Bank holidays in May have become synonymous with the sound of jet engines as the Cold War Jets Collection at Bruntingthorpe opens its doors for the first of its two annual open days. Shaun Schofield endured the typical bank holiday weather for GAR.
Typical weather indeed! Bruntingthorpe was a very grey, damp scene on arrival to the airfield, and sadly stayed that way for much of the day. Luckily, with most of the action taking place on the ground, it’s not such an issue, and the larger aircraft doubled up as huge metallic umbrellas during the wetter moments of the morning!
One such impromptu rain shelter was an ex-Royal Air Force TriStar. Six of these aircraft have been stored at the airfield since the aircraft’s retirement and have recently been given an American registration ahead of their new lease of life with AGD Systems. Normally out-of-bounds from visitors, one was towed over to the static park, offering punters a closer look at these wonderful old workhorses for the first time at an Open Day.
Another ex-RAF heavy was given the honour of kicking off the day’s proceedings. Nimrod XV226 was slowly brought to life by the hard-working volunteers just as the heavens opened, and after a quick parade along the crowdline, was really let loose down the runway, doing a fine job of drying out the damp runway in the process. The addition of the Nimrod figure of eight taxying is a splendid one, giving spectators a more detailed and intimate look at the mighty hunter.
It’s a shame the other heavies don’t do similar. Perhaps the VC10 is too large, but it would be nice to at least see the Victor parade a little before thundering to the far end of the runway, as good a spectacle as it is. The VC10, closing the show, was subsequently taxyed back to the top of the runway after its run (arguably the loudest of the day!) for a final chance to grab a close look at the jet.
Unfortunately, as far as the Victor was concerned, after turning off the runway to taxy back into the crowd, which normally offers a superb photographic opportunity, those gathered in anticipation of seeing the jet up close were left disappointed, as the aircraft was brought to a halt and shut down way down the taxiway. Presumably there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why this was done, but being up close and personal with the jets is one of the draws and delights of these events, hence the general feeling of disappointment.
On a more positive note, the Lightning run, as it so often does, stole the show. XR728 was the jet of choice on this occasion, beginning with a QRA-esque demonstration of just how quickly the aircraft can be started and taxyed. The traditional parade was followed by a thunderous test of the afterburners, one at a time as usual to prevent a premature jolly down the runway!
After producing some impressive burner spikes, it was chocks away as the jet was launched down the runway, both burners firmly engaged. The Lightning runs produce so much drama and spectacle, thoroughly stirring the senses, and making these open days a must-see event for all Cold War jet enthusiasts.
Another English Electric product was on show in the shape of colourful Canberra WT333. As ever, the aircraft commenced its display with its cartridge start party piece, throwing plenty of cordite smoke in the air as the Avons were kicked into life. A spectacular if somewhat startling sight!
Training aircraft are a regular feature of the Open Days, and this event was no exception. A gaggle of Jet Provosts took to the runway in the morning, representing the three major variants used by the RAF; T3, T4 and T5. The three played a game of follow the leader, showing off the subtle differences between them, before lining up for their fast taxy down the runway. Sadly, the T4, in its less common grey scheme, suffered a technical issue that left it standing whilst the others blasted away.
Offering an interesting comparison were the L-29 Delfin and Hunter T7. Both trainers were displaying their fresh paint jobs, the former remaining in its Romanian markings, but in new three tone camouflage, whilst the Hunter has had its existing scheme spruced up. The two jets contrast remarkably, the Hunter being sleek and elegant, whilst the Delfin is a little more robust and conventional in appearance.
With four examples in the collection, Buccaneers always feature prominently. Sadly, a burst tyre suffered during its practice run prevented XX894 from taking part on the day, leaving XW544 to run alone in the morning, with XX900 taking centre stage towards the end of the show. The Buccs are perhaps the best suited to these events, displaying a range of configurations befitting of their naval heritage to satisfy onlookers and photographers alike.
Both jets performed similar routines, taxying to the far end of the crowdline before working their way back, stopping at various points to demonstrate their folding wings, rotating bomb bays, arrestor hooks and enormous air brakes in varying combinations, before lining up and opening the taps on their Spey engines as they launched down the runway. Fabulous stuff, and it must be said ‘894 and ‘544 look stunning in the relatively fresh paint schemes. Hopefully ‘900 will be next in line for a lick of paint; its heavily weathered appearance suggests it’s overdue!
There is almost always an aerial aspect at these shows, more often than not courtesy of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Once again they obliged, with a number of sporty flypasts by the Flight’s Dakota as the aircraft transited from one event to another. Having been well received at last August’s open day, model flying also featured quite heavily, with a number of large-scale models taking to the air between runs to fill the time.
These models are good additions, offering spectators a tantalising look at types, including the Victor and Lightning, which will sadly never take to the air in the UK again. If there was to be one criticism, however, it is that they did become a touch repetitive, with all displaying twice, whilst a large Sukhoi Su-29 performed three times. Worse than that, though, was having them all parked up in front of the crowd, providing a constant obstruction to spectators in their vicinity during the runs conducted by their full-size counterparts.
There’s no doubting the popularity of these events; one just has to look at the ever extending crowdline and seemingly exponential rise in spectators, but it felt like there was something missing from this event. It was arguably too busy, a point emphasised by the enormous queues for the single food stall and inadequate toilet facilities. For me at least, part of the charm of these open days has been the intimacy of them, but that was missing this time around. Of course, it’s hard to criticise the organisers for attracting more people, but the event needs to expand with it to maintain its appeal.
I love these events, I really do. They are a treasure of UK aviation heritage, but I truly hope they don’t become a victim of their own success. I’ll be back in August to see if lessons have been learned.