1978 got off to what for me was a slow start, my first visit out was on January 10th to good old Stansted airport. There was a retired from service Vickers VC.10 registration A4O-VK, it had been retired from Gulf Air an Oman based operator. In a few months this aircraft would become ZA143 as a VC.10 K.2 with 101 Squadron of the Royal Air Force based at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. ZA143 joined four retired Gulf Air Vickers VC.10’s after their refit to VC.10 K.2 standard at British Aerospace’s facility at Filton, near to Bristol in the U.K. The former Gulf Air VC.10’s would become ZA140 to ZA144 inclusive. Four former Kenya Airways VC.10’s were converted from their civilian role to VC.10 K.3 standard and were assigned to the RAF as ZA147 to ZA150 inclusive and joined 101 Sqn at Brize Norton.
February was spent going around the old faithful airports such as Stansted, Luton and Heathrow. There was nothing that to me stood out as worthy of mention here.
In March I ventured to the North West of England to Manchester, as luck would have it I saw two Vickers Viscounts serials numbers 501 & 502 that had been withdrawn from use (w.f.u.) from the Royal Air Force of Oman. 501 went into civilian service in the U.K. as G-BFZL, 502 also saw civilian service in Swaziland, South Africa as 3D-ACN.
My stop at Manchester formed part of going a lot further north as I was headed to Kilmarnock in Ayrshire with my girlfriend of the time Christine to visit my Aunt Maureen and Uncle Jim. On the ‘way’ to my Aunt’s in Kilmarnock we just happened to visit Prestwick and Glasgow airports. Prestwick had a Sea King HAS.5 on SAR duty and visiting was a C-131 that had flown up from the US Navy based at the Naval Air Facility at RAF Mildenhall.
I’d asked my Aunt to show us the ‘real’ Glasgow, indeed she did and I lost count of the number of department stores that we visited (big smile here).
On another day Christine and I went further afield; I have always been fascinated by submarines and thought it a golden opportunity not to be missed by trying to see into Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) at Faslane. HMNB Faslane (or Clyde as it is today in 2017) sits close to the head of the Gare Loch, strategically located out of sight of prying eyes, mine included. We did however get a small glimpse of the base from the A814, but that was it only a glimpse.
The following day we started our journey home, this time we chose (or rather I chose) to come down the east coast route. This enabled me to visit Newcastle airport, Teesside airport and lastly what was then RAF Catterick. Catterick was the only place of interest and to this day I still have not identified the serial of the Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy along with five other airframes on the dump at this location. Unfortunately due to time constraints we didn’t get to stop at RAF Leeming or RAF Coningsby on our return journey which was rather disappointing as that had been my plan.
Early April I was off to Heathrow, Luton and Stansted nothing to really write about at any of them. On the 11th I paid a visit to Stapleford aerodrome, interesting to me as a Police Officer was a Bell 47G registration G-BERJ, this was using the call-sign India 99 which indicated to me that it was the helicopter from the Metropolitan Police. Other than that there was nothing to grab my attention.
Later in the month Christine and I went down towards the south coast routing via Gatwick. It was here that I saw my first Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) Lockheed C-130H Hercules, my research shows that this aircraft was written off on 27.03.1989 while it was serving with 4 Sqn. Christine and I also visited Shoreham aerodrome but it was full of light aircraft and yet again nothing really of interest to me.
May 20th was my next venture out, this time it was for the air show at RAF Biggin Hill. There was an eclectic mix of aircraft from all over Europe including a Saab Supporter T.17 training aircraft from Denmark serial T-404. The RAF and Royal Navy provided a mix of aircraft including eleven examples of the Folland Gnat T.1. These aircraft were from the RAF Display Team the Red Arrows. Westland Wessex HU.5 serial was also in the static park, and a lone Phantom FGR.2 from 43 Sqn was amongst others present.
The Canadians of 421 Sqn CAF sent five Lockheed CF-104 Starfighters from their European base at Baden Solingen, Germany. The United States Air Force(Europe) (USAF(E) sent a lone example of an McDonnell-Douglas F-15A Eagle serial 75-0032 coded BT which told me it came from the 36th TFW, Bitburg AB, Germany. This airframe now rests in the 309th AMARG at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson AZ.
The French AF (FrAF) provided four Mirage F.1 aircraft from their EC-12 (Ecole de Chasse). However for me and I’m sure other aviation enthusiasts, the star of this show would have been the Lockheed C-130H serial NZ7004 of 40 Sqn the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).
The list and types have been compiled from my own log taken at the time and also from the Show Reports found on http://scramble.nl
The weekend after Biggin Hill I found myself with Christine at Bassingbourn (not a million miles from where I currently live) for their air show. Bassingbourn was used by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) in World War II, the resident Squadrons used to fly the Boeing B.17 Flyingfortress from here.
This place really garnered my interest in rotary wing flying; there was a Royal Navy (RN) Sea King, an RN Westland Wessex, Westland Scout, a RN Lynx and three Westland Wessex from 72 Sqn RAF. The Royal Danish AF sent an Alouette III which if I recall correctly was on floats as it was used by their SAR (Search And Rescue) Wing. I was beginning to get hooked on Helicopters.
Amongst the static was an English Electric (EE) Lightning F.3 from 5 Sqn RAF which if I’m not mistaken were based at RAF Binbrook Lincolnshire, here in the U.K. Also nestled in the static park was a Blackburn Buccaneer S.2A serial XT273.
Today Bassingbourn is no longer in the charge of the Royal Air Force, it has become a Barracks, the runway has been decimated and can now only handle rotary wing aircraft on what little of the original runway remains.
A week later I was on a solo mission to RAF Henlow for their air show. This was a very low key affair compared to Biggin Hill or even Bassingbourn but it did have one or two good aircraft on display. 72 Sqn RAF sent a Westland Wessex serial number XV729 which was coded AE. Number 3 Flying Training School (FTS) from RAF Leeming North Yorkshire sent a trio of Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1’s wearing their Red and White colours. The Royal Danish AF sent the same Saab Supporter (T-405) that had been at Bassingbourn the weekend before.
Also in the static park was a Lockheed C-130 Hercules XV179 which was the support aircraft for the RAF parachute display team, The Falcons. Further along the static park was an AVRO Vulcan B.2 XL318 from the 203 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), a Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod MR.2 serial XV249 from RAF Kinloss and a lone Phantom FG.2 of 43 Sqn (The Fighting Cocks) serial number XV581 coded E.
In 1978 I was still ‘spotting’ civil aircraft I was at Stapleford which is close to the Lambourne VOR (LAM), catch of the day for day in the few minutes that I was there was to see the aircraft described by some as the flying carrot or the Big Orange. This was in fact a Boeing 747-127 registration N601BN; the aircraft belonged to the American carrier Braniff International Airlines, the whole aircraft was painted in bright orange!
My next venture out was to the Duxford air show, this was a really pleasant day out as I remember that the sun was shining and there was a clear blue sky all day. However there is a distinct disadvantage to air shows at Duxford in that the visiting public are all based on the North side of the airfield so if you wanted to photograph you’d be shooting into sun for the whole day. There was a good assortment of aircraft at the airfield on that day but alas I was a bit tardy in recording what was there and there is no record of the event on the Netherlands based Scramble Air Show reports www.scramble.nl
I did make good use of the morning there to visit every Hangar and see the exhibits therein. I do now regret not making a record of exactly wat I saw!
On May 19th I was yet again in the vicinity of the Lambourne VOR and this time I was rewarded with a sighting of a Belgian Air Force AMD Falcon 20E serial CM-01. This aircraft was then assigned to 21 Sm (Sqn) of the Belgian AF and would have been based at Brussels – Melsbroek airport.
On June 20th on my way back from Luton airport I called by Hatfield, no hassle from the Security this time. My prize of the day was to see yet another Trident 2 painted in CAAC colours but still wearing its British civil registration G-BBWH for the delivery flight to China.
On July 7th while on duty we had to call into the M.11 Motorway Control centre at Chigwell. I was pleasantly surprised to see Bell-47G G-BBRG sitting there. This was being utilised by the Metropolitan Police as India 99 their Air Support Unit call sign for the helicopter.
Just a week later Christine and I were heading off to stay with friends Roger & Karen Cooper who lived in Newbury, Royal Berkshire. I’d met Roger a few months previously while we both attended a Traffic Law course at the Essex Police HQ’s. Our journey meant that we had to pass by Heathrow, well I say pass as we did of course call in for about an hour. (Big smile) We were going to spend a couple of evenings / days with Roger and Karen and thus timed our arrival for late afternoon.
The following day just happened to coincide with my 26th birthday; I didn’t know it prior to going down to Newbury but Christine and I were in for a treat. Roger had unbeknown to me had liaised with Hampshire Constabulary; we set off from Newbury and made our way down towards Southampton and in particular the docks. We parked on the quay side car park at the docks and walked the few metres to the quay. We were going to watch the P & O cruise line Canberra set sail. Another experience I will never forget; to see this, what was then a fairly big ship seem effortlessly leave the quayside and move out into the harbour on the first stage of its cruise was a magnificent sight and as I said something I’ll never forget.
On the way home from this Roger very kindly drove me around Southampton airport, alas there was nothing there to grab my interest.
The following day after saying our farewell to Roger and Karen it was time to head home for Harlow. Yet again the routing took us to Heathrow; there was a very nice mix of Boeing and Lockheed aircraft in the various colour schemes of British and U.S operators as well as some from the Middle and Far East.
July 23rd and I was yet again on duty when we pulled into Stansted airport. This particular time there were five Red Folland Gnat T.1’s of the Red Arrows sitting on the apron outside of the Terminal building. After a brief chat with the guys from the airport my crew partner and I were airside looking at and being photographed with the Red Arrows aircraft, but there was no sign of the Pilots. I was amazed at just how small the Folland Gnat was. It must have fitted the pilots like a very comfortable shoe or pair of gloves. It transpired that the aircraft were on diversion from RAF Biggin Hill due to unfavourable weather (WX) conditions.
On 23rd of August the WX at Heathrow must have been bad as there were a number of diversions to Stansted that included ZS-ZAP a Boeing 747 of South African Airways, pair of British Airways VC.10’s G-ASGH / J and an Israeli Boeing 707 4X-ATY.
The 24th again at Stansted provided only one aircraft of interest to me being 5X-UCF which was a Lockheed L.382 the civilian version of the Hercules. 5X- would indicate to me that this aircraft was on the Ugandan civil aircraft register.
The next occasion I went out was August 27th this was for the annual Air Fete at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, in England. This was for me going to be the biggest air show that I’d attend in 1978.
There were four display teams; The Royal Air Force, Red Arrows flying their bright red Folland Gnat T.1’s, the Royal Navy Blue Herons flying their Hawker Hunter GA.11’s, the Portuguese ASAS de Portugal flying their Cessna T.37C’s, and the Italian Air Force display team the Frecce Tricolori flying their Fiat G.91 PAN. I recall that the Royal Canadian AF was there with seven of their Lockheed CF-104’s Starfighters from their European base at Baden Solingen, Germany.
As one would anticipate the United States, Air Force, Army and Navy sent a good number of aircraft; the 48th TFW provided just one F-111F, while the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing based at RAF Upper Heyford (UH) provided three of their F-111E aircraft. Two 36th TFW McDonnell-Douglas F-15A Eagles made the trip form their base At Bitburg in Germany. The US Army (USAR) sent a lone Boeing-Vertol CH-47C Chinook also from a base within Germany. While the United States Navy (USN) had the two Mildenhall (Naval Air Facility) C-131 Samaritan’s on display together with and E-2C Hawkeye and an F-14A Tomcat from VF-32, USN
The West German AF sent a lone McDonnell-Douglas F-4F Phantom, together with two of their Fiat G-91R’s and a lone Lockheed F-104G Starfighter.
The French Air Force (L’Armee de L’Air) sent a pair of SEPECAT Jaguar A version, which if my memory serves me well sat next to two Jaguar GR.1’s of the RAF. The ‘GR’ in this case denotes Ground attack / Recognisance.
It was truly an eclectic collection of aircraft, however for me the star of this show was the Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star AWACS aircraft of the 79th AWACS. The home base of the 79th AWACS was at Homestead, AFB, Florida in the USA. The aircraft and crews would conduct normally a 90 day TDY (Temporary DutY) to Keflavik AB in Iceland.
There were a number of based aircraft also present for the show these included three Lockheed C-130E Hercules from the 314th Tactical Airlift Wing, two Boeing EC-135H from the 10th ACCS and a number of transient Boeing KC-135A Stratotankers from various Air Refuelling Units from Bomb Wings they were assigned to.
This show was my introduction to American brewed Budweiser beer and to burgers cooked over charcoal and covered in BBQ sauce for breakfast! Mildenhall was going to be a tradition as were the burgers and the beer.
Another tradition would be to collect the Air Fete calendars that were free with your entry fee. That entry fee would cover a car and occupants, on one occasion we managed to get six of us in the car so that was a real bargain.
On sale would be various coloured tee shirts with the Air Fete logo of that particular year on. I still have all the Calendars and the tee shirts from every RAF Mildenhall Air Fete that I attended over the years.
Over the years it would be normal for me to arrange to take my (current) girlfriend, friends from around the globe and also to meet with other aviation enthusiasts from not only the U.K but from parts of Europe.
When I first went to one of these Air Fetes at Mildenhall I had no idea where it would lead to and who I would meet and become friends with in later years. You will read more of these adventures as I go further into the Blog.
A few days later Christine and I found ourselves in the small Cornish village of Mevagissey, the plan was for a few days away. I had driven us down from Harlow and we arrived in Meva (as the locals call it) late the same afternoon. We were shown to our room; well you could have knocked me down with a feather. It was awful; the bottom sheet was supposed to be white but was a dull grey in colour and was made of nylon. Arrgh was our first reaction once the manager had left the room. Still it was only for a couple of nights! We’d been asked if we’d like afternoon tea and scones, well when in Cornwall it’s rude not to. When we’d booked it said it included breakfast and afternoon tea so I was somewhat surprised having scoffed the scones and quaffed the tea to find we were required to pay. It transpires that the first afternoons tea was not included in the price……….. it was only going to get worse. The next day we stayed local to Mevagissey as there was so much to see and do, well according to the local Tourist Guide / Brochure we found in the hotel. Lunch was taken in a Sea Food restaurant at the Quay side, up until now I had been a Sea Food lover. Just thirty minutes after eating a mixed Sea Food Platter I was returning it all too whence it came i.e. the Harbour. Not so much a ‘pavement pizza’ as a harbour pizza and a floating one at that. Obviously there was something on that plate that didn’t agree with me or was off!! To this day I won’t eat any type of shell fish and I am very choosey about what fish I will eat.
Our second full day there was spent driving towards the town of Helston those of you that know Helston know what’s coming next! Helston is the nearest town to Europe’s largest Helicopter base, RNAS Culdrose or as the Royal Navy call it HMS Sea Hawk.
The Royal Navy (RN) treat all their shore based assets as though they are a ship, they don’t have ‘rooms’ they have cabins. The messes are called Galley’s and or Ward Rooms depending on the rank of the person(s) using it, and so it goes on.
On the day of our ‘visit’ to Culdrose there were a mix of rotary and fixed wing aircraft. In those days there was a fairly large visitor’s car park on the road that led eventually to the village of Gweek. You couldn’t see everything on the airfield but you were able to see a good percentage of the based and visiting aircraft.
On this particular day there were at least six Sea Prince T.1’s fixed wing aircraft, these were used by 750 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) for Observer training. There were about a dozen Westland Gazelle HT.2Helicopters of 705 NAS; the Gazelles were use as training aircraft for new pilots. There was also a mix of Westland Wessex HU.5 and Westland Sea King HAS.5 aircraft also flying to and from the airfield and on the deck.
We did venture down to the Seal Sanctuary at Gweek and this again was to my advantage as the majority of the Helos recovered to RNAS Culdrose (deck code CU) along the Helford River which took then straight (ish) towards the main runway. If only digital photography had been invented then.
Christine and I spent a couple of days touring around Cornwall seeing the sights and risking driving on those over so narrow tracks that resembled roads in places!
It will probably come as no surprise to you all to learn that just three days after the first visit to RNAS Culdrose we were back at the visitor’s car park with me looking through the fence at the assemble Helos and fixed wing aircraft, once again a mixture of Sea Kings, Wessex, Gazelles and Sea Prince lined up or flying around the base.
We left RNAS Culdrose and continued our tour of Cornwall, the next stop was Penzance. At the time British Airways Helicopters operated a regular service to the Scilly Isles utilising an S.61N (the civilian version of the Sea King). Alas in those days we couldn’t afford the expense of flying on a ‘there and back flight’ to the Scilly Isles just to be able to say we’d done it.
From Penzance we started to head North the next stop was St Just aerodrome, where there were a number of civil aircraft based. Nothing there to interest me at the time save for a DeHavilland Rapide registration G-AIYR which was tucked away in a hangar.
From St Just we headed back to Mevagissey for our final night to be spent in Cornwall. The next day we were up fairly early and set off on our travels, across Cornwall to our final destination before making the long haul home.
The next stop was Newquay / RAF St Mawgan, the airfield was split into two distinct halves, the civilian side was Newquay civil airport and the other RAF St. Mawgan. St Mawgan was home to the Southern fleet of Nimrod, MR.2 Maritime Recognisance aircraft. The Northern fleet of Nimrods were based at Kinloss in Scotland. At the time of our visit there were just six of the Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod MR.2’s on the base. The Nimrods would be used in the anti-submarine detection role as well as Maritime Surveillance. In 1978 the infamous Iron Curtain was still in existence and Britain was conscious of the ever present threat from the Soviet Bloc especially so its fleet of submarines.
I can’t speak for Christine but I’d certainly enjoyed my time in Cornwall. For me it is always great to visit a new part of the Country and to explore new bases (to me) and to see what they had in store for the Aviation Enthusiast.
Just three days after we got back home I’m guessing I was at work when I called into Stansted airport. There were two Short Bros. Belfast’s sitting on the ramp, one was Military serial XR362 and the other wore a civilian registration of G-BEPS, this also wore the titles ‘Panaf’. This must have been a subsidiary of the parent company Heavy Lift Airlines who hauled cargo all over the world.
Traditionally September sees the end of the air show season and thus my travels around the country become less frequent. The old faithful’s, like Stansted (whether working or for pleasure), Luton, Heathrow and Gatwick all got visited on a fairly regular basis.
On October 21st I ventured a bit further out stopping off at Kidlington (Oxford) and RAF Brize Norton. This came up trumps for me, a Brazilian Air Force Lockheed C-130H was the star prize (tail number 2463). Also there was a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy tail number 70-0466 which if I recall correctly was assigned to the 433rd Military Airlift Wing, USAF. A lone Bristol Britannia XX367 and four Vickers VC-10’s completed the scene.
The end of the year also bought me another first; December 28th. I was on duty in a marked Police Patrol car and my crew partner and we called into Stansted Airport Police station for a cuppa. One of the guys on duty there knew my interest in aircraft and said there was something on the cargo ramp that may well interest me. After the brew wet set out in the Police airport Land Rover for the cargo area. On arrival we both saw a bearded man climbing down one of the lighting towers. Being Copper’s we both said he must be up to something.
He turned out to be Mr Robert ‘Bob’ Robinson an Air Traffic Controller at Stansted, he like me had an interest in aviation and had just climbed the lighting tower to take a picture of the Argentine Air Force Lockheed C-130H Hercules tail number TC-68.
I struck a deal with Bob; somewhere in my collection of prints stuck together is a picture of TC-68 taken by Bob from the top of that lighting tower. He told me later that when he saw the Police vehicle he did think he was going to be as he put it ‘nicked’ albeit he had done nothing wrong. He said it was a bit of a relief when he realised that I was there to see the C-130. Bob and I became friends and to this day (January 2017) we still are. You will read more about Bob in a later chapter (year) of this Blog. For me seeing that Argentine AF C-130H Hercules was an excellent end to 1978.