Andrew Bates returns to Scampton on 20 May for Hawker Hunter Aviation's Open Day
Having not been to an event at RAF Scampton since way back in 1991 and also having more than a passing interest in Hawker's most beautiful of creations, the Hunter, an opportunity to attend the Open Day with Hawker Hunter Aviation was one not to be missed. Also, just to add an element of intrigue prior to the event, the ticket details received in the post that week made reference to a surprise that would be revealed on the day, which certainly heightened the feeling of anticipation driving up to Lincolnshire that morning. One thing that was not surprising however was the weather, which was fairly typical of early summer. The forecast ranged from 'fairly grim' to 'bloody awful', so the mug of hot tea awaiting each guest upon arrival was most welcome as the rain hammered away on the hangar roof.
As everyone took their seat for the formal introductions, it became readily apparent just how exclusive our day was to be, with a grand total of twenty of us in attendance. For the opening discussions we were honoured to have HHA's Managing Director Mat Potulski in the chair, ably assisted by Chief Engineer Mick Elliot and Events Manager Mark Standish. Clearly, similar HHA events in the past had been well received, as a quick show of hands revealed that your scribe was the only first-time visitor present. So, the day kicked off with an outline of the itinerary followed by a question and answer session with the 'boss'. It was at this point that the planned surprise was revealed; we would be visiting Coningsby Families Day later in the morning to see one of the HHA Hunters in action. Scampton was closed for flying that weekend, so with a Hunter already pre-positioned at Coningsby and scheduled to fly in the display, it had been specially arranged for us to be driven over by bus to be able to attend the show so that we could see the Hunter demo for ourselves - a very nice surprise indeed!
Prior to our trip to Coningsby, the other highlight of the day was to be the ground running of the Buccaneer, but beforehand, whilst waiting for the rain to ease, we were provided with a fascinating insight into the background, aircraft and operations of Hawker Hunter Aviation, courtesy of Mat as he fielded various questions from the audience. The amount of interesting facts and figures relating to the aircraft, pilots, engineering team, and mission profiles would probably constitute a separate article on its own, but to avoid repetition (and plagiarism from the author!) much can be gleaned from the excellent Hawker Hunter Aviation website.
Thankfully, the rain actually ceased for a time, which gave a welcome window of opportunity for everyone to go outside to witness the start up of Buccaneer XX885. With all systems running, it was possible to demonstrate some of the functional characteristics such as the wing folding, airbrake opening/closing and the rotary bomb bay. Symbolically, perhaps the most notable feature is the application of the civil registration G-HHAA on the tail. As Air-Scene UK readers are well aware, HHA has been given CAA approval to fly the Bucc under a Complex Category Permit. With the amount of work and negotiation that was necessary to attain this status, HHA is justifiably proud of this achievement. However, there is still much to be done, so a return to flight is not likely until spring 2007. Needless to say, for many enthusiasts, this will undoubtedly be eagerly anticipated.
With all systems then safely shut down, there was just time for a quick walk around to get up close and personal with the mighty Bucc before it was time to beat a hasty retreat back to the hangar as the next black cloud advanced steadily across the airfield. Sadly, the atrocious weather prevented seeing any of the Hunters or the awesome Su-22 venture outside for any photographic opportunities, but it was still possible to wander around the hangar at will and scrutinise the fleet at leisure, with ever helpful HHA personnel on hand to answer any other questions. Then it was time to board our coach for the trip over to Coningsby and part two of our visit.
Family fun at Coningsby
One hour later and we're walking through the gates at Coningsby, past the Phantom and Tornado gate guards. At this point the rain had stopped and the clouds were not as dark as before, so there had been some improvement in the weather. Effectively, we had travelled south, so that must have been the reason! In fact, the sun actually attempted to come out, albeit briefly, so this was as good a time as any to get some photos of the static displays.
There have been a number of changes at Coningsby in recent times, and this was certainly reflected in the static park. Firstly, it was no surprise to see a Typhoon on show, specifically an F2 from 29(R) Squadron, the Typhoon OCU (there were further examples on show in the display hangars, from both 29(R) and 17(R) Squadrons, but sadly, no sign of any of the new 3(F) Squadron aircraft). Secondly, a pair of 6 Squadron Jaguar GR3s on display were a reminder of their recent move to Coningsby following the closure of Coltishall in April. Thirdly, a Tornado F3 and a GR4 from the Fast Jet & Weapons OEU were to be found resplendent in their freshly applied 41(R) Squadron markings, complete with the traditional Cross of St Omer. It's nice to see the continued use of the 41 Squadron 'numberplate' following the recent disbandment of the squadron as a Jaguar unit at Coltishall. And finally, in anticipation of 11(F) Squadron reforming on the Typhoon at Coningsby later in the year, they have already moved their 'mascot' Lightning F6 over from Leeming, which was also on display and still looking smart in the 90th anniversary scheme that was applied last year.
Other items of interest on show included a Puma HC1 still wearing 1563 Flight markings, one of the last Canberras from 39 (1 PRU) Squadron and a Danish Air Force F-16BM. The Danes were the only international participant, but also provided a pair of F-16AMs for the flightline, one of which was scheduled to fly later in the afternoon. Completing the static, which was naturally dominated by the RAF, was a 56(R) Squadron Tornado F3, 19(R) Squadron Hawk T1A, 72(R) Squadron Tucano T1, 45(R) Squadron King Air 200 and a privately owned Jet Provost T5, the later adding a welcome splash of colour in patriotic red, white and blue colour scheme.
Sadly the dry conditions did not last long, so the flying displays were destined to coincide with a deterioration in the weather. The rain tended to vary between drizzle and heavy showers, which kept everyone dashing in and out of the hangars, so it was a case of catching up on the flying on each trip outside. A bit disruptive for the audience but for the pilots the show carried on in true showbiz fashion. Again, the RAF were well represented with displays from the Chinook, Harrier, Hawk, Tucano and Tutor, not forgetting, of course, the BBMF Lancaster and Dakota, along with one of the Spitfires and one of the Hurricanes.
There were also a number of other historic aircraft scheduled to display, including the RNHF Sea Fury, F-86A Sabre, Jet Provost T5, and not forgetting the HHA Hunter F58, which was the whole reason for us being present in the first place. The Hunter was flown by HHA's Operations Manager and Deputy Chief Pilot Louis McQuade, an ex-RAF pilot with over 8,000 hours flying experience. Watching a jet as beautiful as the Hunter being put through its paces by an experienced pilot is always a magical sight to behold, no matter how many times you may have seen it. Sure enough, Louis did not disappoint, with a stunning display that demonstrated both the power and elegance of this timeless design. Fabulous stuff.
All too soon it was time to make for the exit and find our coach for the trip back to Scampton. There was just enough time to watch the Typhoon demo from outside the main gate before we were on the road for our return journey. Back inside the HHA hangar, it was almost evening but still our hosts were only too happy to spend even more time chatting over another very welcome mug of tea. Another opportunity to peruse the HHA fleet was taken, including the Buccaneer now safety tucked back inside the hangar. Those folding wings and nose proving extremely useful in a confined space.
In summing up the day, despite the weather, it was clear that everyone had had a great time and great credit to the HHA team for trying to ensure that each open day they run is that little bit different each time. With HHA being primarily a business providing customers with services such as defence simulation and aircraft maintenance, they are to be applauded for taking the time and effort to consider the needs of aircraft enthusiasts. If you missed out this time around, there should be further opportunities in the future, so check the website for details of the HHA Supporters Club.
With special thanks to Mat Potulski, Mick Elliot, Mark Standish and everyone else at HHA for their warm welcome and their efforts to ensure a fascinating and entertaining day, not to mention the great tea!