BAe Hawks at RNAS Culdrose Air Day 2016

A collection of images of British Aerospace Hawk trainers during the RNAS Culdrose Air Day 2016

All photographs kindly contributed by Dave Taskis (please take time to visit his blog by clicking here).


Hawker Hunter T.8

Hunter T.8 2

Hunter T.8 (


  • Role: Two-seat advanced trainer
  • Powerplant: Rolls-Royce Avon 122 (7,550lbs dry thrust)
  • Max Speed: 694mph
  • Service Ceiling: 47,000ft
  • Ferry Range: 1900miles (with external tanks)
  • Wingspan: 33ft 8in
  • Length: 48ft 10in
  • Height: 13ft 2in

Up until 1939 the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) were subservient to the Royal Air Force and as such nearly the entire inventory of FAA aircraft were simply naval versions of the RAF’s own aircraft. Upon gaining independence from the RAF the FAA was finally able to stipulate its own requirements for aircraft and the British military aviation industry branched off in to two sectors – land based for the RAF and carrier based for the FAA. There were of course exceptions and the most notable being the Hawker Sea Hurricane, the Supermarine Seafire and De Havilland’s early jets such as the Vampire and Venom but these were seen as stop-gaps until the resources became available to develop entirely new aircraft.

In the post war period the FAA operated a plethora of jet powered combat types ranging from the relatively simple Supermarine Attacker up to the powerful De Havilland Sea Vixen with plans on the horizon for the even more sophisticated Blackburn Buccaneer and McDonnell Douglas Phantom. The problem was that the training infrastructure in place for the FAA was falling behind the frontline aircraft and so the gap between the lead-in fighter trainers such as the Hawker Fury and the operational conversion units was rapidly growing.

Therefore in the mid-to-late 1950s the FAA looked at options to acquire a new and more capable advanced trainer to plug the gap. After evaluating several options the FAA decided that it would reverse its policy on acquiring jets designed specifically for them and acquire the training version of the RAF’s superlative Hawker Hunter, the Hunter T.7, but tailored to their needs. This produced the Hunter T.8 and this in turn spawned several sub-variants.

Hawker Hunter T.8

In outlining its requirement for the Hunter the FAA decided against making the Hunter carrier-capable as this would increase development (and subsequently unit) costs but the aircraft would have to train FAA pilots in the delicate and dangerous art of carrier landings. To do this a series of arrestor wires could be stretched across the runway at a shore based training station to simulate a carrier deck allowing the pilots to practice making carrier approaches. In order to catch the wire the Hunter T.8 was fitted with a tail hook but this was not strong enough to bring the aircraft to a full halt. It would simply pull on the arrestor wire to allow a ground instructor to grade the landing by the student pilot.

As well as training pilots how to land on a carrier the Hunters were also employed as lead-in fighter trainers teaching pilots the skills necessary for basic air-to-air and air-to-ground combat before moving on to a conversion unit where these skills would be built upon depending on the aircraft and role they would undertake operationally. The first unit to receive the Hunter T.8 was No.726 NAS based at RNAS Lossiemouth. A total of 35 Hunter T.8s were built or converted from ex-RAF Hunter F.4s and served with No.726 NAS and No.764 NAS.

Hunter T.8B

The Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 offered a whole new dimension to the Fleet Air Arm’s ability to fly low and fast but the lack of a dedicated trainer version meant that the FAA turned to the Hunter to fill the gap. Four aircraft were converted to act as trainers for the Buccaneer and featured among other Buccaneer systems a TACAN navigation suite. The new variant was designated the Hunter T.8B and remained in service until the Buccaneer S.2 was withdrawn in 1978 but the RAF would later adopt a similar aircraft for the same role when they inherited the navy’s Buccaneer force.

Hawker Hunter T.8C

Ten of the ex-RAF Hunter F.4s converted to T.8 standard in the early 1960s were fitted with TACAN navigation suites. A tactical air navigation system, commonly referred to by the acronym TACAN, is a navigation system used by military aircraft. It provides the aircrew with a bearing and distance in relation to a ground- or ship-based station. These aircraft were delivered to No.759 NAS at RNAS Brawdy in North Wales and received the peculiar designation of T.8C and were used to train pilots preparing to join a Scimitar or Sea Vixen (later Phantom FG.1) squadron where using these systems were an integral part of flying. A number of observers were also trained in the system’s use.

Later Service

Hunter T.8

As the Royal Navy began scaling back its carrier force such a large training organization was no longer needed and so the three squadrons were disbanded and their personnel and aircraft amalgamated in to a single training squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton under the banner of No.899 NAS. For a very brief time this was the Royal Navy’s only operational fast jet unit between the retirement of HMS Ark Royal and the delivery of the first Sea Harrier FRS.1s.

As well as traditional training tasks the Hunter T.8/8Cs also acted as adversaries for the Royal Navy’s surface fleet training naval gunners and surface-to-air missile (SAM) operators in acquiring high speed low level attack jets. For this role the aircraft were modified with a Harley light in the nose that made the aircraft more visible to new gunners. Once the gunners became more proficient the light would be turned off to provide a more realistic target. This training would prove invaluable during the 1982 Falklands Conflict particularly during the landings at San Carlos.

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s the Hunters were slowly passed to the civilian operated Fleet Requirements and Direction Unit (FRADU) who continued to use them in the target role for surface ships. They were eventually replaced by British Aerospace Hawks.

Hunter T.8M

Hawker Hunter T.8M

Hunter T.8 (

One of the most well-known naval variants of the Hunter in FAA service were the small number of Hunter T.8Ms. The introduction of the Sea Harrier FRS.1 brought with it new problems regarding training of aircrew. It was a totally new form of air operations and the navy’s version was different still being fitted with the large Blue Fox radar. The FAA used two seat Harriers to train their pilots how to fly the aircraft but these lacked the weapon system and it would have been impractical to develop a Harrier trainer with the radar.

Therefore the decision was taken to fit the radar and its accompanying systems to a handful of Hunter T.8s to train the Sea Harrier pilots how to use the weapon system operationally. This produced arguably the most attractive version of the Hunter and many viewed it as a taste of the potential the aircraft had in the late fifties had development continued. The trainee pilot could fly the Hunter T.8M almost exactly like the Sea Harrier FRS.1 bar of course the V/STOL capability and this meant that the aircraft could theoretically have a wartime role of rear guard air defence. As well as the Blue Fox radar the aircraft was wired to carry an AIM-9L Sidewinder acquisition training round to simulate firing the live weapon.

Despite the success of the aircraft no new variant was developed to train FAA pilots on the Sea Harrier FA.2 with its far more sophisticated Blue Vixen radar. Instead the FAA adopted a combination of flight time in the two seat Harrier trainer and ground tuition.

BAe Sea Harrier FA2

Sea Harrier FA2

  • Crew: 1
  • Role: Multi-role Naval Combat Aircraft
  • Length: 46 ft 6 in (14.2 m)
  • Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.6 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 2 in (3.71 m)
  • Empty weight: 14,052 lb (6,374 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 26,200 lb (11,900 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Pegasus mk106 vectored thrust turbofan, 21,750 lbs (95.64 kN)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.9 (735 mph)
  • Ferry range: 1,740 miles
  • Service ceiling: 51,000 ft
  • Armament:
    2-4× AIM-9L Sidewinders
    2-4x AIM-120B AMRAAM
    2× 30 mm ADEN guns
    8,000lbs of ordinance on external stores

The success of the Sea Harrier FRS.1 in the Falklands War surprised many including the Admiralty who expected a 50% casualty rate among the small force. Nevertheless the conflict highlighted several weaknesses that although were already known before the war were not considered important enough to address for both financial and political reasons not least of which was the expectation that the Sea Harrier was to have a short life in the Royal Navy before they and the carrier HMS Invincible were to be sold to Australia. Indeed, some viewed the Sea Harrier project as merely a demonstration of British technology in order to gain lucrative sub-contracts to other aerospace companies particularly in the US. After 1982 however the aircraft was viewed as an important part of any future British planning and so they were retained.

While the aircraft faired well against the Argentinians with their ageing fighters confidence in its ability to protect the fleet was shaken by the arrival of new long range Soviet fighters such as the MiG-31 “Foxhound” and the Su-27 “Flanker-A”. This fear was exacerbated by the news that the Soviet Navy was about to deploy its first true aircraft carriers with their extremely capable Su-33 “Flanker-Ds”. The Sea Harrier needed an update to remain credible in the face of these new threats and just like in 1982 it was going to have to have a more sophisticated weapon system to make up for the performance shortfall.

The old Blue Fox radar in the FRS.1 was therefore replaced by a far more sophisticated Ferranti Blue Vixen radar which at the time of its introduction in 1988 was claimed to be one of the most capable pulse doppler radars in the world which gave the aircraft its long sought after look down/shoot down capability. As well as being a formidable air-to-air radar it could also perform ground mapping and surface target detection and tracking functions making the Sea Harrier FA2 a true multi-role combat aircraft. Fitting Blue Vixen necessitated a redesign of the radome replacing the rocket-like shape of the FRS.1 with a more bulbous look which was deceptively shorter in length. With the Soviet Navy’s Su-33s sporting a powerful beyond visual range (BVR) capability in the R-27 medium range air-to-air missile it was decided to arm the Sea Harrier FA2 with the AIM-120B AMRAAM to even the odds and in doing so the Sea Harrier FA2 became the first fighter outside of the United States to field this weapon.

Other improvements included uprated Rolls-Royce Pegasus Mk106 turbofan engines and a comprehensive electronic countermeasures (ECM) suite. Imporvements that were planned but ultimately shelved included the fitting of second generation Harrier GR.5/7 style leading edge root extensions (LERXes) that would have improved roll rate and wingtip pylons for an additional pair of AIM-9L Sidewinders.

The Sea Harrier FA2 entered service in 1993 by which time the threat of the now-Russian carrier program had greatly diminished. Nevertheless the Sea Harrier FA2 performed sterling work enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq, Bosnia (during which time a single aircraft was shot down by a SAM) and Kosovo. More importantly the aircraft helped develop Joint Force Harrier which meant that RAF Harriers could operate off the carriers in the strike role freeing up the Sea Harriers for the fighter role building on hard earned experience in the Falklands. Near the end of its career an automatic VTOL landing system was trialled on a Sea Harrier FA2 and this has gone on to form the basis of a similar system for the F-35B Lightning II.

The Sea Harrier FA2 was retired from service in 2006.

BAe Sea Harrier FRS.1


  • Crew: 1
  • Role: Multi-role Naval Combat Aircraft
  • Length: 47 ft 7 in (14.5 m)
  • Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.6 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 2 in (3.71 m)
  • Empty weight: 14,052 lb (6,374 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 26,200 lb (11,900 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Pegasus mk.104 vectored thrust turbofan, 21,500 lbs (95.64 kN)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.9 (737 mph)
  • Ferry range: 1,740 miles
  • Service ceiling: 51,000 ft
  • Armament:
    2-4× AIM-9 Sidewinders
    2× 30 mm ADEN guns
    8,000lbs of ordinance on external stores

In 1979, HMS Ark Royal (R09) was formally decommissioned bringing an end to conventional fixed wing flight in the Royal Navy. The newest ships coming in to service were designed to operate helicopters but it was found they could also operate Harrier V/STOL aircraft. Handed a lifeline, the Fleet Air Arm placed an order for 34 Sea Harriers; a modified version of the RAF’s Harrier GR.3 incorporating radar and air-to-air missiles for the air defence role. Thus one of the most iconic aircraft to have ever served in the Fleet Air Arm was born.

In the aftermath of the Sea Harrier’s superlative performance as a traditional fighter in the Falklands War it has long been forgotten that this was not the role envisioned for the type in the 1970s. The Admiralty knew that they weren’t fielding an aircraft on a par with the rest of NATO and the Soviet air forces (at least on paper) and instead planned to use it to simply protect the fleet from lumbering maritime patrol and bomber aircraft such as the Il-38 “May” and the Tu-95 “Bear” where it wouldn’t have to ‘mix it’ with fighters. Even after the Falklands this remained the primary mission of the aircraft with a secondary attack and reconnaissance role.

Power for the Sea Harrier came from a Rolls-Royce Pegasus thrust vectoring turbofan engine which was also what gave the aircraft its vertical take-off capability by directing thrust downwards around the aircraft’s centre of gravity. The Sea Harrier had a level speed of 735mph with a service ceiling of 51,000ft which are impressive when you consider that the Rolls-Royce Pegasus is a non-afterburning engine. Although range figures vary depending on what load is carried the Sea Harrier is quoted at having a combat range of around 600 miles with external fuel tanks.

The Sea Harrier was fitted with the Blue Fox air intercept radar which had both air-to-air and air-to-surface modes. It was hardly a modern radar set even in 1978 and lacked many of the modes that could be found on the RAF’s frontline fighters such as the Phantom FGR.2. It was good enough for the original role envisioned however and it was expected to be under ground or ship control up until the intercept point. It could track around twelve targets at a time (some sources claim more but this is disputed) but had very little look down/shoot down capability. It was far superior to the Sapfir-23 radar which is what the export MiG-21 and MiG-23s were fitted with and at one time China was looking at fitting it to their version of the MiG-21, the J-7, for sale to Pakistan. The Sea Harrier also had an excellent radar warning receiver, the Sky Guardian, which was almost the standard set for British aircraft in the 80s.

The Sea Harrier FRS.1 was equipped with the excellent AIM-9L Sidewinder which introduced all-aspect detection capability meaning a pilot didn’t have to get on an enemy plane’s tail to acquire the target. The missile had a powerful fragmentation warhead which meant that even a proximity hit could do potentially fatal damage to a single-engined aircraft. In the fighter role the AIM-9 was backed up by two ventral 30 mm guns whose mounting was designed to help give the aircraft increased stability. The aircraft had a wide range of unguided weapons available to it from rockets to bombs and the maximum warload was around 8,000lbs spread out between a total of five pylons (excluding the two dedicated 30mm cannons). A seldom carried weapon that was nonetheless available to the Sea Harrier was the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile which was a potent open ocean weapon and was capable of disabling all but the largest warship.

In the Falklands War the Sea Harrier dominated the skies over the South Atlantic. The Argentinian pilots in the 1960s-era Dassault Mirage III fighters were unable to match its sophisticated weapon system. After the war the aircraft returned to its original role of protecting the fleet against Soviet air power however towards the late 1980s the introduction of the Sukhoi Su-27K (Su-33) “Flanker” naval fighter demanded the aircraft be upgraded and this produced the Sea Harrier F/A-2.

See Also

McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1


  • Crew: 2
  • Role: Fleet defence fighter
  • Length: 57 ft 7 in (17.55 m)
  • Wingspan: 38 ft 4.5 in (11.7 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 1 in (4.9 m)
  • Empty weight: 31, lb (14,061 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 56,000 lb (25,402 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Spey 202/204 turbofans (12,140 lbs dry thrust/20,500 lbs afterburner each)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.9 (1,386 mph) at 40,000 ft (12,190 m)
  • Ferry range: 1,750 mi (2,816 km)
  • Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,300 m)
  • Armament:
    4× AIM-7 Sparrow/4 × AIM-9 Sidewinders on wing pylons;
    1× 20 mm M61 Vulcan 6-barrel Gatling cannon in SUU-23 gun pod

The Phantom FG.1 was the last conventional fleet fighter operated by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. It was ordered in 1964 as part of a modernization plan for the Royal Navy’s carrier force after the cancellation of the P.1154 supersonic V/STOL fighter. The initial order was for 140 aircraft to replace the De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 on the Navy’s new carriers that were expected to be operational by 1970. After the order was placed however the plans for the new carriers were scrapped leaving only two operational vessels, HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal, large enough to handle the heavy fighter. Ultimately Eagle suffered a boiler room fire and was withdrawn before it could embark any Phantoms.

The British Phantom FG.1 differed from the US Navy F-4J Phantom II version primarily in its powerplant which consisted of a pair of Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans. This resulted in a deterioration of performance at higher altitudes but actually improved range and had slightly better acceleration at lower altitudes compared to the US version’s J79 engine. The fitting of the Spey required a redesign of engine intakes to accommodate their wider diameter. Another major difference was the fitting of an extendible nose wheel to increase the angle of attack on take off from the smaller carriers of the Fleet Air Arm (previous aircraft such as the Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 and Supermarine Scimitar F.1 actually had to launch with the tail dropped so the nose wheel dangled above the deck). Some aircraft were fitted with the sighting system from a Chieftain tank to help with long range visual identification.

With the cancellation of the new carriers such a large order of Phantoms was no longer needed and only 48 were actually delivered. Of these 48, 20 went directly to the RAF as it was announced that the Royal Navy would be suspending conventional carrier operations by 1980 after which the remaining 28 aircraft would follow suit. The first use of the Royal Navy’s Phantoms was actually aboard the US Navy carrier USS Saratoga in the Mediterranean. The following year Ark Royal embarked her first Phantoms. 767 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) acted as the training unit for the only operational frontline squadron, 892 NAS. In 1978 Ark Royal was finally withdrawn and with no carrier to operate from the remaining Navy Phantom FG.1s were transferred to the RAF.

A single example can be viewed at the Carrier Experience Exhibit at the Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum.

Blackburn Buccaneer S.1



Role: Two seat low level strike aircraft

Manufacturers: Blackburn Aircraft Ltd, Brough and Holme on Spalding Moor

Power Plant: 2x Gyron Junior 101 turbojets (7,100lbs thrust)

Wingspan: 44ft (20ft folded)

Length: 63ft 5ins (51ft 10in folded)

Height: 16ft 3ins

Weight: 45,000lbs (loaded)

Max Speed: 720mph

Range: 500-600 miles

Armament: 8,000lbs (4,000lbs internally/4,000lbs on external pylons)

The Blackburn Buccaneer entered Royal Navy service in 1962 with No.801 NAS and began replacing the Supermarine Scimitar in the strike role. Initially limited to the conventional attack role, from 1965 the aircraft became cleared for the tactical nuclear strike mission carrying Red Beard and WE.177 free-fall nuclear bombs. These weapons were carried internally in the Buccaneer’s small bomb bay. For this role the Buccaneers adopted an all over anti-flash white paint scheme similar to the RAF’s V-Bomber Force. A total of two RN squadrons were equipped with the Buccaneer S.1 as well as a single shore based training unit. More had originally been planned but the drawdown of the carrier force curtailed a large scale acquisition.

Although liked by its pilots the S.1 was not without its problems. The Gyron Junior engines were notoriously underpowered given the weight of the aircraft and the demands of a carrier launch. In some circumstances, such as having a heavy bombload, it lead to the aircraft taking off the deck with half a fuel load and then being immediately having to be refuelled in the air by a Scimitar, Sea Vixen or RAF tanker. This drawback lead to a need to re-engine the aircraft. The new engine was the Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan which was already fitted to the RN’s Phantom FG.1. This necessitated enlarging the intakes and this became a recognition feature for distinguishing between the S.1 and the Spey powered S.2.

The Buccaneer S.1 was replaced entirely by 1970 with the Spey powered S.2 version. A single example can be viewed at the Carrier Experience Exhibit at the Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum.

Supermarine Scimitar


  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 55 ft 3 in (16.84 m)
  • Wingspan: 37 ft 2 in (11.33 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 4 in (5.28 m)
  • Wing area: 485 ft² (45.06 m²)
  • Empty weight: 23,962 lb (10,869 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 34,200 lb (15,513 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Avon 202 turbojet, 11,250 lbf (50.1 kN) each
  • Maximum Speed: 640 kn (736 mph, 1,185 km/h) at sea level
  • Range: 1,237 nmi (1,422 mi, 2,289 km
  • Service ceiling: 46,000 ft (14,000 m)
  • Armament
    Guns: 4 × 30 mm guns.
    Hardpoints: 4 underwing pylons for bombs, rockets and external tanks.

When it entered service in 1957 the Supermarine Scimitar was the heaviest fighter ever built for the Royal Navy. It was a powerful aircraft with high subsonic speed and was well liked by its pilots – a fact that hides an unenviable safety record. Although predominantly a fighter the aircraft entered service at a time when fighter aircraft being fitted with radar was becoming the norm rather than being confined to so-called “all-weather” fighters. Therefore by the 1960s it was almost an obsolete aircraft although it would have given a good account of itself against Soviet aircraft like the MiG-19 and early MiG-21s. Efforts to arm the aircraft with AIM-9 Sidewinders came to little as the Scimitar was slowly phased out in favor of the even bigger DeHavilland Sea Vixen with its integrated weapon system of radar and missiles.

This fact saw the aircraft relegated to the strike role until replaced by Blackburn Buccaneer S.1s. In this capacity they even became armed with free-fall nuclear weapons. Most Scimitars spent their last days as tankers for the thirsty Buccaneer S.1, orbiting the carrier to refuel the Buccs straight after take off. The aircraft last flew in 1970 as part of the Fleet Requirements Unit providing targeting training to the crews of frigates and destroyers.

A single example can be viewed at the Carrier Experience Exhibit at the Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum.