Monday, 30 June 2014

RAeS Visit to Cotswolds Airport

Cotswold Airport's ex-RAF Control Tower
On Friday 27 June 2014, a small group of RAeS and RAG members visited Cotswolds Airport (former RAF Kemble), just to the south of Cirencester (or "Corinium" to use its Roman name). Friday would be the first of few unsettled days and we did encountered some rain, but overall it was not a big problem.

Control Tower Tour
Folland Gnat T1 of the Red Arrows at it former base
The first part of the visit,  before lunch, was to the control tower where we were treated to a rare insight into the operation of a private airfield. It was obvious that the operation is very professionally run and attracts many operators and customers, including Prince Charles and Princess Anne, the former have unexpectedly arrived at 22:45 the previous evening and the latter having departed at 07:00 that morning. 
Cotswolds Airport Fire Service
The Operations manager introduced us to the Operations Centre where all aircraft movements are coordinated (pre-booked, passed to Air Traffic Control and landing fees collected). He also explained the information displayed on monitors located in the AV8 restaurant and throughout the control tower building. After this introduction we made our way up into the control tower, where two team members were actively engaged in "advising" and monitoring air traffic. At this airport the use of the runway for take-off and landing is at the discretion of the pilot, not ATC. This was clear from the transmission going out to aircraft in the circuit "Cleared to land at your discretion".

Following on from the control tower tour, which was done in two groups, we had to wait till 14:00 for our next "appointment", so we used the time to sample the food in the AV8 restaurant, which is situated next to the control tower and the Fire Service building. This is a very pleasant and well appointed restaurant with views over the airfield and serving hot and cold drinks as well as food. There is no security at the airport, each individual company being responsible for its own security. This means that it possible to drive onto the airfield from the Tetbury road (A433) and drive to the control tower for a spot of lunch or a coffee whilst observing aircraft movements.

The movements we were lucky enough to observe straight after lunch were the departure of the MidAir Squadron Canberra PR9 XH134 and Hunter T7 XL577 around 13:35 and again later when they returned around 15:00. They flew out to perform their display routine at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Hawker Hunter T7 XL577 awaiting its pilot for its display at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
English Electric Canberra PR9 XH134 makes its way to the runway for a display at Goodwood Festival of Speed

XL577 first to take off
XH134 follows XL577 into the cloudy skies to head for Goodwood
The departure of the MidAir Squadron was a bonus to the day and some of us spotted it on the departures list in the control tower a little while earlier. Unfortunately we were a bit further away from the runway and the parking spot when the aircraft returned from their display, however, unbeknown to us a further surprise was in store.

Visit to LRTT Hangar
At 14:00 we were due at the LRTT hangar for a tour of the facilities. Until recently LRTT (Lufthansa Regional Technical Training) owned the hangar but the business has been sold and the new owners have successfully taken over the apprentice training school and expanded it by taking on further customers to provide fixed and rotary wing training courses in electronics, engineering, hydraulics and jet engines. To enable these types of training the facilities include classrooms for theoretical work and a clean hangar environment for practical work. A very professional and friendly setup with experienced engineers providing the training and support for the young apprentices.

The aircraft in the hangar are shown the next five images and they include a rare VFW Fokker 614, which is an ex-Luftwaffe machine, 17+03, and one of only 16 built (2 for Cimber Air, 3 for Air Alsace, 8 for Touraine Air Transport and 3 for the Luftwaffe). There are also two Bölkow Bo-105 ex-German Army helicopters and a Sikorsky S-76 Spirit recently donated by its last operator Bristol Helicopters.

VFW-Fokker VFW614 D-ASDB, ex-Luftwaffe 17+03

Cockpit of VFW614 D-ASDB

Ex-German Army Bölkow Bo-105

Bo-105 cockpit

Sikorsky S-76 Spirit is an ex-Bristow Helicopters aircraft
Whilst at the LRTT hangar there was an opportunity to have a look outside when the Canberra and Hunter returned from Goodwood. Unfortunately they were too far away for any decent photographs. There were some other stored aircraft parked nearby all of them bar one being BAe-146 airliners (ex-Brussels Airlines) and rather nice looking unmarked Boeing 747-300. An Airbus A320-200 was also evident behind the control tower being rebuilt for a new customer. See the final three photographs below for the airliners.

When the visit to the  LRTT hangar came to an end and we were shown out, one of our guides mentioned that we ought to go to C2Aviation in hangar C2. Of course this was totally unannounced, yet when we got there we were welcomed, much to our surprise, and spent the next 45 minutes touring the their hangar. We were asked not to photograph any aircraft other than those of MidAir Squadron, which was fair enough. MidAir Squadron's aircraft consists of Canberra PR9 XH134, two Hunter T7, one of which XL600 being in the process of re-assembly for first post-restoration flight in four weeks. The fourth aircraft is another Canberra PR9, which is used as a spares source for XH134.
MidAir Squadron Hawker Hunter T7 XL600

MidAir Squadron English Electric Canberra PR9 XH134

MidAir Squadron Hawker Hunter T7 XL577
Parked inside the double hangar were a few interesting aircraft, an AT-6 Harvard (in rebuild), a Ryan PT-22 Recruit (in rebuild), BAC-167 Strikemaster G-FLYY, which has not flown in two years. Also a Jet Provost T5A, an ex-Air Atlantique DC-3, stripped of all paint and a couple of  ex-RAF DH-125 Dominies. There were a further 4 Dominies outside on the airfield,  as depicted below, all US registered.

Hawker HS-125 Dominie
Having said our goodbyes and thank yous, it was a short walk, before heading home, to see Bristol Britannia XM496 Regulus, which is situated on the entrance road to the C2Aviation hangar. Regulus' exterior is still in reasonable condition although the green algae are very visible as can be seen in the photograph below.
Bristol Britannia XM496 Regulus

Airbus A320 being rebuilt for a new customer

Boeing 747-300 having arrived the previous week for overhaul and return to service

BAe-146s, mostly ex-Brussels Airlines in storage
Although we did not get anywhere near the areas where aircraft are being scrapped some of us had noticed an ex-RAF Tristar, minus engines, but otherwise apparently in tact.

In the final analysis an altogether great day with a couple of welcome surprises putting the icing on the aviation cake. A big thank you to John Dewis (he's the guy looking into the Canberra's black hole in the picture above) for organising this most enjoyable trip.

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