Over the years Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome has become something of a Mecca for Cold War aircraft enthusiasts and with this year's airshow season drawing to a close, it was left to the awesome machines of the 'Lightning Preservation Group' and British Aviation Heritage' to supply one final afternoon of jet noise before we began our long winter hibernation. Although not an airshow as such, there was plenty at Bruntingthorpe on October 5th to keep the cameras clicking and if you weren't very careful, the ear-drums hurting!!
By late on the sunny but cold Sunday morning, the car park at the aerodrome was lined with cars and most of the visitors had begun the task of donning coats and making off to wander around the extensive static displays. To one side of the site stood the 'active runners' who would see action later in the day and on the other side of the field stood the more permanently 'static' aircraft on their various taxiways and dispersal pans. Dominating the 'static' side, at least from a distance, was an engineless 200 Series Boeing 747 that flew onto Bruntingthorpe's huge runway last year and slightly off to its rear stood another massive and indeed very unusual aircraft, a Super Guppy 201 which has been around Bruntingthorpe since 1996.
Super Guppy (photo by David Guild)
In the shadow of these behemoths was an array of grounded classic jets both in their complete forms and in one or two cases, as beheaded remnants of long-scrapped airframes. Two variants of the English Electric Canberra could be found along with a Sea Vixen which unlike her airworthy cousin, remained in a naval paint scheme. There were also nose sections of a Victor B1 and Jet Provost as well as a host of other treasures representing the halcyon days of the British aircraft industry. Army heritage was also represented by a number of ex-military vehicles and all manner of aviation and military collectables were available from the stalls and tents that lined the tarmac.
Sea Vixen (photo by David Guild)
It was the 'runners' that everyone had come to see however and standing on the other side of the field were the day's participants, almost without exception being polished, tinkered-with not to mention fuelled by the 'Brunty Bowser' for the afternoon's activities.
Victor K.2 (photo by David Guild)
To anyone who has never attended 'Fast Taxi Runs', it might be a little hard to imagine the attraction of these events as compared to the more three-dimensional flying shows to which we're accustomed. To anyone falling into that catagory I'd say 'Give it a go'. Granted the aircraft aren't able to leave the ground but these shows have compensations too; You're allowed to get a lot closer to the aircraft when they're on static display and you get within just a few feet of the runway as they blast down the tarmac which more often than not is done at full throttle! The whole day has a less formal and more personal 'up close' feeling than the major public shows. Perhaps the most important 'draw' of these events however is the plain fact that many of these tremendously impressive and individual aircraft types just aren't present at major airshows anymore because they are no longer permitted to fly.
Buccaneer S.2B (photo by David Guild)
It was a TS-11 Iskra that opened the show and introduced the crowd to the realities of being close to a jet engine at high throttle settings. It seemed that after this impressive but relatively gentle blast of noise, the warnings of the organisers to wear ear-defenders were beginning to be taken a little more seriously by the assembled on-lookers! A suitable pause followed while children were comforted and then the heaviest of the day's 'runners', the four engined de Havilland Comet lined up on the threshold. With the engines spooled up the pilot released the brakes and this huge aircraft set off down the runway looking very much like 'the last flying Comet' had every intention of being re-classified as 'the only flying Comet'. Despite her bid for freedom however the man at the controls dutifully cut the throttles at the critical moment and she was forced to taxi off to sulk on the other side of the airfield.
A bonus of Bruntingthorpe is that the organisers try their best to vary the show by adding some other rare 'features' along the way. On this occasion, the onlookers were treated to jet cars with 'afterburners' and to a tremendous radio controlled flying display by two large-scale jet powered replica aircraft, one being a 'flash white' version of a Handley Page Victor and the other being none other than the camouflaged Avro Vulcan XH558! ( more of the real XH558 later ).
Lightning F.6 (photo by David Guild)
Once they'd landed and been recovered, it was the turn of the first of the English Electric F.6 Lightnings to take to the runway. There were clearly a number of people there who had either no first hand memory of the long retired Lightnings or had simply forgotten what they are like. You could tell that was the case because there were still people chatting happily with exposed ears as XR728 wound up her engines and began to move towards them. The conversations stopped very abruptly as at least one of the engines was re-heated and the sheer ferocity of this brutal Cold Warrior was allowed a few seconds of freedom. If you're talking about noise generators on the current airshow circuit, you might think about the last few Phantoms, a Harrier at hover or even a Rockwell B1-B Lancer but because of the distance that the crowd is kept from these aircraft, you won't experience anything even approaching the noise of a Bruntingthorpe Lightning at any of the major airshows today. It has to be 'felt' to be properly understood.
Shortly afterwards another British favourite ( in Swiss colours ), the Hawker Hunter, took to the runway and did battle with a BMW M3 in a race along the tarmac.
It would seem the race ended inconclusively however because a re-match was scheduled for later in the day. While waiting for that, a Mini chalked up a win against a Jet Provost to the annoyance of assembled aircraft enthusiasts. The re-run of the BMW vs Hunter race however was a different story. OK so the Hunter had a blatant false start but who cares, the BMW was soundly drubbed. Sorry.
Hunter F.58 (photo by David Guild)
The only serious disappointment of the day was the fact that the resident Handley Page Victor K.2 'Teasin Tina' lived up to her name and could not be coaxed into a performance. There were a couple of Engine Ground Runs from her throughout the afternoon and the lack of a P.A system put paid to the chances of finding our exactly what was wrong, but judging by the amount of time the crew spent peering into the wing-top access panels, it would seem likely there was some sort of technical misbehaviour in or around the starboard engines. Oh well, that's aviation and let's hope it's nothing they can't fix for next time!
Later in the afternoon, the JPs undertook a few runs, the venerable Blackburn Buccaneer fired herself down the runway and Brunty's other Lightning finished off this very successful event with another murderously loud aborted take-off roll.
Lightning F.6 (photo by David Guild)
For me however, the bigger story is sitting in a hangar about 200 metres from the Bruntingthorpe runway - Avro Vulcan XH558. She's in beautiful condition and has been painstakingly prepared for her major overhaul. The technical support is in place for the engineering and the necessary design authorities have been secured to enable CAA flight approval to be granted. All they need is the money to fund the engineering work! To that end and as mentioned elsewhere on this site, a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for just under 3 million pounds was submitted earlier this year and we're due to hear of their decision in November or December 2003. The Vulcan to the Sky team however need to raise 500,000 pounds in 'matched funding' to secure the award and that's where we come in! Please visit their website, have a look round and consider donating them some money to help XH558 back into the air. If you're worried about losing your money in the event that the HLF turn down the application, think again, there's a new 'no risk pledge' option! You can now 'Pledge' money on the basis that you will contribute when and only when the HLF have confirmed they will fund the project. You will not be asked to part with a single penny piece unless the HLF approve the funding! Talk about win win - this is our last chance to SAVE THE VULCAN !!
Review & photos by David Guild.