There are many aircraft that the British aircraft industry produced in the middle to late 20th century that did not end up being terribly successful. There was the occasional commercial product in there but a lot that did not have large production numbers, even by the standards of the day. It was not unusual for the Royal Air Force to end up operating a few of these as the government of the day found a way to prop up an ailing manufacturer. One type like this was the Bristol Britannia.
A turboprop airliner, it was too large given that jets had taken over the market by the time it was coming into service. The Royal Air Force was the “willing” recipient of some of these airframes and, for transporting troops that didn’t have a choice in the matter, they were probably just fine. One of these airframes, Regulus, is not preserved at Cotswold Airport at Kemble in Gloucestershire. I didn’t know it was there until I was driving around the airport killing some time. It looks to be in great condition. I don’t know how well it is handling the corrosion risk that damp UK airfields offer but I hope it lasts a long time. There are a few of these around but not many.
I have posted a few shots of preserved aircraft at Kemble, but Cotswold Airport is the end of the line for a lot of planes in a far less graceful way. It is the base for disassembly of airframes that have reached the end of their operational lives. A jet doesn’t have to be that old to have greater value in its parts than as an operational aircraft. If a major check is coming up and it isn’t worth that much post check, it might be worth it to the owner to have it broken down for spares. As airframes get older, this decision is more obvious.
Kemble is the location where a lot of this happens. From the airfield or from the road that passes by, you can see a line up of aircraft that are unlikely to ever fly again. They will be progressively stripped of their most valuable parts. They may hang around like this for a long time with bits being gradually taken off as they are demanded by other operators. Eventually, there will be little left of value and the scrap metal will become the most valuable thing that they have to offer. Then they will be cut up. It is a safe process for an aviation enthusiast but a normal part of the life cycle of an aircraft. If you are in the area, head by to see what is there.
When I was first into aviation, the Phantom was everywhere. It was operated by numerous air forces and the RAF had tons of them (including some that had cascaded from the Royal Navy). At all of my early air shows, there would be Phantoms on static and part of the flying display. While they had started their RAF career in the strike and ground attack role, by this time they were purely used for air defense.
With the end of the Cold War, the RAF reduced in size and the Phantoms were withdrawn from service far faster than had originally been anticipated. It wasn’t long before they were all gone. A bunch ended up in museums and the rest were cut up. As I was exploring Kemble’s airfield – Cotswold Airport to give it its proper name – I was surprised to come across a bunch of bits of Phantoms alongside the road. A pair of fuselages including one of a Boscombe test jet that I had a kit of as a kid, some wings, fins and tail planes. It was all just sitting there so I grabbed a few shots. I have heard since that the airport was pressuring the owners to cover it all properly and I think it all went under cover shortly after I was there. A lucky break for me, I guess.
I was thinking back to previous RIAT shows when I was putting together the 2006 post here. RIAT was my first encounter with the B-2. I recall it showing up to a show one year for a flyby without landing. It flew through accompanied by a pair of F-15Cs, one on each wing. Then, another year – maybe the next but I don’t recall for sure – one was actually deployed to the show. It was parked up so close to everyone on the flight line. I took quite a few pictures of it because it was so new and interesting. (A few pictures in the film days was a let less than it became in the digital days!) Even now, I think a show would consider it quite a coup to have a B-2 on the ground.
When I lived in the UK, a trip to RIAT was a regular thing for me. After I started shooting digital, I was living in the US so RIAT was more than just a day trip. My first visit with the digital camera was in 2006. I had to be in the UK for work so I timed it to coincide with RIAT because, you know, it would have been rude not to. With RIAT canceled this year due to the ongoing virus issues, I figured I would jump back to this show to provide some highlights.
I spent two days there. I made my first arrivals day visit and spent the day at the west end which was really nice. Planes were arriving from that direction anyway so it worked out well. The conditions were really nice on both days too so it was a fun and successful shoot. Mikoyan-Gurevich brought there MiG-29OVT demonstrator with thrust vectoring and it flipped its way around the sky with abandon. There was the usual selection of types from around the world which makes RIAT so fun. There were also some older UK types making an appearance like the Canberra demonstration – the last RAF Canberra flights I saw – and the old Twin Pioneer.
A Czech Mil-24 Hind helicopter gunship in special tiger dquadron markings overflies RAF Fairford, UK.
Hopefully there is something in this selection that will be of interest from a great show. There have been more RIAT visits since so maybe I shall dig out some stuff from those years if I continue to struggle for material for future posts!
A Spanish Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon pulls hard during a display at RAF Fairford in the UK.
I have seen plenty of MV-22B Ospreys in service with the Marine Corps but I haven’t see too many CV-22s with the Air Force. One of the early ones was at Hurlburt Field when I visited years ago but we weren’t allowed to photograph it. RIAT provided my first opportunity to shoot one in action. I got some shots of it on arrival day but I was not pleased with the results for a lot of them. I don’t know whether the focus was off or it was my struggles with the low shutter speed but I didn’t do too well.
They did display during the flying program, though, so I had a lot more chances to get some shots. The extra lumps and bumps make this distinctive from the USMC version but it is still a hard thing to photograph if you want to get significant blur on those giant, slow turning props. The different shade of gray they go with seems slightly more interesting than the Marine’s scheme too.
I have posted a few times about the Red Arrows at RIAT covering their prep for display and post display. I haven’t actually shared any good shots from the display itself. Here are a few that I got over the course of the show. Some were taken close to show center and others were taken from the end of the display line to give a different perspective on the same maneuvers. They put on a great show and it is funny that, when you see them regularly, you get blasé but, when you haven’t seen them for a while, you come to appreciate the display a lot more.
I have been to a bunch of shows at RIAT and have done arrivals day a few times too. One thing I had not managed to do before was be there for departure day. I wasn’t going to be able to do the full day because I needed to head off on the next leg of our vacation but I got a good chunk of the time. Of course, the weather continued its theme of overcast conditions. There were certain things I really wanted to see which didn’t always work out whether it was Tornados going when I wasn’t there or things that departed up field and didn’t come near us.
Even so, there was a great selection of interesting bits and pieces to see heading out. Some of them just took off and climbed away normally. Others seemed to be trying to get as high as possible quickly which wasn’t much fun for the gathered photographers. A few put on a decent wag of the wings to please us. The rotation point for most aircraft was quite a way from where we were which was a bit of a shame as rotation can make for an interesting shot. A bit of heavy cropping and you can get the idea. At least the lack of sun reduced the amount of heat haze. Here is a gallery of a bunch of shots from the time I had.
A Royal Air Force Textron T-6 Texan takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Royal Air Force BAE Systems Hawk T2 takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Danish Lockheed Martin F-16A Fighting Falcon takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
Two Swedish Air Force SAAB JAS39 Gripens take off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Luftwaffe Eurofighter EF2000 takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
An Italian Air Force Eurofighter F-2000A takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
A Hawker Hunter takes off from RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom.
The Lynx was a favorite helicopter of mine in my teens. It was in service with both the Royal Navy and the British Army in substantial numbers. We used to see them a lot as they often flew past our home on the seafront in Cowes moving between the Navy bases at Portland and Portsmouth. The Lynx has gone from UK service, replaced by the Wildcat. I hadn’t seen any Wildcats before RIAT so was glad to see them from both the Army and the Navy (not that they look that different unliked their predecessors). Old style Lynxes were still represented though. The German Navy had an example visiting. They are not going to be around for much longer, though. They will be replaced early in the 2020s.
Northrop Grumman brought the Firebird to Fairford for RIAT. RIAT is a big public show but it has developed a significant trade element to it and Firebird was clearly aimed at that audience. It is a Scaled Composites design (with Northrop Grumman having bought Scaled a while back) and, while it has a cockpit, apparently it has the option to be flown unmanned. I don’t know whether this is well tested or not. Nor do I know the state of production examples. I believe the one at RIAT was the prototype.
It was parked in the static park for a portion of the time I was there. I did see it getting towed across to the north side at one point, presumably so it could be parked in a hangar rather than left out. Supposedly, there is a US Government order for some of these and I imagine they will be fitted with some interesting systems. Whether I shall ever see one is a different story.