Piracy in the Cotswolds!
Geoff Stockle and Damien Burke reflect on the move of another great British aeroplane to South Africa
There's a NIP in the air
Sold to Ian Pringle of South Africa last year, Kemble-based Buccaneer XW986 (now ZU-NIP - for Nina and Ian Pringle) continues to make test flights in preparation for her ferry flight to Thunder City at Cape Town International Airport. Her restoration to airworthiness had been started by Delta Jets but with her sale has been finished off by a Thunder City team led by Barry Pover.
After two failed attempts earlier in the month, she took to the air for the first time in nearly a decade on 29 March, spending over an hour in the air. She was back in the air the next day for a further sortie, flying through at several airfields in the South-west, almost as if to say goodbye.
With test flights scheduled to move to BAE System's airfield at Warton, a ferry from Kemble to Warton was planned for 13 April. Unfortunately the undercarriage refused to retract after take off, and pilot Keith Hartley had to burn off fuel in the local area (surprising the locals at Brize Norton) before returning to Kemble. A nose wheel steering problem was rectified and another attempt to move to Warton was successfully made on 20 April.
Getting the beast ship-shape
seemed to be working satisfactorily as previous tests and taxy runs had
shown, however getting a twenty-ton piece of metal actually into the air
is a whole different game, especially as this Buccaneer hadn't flown since
1993. Saturday 16 March was originally chosen as 'B-day', with the intention
of an airtest and then a flight to Warton for further testing before the
long haul south to Cape Town. This date slipped by with the weekend 23-24
March next pencilled in. Saturday's weather was poor and so it was on
the Sunday that '986 finally performed a high speed taxi test, but radio
problems prevented it from leaving the ground.
And so to Friday 29 March - the weather was perfect, and with a sizeable group of onlookers joining the welcoming Delta team, hopes were high. Again the plan was the same - engine run ups, high speed taxies from either end of the runway and an hour's air test before landing. The aircraft would then leave for Warton, probably the next weekend. Weekends were chosen due to the pilot (the renowned test and display pilot Keith Hartley) having a busy test schedule with Eurofighter at Warton during the week.
During the late morning the aircraft was positioned on the apron for engine run-ups prior to the taxi runs, but a problem occurred whereby cooling air was not available for the air conditioning unit feeding the cockpit and battery bay. This problem was solved over lunch by robbing some parts off the other Buccaneer at Kemble (ex-RAF XX894 painted up as a Royal Navy 809 Squadron example).
Taking to the high seas - um, skies, sorry
By early afternoon Keith and David Roome (Delta's chief pilot -taking a back seat ride) started '986 for more ground runs before promptly shutting down again. A second attempt was made later and the aircraft actually performed as advertised for two high power (if not speed) runs up and down Kemble's concrete. More fiddling and poking took place as the afternoon went on with a growing sense of gloom that she wasn't going to fly that day, compounded by the fact that the wall to wall sunshine was gradually moving ever westwards, making photography less than ideal. One more start up and everything seemed to be pointing to the positive and positions were taken for the event. Finally at 15:45 XW986 emerged over the hump in the runway and was airborne! Not the energetic RAF Buccaneer display take-off we miss so much (where the undercarriage was raised and the aircraft then lowered) but a stately climb out with gear down and a gentle turn to the north. Keith Hartley took '986 from 5,000 ft to 23,000 in the Malvern area before passing over Kemble to Lyneham for a radar approach and circuit.
Return was made at 16:55, and after holding to the west for some traffic to clear, the Bucc did what it does best with two low fast runs from either end of runway 09/27. Touchdown was made at 17:00 and then a turn off the runway back into Delta's hardstanding and shutdown. Well worth seeing after so many years! The Buccaneer then had a bomb bay fuel tank fitted (unlike RAF S2Bs, this aircraft and sister XW988 did not have the bulged bomb bay tank fitted) to assist in its transit to South Africa, and one was sourced from sister Kemble-based XX894.
A notable and much appreciated (for the purists among us) CAA ruling was in evidence at Kemble in that privately owned ex-military aircraft in military markings do not have to carry civilian registrations (although obviously the Buccaneer had its South African registration ZU-NIP applied for CAA air test approval and the ferry flight).
From being the most elusive of the three 'tester Buccs' XW986 has now become probably the most photographed and it's so refreshing to see that the aircraft wasn't repainted and her dignity remained intact. With the move to South Africa however, there are rumours it may be repainted in an orange scheme. Buccing hell!
Kemble Air Services and Delta Jets were very generous in providing access to the airfield for enthusiasts to watch what could well be their last chance to see a Buccaneer airborne in UK skies (unless the OFMC's one at Scampton succeeds in gaining CAA approval).