Buccaneers at Bruntingthorpe

Tuesday 10th April 2012 at 15:25

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2B XW544
Buccaneer S.2B XW544 rolled-out at Bruntingthorpe


Bruntingthorpe has become the centre of activity in the UK for the Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer - the RAF’s last British built bomber.  Nicknamed the ‘banana bomber’ and ‘brick’ by those service personnel that worked with her, the Buccaneer was retired from front-line service in 1994 after a 37 year career with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Four examples of the former Cold War jet are currently based at the Leicestershire airfield, three of which have been restored to fast taxiable condition.  A special event was held on the 24th March 2012 to mark the roll-out of Buccaneer S.2B XW544 in new colours.  Six months of  painstaking work went into restoring the aircraft into the markings she wore in 1979 while stationed at RAF Laarbruch in Germany with 16 Squadron. XW544 was prematurely retired from service in 1983 due to persistent fuel leaks, and she made her last flight from Laarbruch to Shawbury on the 5th July 1983 and was then transferred by road to RAF Cosford for use as a training aid.  The withdrawal of the Buccaneer from service in 1994 resulted in ‘544 being sold to a nearby scrap merchant.  It was here she sat until being discovered in 2001 by members of the Buccaneer Aviation Group and found to be in fairly good condition. She was rescued and transferred to Bruntingthorpe in 2004, where the long process of mechanically restoring ‘544 to taxiable condition began and culminated in her re-paint and roll-out in 16 Squadron colours.

The Buccaneer Aviation Group - TBAG

Looking after all four aircraft at Bruntingthorpe are the Buccaneer Aviation Group – the ‘TBAGgers’- which was formed in April 2011 with the amalgamation of the Buccaneer Preservation Group (who owned XW544) and the Buccaneer trust (XX894). The other two Buccaneers are privately owned - XX900 in 237 OCU markings belongs to the airfield owner David Walton, while Gary Spoors acquired former Operation Granby veteran XX889. 

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer XW544 Roll-out

Flt Lt Ollie Suckling, who has around 200 hrs on the Hawk T.1 and currently serving with 208 Sqn at RAF Valley was invited by the group and given the honour of taxying XW544 for her roll-out ceremony in 16 Sqn markings and subsequent fast taxy down Bruntingthorpe’s runway.

Flt Lt Ollie Suckling unvieling Buccaneer S.2
Flt Lt Ollie Suckling unvieling Buccaneer S.2B XW544
Later, ‘544 was joined by XX894 and XX900 for a simulated three-ship take-off roll at dusk from the runway threshold. With Ollie in XW544, Sqn Ldr Dennis Brooks (rtd) in XX900 and Mike Birt in XX894, all three Buccaneers powered down the runway at sunset andthenreturned to their parking positions for an evening photo-call for the assembled Buccaneer enthusiasts and photographers. Occupying the back seat with Mike Birt in XX894 was Robin Tait, whose father, Sqn Ldr Ken Tait was killed while ejecting from Buccaneer XV345 during a Red Flag mission over the Nellis ranges on 7th February 1980.  WSO Flt Lt Charles Ruston was also killed in the accident and the crash resulted in the grounding of the entire Buccaneer fleet for six months in 1980.  The fatal accident was caused by a fatigue crack in the front spar which resulted in the structural failure of the starboard wing. Several Buccanners were retired and placed in storage as a result, and the newly formed 216 Squadron at Honington in 1979 was disbanded in 1980 due to the shortage of airframes.  The grounding of the Buccaneer fleet came to an end when XW544 and XX893 lifted off from Laarbruch’s runway on the 28th July 1980 for the first Buccaneer mission after the accident. 

It was therefore a fitting tribute to the Buccaneer that it should be XW544 that was rolled-out on the 24th March, some 32 years after it flew from Laarbruch on the first flight after the grounding order was lifted. 

This was a thoroughly enjoyable and very well organised event by the group, and with the entry priced at £10 per person, it was very good value for money. It is also encouraging to hear that TBAG areplanning a follow-up event later in the year. Not to be missed if you are a fan of the Buccaneer.    

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer photos

Report by Kieron

Related Images

Return to news summary