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THE BEST OF WHAT'S LEFT

 
     
  INTRODUCTION  
     
  Following the Jet Age Reserve Model Collection tribute to The Skyfame Aircraft Museum displayed at Gloucester Cine and Video Club on 15 October 2007 I was approached by Mr Geoff Dalby, a former Skyfame volunteer worker, and kindly given a parcel of documents from the pioneering and much missed attraction.

Among these were several copies of "Skyfame Circuit", the quarterly magazine of the Skyfame Supporters Society. Featuring the Skyfame De Havilland Mosquito aircraft on the masthead, this typewritten journal kept members informed of committee proceedings, arrivals and depatures and work in progress as well as other less directly linked but very interesting aviation articles.

In this section of the Gloucestershire Transport History website I intend to extract the best written and visual material from each available copy of Skyfame Circuit and present it in an easily accessible form with additional material and commentary as needed.

 
     
   
     
 

VOLUME 1 NUMBER 3

 

APRIL 1966

 
  CONTACT!  
     
  This, the third edition, will coincide - we hope - with the start of another flying season.

At a meeting held on 2 April, the Committee welcomed the news that Graham Johnson has now organised the Bristol members into a local branch of the Supporters Society with the object of fostering and maintaining enthusiasm and providing an added incentive to would-be members who would like to join us but possibly feel that they are too far from Skyfame to visit more than occasionally. Film shows, visits to places of aeronautical interest and talks by "flying types" are being organised and there is no reason why repairs and renovations and/or complete restorations could not be undertaken by suitably skilled and energetic members.

The general idea is for such a local branch to be self-supporting, but in no way independent of the Society and its Committee as a whole, and with no authority beyond that of any other individual member. The only qualification necessary is enthusiasm - and remember, this disease is catching!

 
     
 

Export customers for the Hawker Hunter included Southern Rhodesia, the British colony which unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia in 1965. Its brown and green camouflaged Hawker Hunters carried a white green-edged roundel with a gardant lion in the centre and would have been very topical in April 1966.Hawker Hunters were also to equip the air forces of Chile, India and Israel.

 
         
  Export customers for the Hawker Hunter included Southern Rhodesia, the British colony which unilaterally declared independence as Rhodesia in 1965. Its brown and green camouflaged Hawker Hunters carried a white green-edged roundel with a gardant lion in the centre and would have been very topical in April 1966.Hawker Hunters were also to equip the air forces of Chile, India and Israel.  
         
  THE HAWKER HUNTER by Malcolm Payne  
     
  Mr Peter Thomas has asked me to write a short article on flying the Hunter and I do so with pleasure for the Hunter was for me one of the pleasantest high performance aircraft that I have flown. It is a great tribute to the design of Sir Sydney Camm and to Neville Duke and his team that this aircraft has been in service for more than 10 years and is still as popular as ever with those that fly it.

My first encounter with the Hunter was whilst I was at RAF Pembrey in early 1957. I was doing the De Havilland Venom Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) course and another part of the airfield operated a Hunter OCU. As far as I remember, those Hunters were Mark 1 and 2 variants and we were most impressed with its apparent handling characteristics. Another factor that impressed us greatly was the story that they only had a safe endurance of 45 minutes. These, of course, had no drop tanks.

However, I was not to see another Hunter for over a year as I was posted to Kong Kong to fly venom 1s. Anyway, Mr Sandys said his piece about the RAF no longer requiring pilots and I soon found myself back in the wilds of Nottinghamshire as one of the highest paid Operations Clerks in the RAF.

My next meeting with the Hunter was in June 1958 when, in company with a number of enthusiastic young men I arrived at RAF Chivenor in North Devon to carry out a conversion course to the type.

By now things had improved to the point that we now had Hunter 4s to fly. The T7 was still on the drawing boards at the time, so after a few trips in the ground-borne simulator we were launched on our own. A member of the instructional staff supervised our chocks but after the engine was started, we were on our own.

The biggest impression of this first flight was of the very light and sensitive controls. So much so that it was usually 15 to 30 minutes after takeoff before the mind was able to cope with the response of the aircraft. In later years those same controls seemed almost heavy.

The type of flying is so different from that of conventional piston engne types that it would be useless to quote speeds, power settings and so on as they would mean so little.

Anyway, after some three months of flying in which we practised formation flying, aerobatics and gunnery, we went our various ways to join the various squadrons that awaited us.

Before I continue, however, I should mention the old, old question of supersonic flying. I am afraid that I can only be disappointing on this, as in fact there is only a twitch of the rudder pedals as you go through the sound barrier and possibly some stick movement. Apart from this there is nothing to report.

Squadron flying was carried out on the Hawker Hunter Marks 6 and 7 and I can honestly say that these were very interesting times. The Squadron to which I was posted was the famous 92 Squadron who later performed in public as the Blue Diamonds and are now equipped with English Electric Lightnings.

There are many memorable moments from the time that I spent on the Squadron, but the one that stands out most was on a night flying trip when upon turning over RAF Valley on Anglesey I found that I could see South Wales from Swansea to Newport, Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, Leeds and Newcastle all at once. This was from a height of about 44 000 feet.

During my stay on 92 Squadron we took delivery of a Hunter T7 and this seemed just like a large saloon car that did over 500 miles per hour. I was the first pilot on the Squadron to obtain an instrument rating on this variant and as a result I found myself acting as a VIP pilot by mistake. I had been sent to Farnborough to collect a Lieutenant-Colonel and take him to RAF Leuchars in Scotland. it turned out that my passenger was a Lieutenant-General and I transported him from Farnborough to Leuchars in 35 minutes. As he had only flown Austers before, I think he was quite impressed!

Well, I feel sure I must be getting to the end of my space allocated to me and I must close. before I do I feel I must revive the old saying that if it looks right it must fly right. The Hunter looked right and it certainly flew right.

 
     
  Despite the export success of the Hawker Hunter, 1957 saw the British military aircraft industry suffer a blow from which it would never recovered. Duncan Sandys, the Defence Secretary in the Conservative Macmillan government, decreed that the guided missile had rendered the manned combat aircraft obsolete. A host of projects were cancelled, and the government announced that the English Electric Lightning would be Britain's last jet fighter. One survivor however was the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, the world's first operational vertical take-off fighter, which has enjoyed success until the present day. Hawker Hunter F6 XG225 is now the gate guardian at RAF Cosford, now home to Britain's national Cold War Museum. 111 Squadron - The Black Arrows - was the premier RAF display team until 1961 when 92 Squadron RAF -The Blue Diamonds - carried on their traditionintroducing some new formations and flying 16 blue-painted Hunters. In 1960 and 1961 this 16 aircraft formation was at times split into seven and nine, so that one or other of the formations was always in front of the audience, a principle retained by the Red Arrows on a smaller scale. In 1960, No 74 Squadron, The Tigers, was re-equipped with Lightnings and in 1961 performed wing-overs and rolls with nine aircraft in tight formation. In 1962 they became the RAF's premier team and were the first display team to fly Mach 2 aircraft. For a time they gave co-ordinated displays with the Blue Diamonds.  
         
  Despite the export success of the Hawker Hunter, 1957 saw the British military aircraft industry suffer a blow from which it would never recovered. Duncan Sandys, the Defence Secretary in the Conservative Macmillan government, decreed that the guided missile had rendered the manned combat aircraft obsolete. A host of projects were cancelled, and the government announced that the English Electric Lightning would be Britain's last jet fighter. One survivor however was the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, the world's first operational vertical take-off fighter, which has enjoyed success until the present day.

Hawker Hunter F6 XG225 is now the gate guardian at RAF Cosford, now home to Britain's national Cold War Museum. 111 Squadron - The Black Arrows - was the premier RAF display team until 1961 when 92 Squadron RAF -The Blue Diamonds - carried on their traditionintroducing some new formations and flying 16 blue-painted Hunters. In 1960 and 1961 this 16 aircraft formation was at times split into seven and nine, so that one or other of the formations was always in front of the audience, a principle retained by the Red Arrows on a smaller scale. In 1960, No 74 Squadron, The Tigers, was re-equipped with Lightnings and in 1961 performed wing-overs and rolls with nine aircraft in tight formation. In 1962 they became the RAF's premier team and were the first display team to fly Mach 2 aircraft. For a time they gave co-ordinated displays with the Blue Diamonds.

 
         
         
  No better news could have reached Skyfame soon after the dawn of 1966 than that which heralded the the presentation to the Museum of the Tempest Mark 2 and the Saunders Roe SRA1 by the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield. It may not be widely known that we did, in fact, undertake to accept and look after these two valuable aircraft quite a long time ago when, when there were first indications that their stay at the college might be coming to an end.  
         
  WHAT'S NEW by Peter Thomas  
         
  No better news could have reached Skyfame soon after the dawn of 1966 than that which heralded the the presentation to the Museum of the Hawker Tempest Mark 2 and the Saunders Roe SRA1 by the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield. It may not be widely known that we did, in fact, undertake to accept and look after these two valuable aircraft quite a long time ago when, when there were first indications that their stay at the college might be coming to an end.

The arrival of the Tempest will give Skyfame their first Fighter Command type and enthusiasts who care to tot up our fleet will now realise that the Museum has, at last, an aircraft representing each of the Flying Commands of the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm.

The "little" Saro Flying Boat will, of course, be our first jet type and it is quite one of the most interesting aeroplanes ever built in Great Britain. It makes a remarkable contrast to our huge Sunderland Flying Boat at Pembroke Dock in the care of the Short Sunderland Trust.

We are very grateful to Westland Aircraft and Hawker Siddeley Aviation for their valuable help and co-operation in assisting us with the task of transporting these two aircraft to the Museum.

We are fortunate indeed in having three aircraft ( the third being the Percival Proctor ) presented to us right at the start of the New Year. The story of the Proctor is told elsewhere in this issue. Visitors will greatly enjoy the privilege we are now able to afford them of entering this aircraft and handling the controls.

 
         
  The arrival of the Tempest will give Skyfame their first Fighter Command type and enthusiasts who care to tot up our fleet will now realise that the Museum has, at last, an aircraft representing each of the Flying Commands of the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm  
         
         
  THE PROCTOR - A GIFT FROM TAMWORTH by Peter Thomas  
         
  Lying in a hangar at Kidlington Airport, covered with cobwebs and sadly neglected - that was how the group from Tamworth Royal Observer Corps led by Chief Observer Eric Thompson and Leading Observer David Peace found Percival Proctor G-ALCK. They immediately decided that this was a fate unworthy of a fine aircraft and particularly as it was one of the rare Mark 3 specimens of this highly successful aeroplane.  
         
  Lying in a hangar at Kidlington Airport, covered with cobwebs and sadly neglected - that was how the group from Tamworth Royal Observer Corps led by Chief Observer Eric Thompson and Leading Observer David Peace found Percival Proctor G-ALCK. They immediately decided that this was a fate unworthy of a fine aircraft and particularly as it was one of the rare Mark 3 specimens of this highly successful aeroplane.  
         
  The Proctor 3 is, of course, merely the Royal Air Force version of the famous Percival Vega Gull in which many pre-war pilots including Jean Batten, Charles W.A. Scott, Beryl Markham and Giles Guthrie broke such a large number of World records. Adapted for use by the Royal Air Force for communications and radio / radar training, the Proctor proved so successful that nearly a thousand were built for the Service. During the invasion scare at the time of the Battle of Britain, many Proctors were armed with bombs and machine guns to act as light attack bombers for use against invading German forces. In the Israeli-Egyptian War of 1948 the Israeli Air Force used some of them as fighters.

Purchased from the owner, the Proctor was soon on its way to Tamworth where the work of restoring it commenced at Drayton Manor Park. Then began many months of hard work by the group with the object of restoring the aircraft to its former pristine glory. In the evenings and at weekends, the group worked very hard and their labours were rewarded by the sight of the Proctor gradually making a return to its original state.

The price paid for the aircraft and for spares required in its restoration was recovered when the group, with commendable initiative, put the aircraft on view to the public - an exhibit which aroused far more interest than they had envisaged. The owner of Drayton Manor Park kindly alloed the group to keep the Proctor there without charge while they were working on it. Nearly all the work on the aircraft had to be done in the open and this only increased the difficulties which had to be faced by the group. However, this did not deter them and work proceeded up to the end of 1965 when the group offered the aircraft to Skyfame and asked for it to be given a home at Staverton. This offer was readily and gratefully accepted, the aircraft arriving at Staverton on 23 February 1966.

The Proctor bore the constructors number H536 and was built by F. Hills and Son in Manchester in 1943. The RAF serial number was LZ 766. The Service history of the aircraft is rather obscure but undoubtedly it was used mainly for communications and light transport work. it also worked as an army co-operation aircraft for radar calibration.

Purchased by the group at Tamworth for 25.00, the aircraft was moved from Kidlington to Drayton Manor on 23 July 1965. At the Skyfame Museum it will now fulfil a popular requirement for visitors to sit inside the aircraft and handle the controls. The Proctor is to be camouflaged in its wartime Royal Air Force colours quite soon.

The story of this Proctor is just one more tale of enthusiasm, determination and initiative on the part of a small band of people so typical of the many up and down Great Britain who give freely of their spare time in diverse ways to save and keep these famous old aeroplanes from disappearing. The hard work so readily given by these volunteers in many ways is largely responsible for the success enjoyed by those who try to organise veteran aicraft preservation.

 
         
  LETTER TO THE EDITOR from Peter Swettenham, Gidea Park, Essex.  
         
  The high cost of transport and the fact that aircraft have been lost to the Museum because of reliance on third party organisations for transport leads me to suggest that the Supporters Club should be circularised when an aircraft is sitting somewhere waiting to be collected and the members asked to help with a small donation to defray expenses. I feel most strongly about this as I'm sure that if we knew that a preservative ( sic ) was waiting somewhere we would all do our best to help - surely with the hundreds in the Supporters Club the donations available would enable us to set our sights on objectives many miles from these shores.

The second point although it would be gainfully used in conjunction with the foregoing is as follows:

During the War we were entreated by the National Savings Movement to support the cost of the war by various Savings Weeks and I feel that the Skyfame Supporters Club could well use the basic principles of those weeks by appeals to members of the club very much in the way that we could be told that there is a particular type situated at "Hoggs Norton" and a fund started - very much in the way of the "Spitfire Funds" we used to support in World War Two.

I fully realise the security aspects of keeping quiet about these "finds" and I feel that if club members were told only the barest of details of the location we would give our support - we need not be told about the type if Peter feels that others may get there first.

I feel very strongly about this because in this way we could get the aircraft back in the normal commercial manner instead of relying on the Services to take their pick first!

 
         
  THE HANDLEY-PAGE HALIFAX  
         
  By way of an interim report, here are the facts so far known about PN 323.

Built in 1945 it was used for experimental work at Radlett and is believed to be fitted with a single fin and rudder. later it became a static test rig for Standard Telephones, finally falling into disuse and decay. The salvage of the fuselage was arranged by Mr Trant and Mr Levy, and we are indebted to them for handing it over to Skyfame for preservation. it is now on trestles in our hangar and the formidable task of stripping, cleaning and refurbishing is under way.

 
         
  PICTURE PAGE  
         
  G-AGNV The last Avro York to fly, here shown restored as Sir Winston Churchill's LV633 "Ascalon"  
         
  Clockwise from top left:

G-AGNV The last Avro York to fly, here shown restored as Sir Winston Churchill's LV633 "Ascalon"

G-ADXS Christopher Story's Scott powered Flying Flea, of which the pilot's notes say ".. if the speed is too high the aircraft is prone to bounce, the initial impact having a damaging effect on the cockpit."

Z 3038 The Fairey Firefly I now in Fleet Air Arm colours.

G-ACUU Guy Baker's Cierva C30 Autogyro

 
         
  Avro York G-AGNV in British Overseas Airlines Corporation colours  
         
 

Avro York G-AGNV in British Overseas Airlines Corporation colours

 
         
  THE ARRIVAL OF THE YORK by John S. Burr  
         
  Although the coming of the York has been recorded on film it is worth relating in our newsletter for those who so far have not been fortunate enough to see it. For the writer it provided some thirty minutes of splendid noise and spectacular low flying by large large aeroplanes which will long be cherished and he laments the lack of tape recorders on that day.

Avro York G-AGNV was timed to arrive at about 1430 hours and quite a number of people had gathered for the occasion. It was a dull October afternoon and a chilly westerly wind heraldedthe approach of a front. Shortly before 2.30pm Mr W.A.L. Johnson, Staverton's Senior Air Traffic Controller, announced over the loudspeaker system that the aircraft would be about an hour late, so that a further cup of tea was necessary to fill in time. The weather continued dull, but rain managed to keep out of the way. At about 1515 hours the aircraft appeared over Chosen Hill, flanked to starboard by two Hastings of 24 Squadron which had joined it at RAF Colerne. They were flying quite high up, although well below the cloud base and as they came overhead, the rather finer lines of the York alongside the bulbous Hastings was apparent.

Lining up from Gloucester, the three aircraft came in for an extremely low run, so that every detail was visible and the air filled with the full orchestra of four Rolls Royce Merlins and eight Bristol Hercules, then banking sharply north, black puffs coming from the exhausts on the turn, they flew round for a second run, providing a magnificent spectacle as they came towards us by Air Traffic - the hatches were gaping on one Hastings full of observers - and then round again. After yet a third demonstration, the York came in amidst a cloud of blue smoke from its finely adjusted brakes whilst the Hastings flew low once more in salute.

By this time there cannot have been much work being done in the nearby factories and fields, the noise alone had brought everyone outside to see what was going on!

G-AGNV came to stand near Staverton's reception area and was much admired by all present, after which a celebration was held in the refreshment kiosk. The aircraft was finally moved under her own engines to where she stands today, against the A40 trunk road, a fitting memorial to those splendid machines and Skyfame Museum can be justly proud not only of capturing this giant for their collection but of the glorious demonstration with which she was allowed to end her last flight. Now, some eighteen months later, G-AGNV has been repainted in military colours as LV 633 and very well she looks too.

Staverton has, of course, coped with other heavies - Halifaxes for Messier undercarriages, a Short Stirling or two, a B17, and Lancasters of Sir Alan Cobham's Flight Refuelling commenced operations here. Much more recently, Derby Airways ventured a Canadair Argonaut, although regrettably never repeated.

 
         
  G-AGNV came to stand near Staverton's reception area and was much admired by all present, after which a celebration was held in the refreshment kiosk. The aircraft was finally moved under her own engines to where she stands today, against the A40 trunk road, a fitting memorial to those splendid machines and Skyfame Museum can be justly proud not only of capturing this giant for their collection but of the glorious demonstration with which she was allowed to end her last flight. Now, some eighteen months later, G-AGNV has been repainted in military colours as LV 633 and very well she looks too.  
         
  The Avro York shared the same wings, undercarriage and Rolls Royce Merlin engines as the earlier Avro Lancaster bomber but had a fuselage with twice the cubic capacity. Although first flown on 5 July 1942, the first RAF Yorks - MW100 and MW101 - were not delivered to the RAF until October 1943 as Lancaster production had been given priority.

Winston Churchill's LV 633 "Ascalon"- the third prototype York and the first of the type with triple fins - had square windows instead of the usual round ones. It was allocated - but never carried - the civil registration G-AGFT. Other Avro Yorks became the VIP transports of Lord Louis Mountbatten ( MW102 ), Field Marshall Smuts ( MW 107 ) and HRH The Duke of Gloucester ( MW 140 )

511 Squadron became the first of 9 RAF units to operate the York at Lyneham, Wiltshire, in 1945 and perhaps the finest hour of the triple-tailed type was the 1948-9 Berlin Airlift in which seven RAf squadrons moved 230 000 tons of supplies into the beleaguered city during 29 000 return flights.

BOAC and British South American Airways operated civilian Yorks from 1944 and 1947 respectively.

Avro York C Mk 1 TS798 / G-AGNV was ordered in November 1944 as part of a batch of 60 similar composite freight and passenger aircraft for use by both the RAF and BOAC. However, most of this order were subsequently cancelled with only 25 silver painted Yorks ( numbered TS 789 - TS 813 ) emerging from Avros Yeadon factory with RAF roundels in October in 1945.

TS798 was given the constructors number 1223, first flew on 19 October 1945 and was delivered to BOAC at Croydon Airport on 8 November 1945. On 9 December 1945 it was given the civil registration G-AGNV and began work as a training aircraft in BOAC's 30 strong fleet of Avro Yorks.

On 1 February 1947 G-AGNV was given the name "Morville" as part of BOAC's M-Class of aeroplanes and began scheduled services to Calcutta, later as a 50 seat airliner. However, after BOAC's withdrawal of Avro Yorks from passenger service on 7 October 1950 G-AGNV was converted to full freight use with double doors on the rear of the port side. Still based at Heathrow, it was noted being loaded with elephants at Karachi in the four year old nation of Pakistan in December 1951and G-AGNV - now named "Middlesex" was finally brought back to Heathrow from Karachi on 17-20 November 1954. BOAC would continue to use Avro Yorks on freight duties until 22 November 1957.

30 March 1955 saw the four engined aircraft begin a new career as part of a 30 strong York fleet belonging to Skyways Ltd. Flying mainly from Stansted and Heathrow on tour and charter work, G-AGNV was latterly used to fly spare engines for Skyways, BOAC and Pan American Airways Lockheed Constellation airliners. Skyways livery comprised natural metal wings, engines, tailplanes and lower fuselage, natural metal propellers with yellow tips, white upper fuselage with duck egg blue cheatline edged in crimson. Fins and rudders were white with a fuselage style cheatline and crimson "Skyways of London" lettering and registration.

By early 1964 G-AGNV had been once again been hauling Pan American Lockheed Constellation engines around the World, this time being flown by Heathrow based Euravia. In May 1964 however, G-AGNV was retired as Skyways last York and was stored at Luton.

The Avro Lancaster derivative was then sold to Skyfame's Peter Thomas who re-mortgaged his house to raise the 600 scrap value and on Friday 9 October 1964 G-AGNV made the last flight of an Avro York anywhere in the World. This was from Heathrow to Staverton by way of RAF Colerne in Wiltshire where it was joined by Handley Page Hastings of 24 and 36 Squadrons, 24 Squadron having flown Avro Yorks until 1952.

According to the Gloucestershire press the York landed 50 feet short of the runway at Staverton and was initially positioned for restoration near the Dowty factories on what was then the A40 but which would become the B4063 after the opening of the Golden Valley bypass in 1969. G-AGNV's Certificate of Airworthiness officially expired on 6 March 1965 by which time it had logged some 18 100 flying hours.

Around this time a team of 20 men from Avro ( now part of Hawker Siddeley ) at Woodford arrived to repaint G-AGNV as LV633 "Ascalon", the C (VIP) Mk I York which was wartime personal transport of both Winston Churchill and King George VI.

It was in this period of the late 1960s / early 1970s that I first recall seeing the Avro York at Staverton, by then parked alongside Skyfame's own Handley Page Hastings near the black hangar that housed the rest of the Museum.

On 16 May 1972 Peter Thomas sold his York to the RAF Museum and on 25 October 1973, following dismantling, parts of the aircraft began being moved by 71 Maintenance Unit RAF to RAF Brize Norton for further restoration. This involved all previous paint being stripped and an overall silver scheme being applied to represent MW100, the first production VIP York. However, this work was incomplete by the time that the airframe was moved to RAF Shawbury in Shropshire for storage in March 1975.

In January 1976 however the former Skyfame York found a permanent home at RAF Cosford where it is now part of the National Cold War Museum as TS 798 rather than MW100.

Of 258 Avro Yorks built, the last flew in Canada in 1960, the last French Aeronavale machine in 1962 and the final Middle East example the next year, by which time Skyways of London had only two and Dan Air - another British firm - had only one airworthy York: G-ANTK. This made its last revenue earning Dan Air flight on 23 April 1964 and thence to Lasham on 30 April 1964. It is now preserved at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford , while several largely intact but crashed Yorks remain in northern Canada.