Back in February this year, I was fortunate enough to get a thorough and informative interview out of Julian Jones, owner of DS Aviation and (then) Sea Vixen XP924. Just a little more than six months later and the story has come full circle – yesterday, the Sea Vixen returned to it’s former home at RNAS Yeovilton.
Sea Vixen FAW2, XP924 (known to her followers as ‘Foxy Lady’) is the sole remaining airworthy Sea Vixen and over the past decade has been maintained and flown by the team down at DS Aviation in Bournemouth. The aircraft has been flown and displayed all over the country but in the past couple of years has really struggled to make a big impact on the UK airshow scene. In 2013, the team had issues with pilot availability and over the course of 2014, the aircraft suffered a major engine failure which meant that she was unavailable for most of the display season.
In December last year, discussions began between Julian and the Fly Navy Heritage Trust on how they could both safeguard the future of this iconic ‘Cold War era’ twin-boom jet aircraft. Julian made a life changing decision and decided to donate the aircraft to the Trust, on the condition that it would remain airworthy and still be flown at airshows in the UK. The Sea Vixen is on the civil register as G-CVIX and as such, has to fall under the wing of Naval Aviation Ltd., a subsidiary of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust. Due to the nature of the CAA the aircraft was purchased by the FNHT for a grand total of £1 and with this came; 80 tonnes of spare parts, tools and equipment from the hangar in Bournemouth plus the continuing support of chief engineer Paul Kingsbury over the next twelve months.
Just before the aircraft was officially handed over to the team at RNAS Yeovilton, Jonathon Whaley became the last ever person to fly the aircraft both operationally and as a display when he gave a terrific demonstration of the power and beauty that comes with this historic aircraft. With Julian Jones on board, ‘Flapjack’ was given special permission from the CAA to fly one last sortie before the aircraft’s Permit to Fly changed hands. After a phenomenal show of grace and agility, G-CVIX landed in true ‘Foxy’ fashion and burst the port main-gear tyre. Within minutes the airfield’s emergency response teams were on the case and a little over forty minutes later, the ceremony carried on as normal.
“This is a very special event. The Sea Vixen has a seminal place in the heart of the Fleet Air Arm, she brings with her the spirit of the pilots and observers that flew it, the engineers and maintainers who got the aircraft into the air, and the thousands of officers and sailors of the Royal Navy who manned the aircraft carriers that the Sea Vixen flew from.” – Commodore Bill Covington CBE, Trustee of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust
As mentioned previously, the Sea Vixen will fly under Naval Aviation Ltd., a civil registered branch of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, where she’ll join one of the two Hawker Sea Furys that the Trust currently operate. With a new home (or old depending on how you look at it), new team and a newly signed deal with Babcocks International for Quality Assurance support, what does this mean for ‘Foxy’?
“For next year it is a hard fact of life that we can only expect a limited number of hours to be affordable. We are planning on Yeovilton Air Day as her first air display and I am looking forward to that day in high expectation.” – Admiral Russ Harding
Sue Eagles, Campaign Director of FNHT also mentioned that plans were afoot for RNAS Culdrose Air Day, Bournemouth Air Festival and hopefully the Royal International Air Tattoo.
It’s no secret that the Royal Navy Historic Flight (another branch of the FNHT) are struggling to maintain their current fleet of two Swordfish, one Sea Hawk and a badly damaged Sea Fury, so how does the acquisition of a fuel-burning jet fighter affect other Trust projects? Admiral Russ Harding was keen to address the situation –
“I am aware that there is some concern of the impact on other aircraft and projects within the Fly Navy Heritage programme, not least of all the Swordfish and Sea Fury. Let me be very clear that while the Sea Vixen crew will focus on G-CVIX, the Fly Navy Heritage Trust looks at all aircraft without favour. There is no room for a cuckoo in the nest and all aircraft will require equal support and priority according to their programmes.”
For now at least, the future of Sea Vixen G-CVIX looks bright and very shortly the aircraft will enter into an intense and thorough programme of maintenance over the winter months. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind – this is a positive move for the last airworthy Sea Vixen but it will require a lot of patience and more importantly, a lot of money. Having already received some substantial investments, the FNHT will soon be opening up to take public donations specifically for the new ‘Fly Navy Sea Vixen Project’.
It’s going to be a long wait until the Fly Navy Heritage Trust get to display ‘Foxy’ at next year’s RNAS Yeovilton Air Day but trust me, it will most definitely be worth the wait!
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Dawn Stokes and Hannah Robinson for the invitation to attend yesterday’s ceremony. I’d also like to thank Commodore Jock Alexander OBE Royal Navy, Commanding Officer RNAS Yeovilton and his team for being such great hosts.