The trip to the UK early this year included a quick trip to Kemble or Cotswolds Airport as it is also known. Near the tower, they have a couple of preserved airframes that harken back to the time that this was a Royal Air Force base (including it being home of the Red Arrows). One of the gate guards (okay, they aren’t near the gate, but you get the idea) is a Folland Gnat. I don’t know whether it is a genuine ex-Red Arrow or just painted to look like one, but it is cool either way. It is the tiniest of jets. I wonder what it was like ferrying one across the Atlantic as they did for a tour.
The other airframe is a Hawker Hunter. This is a classic aircraft and one that continues in use to this day. It is a trainer version with the side-by-side cockpit arrangement and in a grey paint job that I am not familiar with them having used in service. Either way, another great looking jet and something cool for any visitors to check out.
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.
We were in the Cotswolds for a wedding earlier this year and the morning of the wedding found my with little to do while everyone was getting ready. I was only 30 minutes or so from the old RAF airfield of Kemble, now Cotswolds Airport. Surely it would be churlish to not take a look since I was killing time? Kemble has quite a lot of interest and will mean there are several posts to come. The first will focus on one of the largest residents.
British Airways painted three of its 747s in retro liveries. The jets had different interior configurations which meant they were used on specific routes. I got to shoot the BOAC jet and the Landor jet when they came to Seattle but I never saw the Negus jet. When BA retired the 747 fleet during the pandemic, the Negus jet apparently made its way to Kemble to become a venue rather than get reduced to parts and scrap metal. However, I didn’t know this.
Consequently, I was rather surprised to find the jet sitting there as I drove up to the airport main buildings. There are other 747s stored on the field at Kemble but this one is very accessible. It was early in the day when I arrived so I could wander around unfettered but there were already crews showing up to bring in fixtures for an event that they were going to be hosting. Renting out a 747 for an event sound like just the sort of thing I would do! I was very pleasantly surprised to see the third of the retro jets and to see it in such good condition. (Sure, they have a few nacelle panels that have been switched around but it still seems in good shape.)