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Jet Heritage Open Day, 6 June by Andrew Bates

Sea Vixen, 'gate guard' at HurnIt was Friday afternoon, and that familiar feeling had set in. After a hectic week at work, and with the weekend approaching (including a reasonable weather forecast), I just HAD to go somewhere to indulge my hobby, especially after the deprivations of the previous weekend following the cancellation of Air Fete ’99 at Mildenhall.

Question was, where to go? If memory served correctly, there were no airshows scheduled for this particular weekend. However, a quick scan of the display diary revealed an event I had overlooked; the Jet Heritage Open Day at Bournemouth Airport. No further persuasion was necessary, especially as the preserved Sea Vixen FAW2 XJ580, at nearby Christchurch, had long been on my list of intended visits. Thus, early Sunday morning armed with cameras, films, and sandwiches, the car was pointed south for a nice leisurely drive towards the Dorset coast.

On arrival at Bournemouth, or perhaps more specifically Hurn, there were surprisingly large crowds gathered at various vantage points on the airfield, with cars seemingly parked everywhere. With what seemed like half the local population in attendance, one could be forgiven for thinking that the event had been upgraded to a full-blown airshow. However, it soon became clear that the majority of visitors had come along to watch the arrival and departure of a Concorde charter flight, which by chance had coincided with the Open Day. Obviously the public appeal for this magnificent aircraft has not diminished over the years.

Once within the vicinity of the Jet Heritage hangar complex, it became apparent that the Open Day was scheduled to be a fairly relaxed and leisurely event, with the flying displays taking place in the afternoon. In the meantime, part of the fleet formed a small static display outside the hangar, presenting some nice photo opportunities for those of us with a penchant for photography.

Canberra WK163Aircraft lined up outside included well-known Meteor NF11 WM167/G-LOSM alongside its stablemate, ex-Swiss Air Force Vampire T55 U-1215/G-HELV. Next came Jet Provost T4 XP672/G-RAFI, and civilian schemed Hunter T7 XL600/G-VETA. Also in attendance was Bruntingthorpe based Canberra B2 WK163/G-BVWC. A short while later, the familiar outline of a single seat Hunter was seen to perform a run and break over the airfield. This was immediately identified, by the exotic paint scheme, as ex-Swiss F58A J-4104/G-PSST. Upon landing, this aircraft was also positioned in the static prior to the flying display.

With time aplenty, it was possible to take a leisurely stroll around the hangar display, which apart from the many engines, models, and other aeronautical artefacts, included aircraft such as ex-Swiss Hunter T68 J-4208/G-HVIP, Gnat T1 XR537/G-NATY, Jet Provost T5 XW291/G-BWOF, Auster 5 RT610/G-AKWS and Dragon Rapide G-AGSH in BEA colours. Also, the opportunity was taken to view some of the engineering activity in the adjacent hangar, where a number of aircraft were to be seen in various stages of service and repair. In varying degrees of disassembly were Venom FB50 J-1542/G-GONE, Hunter F58 J-4083/G-EGHH and Hunter T8C XF357/G-BWGL.

Back outside the hangar, on permanent static display, were two aircraft of completely divergent origin and role. Parked in one corner was ex-Hungarian Air Force Mig-21PF 503/G-BRAM, still wearing the Soviet markings it had worn for a number of years whilst parked on the Aces High ramp at North Weald. Alongside the Mig-21 was the recently acquired Handley Page Herald Series 401 G-BEYF, which had only just been retired from freight services with Channel Express, having flown its final trip, of Liverpool to Bournemouth, on April 9th 1999. Apparently, this was the world’s last airworthy Herald, so whilst it may not be everybody’s cup of tea (author included), it is of historical significance. In fact, for those of us with leanings towards military aviation, it was interesting to note that this aircraft reportedly commenced its flying career with the Royal Malaysian Air Force in 1964.

Early afternoon saw Concorde departing in usual spectacular fashion, and presumably heading out to the Bay of Biscay for the privileged few aboard. Shortly afterwards the Canberra began engine start-up, and was soon taxying out to the runway. Then, after clearance from ATC, it was the usual sprightly take off, the flying display commencing. This entailed the familiar repertoire of graceful manoeuvres, wingovers, and the occasional topside pass. I had lost count of how many times I’ve seen this particular aircraft display, but one thing’s for sure, I could never tire of it.

Meteor WM167After a short pause, Hunter G-PSST was the next aircraft to get airborne, with the Meteor and Vampire following suit. However, the Hunter disappeared over the horizon, leaving the way clear for the ‘Heritage Pair’ of Meteor and Vampire to commence their flying display. As this pair of classic jets entertained the audience, it brought back fond memories of the RAF Vintage Pair, stalwart performers on the display circuit until their tragic demise at Mildenhall in 1986.

As described previously, this was a small and relaxed event, so there were gaps between displays, but for anyone with an interest in aviation in general, there was always something going on. After the ‘Heritage Pair’, the Hunter returned to land without any form of display, presumably after a local familiarisation sortie. Then, for a short while, all flying activity revolved around the routine flights in and out of the airport. This included scheduled airline flights and private light aircraft, as well as a visit by Dakota G-DAKK of South Coast Airways, which was conducting pleasure flights during the day. Then it was all eyes to the right, as the unmistakable profile of Concorde on finals became visible as it returned from its charter flight.

During the lulls in activity it was also possible to look across the airfield and view a number of other interesting aircraft, such as Omani Air Force BAC One-Eleven 553 and Dakota 42-23838/N47FK from North Weald, not to mention the large fleet of FR Aviation Falcon 20s.

When the display recommenced, first to go up was Hunter G-PSST, which again promptly disappeared from view to enable Concorde to depart. Shortly after the Hunter returned to finally perform in front of the crowd, certainly well worth the wait, with some superbly executed high energy manoeuvres, the bright colour scheme showing up beautifully against the blue sky.

Vampire T55 U-1215/G-HELVHunter T7 XL600/G-VETA was next to take off, followed by the Vampire again. Both aircraft flew off into the distance for a local flight before returning to display individually. Final display item for the day was Jet Provost T4 XP672/G-RAFI.

As I started my homeward journey, after a detour to photograph the aforementioned Sea Vixen at Christchurch, I couldn’t help thinking what a relaxing day I’d had. Whilst this had been a fairly small event in comparison to most airshows, it had made a pleasant change to stroll at leisure around the static and hangar displays. Admittedly, I am never happier than when confronted with a huge static park such as Fairford or Mildenhall, but an event such as this gave a very welcome change of pace. Besides, if I hadn’t made the trek to Bournemouth, the alternative would have been either gardening or decorating. No contest! 

POSTSCRIPT: A second Open Day, scheduled for September 1999, was cancelled following the unfortunate news that the engineering side of Jet Heritage Limited had gone into receivership. But, for the museum, including the operational aircraft, it’s very much a case of ‘business as usual’. In order to avoid any confusion, the facility is now known as the 'Bournemouth Aviation Museum', and there are plans to increase the resident aircraft. Already a Canberra PR7 has been acquired, along with another previous North Weald resident, Sea Prince T1 WP321. The museum is open seven days a week, and further details can be obtained from their excellent web site at http://www.aviation-museum.co.uk.


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