Jeff Middleton of
Hunter Flying Ltd (HFL), based at Exeter Airport, has written the
following piece specially for the Newsletter...
HFL is the largest civilian operator of the Hawker Hunter in
the world and is an A8-20, E4, M5, and CAP632 CAA approved operation.
The organisation has a wealth of knowledge and a reputation that has
been built up over a number of years. This in turn has attracted the
attention of Hunter owners who require their aircraft to be restored to
airworthy condition, maintained or just dismantled and transported.
HFL does not own any aircraft but all the aircraft in their
care are maintained and operated for their individual owners. The fleet
contains a range of Hunter variants from two-seat TMk 7s and 8s to
single seater Navy GA and PRMk 11s. Many of the aircraft are maintained
in airworthy condition and appear at air shows throughout the United
HFL also rebuilds aircraft to airworthy condition for other
operators such as Hawker Hunter Aviation and Northern Lights, the
Canadian operator, with whom they have been closely involved. Northern
Lights have benefited greatly from HFL's expertise in overhauling and
operating the Hunter resulting in a number of joint projects.
The organisation's aircraft fly mostly during the summer
this can change depending on the requirements of the aircraft owners.
HFL's aircraft participate in many air shows during the summer and
recently a two-ship display sequence was devised which was flown at
Elvington and Duxford in 2007.
celebrated a number of
anniversaries connected with the Hunter. These include the 50th
anniversary of Neville Duke's speed record, the 50th anniversary of the
Hunter's entry into RAF service and the 50th anniversary of the Exeter
based FGA Mk 9 XE601's first flight. The most recent celebration was in
April 2008 when HFL marked the 50th anniversary of the first flight of
another Exeter based aircraft, TMk 7 XL573. This was a special event
for HFL because Duncan Simpson, the former Dunsfold Chief Test Pilot
who had made the first flight on the aircraft, visited Exeter for the
The people behind the
name, under Chief Engineer John
Sparks, are a mixture of former RAF and RN technicians, together with
civilian volunteers whose enthusiasm for helping maintain the aircraft
helps make the operation work. The pilots are also a mixture of former
RAF and RN officers as well as some current Service pilots. One of the
pilots, Brian Grant, has the distinction of having flown the most
Hunter hours in the world; over 8,000.
The Hunter fleet of airworthy aircraft consists of:
Hunter PRMk 11 WT723. First flown on 11 February 1955 as a Mk
Duncan Simpson it served with No.14 Sqn at RAF Odiham and Oldenberg
before conversion to GAMk 11 standard in the early 1960s to serve with
764 NAS (Naval Air Squadron) at RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station)
Lossiemouth. Later it was converted to PRMk 11 standard and served for
fifteen years with the FRADU (Fleet Requirements and Air Direction
Unit) until its retirement to RNAS Culdrose on 23 May 1993. In 1996 it
was sold on the civilian market, registered G-PRII, and came to Exeter.
Hunter TMk 8B WV322. First flown on 1 June 1955 as a Mk 4,
Duncan, it served with Nos 43 and 92 Sqns RAF. In 1958 it was converted
to a two-seat TMk8 for the Royal Navy to serve with 764 NAS at RNAS
Lossiemouth. To fulfil a requirement for Buccaneer training it was
converted to TMk 8B standard and transferred to the RAF to serve with
208 Sqn and 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) whose markings are
carried today. The aircraft was sold in November 2000, registered
G-BZSE and based at Exeter.
Hunter FGAMk 9 XE601. First flown on
2 May 1956 as a Mk 6 by Frank Bullen it was converted to FGAMk 9
standard in 1965 and flew with 'A' Squadron, A&AEE. Later it
target drones at Llanbedr, was withdrawn from flying in 2000, joined
the Boscombe Down Museum, was sold in 2004, transported to Exeter,
purchased by Skyblue Aviation and registered as G-ETPS.
GAMk 11 XE685. First flown as an FMk 4 on 30 June 1955 by Duncan
Simpson it served with 93 and 98 Sqns in the 2 TAF (Tactical Air Force)
in Germany at Jever. In 1963 it was converted to GAMk 11 standard and
served with 764 NAS at RNAS Lossiemouth, the FRADU at Yeovilton and
flew with the 'Blue Herons' aerobatic team. It was retired in 1994,
bought by Barry Pover, registered G-GAII and flown to Exeter.
Hunter FMk 6 XF515. First flown on 24 May 1956 it served with
43 Sqns and subsequently, after modification to 6A standard (brake
'chute and 230 gal drop tanks), went to the TWU (Tactical Weapons Unit)
at RAF Brawdy until retirement in the 1980s. After a period at RAF
Scampton as a ground instructional airframe it was sold, registered as
G-KAXF and arrived at Exeter in 2007.
Hunter TMk 7 XL600. First
flown by Duncan Simpson on 7 October 1958, it served with 65 Sqn at RAF
Duxford, 111 Sqn at RAF Wattisham, 4FTS (Flying Training School) at RAF
Valley, 237 OCU at RAF Honington and finally was with the RAF Laarbruch
Station Flight, retiring in December 1983. Via the TMTS at RAF Scampton
and RNAS Fleetlands it was sold in 1992, registered G-VETA and based at
Hunter TMk 7 XL573.
First flown by Duncan Simpson on 17
April 1978, it served with the DFLS (Day Fighter Leader School) at RAF
West Raynham, 229 OCU at RAF Chivenor, 4 FTS at RAF Valley, 237 OCU and
12 Sqn at RAF Honington and RAF Lossiemouth, and finally 573 Sqn at
Lossie'. It was sold from storage at RAF Shawbury to Barry Pover,
registered G-BVGH, and based at Exeter.
Hunter Mk 58A (Swiss)
J-4104. Built as Mk 4 XF947 and delivered to the RAF in April 1956, it
served with 3 Sqn at RAF Geilenkirchen, 229 OCU at RAF Chivenor before
purchase by HSA for conversion to Mk 58A for the Swiss Air Force with
whom it served until retirement in 1994 with only 1659 hours flying
hours. It was bought by Jonathon Whaley, registered G-PSST and based at
Two further Hunters are
being restored by HFL at Exeter:
Hunter TMk 8M XL602. First flown on 18 November 1958 as a TMk
by....Duncan Simpson on 18 November 1958 it served with 764, 738 and
759 NASs at RNAS Lossiemouth. In 1977/8 it was converted at Brough to
incorporate the Blue Fox radar, HUD and other avionics for
nav-attack system development at Dunsfold. Later it served at RNAS
Yeovilton as a Sea Harrier systems trainer and with the FRADU before
being sold and registered G-BWFT.
Hunter TMk 7 XL612. First
flown on 12 December 1958 by Frank Bullen it served with 402 Sqn at
Sylt (Germany), 1417 Flt at RAF Khormaksar (Aden), 8 Sqn, RAE Bedford
and the ETPS at Boscombe Down. Retired into storage in 2001 the
aircraft was moved to Exeter in 2004.