Bank Holidays in Leicestershire are synonymous with two things; average weather, naturally, and jet noise! Shaun Schofield ventured to a largely grey Bruntingthorpe for the first Cold War Jets Open Day of the year.
There is a certain mystique about Bruntingthorpe that keeps enticing those with a penchant for Cold War heavy metal to come back time after time. Maybe it’s the intimate atmosphere, the wonderful character of the jets operated by the various groups and organisations, or perhaps it’s simply the explosive effect on the senses the sight, sound and smell of these classic aircraft evoke.
Whatever the reason, the sheer draw of the Open Days is evident from the ever increasing crowd numbers with each event. I’ve no idea on the actual figures, but I’d wager this was the busiest Open Day yet. For those who dedicate an immense amount of their time and money towards keeping the aircraft serviceable, the bumper gates are obviously of great benefit, but there is a danger the events are beginning to outgrow themselves.
In my review of the previous May’s event, I commented on the inadequate catering and toilet facilities. Unfortunately, these still don’t seem to have been fully addressed, with enormous queues forming for both throughout the day; clearly more of each would be ideal. In truth, my previous visit was a little disappointing in general, so it’s pleasing to report that, amenities aside, things were back on the right, familiar track this time around, with new aircraft and a special feature to freshen up the event.
One such aircraft was the glorious Hunter GA11, WT806. Having only made its first powered run in the days leading up to the event, it came as a pleasant surprise to see the aircraft on the list to run, alongside its stablemate, T7 XL565, which has been a stalwart of these events for several years now. After a smoky start up thanks to the dramatic cordite cartridge starting sequence, both were paraded along the runway, offering punters a thorough look at these most classic of jets from all angles.
Although the event came too soon for ‘806 to be fully unleashed down the runway, the taps were opened up enough to hear the Avons of both jets roar. With the grounding of civilian operated Hunters still in place in light of the ongoing investigation into the Shoreham accident, the chance to see and hear a Hunter has diminished greatly, so to have the opportunity to watch these two running would have held extra poignancy for many, I’m sure.
Now, onto the real highlight of the day. For the first time, the organisers offered a bus service to the far end of the airfield, so that those who purchased one of the limited spaces, for an extra fiver, could get a unique view of the Victor and Lightning rolling out of their high-speed runs with their braking parachutes deployed. It’s a spectacle that only a lucky few ever get to witness, and a hugely welcome addition to the familiar format; the Victor looked especially impressive, its enormous drag chute billowing in the wake of its jet efflux.
As an added bonus, the bus stopped near the gathered wrecks and relics, offering a chance to get a closer a look at the collection of TriStars, which are normally out of bounds. Having been transferred onto the American register more than a year ago, the aircraft still remain at Bruntingthorpe awaiting a buyer. In truth, spending more than two years outside without anti-deterioration runs must be taking its toll on the airframes and hopefully a buyer can be found before they are inevitably scrapped.
Noise is never in short supply at Bruntingthorpe, with the resident Lightnings usually registering highest on the decibel meter. Lightnings are always one of the main draws of these Open Days, and the honour of assaulting the senses of the gathered spectators was handed to XR728 on this occasion, launching down the runway in full afterburner and leaving in its wake shattered ear drums and wailing car alarms. It’s an epic experience, and one every jet enthusiast should have on their to-do list.
While ‘728 was busy strutting her stuff, her sister ship, XS904, remained firmly in the Q-Shed on the flightline, while the Lightning Preservation Group’s latest acquisition, XR713, took pride of place outside the shed. The popularity of the Lightnings is evident when you observe the amount of people wandering around the shed, getting a closer look at these Cold War warriors and chatting with the friendly air and ground crews. It makes life a little tricky from a photography perspective, but those willing to wait for the crowds to disperse were rewarded with ‘713 basking in the stunning early evening light that, as is so often the case, decided to show itself after the final run was complete!
As loud as the Lightning was, winning the trophy for noisiest run was the VC10. Even without the help of afterburner, her four Rolls Royce Conways on full throttle were utterly deafening during her show-closing run. It had been hoped that another four engine classic would open the show, but sadly technical gremlins got the better of the Nimrod, and after an unsuccessful engine run before the show, the aircraft was towed crowdside, where it was at least opened up for walkthroughs. Thus it was left to the Canberra to open the show, complete with dramatic cartridge start, which, no matter how ready one is for it, always seems to make one jump!
Naturally, with these types of aircraft, technical issues crop up aplenty; the Comet for example has long suffered with issues that have prevented it from actively taking part for a few years now, whilst Buccaneer XX894 has been out of action since the previous May Open Day with a blown tyre and other nuisances.
The Iskra has been another long term absentee, so it was encouraging to see it out on the flightline with its problems seemingly cured. It was planned to perform two runs alongside it Eastern Bloc stablemate, the L-29 Delfin, but alas, it fell foul of another, albeit minor issue that left it firmly in the static line for the day, leaving the Delfin to perform both runs solo. Training aircraft were further represented by a trio of Jet Provosts, demonstrating the evolution of the type from the T3 through to the T5.
Of course, no Open Day would be complete without an appearance by the mighty Buccaneer. With the aforementioned XX894 unserviceable, it was left to XW544 and XX900 to run as a pair, suitably demonstrating the Buccaneer’s variety of party tricks – folding wings, rotating bomb bay and splitting airbrake- before roaring down the runway.
As I mentioned earlier, my previous visit a year ago was something of a disappointment. Happily however, I can say it was back to somewhere near its excellent best once again. A truly terrific spectacle, long may it continue!