On November 11th Lt Simon Wilson came up from Yeovilton at very short
notice to talk to a large Association audience about the Royal Navy
Historic Flight (RNHF), replacing the CO, Lt Cdr Chris Gotke, who had
unexpected and urgent duties to perform. Simon is an enthusiastic
He first flew with his father, who was a Flying Instructor, at the age of six, went solo on his 17th birthday and gained his PPL soon afterwards. He joined the Royal Navy as a pilot in 2002, completed flying training and joined the maritime Lynx community becoming a Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI).
Simon has flown everything from weight shift microlights, through many different general aviation aeroplanes, to vintage aircraft. He has his own aircraft and has flown over 80 different aircraft types and Mks, of which some 30 are taildraggers. He is the RNHF Swordfish display pilot.
The RNHF was formed in 1972. The current establishment, under the
CO, is Chief Engineer Howard Read (Warrant Officer retired), Display
Manager Katie Campbell (Lt Cdr rtd), six maintainers and one
QA/Logistics man; four volunteer pilots, four volunteer observers, two
volunteer aircrewmen and two pilots under training (all RN serving
A volunteer display pilot must have 2000 flying hours, be a current
Naval pilot from a front line squadron, hold a Certificate of
Competence, be available for three display seasons because of the cost
of training and flying (50 - 75 hrs per year) and be enthusiastic.
Initial tail-dragger training is in the Flight’s Chipmunk and Texan
The prime function of the RNHF is ‘visibility’ - keeping the Royal Navy in the public eye (RNITPE). This is done through participating in air displays, flypasts, memorials, reunions and special events, totalling about thirty appearances per year.
As an aside Simon mentioned that audience sizes for air displays are
second only to premier league football matches Flying routines are
dynamic but the need to conserve airframe life means that aerobatics
are minimised, the maximum normal acceleration is limited to 4g and
speeds are kept well below the type’s never exceed value. This is fine
because what audiences want is the opportunity to photograph the
aircraft in various attitudes and configurations.
The Flight’s aircraft at present include three Swordfish: W5856, a recently refurbished Mk I; LS326, a Mk II awaiting an engine, and NF 389, a Mk III in need of refurbishment but at present used as a source of spares. The only other flying Swordfish is in Canada. Hawker Sea Fury FB 11, VR930 was refurbished by BAe in 1998, suffered from Centaurus engine problems and is not expected to fly again until 2017. Hawker Sea Hawk Mk 6, WV908 awaits the resources being allocated to review and decide the way forward with the aircraft with the intention of returning her to flight.
Hawker Sea Fury TMk20 is a civil registered aircraft owned by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (FNHT) and loaned to the Royal Navy Historic Flight to operate. It is used for displays. It is not really suitable for pilot training as the view from the rear cockpit makes landing from there very difficult. In service the TMk20 was used for gunnery training, not conversion training. The aircraft suffered an engine failure during a display at Culdrose Airshow in 2014 but was saved by Chris Gotke who made a dead-stick landing but there was some damage due to a main leg collapse.
A de Havilland Sea Vixen is owned and operated by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust with support from Navy Command. Unlike the Sea Fury TMk 20, it is not part of the flight. Through the FNHT a Chipmunk, Provost and Harvard are available to participate in RNHF activities, primarily for pilot training, as is Seafire
Cost is a major concern. The aircraft are rare and spares are not always readily available and are expensive. The RNHF is not fully funded by the MoD so the shortfall is made up through grants from the FNHT. The FNHT coordinate gathering funds through fund raising activities, donations (both corporate and private) and run a Supporters Group.
To close Simon showed a video of the Swordfish raid on Taranto from HMS Illustrious, which took place on the 11th November 1940, so Simon’s talk was on the anniversary day. Taranto harbour was seriously damaged, one old and two new dreadnoughts were destroyed, oil depots and hangars were put out of action, all for the loss of only two Swordfish out of the 24 that took part in the attack in two waves.
Frank Rainsborough thanked Simon for his excellent talk and for driving all the way from Yeovilton (and back again in the afternoon.)
Editors note: It is clear that the RNHF needs a lot of support to keep their aircraft airworthy, which include Hawker types, flying. The Sea Fury was our last and finest piston engined fighter and the Sea Hawk our first jet fighter. So, may I encourage you to visit the web site http://www.fnht.co.uk where you can see an excellent short film and find out about the Fly Navy Heritage Trust and see how you can support the RNHF through the FNHT. Also, the February issue of ‘Aeroplane’ has several articles about the RNHF.