Gary Parsons was at Cranwell to wave goodbye to the Jetstream after nearly thirty years of RAF service
Wednesday 17 March 2004 will be remembered as the last time a formation of RAF Jetstreams graced the sky - a practice for the graduation of Course 159 the following Friday, strong winds on the 19th prevented the flypast happening, much to the regret of members of the Handley-Page Association present for the event.
Handley Page's final design
0/400, Heyford, Halifax, Victor - all classic Handley Page designs dating from the first world war. Add to this list the Jetstream - not immediately thought of as a Handley Page aircraft, but such she was. Conceived in 1965 the prototype, G-ATXH, first flew (as the HP137) from Radlett under the control of the chief test pilot, John Allam, on 18 August 1967. Handley Page had proposed the twenty-seat commuter aircraft in 1965 when considerable interest was shown, 20 being ordered by an American company straight off the drawing board. The aircraft was tailored to fit a gap in the feeder-liner market and would be pressurised, carry 18 passengers or light freight, and be powered by two turboprop engines. As there was no suitable British-manufactured engine in the required power range, the French Turboméca Astazou XIV of 840 shp was chosen, although the prototype was powered by the Astazou XII. Principally aimed at the US market, the USA would take all the civil versions of the Jetstream while Handley Page handled a military sales programme.
Handley Page was greatly encouraged that the US Air Force was showing interest in the Jetstream as early as 1967. A contract for eleven examples of the Jetstream 3M, designated C-10A, was placed with the prototype, G-AWBR, flying for the first time on 21 November 1968, from Radlett - a mock-up of the C-10A had appeared at Farnborough that year. Powered by the Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-3A-301W turboprop engine of 904 hp, the C-10A would carry twelve passengers, six patients in the 'Aeromedical' configuration or a small load of freight pallets. Unfortunately this order was cancelled in early 1969 on the grounds of late delivery, further adding to Handley Page's woes at the time. The first production Jetstream 1 took to the air on 6 December 1968, too late to save the American interest.
Sadly the Jetstream would lead to the demise of Handley Page - when production costs (originally projected to be £3 million) exceeded £13 million, the company went into voluntary liquidation. The potential of the Jetstream was such that Scottish Aviation Ltd bought the rights to produce the aircraft in 1970, although the company would itself be absorbed into British Aerospace on 1 January 1980. The spiralling production costs revolved around the engines - the first batch of 36 aircraft were powered by the Astazou XIV engines, but they weren't sufficiently powerful or reliable enough. By the time Handley Page went into liquidation, thirty-nine aircraft had been completed, with the uprated Jetstream 2 being introduced in late 1969 (as the 31st production aircraft). Ten further Jetstream 1s would be completed, five by Jetstream Aircraft and five by Scottish Aviation.
Scottish Aviation took over development and production of the 200 series - powered by two Turbomeca Astazou XVI turboprop engines each rated at 965 shp, it offered a better performance over the Mark 1. In February 1972 the Royal Air Force ordered twenty-six Jetstream 201s to replace the Varsity in the multi-engined training role - similar to the Jetstream 200, it was powered by two Astazou XVIDs each rated at 996 shp. In addition, extra windows were fitted above the flight deck plus instrumentation and avionics to meet military requirements. Work on the civilian Jetstream 31 began in 1978, and the first flight followed on 28 March 1980. In 1988 the Super 31 (or J32) version, with uprated engines appeared, and many examples found their way onto the civilian register, production continuing until 1993 with British Aerospace (BAe). The two military operators of the Jetstream 31 have been the UK and Saudi Arabia - the Royal Navy purchased four Jetstream T3 radar observer trainers for the Fleet Air Arm equipped with Doppler navigation, a Tactical Air Navigation System computer and Racal ASR360 multi-mode radar with its antenna under the fuselage. Jetstream 31s were ordered by the Saudi Arabian air force's training academy and are fitted with the avionics of the Panavia Tornado IDS.
Development work on the stretched J41 was announced in mid 1989, with a first flight on 25 September 1991. From January 1996 the J41 became part of the Aero International (Regional) stable, but in May 1997 BAe announced that it was terminating J41 production after 104 had been produced. Out of a total production of 557 Jetstreams over twenty-nine years, most are still in service with short-haul operators around the world, and will continue for many years to come.
On Her Majesty's Service
The first of the aircraft destined for the RAF flew on 13 April 1973, with all being delivered by early 1976. Initial deliveries went to the CFS at RAF Little Rissington, but the first FTS unit to be equipped was 5 FTS at RAF Oakington, near Cambridge which took six aircraft before a review concluded enough multi-engined pilots were in the 'system'. Consequently Oakington's Jetstreams were flown to RAF St Athan for storage, pending a re-assessment of Jetstream procurement.
Eventually it was determined eleven aircraft would suffice the RAF's needs, so fourteen aircraft were modified to serve with the Royal Navy as the Jetstream T2 for observer training. The T2s differed mainly from the RAF version by the installation of MEL E190 weather and terrain-mapping radar in the nose radome. RAF training with the Jetstream re-commenced on 25 November 1976 with 3 FTS at RAF Leeming, where the Multi-engine Training Squadron (METS) was formed on 4 May 1977. The Jetstream's stay at Leeming was brief as 3 FTS moved south to RAF Finningley on 30 April 1979 to make way for reconstruction work in readiness for Tornado ADV operations. The eleven Jetstreams used by the RAF were mostly from the second batch produced, the original CFS and Oakington machines being converted for Navy use.
In nearly thirty years of operations, the Jetstream's record has been mostly impeccable, with only one fatal accident (XX489 crashing on Portland Harbour in May 1989) and only one RAF aircraft involved in a major incident (XX477 written-off at Little Rissington on 1 November 1974). Certainly since its introduction at Leeming, all eleven have a perfect safety record and have amassed nearly 120,000 flying hours between them. Since the Jetstreams move to RAF Cranwell on 1 October 1995, the fleet has dwindled to six airworthy aircraft, and it's the aircraft's recent poor serviceability record, plus essential avionics upgrades required by 2007, that has led to its retirement a few years ahead of plan. As well as operating under CAA exemptions for the last few years, modifications to the engines for Health & Safety reasons were required and many of its technical faults were small but not easily corrected - microswitches were often failing, leading to an unserviceable aircraft for a minor part that would be difficult to get to. Unable to achieve the required 5,400 hours a year to complete all courses, this unreliability led to 45(R) Squadron contracting out some 'Short Course' (QFI and Instructor training) to Oxford Air Training at Kidlington, using the Seneca. Obviously not an ideal situation, an interim solution before MFTS takes hold has been found in the lease of seven Beech King Air 200s for the next five years, enabling the Jetstream to be retired - see Turn of the King, December 2003.
The remaining six airworthy aircraft were offered on the open market, but sadly no takers came forward. Consequently most will go for 'spares recovery', while one will be preserved at the RAF Museum at Cosford. It may not have won the hearts and minds of the public, but the pilots that trained on the Jetstream were warmly enthusiastic about its sturdiness and comfort, and many will be sad to say goodbye to one of the last all-British designs still flying with the Royal Air Force. It will soldier on with the Royal Navy until 2007, so it's not the end for Handley Page's last design quite yet.
So the planned final flypast on 19 March never happened - all six airworthy Jetstreams left Cranwell one-by-one for their last resting places on Monday 22 March. For the flypast rehearsal on 17th, Air-Scene UK was privileged to be on board the whip aircraft, sick-bag in hand...not only did 45(R) Squadron say farewell to the Jetstream, it was also an opportunity to officially welcome the King Air 200, as 161 Course starts in earnest on 29 March with some fourteen students seeking graduation in the months to come. 160 Course was cancelled to provide a gap for instructor training, so the squadron will be playing 'catch-up' for a few courses, the normal complement of students being twelve. All seven King Airs are expected to be on strength by the beginning of April.
departed to Shawbury store on 12/12/03.
With thanks to Ruth Vernon, CCO RAF Cranwell and Wing Commander Steve Townsend, for flying straight & level for a while when the cries of "enough!" became too frequent...