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Recollections and reflections — a seasoned reporter’s view of aviation history

Comic Relief red noses adorn No 8 Squadron’s Shackleton AEW2s on their anniversary visit to Woodford 30 years ago.
DENIS J. CALVERT

“The aircrew returned to Woodford to find all five Shackletons painted with red noses. Back at Lossiemouth, not everyone could see the joke”

Being southern-born — I’ve never lived north of the Cambridgeshire fens — I must admit to having visited the old Avro aerodrome and factory at Woodford, Cheshire just three times. Each, though, was memorable in its own way.

The first was on 9 March 1989, the 40th anniversary to the day of the Avro Shackleton’s maiden flight from Woodford. To mark the occasion, No 8 Squadron flew five of its Shackleton AEW2s from Lossiemouth to the Cheshire airfield. The weather was memorably bad and the aircraft had to route individually until joining up over the Irish Sea before making flypasts over Liverpool Airport, Warton, Manchester Airport and going in to Woodford. Following an evening’s celebrations in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, watched over by resident WR960, the aircrew returned to Woodford the following morning to find that all five Shackletons had been painted with red noses, this in honour of Red Nose Day on 10 March. It is said that, on return to Lossiemouth, not everyone on No 8 Squadron could see the joke.

As an aside, RAF Tristar K1 ZD951 of No 216 Squadron, detached to Riyadh’s King Khalid Airport in the aftermath of the Gulf War, also received a red nose in March 1991 to mark the same important annual event. It is probably fair to say that this gesture went largely unnoticed in the kingdom, as the concept of Red Nose Day had yet to become widely accepted in Saudi culture.

My second trip to Woodford was on 11 March 2010, when BAE Systems’ Nimrod MRA4 had been declared ‘ready to train’ and production aircraft PA04, serial ZJ514, was delivered to Warton. This was clearly an event of huge significance and workers turned out in their hundreds to see the aircraft take off, never to return. In August that year, the RAF was to start instructor training on the MRA4, and finally the type was moving towards front-line service. Yet, just seven months later, the whole project was cancelled in the coalition government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review and every airframe was unceremoniously chopped up, all but ZJ514 on site at Woodford, and behind hastily erected barriers of plastic sheeting to avoid public gaze.

Despite the programme’s slippages and cost over-runs, it all seemed such a waste. And as for the plastic barriers, which the newshounds circumvented by hiring a helicopter and shooting the carnage from the air, just a bit silly.

In January this year, meanwhile, I had cause to go to the new Avro Heritage Museum. Woodford has long since ceased any airfield activities, the whole site having been sold in 2011 for housing.

In the midst of all the redevelopment and building work sits the museum, housed in what was once the old airfield fire station but now rebuilt to provide facilities that would surely be the envy of any similar organisation. My visit was to the archives where, in search of material on the Vulcan, I was given every assistance during a most worthwhile and enjoyable day.

Parked outdoors in a compound behind the museum and now gloriously restored to pristine external condition is the long-time Woodford resident Vulcan B2 XM603, resplendent in anti-flash white.

Within the building is the nose of camouflaged B2 XM602, still with a complete cockpit which is opened to public view. Other notable Woodford programmes — Anson, Lancaster, 748, Nimrod and so on — are represented by nose sections. The museum opened its doors to the public in November 2015. It is well worth a visit.