Boscombe Down Family Fun Day 30 June
For the second consecutive year, Boscombe Down held a Family Fun Day with stalls, bouncy castles, tombola, Its a Knockout, beer-tent, and all the other typical British Summer Fair events. However this "Village Fair" has a bit more to offer the aviation enthusiast than would normally be expected, because the resident units organise a static display of based aircraft, and the museum also throws its doors open to the public.
A 13:00 start to the days events allows for a leisurely morning drive down to Wiltshire (a nice change from the manic 04:00 departures typically enjoyed on some trips), and despite being the busiest weekend of the year so far on the roads, at least it is dual carriageway as far as Boscombe Down (well, from Suffolk anyway).
The static aircraft were positioned along a taxiway and dispersal near the HAS which houses the museum exhibits, and despite changeable weather through the afternoon, it was decent enough overall, and the museum HAS gave good shelter when it did rain.
Boscombe Down houses some of the UKs most advanced airborne testing and research platforms, as well as being home to the world famous Empire Test Pilots School. On the research and testing front, QinetiQ is the latest incarnation of what has previously been known as DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency), A&AEE (Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment), and others. I suppose this "corporate friendly" identity is less of a mouthful than the alphabet soup of the previous designations, and I expect well all get used to it eventually.
But back to the aircraft on show, and the highlight was probably the recently delivered Alphajet ZJ648, still wearing its former Luftwaffe "lizard" camouflage scheme, but with RAF roundels and fin-flash. In an inspired move, the serial numbers are painted on the airbrakes, making them almost unreadable as the aircraft swoop low on approach. The traditional "raspberry ripple" red white and blue colours are yet to be applied to these second-hand trainers which were purchased from surplus German stocks to replace the older DERA aircraft.
Speaking of older aircraft, they dont get much older than this Harvard IIB KF183 that is still in active use as a low-speed photo ship, and also to introduce students to a tail-dragger and the unique characteristics of this type. This aircraft wouldnt look out of place in a museum, and full credit must go to the engineers who maintain it in such a good condition.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is this Panavia Tornado GR1 ZA326. This early model has always served in the testing role, initially at RAE Bedford, before moving to Boscombe Down. The gaudy colour scheme on many of these jets is designed to allow the aircrafts orientation to be easily determined from a distance (handy if the aircraft is undertaking spinning trials for example).
Another long time resident here is Harrier GR7 ZD319. Still retaining the grey colour scheme that it wore when rolled out of the factory as a GR5, this aircraft has been upgraded in line with the rest of the RAF fleet and has been heavily involved in weapons trials amongst others. The white and black squares on the nose and tail are photo-calibration marks, which, along with the coloured marks on any bombs and missiles, allow for accurate weapons separation measurements to be obtained.
Visiting from DERA at West Freugh was Jetstream T2 XX475, this fairly reclusive aircraft operates from the DERA (sorry, QinetiQ) facility on the West coast of Scotland and looked pristine in its red white and blue scheme. The other multi engined propeller aircraft present was the recently retired "Snoopy", Hercules W2 XV208 that had for many years operated from here with the Metrological Flight. Packed with instruments and sensors, and sporting a distinctive huge nose probe, this aircraft undertook research flights throughout the world investigating weather, climate and the environment.
New aircraft types come through Boscombe Down for acceptance trials as well as further testing, and amongst the newest was Merlin HM1 ZH848, here fitted with torpedoes and numerous temporary masking tape calibration crosses. The Merlin has recently been introduced into Royal Navy service as a Sea King replacement, but despite its bulk is nimble enough to fit on the aft decks of many Royal Navy frigates and destroyers.
Another large helicopter here was the latest RAF version of the Chinook: ZH896 is a HC2A model and its dark green scheme and tiny serials and national marks are indicative of its role in special forces operations and night time missions. At the opposite end of the size and colour scale is resident ETPS Twin Squirrel ZJ635 in its magnificent colour scheme.
As mentioned before, the museum inmates were also accessible to the public, with many of the cockpits being opened for access, these aircraft will be more thoroughly detailed later in the year.
Overall this event is well worth attending as many of the resident aircraft are rarely seen this close. With the rarely opened museum also available for perusal, a good day out in a relaxed environment can be had, and thanks must go to all concerned for a well-organised event with a friendly atmosphere.