End of an era as Tornado OCU disbands

Panavia Tornado OCU RAF Lossiemouth disbandment ceremony

The Royal Air Force Tornado Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), XV(R) Squadron, formally disbanded yesterday in a moving ceremony at RAF Lossiemouth. Led by the Band of the Royal Air Force College, the ceremony was held inside inside a hangar in front of 750 invited guests including families and associates of the squadron.

During the ceremony, Chief of Defence Intelligence Air Marshal Phil Osborn, who himself had served as a Tornado navigator said to the attendees;

I’m honoured and privileged to be here for the disbandment of XV(R) Squadron after its 102 years of loyal service. But today, whilst our feelings obviously include sadness we know that this magnificent event is also a celebration; a celebration of history and tradition, and of service and professionalism in the service of the nation.

XV (or No.15) Squadron has a long and proud history that can be traced back to the First World War. It was formed as a training unit at Farnborough on March 1st 1915 but crossed to France in December 1915 equipped with the BE2c for corps-reconnaissance duties over the Western Front. One unusual task the unit undertook was the dropping of ammunition by parachute to troops on the front line during 1918.

During the Second World War the squadron flew a series of bomber types such as the Fairey Battle, Vickers Wellington and Avro Lancaster. After the war, the squadron became one of the handful of RAF units to fly the Boeing Washington (RAF B-29 Superfortress). On April 1st 1992, the XV (Reserve) identity was transferred to the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit at RAF Honington before the unit moved to RAF Lossiemouth in 1993.


Below is a TV documentary recorded in the late 2000s outlining the squadron’s work in training RAF Tornado GR.4 crews.

Image: RAF via Facebook

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An Interview with Graham Buckle of the Meteor NF.14 WS788 Restoration Project

As long time followers of Defence of the Realm will know I have something of a love affair with the Gloster Meteor. I was therefore thrilled when Graham agreed to speak to me about his team’s work to restore Meteor NF.14 WS788, one of the last nightfighter variants of this iconic British aircraft.

Armstrong Whitworth Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS788 (1)

WS788 in January 2016


Could you tell us a little of the history of the aircraft and its service with the RAF?

The nightfighter version of the famous Gloster Meteor was derived from the 2 seater Meteor T.7 trainer. The Gloster factory was too busy to handle yet another variant of the Meteor though, so they outsourced design, development and production to Armstrong-Whitworth. WS788 is an NF mk.14, the last of the breed. She was built in 1953, and was ready for collection from the factory in February 1954.

In July 1954 she entered operational service, with 152 Squadron at RAF Wattisham. Her time as a front line night fighter was short though, as she was delivered to RAF Kirkbride for conversion to navigation trainer specification in August ’57 after barely 3 years service. In May ‘59 she was issued to 2 Air Navigation School at RAF Thorney Island, moving to 1 ANS at RAF Stradishall in ’62. In their hands she had a Cat.3 accident in 1964 but was repaired, and returned to duty training budding navigators until January 1966, when she was retired and flown to RAF Kemble for storage and eventual disposal.

What has the airframe been doing since being withdrawn from service?

After her flying career came to an end, she was issued the instructional airframe number 7967M, and in 1967 issued to the radar station at RAF Patrington on the East Yorkshire coast for display and gate guard duties. In 1974 she was moved to RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire to guard the gate there, being refurbished in 1982 which led to her masquerading as WS844 for several years. In 1988 she was declared surplus and moved onto the airfield pending disposal, and in 1989 was moved to her new home at the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Where is the aircraft currently located?

At the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington.

How did the plan to restore the aircraft come about?

The aircraft had been stood looking unloved for a long time. Last year the outer wings and nose fairing were removed to get the aircraft indoors for restoration to begin in the hands of another group, however not a great deal was achieved before the aircraft had to move outside once more. The aircraft ended up in a corner partially dismantled. I found myself looking for a new project around this time and had wanted to help the poor Meteor for a while so I offered to take the job on!

How many people are currently involved in the project?

Currently three are involved with the aircraft as our main project for the museum. Myself, Richard Woods, who has recently joined the museum after a number of years working with the Shackleton Preservation Trust and Alison Mellor, my better half and fellow Victor XL231 veteran/survivor!

What is the ultimate goal of the restoration? (e.g. display standard, ground running)

Armstrong Whitworth Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS788 Buccaneer B.2We hope to get the aircraft to a point best described as ‘mostly live’. As we have no engines taxying is currently out of the question, but we hope to get the electrics working to at least the point where all internal and external lights will work off either the battery or an external power source. In addition we would like to get the flap and airbrake hydraulic systems operable on the hand pump. As well as being an extra live system on the jet and another thing to catch the public’s attention, this would serve the practical purpose of easing access to some areas of the jet for cleaning and maintenance.

Both the electrics and the hydraulics will need some splicing in the looms and plumbing, as the looms and pipework were cut at the transport joints many years ago. The first priority has to be resolving the corrosion the aircraft is suffering, specifically the lower surfaces of the inner wings. But as we work our way through the jet’s systems and components, our intention is if we can return it to working order we will do.

How is the project being funded?

The museum pays for most things we require. I have bought a few small items for the aircraft myself though out of my own pocket. And we have been extremely lucky in that we have received two substantial donations of very useful parts.

If anyone does want to push some funds towards the restoration, the museum does have a ‘Sponsor a Plane’ initiative running. The details can be found on the YAM website.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Ask me that again in six months time when we are really on with the project! The biggest problem we have faced so far is freeing the airbrakes off. They have been shut for probably 50 years! To get to them and clean out the accumulated crap and service the workings they have to be open. It is going to be a long drawn out process I think…! Also the badly dented ventral tank will have to come off for skin repairs. To say it is less than eager to come off would definitely qualify as an understatement…

Have you made contact with any air or ground crew who may have operated the aircraft in service? What have they said about the project?

Only one at this time, a chap by the name of Peter Verney, who was a Meteor NF navigator. He flew in 788 several times, and has supplied me with an air to air photo he took of the jet over Lowestoft. It would appear that former NF Meteor drivers thin on the ground though. I suspect this is partly due to the vintage of the jet, and partly down to the type’s comparatively short service career. It would be nice to hear from others who remember 788 in service though.

Are you working with any other project team or organisation to help complete the project?

Armstrong Whitworth Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS788 cockpitWe have received a lot of information and parts from Sandy Mullen of Meteor Flight, who are responsible for the restorations of the immaculate Meteor NF.14 now residing in Malta and the Meteor T.7 now flying in the UK. In addition the chaps looking after the ATC NF.14 at Royton have been and continue to be helpful and supportive, having provided us with a copy of the Vol.1 which is basically everything you ever needed to know about the workings of the Meteor NF. Before we had that, Martin Garrett of RAM Models had got us started by providing electronic copies of the Meteor T.7 and F.8 manuals to be going on with.

What parts/documents are you still looking for to help complete the project?

Anything is welcomed! A nice shiny new canopy, full set of weather covers and two Rolls Royce Derwent IX engines would be nice. But we are always interested if anyone has useful Meteor bits they wish to pass on.

How can people interested in the project keep abreast of the latest developments?

Either via the Key Publishing forum where we run a restoration thread, or Facebook where WS788 has her very own page (Click here to view).


Graham has agreed to keep me in the loop regarding the project so expect regular updates on Defence of the Realm in the future.

– Tony Wilkins

 

NEWS: Typhoon Phase 2Ea testing begins

Typhoon FGR.4 RAF

RAF Typhoon (commons.wikimedia)

Testing of the Eurofighter Typhoon “Phase 2Ea” by the Royal Air Force has begun at Warton in the UK. An aircraft upgraded to the new standard has been flown by pilots of No. 41(R) Test and Evaluation Suadron at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. The test program will likely continue throughout 2016.

The Phase 2Ea upgrades include enhanced software and avionics systems as well as new features added to the radar, defensive aids systems, situational awareness and targeting pods. These enhancements will improve Typhoon’s targeting capabilities particularly in the air-to-ground arena as the 2019 out-of-service date for the Tornado GR.4 creeps ever closer. From 2019 onwards the Typhoon will have to carry the burden of the strike role as well as the air defence role until the F-35 Lightning II becomes fully operational. To that end the RAF has launched Project Centurion which aims to ensure a painless transition between Typhoon and Tornado duties by 2019.

Wing Commander Steven Berry, Officer Commanding of No.41(R) squadron said to the press;

The enhancements mean as an air-to-surface platform, Typhoon has the simplicity and flexibility in the design to be easily employed in close air support missions or more complex scenarios like convoy over-watch.

Hawker Hunter GA.11 WV382 “830” at East Midlands Aeropark

WV382 was built as an RAF Hunter F.4 in 1955 and  accepted in to the RAF on 15th August 1955 serving with No.67(F) Squadron. WV382 was transferred to the Royal Navy and converted to GA.11 status by Hawker Aircraft Ltd flying in it’s new guise from Dunsfold on 6th July 1962.

In the Fleet Air Arm it served with No.738NAS at Lossiemouth before moving to RNAS Brawdy in 1966. On 27th March 1969, the aircraft joined the Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU) at Hurn whereupon the aircraft received the code ‘830’ on the forward fuselage. In 1972 it transferred to RNAS Yeovilton where it was operated by the Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU). In 1972 the aircraft passed to the unit’s successor, FRADU.

The aircraft was withdrawn from service in 1976 and was held in storage until 1985 when it was moved to RNAS Lee-on-Solent where it become a training aid for the Air Engineering School. In 1988 it was put up for sale and registered as a derelict airframe.

East Midlands Aeropark acquired the aircraft in 2008 and was reassembled in 2009.

The following two photos of WV382 were taken on January 18th 2015.

Photos: Tony Wilkins


 

WV382 Hawker Hunter GA (2)

WV382 Hawker Hunter GA (1)

Armstrong-Whitworth (Gloster) Meteor NF.13 WM366/4X-FNA at the Jet Age Museum

A small collection of pictures of Gloster Meteor NF.13 WM366 / 4X-FNA on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


 

This rare Meteor NF.13, the tropicalised version of the Armstrong Whitworth NF.11 night fighter, was gifted to the Jet Age Museum by GJD Services Limited at Bruntingthorpe. Only 40 of the type were built, serving with the Syrian, Egyptian, Israeli and French air forces.

This NF.13 served with the Israeli Air Force with the serial 4X-FNA and was delivered in 1955 or 56. It previously carried the British serial WM366 when it was based at the Aircraft & Armament Experimental Establishment and at the Radar Research Establishment.

GJD Services, which specialises in aircraft and engine maintenance, recovery and disposal, acquired it from Lasham, where it belonged to SWWAPS, the Second World War Aircraft Preservation Society. Although the centre section, wings and tailplane are from the Israeli Meteor, it is in fact a composite: the nose is from Meteor TT.20 WM234, latterly at Arborfield near Reading, and the rear fuselage belonged to Meteor F8 VZ462 from Biggin Hill.

The aircraft has recently been moved inside the museum’s display building having previously been stored outside after having been repainted.

 

Gloster Meteor T.7 WF784 at the Jet Age Museum

A collection of pictures of Gloster Meteor F.8 on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


This aircraft was the 19th of a batch of 89 Meteor T.7 jet trainers built by Gloster Aviation and delivered to the Royal Air Force between January and September 1951. WF784 served initially with No.26 Squadron and then with No.130 Squadron both based in Germany.

The aircraft then served with the Ferry Training Unit at Benson between 1956 and 1958 before a stint with the College of Air Warfare/Royal Air Force Flying College at Manby and Strubby, Lincolnshire, between 1959 and 1962. It was then transferred to No. 5 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit before going to 5MU storage and disposal unit at RAF Kemble. It then went to RAF Quedgeley for display on No. 1 site on November 20th 1965.

It was bought by Gloucestershire Aviation Collection/Jet Age Museum on May 30th 1996 with a grant from Tewkesbury Borough Council. After briefly being stored at Quedgeley it arrived at the museum on March 3rd 1997 and is complete except for its two Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines.

These photographs were taken on April 11th 2015. The aircraft was residing outside the museum adjacent to the car park along with a number of other airframes.