Damien Burke and Les Bywaters look at Australia's gain and the UK's loss.
On Friday 10 May 2002 the UK lost another little bit of aviation history when Canberra TT18 WJ680 departed these shores for a life of sunshine and airshows down under in Australia.
Briefly on the airshow circuit in private hands after retirement, WJ680 had ended up in open storage at Kemble. When CAP's Canberra - WK163 - successfully returned to the air a few years back it looked like there was, after all, enough interest to enable a return to the show scene for WJ680.
Accordingly she was pulled in out of the rain at Kemble and prepared for a ferry flight to RAF Marham, much closer to owner Ron Mitchell's home. A full restoration to airworthiness began there while Ron searched for enough sponsors to enable her return to the show circuit. Unfortunately sponsorship was thin on the ground and many show organisers, it seems, aren't interested in the large and graceful Canberra and would prefer cheaper, noisier, pointier things.
At this point - summer 2001 - Temora Aviation Museum in Australia came onto the scene. Already having bought the last flying Meteor F8 from the UK, they expressed an interest in buying WJ680 and operating her as a vintage pair with the Meteor. Flying in Australia is better than mouldering away on the ground in the UK, so WJ680 was readied for another ferry flight out of Marham to Hurn, where she would be serviced and given a Permit To Fly. August duly saw Dan Griffiths fly her to Hurn - "absolutely faultless" was his verdict on her.
After much work, including a u-turn from the CAA who insisted on live ejector seats having previously agreed they wouldn't be necessary if the Australian CAA agreed (which they had!), another delay popped up when the CAA decided the chosen ferry pilot wasn't qualified. Eventually Phil Shaw of the RNHF (also a WK163 display pilot) got the job.
In early May 2002 she flew her final trials from Hurn before beginning her long journey. One of these trials saw WJ680 tip up at Duxford the day before the first airshow of the year, and the single flypast those of us there on the day expected turned out to be a complete display routine. Just a little taste of what we're all missing now, perhaps? Thanks anyway Phil!
Less than a week later WJ680 carried out her last start-up in the UK and thundered down the runway at Hurn, lifting off into a steep climb and disappearing into the distance. Her week-long journey to Australia took in stops at Genoa, Malta, Heraklion (Crete), Hurghada (Egypt), Bahrain, Muscat, Bombay, Calcutta, Phuket (Thailand), Jakarti, Bali, Darwin, Alice Springs and finally Temora! WJ680 will eventually be painted in RAAF markings to represent a Vietnam-era RAAF example.
Final word, from Ron Mitchell: "Temora is just 125 miles from Canberra and 'CT' will often figure in events around the Capital as the only airworthy Canberra in Australia. The museum has a website - if you are interested in Charlie Tango's and Winston's future operations, join their e-mail news service. I am very pleased that, after several years of limbo, CT is going to a secure home and one that will operate her with professionalism for as long as her Fatigue Index allows. It's a pity she's so far from home but Australia is only a day away! I would like to thank all those who have helped and contributed to Charlie Tango's well-being in the eight years since she left the Air Force. Without you, she would have been consigned to a skip in 20 minutes, just like her neighbours in the sad line-up at Wyton."
WJ680's career and history
Delivered to the RAF in 1955 as a B2, WJ680 initially served with 104 Squadron at RAFG Gutersloh before transfer to 103 and then 59 Squadron at RAFG Bruggen. After two incidents including a serious bird strike, she was repaired and put in storage until 1968 when she was converted to a TT18 - a Target Tug.
Joining 7 Squadron at RAF St. Mawgan in 1970, she was involved in a famous incident in 1972 when the rudder top hinge pintle sheared on an air test. The navigator on that flight, a new Pilot Officer - Geoff Burns, ejected safely and the pilot, Flt Lt Dave Burgess, brought the TT18 back for a wheels-up landing. Two and a half years later she was back in the air with 7 Squadron.
Returned to BAe at Samlesbury for major servicing in 1980, WJ680 was transferred to 100 Squadron at RAF Wyton in 1981. She remained on strength until 18 December 1991 when she performed her last flight in RAF service. Placed in open storage at RAF Wyton until sold to Ron Mitchell in 1992. Two years later she was back in the air, displaying at Duxford, now with the civil registration of G-BURM (though still wearing military markings).
In 1996 she was flown into Kemble and stored in the open until mid-1999 when Ron got a servicing team together and began working on her again. After months of servicing and a successful engine runs, David Piper (ex-45 Squadron and WK163 team pilot) flew WJ680 out of Kemble on 7 January 2000 bound for RAF Marham. During 2000 WJ680 resided in a hangar at Marham with work being carried out to bring the aircraft back into flying trim while Ron's searched for sponsors to enable her to fly in the UK once more. Unfortunately once it was clear there wasn't enough interest, Ron bit the bullet and prepared her for sale to the Temora Aviation Museum.
On August 10 2001, WJ680 departed RAF Marham for Bournemouth for minor servicing and application for a Permit To Fly. Once this was gained she departed the UK for the final time on 10 May 2002.
With thanks to Ron Mitchell