For as long as I can remember, there has been a curious collection of rare aircraft just outside of my town. Owned and stored by a local farmer, they sit perched on the edge of an embankment behind some barns off the main road. Exposed to the elements, these relics of our aviation past have been forced to endure the British climate for longer than I’ve been alive. They deserve far better, for they ushered in Britain’s Jet Age.
All of the planes are fighter jets: A Meteor, a Sea Hawk, two Vampires, a Jet Provost, and a Hunter. It’s been a life-long frustration that these national treasures have been cast aside without shelter, no public access, and little interest from their landlord. Moss grows on bent wing tips, tires are flat, Perspex cockpits are smashed. Birds nest in the undercarriage bays. And while it breaks my heart in many ways, the situation is not all bad.
I did a little research on the aircraft when I first went to visit them and delved into their past. For enthusiasts like me, their histories are fascinating. And it didn’t take long to notice something changed my perception of what I had at first believed to be a desperate situation into a really positive one.
These aircraft are amongst the last of their kind to survive. Hundreds – and in some cases thousands – of their siblings have long since been turned into baked bean cans. These beauties – despite their rough condition – are still airplanes, their final fates still to be determined. They boast features that many of their better-preserved siblings sitting in museums are missing: three still have ejection seats and two still have engines! One has its original electrical systems: wiring, fuse boxes, and all, left completely untouched for decades and frozen in time. Whilst the aircraft we see in museums are great to look at, they have often been over-handled, repainted, modified from their original form to look aesthetically pleasing for visitors.
When I realized this, I went from resenting the current owner of these planes to wanting to celebrate him. By doing nothing to these pieces of history – intentionally or inadvertently – he has safeguarded them. Now well in his eighties, his custody of the machines is drawing to a close. It will fall to the next generation to decide their future. Provided they find the level of care and attention they deserve, I’d say these airplanes have the potential to be amongst some of the most complete examples of their type anywhere in the world.
There’s a lot of hope perched on that embankment just outside of town.