Here is an old friend of mine. When I was at RAF Finningley, South Yorkshire, I would sometimes take a stroll along the front of the hangars to see what was happening. I always used to enjoy seeing the aircraft of M.E.T.S, the Multi Engine Training Squadron, as their colourful paint scheme included a famous squadron crest. After 1992, M.E.T.S. had assumed the identity of No. 45 (R) Squadron, Royal Air Force. In an age of almost constant contraction, the Royal Air Force attempted to preserve the identity and heritage of its most famous units. In the case of training and other second line squadrons, these were created as Reserve units, and given the favoured number, plus the letter (R); hence No. 45 (R) Squadron.
In the 1960s, the RAF had sought a replacement for its Vickers Varsity navigation trainer, an aircraft whose family roots stretched back to WW2, and a new aircraft from the venerable firm of Handley Page Ltd seemed to fit the bill. Handley Page was desperate for a winner; the firm was fighting for ‘space’ in a shrinking market for military aircraft, and thought to build an economical 16/18 seat ‘feeder’ liner, called the Jetstream, instead.The Jetstream also seemed to fit the RAF’s requirement for a navigation trainer (after all, the Varsity was developed from the Viking airliner, which was itself derived from the WW2 bomber, the Vickers Wellington). The prototype Handley Page H.P. 137 Jetstream, G-ATXH, first flew on 18th August 1967, powered by two 690 shp Turboméca Astazou 12 turboprops, rather than the specified Astazou AZ 14-C01 engines of 840 shp. Unfortunately, the Handley Page design team had not taken the dictum of Bill Stout, the designer of the Ford Trimotor airliner, to heart; ‘Simplicate, then add lightness’. The airframe was seriously overweight and the performance guarantees given to customers could not be met. To make matters worse, the United States Air Force, which wanted 11 of a version of the Jetstream, powered by Garrett AiResearch TPE-331-3W-301A engines, as the C-10A (a 10-seat transport capable of carrying 6 stretcher cases, if necessary) became disgruntled with the whole affair and cancelled the order. Unfortunately, the construction kit company, ‘Airfix’, had jumped the gun and issued a kit of the C-10A in US markings!
Things just spiralled out of control after that; on August 8th, 1969, Handley Page went bankrupt due to enormous development costs. A successor company was formed, and that too failed, and the great name of Handley Page faded from view. A series of attempts to revive the design (which had great potential) using higher-powered versions of the Astazou engines, finally succeeded with the formation of Scottish Aviation (Jetstream) Ltd. The RAF confirmed their initial order for 25 Jetstream T.1 aircraft, and the aircraft lived on. When British Aerospace took over Scottish Aviation more developmental funds became available, and (too late for the USAF, of course) a TPE-331-powered version was built for both the Royal Navy as well as many civilian operators.
The aircraft shown here, Jetstream T.1, XX492, was moved from RAF Finningley to Royal Air Force College Cranwell, when Finningley was closed as part of the ‘Front Line First’ defence cuts, announced in 1994 (Finningley is now an international airport, renamed Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster Sheffield). It is on display at Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire, and is in the red, grey and white colour scheme of RAF Personnel and Training Command it would have worn at Royal Air Force College Cranwell; the distinctive light blue fuselage band, edged with dark blue, which donates an aircraft of the RAF College is clearly seen.
Under the cockpit side windows can be seen the famous crest of No. 45(R) Squadron, bearing the image of a winged camel. This reflects the use of the Sopwith Camel fighter during WW1, and the unit’s long-time association with the Middle East. The Squadron motto, ‘Per Ardua Surgo’ (‘Through difficulties I arise’) could well be said to reflect the history of the Jetstream.
Oh, and when they start putting aircraft that were part of your everyday life into museums, it REALLY makes you feel old!