Hunter 50th anniversary Airshow, 21/22 July
As nostalgia becomes ever popular the word "Classic" is increasingly used nowadays by aficionados of a particular aircraft type, but there are few which truly deserve this title. The Hunter is one of those aircraft upon which, almost unreservedly, all aviators and enthusiasts are justifiably in agreement when bestowing the title. Damien Burke and John Heard/Focal Plane report from Kemble on the weekend's activities.
On 20 July 1951, the Hawker P.1067, serial WB188 - the Hunter prototype - took to the air for the first time at Boscombe Down. That the type would still be flying fifty years later would no doubt have come as some surprise to those at Boscombe on that day! To mark this momentous occasion, Delta Jets had decided to put on a real birthday bash and accordingly the weekend nearest the date was chosen to host an Anniversary Air Day, and rumours of a massed Hunter flypast began to do the rounds...
Arrivals piled into Kemble on 20 July for the anniversary air day. The Saturday was to be an "enthusiast's day" and the original plan was for there to be access to the airfield for people to take photos in a less crowded environment and watch display rehearsals and arrivals. Sadly the weather pretty much put paid to that plan, with intermittent torrential rain meaning that arrivals had to be carefully timed, and rehearsals were out of the question. Some visitors did make it in, rewarding those patient enough to hang around - e.g. a Wasp and Scout, Strikemaster, three Hunters from CJAC and one from Kennet Aviation, two Harriers from Wittering plus occasional movements from a handful of RAF Hercules, using the airfield for an exercise. In addition to the Hunters the static park was augmented by other types including other such British 'classics' as the Buccaneer and Meteor from Delta Jets and a Sea Harrier.
Naturally the flightline also contained many UK based gems with good representation from Kemble's resident Delta Jets collection and a number from Exeter based 'Classic Jet Aircraft Co'. Of the Delta Jets machines the company's flag-ship aircraft WV318/G-FFOX was noted sporting its new gloss finish, as did Gordon Hannam's T7 XL600/G-VETA (Gordons - Very Expensive Toy Aeroplane), both looking quite immaculate. Of course centre stage went to CJAC's Hunter GA11 WV256/G-BZPB which had been modified and painted up to look like the original Hunter Prototype P.1067/WB188 and this took part in many photo-calls during the day with Hunter celebrities such as Neville Duke.
The OFMC's T7, XF357/G-BWGL, was also present painted like the original Hunter T7 prototype XJ615, fitting in nicely with the event, and Kennet Aviation supplied their immaculate F6A XF515/G-KAXF resplendent in 43 Squadron "Fighting Cocks" markings.
By mid-Saturday morning much of the early brightness had given way to heavy cloud and a cold brisk wind from the south-west. By the afternoon heavy showers were passing over the field preventing many of the planned practise displays. So bad was the weather that the Swiss were thwarted no less than three times in trying to get airborne. The afternoon's only diversion was the late arrival of three more Hunters from CJAC at Exeter to complete the line up - Peter Hellier's F6A XF516/G-BVVC adorned in the markings of 229 OCU as operated from RAF Chivenor, T7 XL573/G-BVGH and PR11 WT723/G-PRII.
The day dawned looking grey, but the clouds soon began to break and the sun shine. On the flightline crews were busy preparing their mounts and the delightful sound of Rolls-Royce Avons spooling up was soon to be heard as the Swiss "Papyrus" team took the opportunity to put in an early morning practise with their regular show companion T68 J-4205. The former aircraft's newspaper-style colour scheme turned many heads as well as its wonderful flying display in company with J-4205. The Swiss duo, denied a chance to rehearse by Saturday's weather, put on a fantastic display, really showing the aircraft off well and keeping nice and close to the crowdline.
Amidst all the civvy stuff, a few more interesting types arrived in the time before the display - Martin Willings' T-28 Fennec and Pembroke, a pair of Wasps (hover-taxiing down the display line while CJAC's 'WB188' took to the air for a photo shoot with Strikemaster G-UNNY), a pair of Jet Provosts, a rather swish looking Yak-18T, camouflaged Auster, DHFS Squirrel and the 'Regal Beagle'. Amongst the three former military Westland Wasps were G-KAWW, G-RIMM and G-BYCX. The day was shaping up to be a good 'un alright...
The organisers realised a Hunter-only display would not have the widest of appeals, so the static and flying display instead were given a distinct Hawker theme, with types ranging from the Hurricane to the Harrier GR7. Sadly the RNHF's Sea Fury cancelled on Saturday with technical problems, leaving a gap in the flying display which would later be filled by Martin Willing's Pembroke and T-28.
Kicking things off shortly before 14:00, the Delta duo of Hunter WV318 (flown by ex-Jaguar display pilot and ex-Red Arrow Andy Cubin) and Gnat G-RORI (flown by Delta's own Dave Roome) took to the air for their sparkling paired display. The little Gnat certainly provides a contrast to the big Hunter and both were flown with style. Next up, another Hawker design - the Hawk. Nine of them to be precise - and all painted Red! Yes, the Arrows were, for once, a supporting act, not opening the show, and not closing it. The perfect weather gave them a rare opportunity to carry out a full looping display over their former home.
The Swiss duo took off next, followed by Peter Hellier's F6 XF516, and then the distinct sound of a Merlin could heard in the distance. One of the BBMF's Hurricanes was continuing the Hawker theme, with an unusually charismatic display - rather better than the often rather sedate flying we see from the BBMF's birds. Once the Hurri had departed, the Swiss team came back for their first UK airshow appearance. Made up from Hunterverein Obersimmental's F58 'J-4015' and Fliegermuseum Altenrhein's T68 J-4205, the pair put on a fantastic show for us all, with formation and single passes, fast and slow, gear in, gear out - the works. Probably the best Hunter flying seen in a long while.
Of the solo Hunter displays John Aldington put XF516 through a magnificent routine and produced the "blue note" on several passes, much to the delight of the hairs on many necks, although the display was some way beyond the display line. XF516 was upstaged by that most colourful of Hunters - "Miss Demeanour" (G-PSST), taking to the air for a furious display emphasizing the faster end of the airspeed gauge!
Due up next was the Harrier, but the Pembroke took to the air first for a sort of active advert - Martin doesn't get many airshow bookings, which is a shame as the Pembroke is one of only two flying in the UK and inexpensive to book. So as the commentary said - any organisers out there, here's a good value item which would be appreciated by many airshow-goers. Book now!
A distinctive whine arose from the flight line and sure enough the Harrier soon appeared, taxiing out onto the runway. Carrying out its usual display of fast passes followed by noisy hovering, the Harrier - as ever - brings everthing to a halt while all and sundry watch, albeit with hands firmly on ears.
Now filling the gap left by the absent Sea Fury, Martin Willings' T-28 displayed - once more an inexpensive item for any show, and sadly lacking in bookings this year. What is going on with UK airshow organisers this year? A little support of home-grown talent would not go amiss!
While more and more noise of Avons spooling up could be heard, the RAF Hawk took to the air for a nimble display but unfortunately for the pilot, I think a lot of attention was directed towards the flightline instead.
As 16:00 approached fifteen Hunters began starting up, a sight and sound to stir the heart of any enthusiasts, let alone Hunter freaks! The next few minutes were one of those magic periods of time that everybody who witnessed will remember - fifteen Hunters taking to the air, one after the other, in quick succession. It must have been many years since such a sight was seen in the UK, probably not since the 1960s when so many Hunter squadrons were around. The sound of motor winders and camera shutters could be heard distinctly as each Hunter passed by the crowd line and twenty minutes later they were all airborne and heading out west.
Giving us all time to come down from that high, the fifteen - every one of them airborne without a hitch, an achievement in itself - formed up over the Bristol channel to the west. All eyes scanned the sky awaiting their return. And what a return... fifteen Hunters in a perfect delta formation (originally the plan was for a diamond composed of four diamonds of four aircraft each, but one aircraft could not make the show so the delta formation was chosen at a late stage). As the sound of fifteen Avons shattered the silence over Kemble, they were nearly themselves drowned out by the clicking of camera shutters as Kodak and Fuji's profits went into overdrive for an incredible few seconds. Absolutely awe-inspiring flying - and an incredible achievement for all involved. You had to be there to feel the emotion. Only one pass but it was worth the whole trip!
Winding down after that most impressive of climaxes, we had plenty of fast run and breaks from the returning Hunters, and one poignant reminder of absent friends - a missing man formation with accompanying music. As they taxied in, all lined up on the cross runway and waited as the last Hunter down taxied to join them. Then they taxied in unison across to park to end a day which had brought back so many memories and enforced one's feeling even more that there are few real "classics" deserving of the title, but the Hunter is surely one!
A very, very, very big WELL DONE to all involved, and special thanks to event organiser Glen Moreman - who has gained a few more grey hairs, but the admiration and thanks of many.