet led the trio down the runway, rather unfairly powering into the air whilst the two ground-bound examples had no choice but to throttle back!
With the loss of the Canberra, it was left to the Hunter T7 to provide the sole opportunity to witness the smoky spectacle of a traditional cartridge start. The aircraft is looking a little worse for wear as it is in the process of being rubbed back and repainted, but should be back to its stunning best come May where it will hopefully team up with the aforementioned GA11.
With the loss of the Comet, it was left to the Victor and Nimrod to provide the four-engine action of the day. Their lengthy start up routines build a great sense of anticipation before they finally launch down the runway, bending the trees and quite often sending fragments of tarmac in their wake. The Nimrod in particular gave the crowd a good showering of gravel! It is the noise these monsters make that provide the real highlight, shattering ear drums as they spool up and launch into their runs.
Of course, none of Bruntingthorpe’s resident aircraft are so adept at piercing the ear drums as the Lightning. A Lightning run usually provides the absolute highlight of any event, but this year provided the first opportunity for more than four years (and my first chance ever) to see both of the Lightning Preservation Group’s jets run together at an open day.
The excitement, as ever, was tangible, with crowds flocking to the flightline to get as close as they could to these monsters. After a bit of jockeying around by the tow trucks, the jets were positioned in echelon before that familiar note of the Avpin starters bellowed. Soon after, the jets were lined up and ready for their run, with XR728 leading XS904 down the runway with phenomenal noise as the burners were lit. There really is a sense of drama as the jets thunder away, creating a wall of noise and heat haze. Undoubtedly worth the entrance fee all on their own.
Whilst the Lightnings sorted themselves out at the far end of the runway before returning for a series of figure of eights, the BBMF filled the interlude with a series of low and close passes, courtesy of Spitfire XVI TE311 and Hurricane IIc LF363. It’s rare to see the BBMF display so close and so vigorously at a public event, and was very much appreciated by the assembled crowds.
The final runner of the day was Buccaneer XW544. The Bucc had performed a full run earlier in the day where it displayed all of the jet’s party tricks: wing folding, bomb bay rotation and hook extension. It was expected to be joined by XX900, which sadly also suffered serviceability issues, leaving ‘544 as the sole runner. The second run consisted of a quick figure of eight before one last blast down the runway, with Ollie Suckling really giving it the beans, bringing another successful open day to an end.
Bruntingthorpe really is a jewel in the crown of the UK airshow scene. Every show delivers something unique and exciting that keeps the crowds coming back and wanting more. Of course, none of this would be possible without the tireless work and dedication of the aircraft owners and volunteer groups that maintain the aircraft in such superb condition. Long may they continue to do so.
The next Cold War Jets Open Day will take place over the late May bank holiday weekend in 2014. See you there!