Our monthly comment column on the historic aircraft scene
I hate to start the year on a negative note, but I write this column with a genuine fear for the future of the British historic aeroplane industry. The combination of soaring CAA fees to airshow organisers, as well as an increasingly risk-averse attitude within the regulator after the Shoreham Airshow accident, is making it ever more difficult for many historic aircraft operators to make ends meet.
Operating a warbird has never been less than financially onerous. Disregarding the costs of maintenance and purchase, even flown economically a Merlin-engined fighter will sup high-octane aviation fuel at a cost of around £1,500 per hour, while a humble Jet Provost, once rather cruelly described as having ‘constant thrust, but variable noise’, will still swallow up to 600 litres an hour of Jet-A1 at around 80p a litre, just in the cruise. You can double that if you turn up the volume.
That, of course, is if you are allowed to fly the aircraft at all. If you own a Hawker Hunter, once I would have envied you, but now I sympathise. There hasn’t been a civilian-registered Hunter in the skies above Britain since that fateful day at Shoreham in August 2015. The immediate blanket grounding of the fleet has never been rescinded, pending the Air Accident Investigation Branch’s final report. At the time of writing, the AAIB was still to publish that document.
Aircraft hate not to fly, and the best storage regimes and decontamination runs can’t prevent a steady deterioration in condition. That then starts to put even more pressure on the owners. Aircraft cost money even when they are standing still, and it’s therefore not too surprising to see several airframes recently entering the marketplace at what appear to be bargain-basement prices.
One must-watch website for me is that of UK-based Historic and Classic Aircraft Sales, a brokerage run by former Australian Warbirds Association chief executive Steve Crocker and Allan Vogel, a pilot and warbird enthusiast with more than 20 years of sales experience. Aside from allowing me the Walter Mitty-like dream of finding the wherewithal to acquire a Lightning, Buccaneer or Hunter, the website gives a pretty clear picture of market forces and, frankly, the news isn’t good. How about an airworthy Jet Provost T3 for just £12,500? That’s not even the price of a used Ford Mondeo!
The causes are clear, and again many of them point to the CAA’s door. The common view among aircraft owners is that the increase in displayrelated charges have made some airshows unviable or reduced the number of aircraft being displayed. This has drastically cut owners’ income from airshows, private events and operations, with a knockon effect being felt down the line in maintenance and engineering. Some organisations have had to reduce their staff and let go volunteers who keep these aircraft airworthy.
Historic and Classic Aircraft Sales is currently marketing some 30 warbird and classic aeroplanes for sale, and there is still apparently a buoyant market overseas, boosted by the relatively low exchange value of sterling. That’s still bad news for British airshow-goers, however. It may be that ever more aircraft will head abroad, where they are allowed to fly and earn their keep.
Thankfully, one organisation has elected to do something about tackling this situation. The Historic Aircraft Association has invited six of the most influential individuals from the scene to conduct an independent review, and propose a future strategy for the association to better support the flying community. The credentials of Cliff Spink, Roger ‘Dodge’ Bailey, Phill O’Dell, Edwin Brenninkmeyer, Phil Hall and Malcolm Ward are regarded as impeccable. Here’s hoping they can offer renewed optimism.
Fennec leaves Duxford
The Radial Revelation syndicate’s North American T-28S Fennec N14113 departed Duxford on 18 January with Martin Willing at the controls for a delivery flight to Nangis Les Loges, south-east of Paris, where it will now be based with its new owners. The aircraft first arrived at Duxford way back in November 1997. The new home is an appropriate one, the Fennec being a counter-insurgency development of the T-28A used by the Armée de l’Air in North Africa from1959-62.
75th anniversary date for Belle unveiling
On 18 January, the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Dayton, Ohio announced that Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle will have its post-restoration unveiling on 17 May 2018, exactly 75 years after it became the first US Army Air Force heavy bomber to be publicly credited with completing 25 missions over Europe. Following decades of display in Memphis, the bomber arrived at Dayton in October 2005.
‘Brit’ repaint completed
The repaint of the Duxford Aviation Society’s Bristol Britannia G-AOVT was completed in the conservation hall in IWM Duxford’s AirSpace building between 3-16 January. Support came from employees of Monarch Airlines, the operator having based this particular ‘Whispering Giant’ at Luton from May 1969 to October 1974.
The DAS has also announced that it will hold an Airliner Day at Duxford on Sunday 18 June. All of its British Airliner Collection will be opened up for inspection, and there will be a range of other ground activities. Look out for more details at www.das.org.uk.