Britain at War magazine recently visited the Cold War Jets Day at Bruntingthorpe. The Aerodrome is home to a number of Cold War aircraft, many of them well known and beloved types. With a vast number of the aircraft forming the collections there maintained to an almost live standard, at this event some thundered down the runway. Below, we show some of our favourite aircraft from the day.
This pairing of Blackburn Buccaneer S.2Bs were part of the line up. Originally designed for the Royal Navy as a carrier-borne near-supersonic attack aircraft, the Buccaneer entered service with the S.1 1962 with 211 built across all variants. The S.2 variant incorporated more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engines, while the S.2Bs seen below were dedicated RAF variants still capable of carrying anti-radar and anti-ship missiles.
Intended as a counter to the then-new potent Soviet Sverdlov-class cruisers and the modernised Chapayev-class cruisers, Buccaneer offered a powerful anti-ship capability compatible with the Royal Navy’s existing carriers. As a result, a massive and expensive expansion of the Royal Navy – new surface combatants or a larger carrier class – was avoided. These ships out-gunned almost anything in most NATO surface warship’s arsenals, and carried an extensive suite of modern radar equipment and anti-aircraft defences. A fast, agile, and rugged aircraft with a large weapons payload was required.
With the Buccaneer, this is what the Navy received, a low-level strike aircraft more than capable of deploying a variety of nuclear and conventional armaments, including anti-ship missiles, at a good stand-off range and below the level of the enemy’s radar horizon. Also carried were self-defence weapons such as the Sidewinder, Buccaneers armed in this fashion performed well for their type in NATO exercises. In 1969, the Buccanneer entered service with the RAF, fulfilling a requirement for an attack aircraft after the TSR-2 programme and F-111K acquisition were cancelled, and with the retirement of the Navy’s last large carriers, their Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF continuing in their strike roll and serving until 1994. In the First Gulf War, the type conducted 218 missions both designating targets for Tornado aircraft, releasing their own guided munitions, and dive-bombing attacks on targets of opportunity.
The Hawker Hunter was among the most important British aircraft of the period and a highly successful fighter, fighter-bomber, and trainer with 1,972 built and becoming a popular export choice. Entering service with the RAF in July 1954, replacing the earlier Meteor, Venom, and Sabre, the type served with distinction as a fighter-interceptor, ground attack aircraft, and in the photo-reconnaissance role. The type frequently carried rockets and bombs, in addition to its four 30mm ADEN cannon. Modernised examples overseas could operate with advanced Sidewinder and Maverick missiles.
The Hunter continued to be operated by the RAF until the early 1990s as a trainer or in secondary duties, and was operated by the air forces of 21 other nations, such as India, Belgium, and The Netherlands. Some nations, such as Switzerland, retained the type for a lengthy period and, based in the UK, the HHA continue to use the Hunter in threat simulation training exercises. The Hunter was also a popular choice for display teams, the Hunter was the aircraft chosen by the RAF’s ‘Black Arrows’ and ‘Blue Diamonds’, and by the Swiss team, Patrouille Suisse. The GA.11 below, WT.806, was itself part of the Blue Herons team, FRADUs (Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit) four aircraft display team.
The two variants seen above are the T.7, and the GA.11. both were training variants. The T.7 was a common two-seat RAF trainer based on the Hunter F.4 – though most of the production run of 71 airframes were new builds incorporating elements from the F.6. The GA.11, however, was a single-seat weapons training variant. Forty ex-RAF Hunter F.4s were converted for use by the Royal Navy and fitted with an arrestor hook and occasionally a Harley light, used to improve visibility while training and landing.
Handley Page Victor
The Victor was the third of the infamous the ‘V-bombers’ operated by the RAF throughout the Cold War to carry Britain’s airborne nuclear deterrent. With the advent of the submarine-launched Polaris missile, and the subsequent handing over of the nuclear deterrence to the Royal Navy, the V-Bombers were adapted to other roles. Bruntingthorpe’s Victor, XM715, served with 139 and 100 squadrons, 232 OCU, 543 squadron, and after her conversion to K.2 standard served with 55 squadron.
Victors were converted to both strategic reconnaissance aircraft fitted with radar, cameras, and other sensors, as well as seeing extensive use as airborne tankers. These tankers were essential to efforts during the Falklands War, providing much needed fuel to transport, maritime patrol, and bomber aircraft such as Vulcans, Nimrods, and others. They also refuelled other tankers, and allowed an airborne logistics train be maintained between the UK and Ascension Island and extended the range of the ‘Black Buck’ Vulcans for them to arrive over their targets. The Victor was the last of the V-bombers to be retired, phased out during 1993.
Another treat was the BBMF’s Spitfire PR XIX, ps915, her Griffon engine filling the skies around the aerodrome with that iconic sound. The most successful of the photo-reconnaissance Spitfires, Mk 19s enjoyed a far greater range than earlier types and still holds the world altitude record for piston engine aircraft, 51,550ft, achieved by Flight Lieutenant Ted Powles AFC in February 1952.
PS915 was built in 1945 and flew strategic reconnaissance sorties during the Berlin Airlift of 1948/49 before joining the Temperature and Humidity Monitoring Flight in 1954. She was a founder aircraft of the forerunner of the BBMF, the Historic Aircraft Flight, but did not fly for 30 years until a refurbishment in 1987 when she was modified to take ex-Shackleton Griffon engine with a specially-manufactured gear driving a single propeller. This is today the standard powerplant across the BBMF’s Mk XIX Spitfires.