Category Archives: Blog

On Thursday 14th February 2019, Airbus showed off its new Beluga XL to the UK public with a flypast at their factory at Filton in Bristol. South West Aviation Photographers were there to witness the event.

With the many partner nations of Airbus producing their own components and then being transported to a final assembly line it was decided in 1972 to purchase 4 highly modified Boeing Stratocruisers  known as Supper Guppy’s.

© Gary Morris

Growing operating costs meant that in 1991 Airbus invested $1 Million into the development of the Airbus A300-600ST Super Transporter and between 1992-1997 5 airframes were built. Airbus Transport International’s primary tasking is to ferry Airbus parts from the various sub assembly lines to the final assembly lines around Europe. Previously they have also carried out contract work for the Columbus module of the International Space Station and carriage of various Eurocopter helicopters including the NH-90.

The Beluga XL formally known as the Airbus A330-743L was announced in November 2014 having evaluated a number of outsourced aircraft including the Antonov AN-124, Boeing Dreamlifter and their own Airbus A400M it was once again decided to go back to the drawing board. with the original Beluga’s struggling to keep up with production growth especially for the A350 parts which takes nine times longer to load and unload compared to that of the A320 family parts. The Beluga XL also gives Airbus Transport International 30% more capacity per flight that its predecessor and will allow Airbus UK to deliver wings in pairs rather than singly from their Hawarden site.

The first XL, registration F-WBXL, rolled off the Toulouse Production line on 4th January 2018 carrying out its first test flight on 19th July 2018 which was live streamed into the Airbus Chalet at the Farnborough International Airshow. On Thursday 14th February 2019 F-WBXL made its first appearance in the UK carrying out official flypasts at Airbus Filton and Rolls Royce Derby before landing at Hawarden, Chester to carry out initial trials and testing.

© Kev Slade

© Simon Fukes

© Matt Sudol

Over the next five years , 3 Beluga XL’s will compliment the existing 5 Beluga’s in order to cope with demand of the single isle fleet production.

Aero Spacelines 337SGT-201 Super Guppy
F-BTGV 001 Preserved Bruntingthorpe, UK
F-BPPA 002 Preserved Toulouse, France
F-GDSG 003 Preserved Hamburg, Germany
F-GEAI 004 Still Active as N941NA
Airbus A300B4-608ST
F-GSTA 655 In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTB 751 In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTC 765 In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTD 776 In service With Airbus Transport International
F-GSTF 796 In service With Airbus Transport International
Airbus A330-743L
F-WBXL 1824 In Testing with Airbus
F-WBXS 1853 In Production with Airbus
TBC 1930 In Production with Airbus

© Matt Sudol – South West Aviation Photographers 2019

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2018

The 2018 Bristol International Balloon Fiesta took place from 9th to 12th August at the usual Ashton Court Estate site in Bristol. This year was the event’s 40th anniversary and to celebrate the organisers invited new and old balloons from all over the world to attend. Some of the balloons that could be seen over the four days had not appeared in public for a very long time and were gratefully received by the attending public.

This fantastic free event at the scenic Ashton Court Estate, located not far from the centre of Bristol, not only attracts visitors from the local area but also from further afield in the UK, Europe and worldwide to sample the ballooning activities, the many trade stalls, family entertainment and arena activities.

The fiesta is justifiably famous for the two night glows, held on the Thursday and Saturday evenings, which sees many of the balloons tethered to the ground with the crews lighting up their balloons in time to music. It certainly makes for a fabulous sight which delights the crowds which is then followed by a firework display finale to round off the evening.

This year the Balloon Fiesta was unfortunate in that despite the UK benefiting from a sustained period of calm, dry and hot weather, this was broken up by a low pressure which meant that sadly many of the balloon launches were cancelled mainly due to the high wind speeds and also some rain. Despite this setback there were still many balloons tethering in the arena, including many old special shapes which were making a welcome re-appearance.


There were no balloon launches tonight but the crews were able to tether a few in the arena before the night glow took place.


The morning launch was not possible due to strong winds and the prospect of some heavy rain arriving. However, we were treated to some tethered balloons, including some further special shapes. The event received good national TV coverage with ITV and BBC both doing their morning weather forecasts live from the arena. Yet again the miserable weather returned later in the day and the Friday evening launch was cancelled due to high wind speeds.


Throughout the weekend Saturday morning was looking like the most promising, weather-wise, for a launch of balloons, and as the day dawned no-one was disappointed as the winds had died down enough for a mass launch to take place. Over 100 balloons, including a few special shapes, were able to launch into the Bristol skies, much to the delight of the crews and large number of spectators who had turned out to witness it.

After the mass launch a wonderful selection of special shape balloons were inflated in the arena, many of which had not been seen in public for many years. These included both Bertie Basset balloons, the Scottish Piper, Mr Peanut and many more bringing back some good memories of fiestas of old.

Sadly, into the afternoon, the winds returned, together with some heavy rain which was present for the remainder of the day. The Saturday night glow, for many visitors one of the highlights of the fiesta, was only able to take place with the balloon baskets and burners as the winds were too strong to allow the envelopes to be inflated. A large number of spectators were still keen to witness this sight and bravely stayed to enjoy it despite the weather.

The inclement weather continued into the following day making a balloon launch impossible, but a couple of balloons were able to tether. This brought the 2018 event to a somewhat damp end but planning for the 2019 Bristol Balloon Fiesta, to be held from 8th to 11th August, is now underway.

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta and at We Are Plaster for making this article possible.

Report by Gary Morris, Kev Slade and Matt Sudol.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2018

Winter Warmer Trip to Lisbon, Portugal

Following the success of the previously organised group trips to RNAS Yeovilton and the Irish Air Corps, the admin team were discussing locations for future group visits and decided we would be keen to photograph some of the other European operators of the AgustaWestland EH101 Merlin helicopter. Our thoughts focused on Esquadra 751 of the Portuguese Air Force as we could not remember them ever having made a visit to the UK and, with their attractive colour scheme, how each of us would love the opportunity to photograph them.

Emails requesting a visit were sent to the squadron and the Air Force Public Relations office. They quickly got back to us saying we had been granted permission for a visit to Air Base No. 6 at Montijo and that the Merlin squadron would be more than delighted to host us as a small group.

The dates were then set for our little winter warmer trip to Lisbon, Portugal, departing from Bristol Airport on Sunday 3rd December with easyJet on flight EZY6253 (operated by Airbus A.319-111 G-EZDX) and, for the majority of the group, the return would be with Ryanair on Wedneday 6th December to Bristol via Dublin.

On arrival, the main focus of our trip was the visit to Esquadra 751 ‘Pumas’ at Montijo and photograph their Merlin helicopters, which are painted in a very attractive green and brown camouflage scheme, and to find out more about the various roles that the squadron is tasked with. These roles include Search and Rescue, Combat Search and Rescue, Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Fisheries Patrol (they’ve even flown three Popes).

Arriving at the base on Monday 4th December we were swiftly and efficiently taken through the expected security and driven over to the Esquadra 751 headquarters where we were met by Captain Rodolfo Curto, a Merlin pilot, who was to be our guide.

For various reasons on that day the flying schedule was sadly cancelled but we were still able to proceed with the guided tour of the maintenance hangar and allowed to have a look inside one of their Merlins which was set up in the Fisheries Protection role. We were then taken to the squadron briefing room and were given an excellent and detailed presentation on what the squadron (who has largest Search and Rescue Region in the Europe and whose motto is ‘Para que outros vivam’ (That others may live)) does. We were then kindly taken to lunch in the officers mess where we sampled a dish called Consoada, which consisted of dried cod and is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. We were then asked if we would like to return the following day; an offer that was instantly accepted by all members of the group.

After arriving at the squadron on Tuesday were told of the plans for the sortie that morning. It would involve the helicopter, with the squadron’s commander Major Tiago Violante in charge, departing for a few instrument approaches to Montijo’s Runway 01 while we were being taken to one of the disused runways. Here we would be positioned for some close up photography of some general handling, after which we would re-position to the threshold of Runway 01 to photograph them doing some practice autorotations. Major Violante wanted to give us as many opportunities as possible for photographs and was especially keen for us to get good shots of the autorotations. As can be seen in the accompanying photos, Major Violante, who is nearing 2,000 hours on the EH101, certainly showed us what can be done with the helicopter which was a display (awesome doesn’t do the experience justice) we will never forget.

We also had an opportunity to look at a few other parts of the airbase. Our guide that day was unsure what was in one of the hangars and we were delighted to find it contained seven CASA C-212-100 Aviocars that were in storage plus the one remaining Merlin on base that we had not seen the day before (of the 12 Merlins on strength we saw nine as three were on detachment, two at Lajes in the Azores and one at Porto Santo, Madeira).

“So others may live”

During the trip the group were also to visit the Museo do Ar museums at both Sintra Air Base and Alverca, and photograph the wide range of historic aircraft on display. Many of the types on display can’t be seen in the UK which made the visits all the more worthwhile.

Museo do Ar – Sintra

Museo do Ar – Alverca

A few visits during our trip were made to the Lisbon Airport ‘spotters’ area on the west side of the airport where elevated views give an excellent opportunity to photograph the arriving and departing aircraft. The movements are predominantly of TAP Air Portugal, both short and long haul aircraft, together with the more usual European operators.

Our return home on Wednesday was with Ryanair on board Boeing 737-8AS EI-DWG for flight FR7329 to Dublin, followed by flight FR508 to Bristol on board EI-ENF as there were no direct flights that day. As you would expect, we made full use of this stopover opportunity to photograph many more aircraft which rounded off another excellent trip where we were able to log well over four hundred aircraft and took several thousand photos between us.

The group would like to thank the Public Relations Department of the Portuguese Air Force for granting permission for the visit, Capt Rodolfo Gouveia for organising our access, Capt Rodolfo Curto for being our excellent host over two days, Major Tiago Violante for his excellent flying demonstration, Patrick Rocha for driving us & allowing additional access, and to everyone else on the squadron that we met with during our visit for making us feel so welcome.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2017 :  Gary Morris, Kev Slade and Matt Sudol.


Bristol International Balloon Fiesta 2017

Bristol, in South West England, is considered by many to be the United Kingdom’s ballooning capital as throughout the year, weather permitting, balloons can be seen floating across the city  and over much of the surrounding countryside. Bristol is also the home of balloon manufacturer Cameron Balloons Ltd, who have been making balloons of all shapes and sizes here since 1971 and the city is the location of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

Held annually in early August at the Ashton Court Estate, the fiesta is one of the largest free events in Europe and attracts hot air balloons from all over Europe and this year included two from the United States of America.

This year’s event, the 39th and sponsored by Bristol Energy, was held from 10th to 13th August and provided four days of spectacular events and not just from the hot air balloons. Air displays from Rich Goodwin in his Pitts Special, Parabatix Flying Display team and the Breitling Wingwalkers, stalls and other attractions and activities, together with Happy’s Circus,  fairground rides, kept all members of the family entertained throughout each day.
Visitors were also able to view the new Great Western Air Ambulance helicopter at close quarters as it was parked in the main arena, and for a small donation members of the public were able to have a tour of the helicopter and talk to the crews. During the weekend both the new Air Ambulance, G-GWAC, and the older helicopter it replaced, G-GWAA, both visited.

The initial special shape balloon launch on Thursday evening was unfortunately unable to take place due to the wind speeds being in excess of the safe operating limits, but this did not deter the balloonists from taking part in the first of the magical night glows, where the balloons are illuminated to music.


Friday morning dawned with much better flying conditions which meant over 100 balloons were able to launch from the site with the wind direction such that they were able to float across the city of Bristol, in beautiful weather.

During the day, the Great Western Air Ambulance also provided an exciting role demo to showcase the valuable and important work that they carry out across our region.

Unfortunately the British weather was back to its normal uncertainty for Friday evening with low cloud and winds stopping any chance of a balloon launch.

Saturday morning too was marred by bad weather. A promising start by some of the more experienced pilots saw around 30 balloons take to the skies, despite the strong winds, but then low cloud also came in and the rest of the launch was unfortunately cancelled. Despite the weather improving through the day, what appeared to be a nice evening also saw the mass ascent being cancelled due to strong winds. Once again though the crowds did get to see an excellent night glow.

Sunday promised the best conditions of the weekend and the morning launch did not disappoint with around 115 balloons taking to the Bristol skies to the delight of the large gathered crowd. This included the Royal Navy balloon attaching a paraglider underneath the basket which was released from the balloon at height to land back into the arena, followed by two parachutists.

The evening launch for Sunday also did not disappoint and saw over 80 balloons launch, including a very special shape of G-POMP, a very rare sight in the UK skies.

Over the successful 2017 weekend, the public were treated to a number of mass launches seeing a total of 234 balloon flights, and a number of shaped balloons were to be seen. These included the new Busby Queens Guard (see above image), one of the Minion balloons and Lindy making its first appearance outside of the USA.

Southwest Aviation Photographers are grateful to all of the Fiesta organising commitee, together with Dani and Simon at Plaster Communicatons for making this article possible.

Report by Gary Morris and Kev Slade with additional images from Matt Sudol.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2017

South West Aviation Photographers trip to Dublin

After our successful 2016 group visit to RNAS Yeovilton, next up was a visit to the Irish Air Corps at their home of Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, South West Dublin.

Arranged for Tuesday 7th March, a number of group members travelled to Dublin from Bristol Airport on the preceding day in order to spend some time photographing the movements at Dublin Airport. We’d also received permission to visit the Irish Coast Guard unit, which is also based at the airport.

We flew with Aer Lingus Regional (Stobart Air) on ATR 72 EI-FSL, sadly one in an all-white livery but which impressed us all with its power of acceleration on takeoff. On arrival at Dublin we saw an interesting visitor in the shape of the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30CF N330AU which had arrived the previous week.

After collecting our hire car we explored the airfield perimeter before heading to the Irish Coast Guard unit and their Sikorsky S-92A registered EI-ICR which uses the call-sign ‘Rescue 116’.
We spent two hours talking in depth to the on-duty crew and photographing the helicopter.
It was a fascinating insight into the work they do and we’re grateful to each of them for taking the time to answer the many questions we posed before they prepared for a training flight which was to be conducted later that afternoon. We would also be given the opportunity to photograph their departure from the hangar area but unfortunately the deteriorating weather meant the flight was cancelled and the S-92 was pushed back into its nice dry hangar to await its next call to duty.

At the time of writing this article we are unable to include any further images of our visit as we are yet to obtain company approval for publishing them.

Further information on the Irish Coast Guard can be found HERE in the accompanying document which was kindly provided to us.

We are indebted to Ciaran Parker, Chief Pilot, and Grant ‘Sid’ Lawrence, for their help in making the visit possible together with the welcoming on-duty crew.

After a quick trip around the perimeter of Dublin Airport, we parked up in the lay-by on the old Airport Road where photographing the arrivals and departures over the airport fence is possible due to an earth embankment. We spent a few more hours here before retiring to our hotel for the night.

The weather the following morning, Tuesday 7th March, was forecast to be a lot better as the rain from the day before had passed through. We headed over to the Irish Air Corps base at Baldonnel where we would be given a tour of the airfield hangars and their museum.

Arriving at the main gate, we were quickly through and met our guide for the visit. We were able to visit each hangar, apart from the paint shop and the active flight line, and there were no restrictions on photography so we were free to snap away.

The Irish Air Corps (IAC) was formed in 1922 and Casement Aerodrome, their only operating base, is home to around 750 men and women and the airfield itself is a former Royal Flying Corps site dating from 1917.

There are around 25 aircraft in its inventory, if you include the based Garda Air Support Unit, and this is made up of fixed wing Cessna FR172H, Pilatus PC-9M, Casa 235, Learjet 45, and BN Defender, and AW139 and EC135 helicopters.
We were able to photograph nearly all of the aircraft on the IAC inventory, only one PC-9M (260), one AW139 (278) and Casa 235 (252) were not seen on our visit.

Also located in one the hangars at the airfield is the Irish Air Corps museum, which contains a selection of aircraft that had previously been operated by the Air Corps, including an SF-260, Avro Anson and Percival Provost T-1. Also of note was ex-Finnish Air Force Magister FM-28 outside of the museum.

Our thanks go to all at the IAC, in particular Martin Gavagan, who were so helpful in allowing us to visit.

The next stop on our trip was to the nearby Weston Airfield, where we were able to take in lunch at the excellent cafe and were granted airside access with photography. Unfortunately only one hangar was open on the day, so some of the reported more interesting residents, such as the Grumman Goose, were not able to be seen.

Then it was back to Dublin Airport for some more time photographing the arrivals and departures from the same location as the previous day, before the light began to fade & it was time to return our hire car.

Our return flight was on Ryanair Boeing 737 EI-DPX which was the last flight out of Dublin that day and the last scheduled flight into Bristol, arriving back at 22:40. Once back it was then time for the group to head off home, happy but tired.

POST REPORT NOTE: It was with great sadness that we learned of the loss of Rescue 116 the following week with the loss of four crew. Rescue 116 was assisting in a rescue mission off the west coast of Ireland and one of those lost was winch operator Ciaran Smith who we had met on our visit. Our thoughts are very much with his family and those of the three other crew members who died that day, Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy and Paul Ormsby.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2017 – Gary Morris, Kev Slade, Matt Sudol & Al Huggins.

Engine Checks

The Antonov An-2 Club Introductory Club Flights

The Antonov An-2, NATO reporting name ‘Colt’, is a Soviet single-engine bi-plane designed by Oleg Antonov and originally built by the Antonov Design Bureau. Originating from 1946, with a first flight in August the following year, it was built as a utility aircraft to undertake a number of roles from transportation, parachute dropping and agricultural work. Its slow flight capabilities make it ideal to operate from short, rough, unprepared airfields. The An-2 is the largest single-engine biplane built to date and was produced in large numbers, over 5,000, in the USSR and 13,000 at the PZL-Mielec factory in Poland.

The An-2 Club operates Hungarian registered HA-MKF which was built in 1980 by PZL-Mielec and is based at Popham airfield in Hampshire.

Over two weekends in October 2016 the An-2 Club flew her to Gloucestershire Airport to conduct a series of flights. These leisurely flights proved extremely popular on each weekend with enthusiasts, aviators and members of the public, all seeking to take advantage of the opportunity to take in the unique sights, sounds and smells of the An-2 in the Gloucestershire skies for an aerial view of the beautiful scenery around Cheltenham and Gloucester.

South West Aviation Photographers members Matt Sudol and Gary Morris were keen to take advantage of the opportunity to fly in the big Antonov aircraft over the two weekends to bring you this photographic report.

On the day of each flight, before the large WSK-PZL-Kalisz (Wytwornia Sprzetu Komunikacyjnego-PZL-Kalisz) Shvetsov ASz-62 engine can be fired up, a few pre-flight checks were needed, including a look at the engine oil level (in front of the windscreen) and a few cycles of the large propeller to ensure that any oil is circulated around the engine.

After a successful start, Pilots Steve Bohill-Smith and Bill Leary then taxied HA-MKF across to the Gloucestershire Airport terminal where eager passengers were boarded under the watchful eye of Chris Scriven, whilst the engine remained running.


Once boarding was swiftly completed and the safety information provided by Bill Leary, the flight was then ready to depart for the Gloucestershire skies. This routine continued throughout the day for each of the flights operated.

The An-2 Club will be organising further flying events in 2017 and will be returning to Gloucestershire Airport, so keep an eye on their website at and social media for information and ticket booking.

South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank the An-2 Club, and in particular owner James Black, pilots Bill Leary and Steve Bohill-Smith with Chris Scriven and Bart Ward for their kind help and co-operation and for allowing photographic access to the aircraft, Gloucestershire Airport for the co-operation in arranging the flights and to Kev Slade for his help in producing this article.

© South West Aviation Photographers 2016

RAF Fairford – Exercise Ample Strike 2016

Exercise Ample Strike is an international Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC)/ international Forward Air Controller (FAC) exercise. This is the third year it has been hosted and led by the Czech Republic. This year’s Ample Strike has been running from August 30th and will end September 20th 2016.Sean McRandle was invited on to RAF Fairford for the exercise media day by the United States Air Force and has kindly provided the following report and images for South West Aviation

The Ample Strike Exercises (AMSE) started in 2012 under a different name of exercise Ramstein Rover, organized by the NATO’s Air Command in Ramstein, Germany. In 2014 the Czech Republic  took the lead changing the exercise’s name to Exercise Ample Strike (AMSE).

The exercise is aimed at providing realistic training for Forward Air Controllers/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers on the ground in a combat environment. During the exercise aircrews and ground units will be put through their paces in extremely complex and demanding scenarios.

This is the first year that any air assets have been based at RAF Fairford for an AMSE exercise.

Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0038

The first aircraft to arrive at RAF Fairford on the 30th of August was a United States Air Force Boeing B-52H Stratofortress 60-0038 (BD) of the 307th Bomb Wing/93d Bomb Squadron, Air Force Reserve Command, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. The aircraft arrived from Sliač Air Base, Slovakia after attending the Sliač Airshow using the callsign “SCALP99”.


A few days after the B52’s arrival on the 3rd of September, the long awaited pair of United States Air Force Rockwell B-1B Lancer’s (Bones) of the 489th Bomb Group/7th Bomb Wing Dyess Air Force Base, Texas arrived at RAF Fairford using the callsigns CROOK1 (85-0089/DY “489 BG/CC”) The Commanders aircraft and CROOK2 (86-0127/DY) after a night stop in Bangor, Maine.


The 489th Bomb Group was created in October 1943 and after just two years the unit was then deactivated in 1945, On the 17 October 2015 the 489th was reactivated by the United States Air Force as the Air Forces Reserve 489th Bomb Group and is the reserve unit associated with the regular unit of the 7th Bomb Wing at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas flying the Rockwell B-1B Lancer (Bone) exactly 70 Years on from when the 489th was first inactivated.

During the exercise the B1B’s and the B52 using RAF Fairford as a forward operating base (FOB) will be conducting numerous day and night tactical strike and bomber missions within the Czech Republic.

Colonel Denis Heinz commander of the 489th Bomb Group said ” It’s a 1hr30min flight to the training area in the Czech Republic where we have been engaging with the Forward Air Controllers and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from 18 different nations dropping simulated weapons on targets for 2hrs before returning to Fairford, phenomenal training the controllers have been very good”

Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod

Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod

Both the B1B aircraft deployed to RAF Fairford have had the Block 16 upgrades, one of the upgrades fitted to the aircraft is a Lockheed Martin Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod Extended Range (ATP-XR), this new technology is proving invaluable, out on the Ample Strike missions over the Czech Republic, helping the crews acquire targets given to them by the Forward Air Controllers/Joint Terminal Attack Controllers on the ground with pinpoint accuracy.

Adding to the exercises complexity will be air-to-air refuelling missions during the tactical strike and bomber missions by a pair of United States Air Force KC-135R Stratotankers based out of Pardubice Airport, Czech Republic for the duration of exercise ample strike.

During the exercise up to 34 Aircraft are expected to take part, these aircraft will help JTACs to keep up their skills of controlling aircraft in support of forces fighting on the ground. Ample Strike allows JTAC and FAC controllers to work with many different nations and allied forces, sharing experience and knowledge, building up their skills working complex and challenging air to land Integration scenarios.

AircraftCountryBase During Ample Strike
3xMi-24&35 HindCzech RepublicLibavá Military training area, Czech Republic
1xL-39ZA AlbatrosCzech Republic21st Tactical Air Base, Čáslav, Czech Republic
4x L-159 AlcaCzech Republic21st Tactical Air Base, Čáslav, Czech Republic
2x JAS-39 GripenCzech Republic21st Tactical Air Base, Čáslav, Czech Republic
1xL-39 AlbatrosLithuania22nd Helicopter Base, Namest, Czech Republic
2x Pilatus PC-9M
Slovenia22nd Helicopter Base, Namest, Czech Republic
1xPilatus PC-9M Germany22nd Helicopter Base, Namest, Czech Republic
2xLearjet Germany22nd Helicopter Base, Namest, Czech Republic
2xTornadoGermanyNeuburg Air Base, Germany
4xSu-22M4Poland22nd Helicopter Base, Namest, Czech Republic
2x JAS39 Gripen HungaryKecskemét Air Base, Hungary
5xAH-64 USALibavá Military training area, Czech Republic
2xKC-135R USAPardubice Airport, Czech Republic
2xB1 USARoyal Air Force Fairford, United Kingdom
1xB52USARoyal Air Force Fairford, United Kingdom


  • FAC = Forward Air Controllers
  • JTAC = Joint Terminal Attack Controller
  • FOB = Forward Operating Base
  • ATP-XR = Advanced Targeting Pod Extended Range
  • AMSE = Exercise Ample Strike


All words and images © South West Aviation Photographers/Sean McRandle 2016

RNAS Yeovilton Group Visit – 30 August 2016

RNAS Yeovilton is one of the Navy’s two principal air bases, and one of the busiest military airfields in the UK. It is home to more than 100 aircraft operated both front-line squadrons and training units including all Fleet Air Arm Lynx and Commando Helicopter Force, plus vintage aircraft of the RN Historic Flight.

South West Aviation Photographers were able to arrange a group base visit on Tuesday 30th August 2016 which members Gary Morris and Kev Slade attended. Below is a brief report on the aircraft seen together with a selection of images from the day.

We would like to thank Julia Wilde, RNAS Yeovilton Community Relations Officer for making this visit possible.

XZ728 326/AW Westland Lynx HMA.8
ZD578 000/122 BAe Sea Harrier F/A.2

Guard Room Gate
XT458 P/VL Westland Wessex HU.5

Hangar 4 846 NAS (Confirmed as iHC.3 (Interim HC.3) by crew)
ZJ135 T AgustaWestland Merlin iHC.3
ZJ136 U AgustaWestland Merlin iHC.3
ZJ132 Q AgustaWestland Merlin iHC.3
ZJ118 B AgustaWestland Merlin iHC.3

ZJ131 P AgustaWestland Merlin HC.3
ZJ137 W AgustaWestland Merlin HC.3

Hangar 7
ZJ121 E AgustaWestland Merlin HC.3
ZJ129 N AgustaWestland Merlin HC.3
ZJ130 O AgustaWestland Merlin HC.4 MOD / Leonardo

Hangars 12, 13, 14 and Apron
ZZ532 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ379 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ378 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ517 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ528 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
XZ689 314 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
XZ691 310 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
ZF563 312 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
XZ725 415 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
ZD257 302 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
ZF562 404 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
ZZ519 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ533 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ518 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ515 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ396 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ375 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ381 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ531 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ535 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ413 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ397 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ393 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ513 AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA.2
ZZ406 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
Plus five additional Wildcats with Leonardo in Hangar 12

No Wildcats carried codes and we got the impression from the crew that it was unlikely they would.

Hangars 8, 9, ? and Apron  – 1 Regiment AAC / 847 NAS
ZZ386 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ525 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ409 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ385 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ388 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ523 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ383 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ384 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ510 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ521 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ512 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ382 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ398 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ389 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ407 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ403 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ395 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ408 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ526 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1
ZZ404 AgustaWestland Wildcat AH.1

Hangar 16 727 NAS and Heron Gliding Club
G-BYVK VK Grob Tutor T.1
G-BYWG WG Grob Tutor T.1
G-BYXK XK Grob Tutor T.1
G-BYWL WL Grob Tutor T.1
G-BYXS XS Grob Tutor T.1
G-BYVF VF Grob Tutor T.1
G-BYWM WM Grob Tutor T.1
G-CHDP PZL SZD-50-3 Puchacz
G-OHGC Scheibe SF25C Falke
G-EHCC PZL SZD-50-3 Puchacz
G-CINT Rotorsport UK MTO Sport
NF389 Fairey Swordfish III RNHF (Broken down into parts and awaiting rebuild)

Hangar 15 RNHF, Heron Flying Club and Historic Aircraft
WK608 906/Y de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T.10
285068 / G-KAMY North American AT-6D Harvard III
R930 110/Q Hawker Sea Fury FB.11
W5856 4A Fairey Swordfish I
LS326 L2 Fairey Swordfish II
XP924 / G-CVIX de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2
XV586 010/R McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1
ZH800 123 BAe Sea Harrier FA.2 (Really ZH801)
ZH801 001 BAe Sea Harrier FA.2 (Really ZH800)
G-BTLG Piper PA-28R-200 Cherokee Arrow
G-BIRD Pitts S-1D Special
G-LOCH Piper J3C-65 Cub
G-IIRG Stoddard-Hamilton Glasair IIS RG
XX668 / G-CBAN I Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1
G-CBDM Tecnam P92-EM Echo
G-ASZE Beagle A.61 Series 2 Terrier
G-ATGY Sud Gardan GY80-160 Horizon
XW784 / G-BBRN Mitchell-Proctor Kittiwake I
G-BUJM Cessna 120
1377 / G-BARS de Havilland Canada Chipmunk 22
G-CCUA Mainair Pegasus Quik

Fire Dump
XW630 BAe Harrier GR.3
WV911 115/C Hawker Sea Hawk FGA.6

XZ674 T Westland Lynx AH.7
XZ719 Westland Lynx HMA.8SRU
XS513 Westland Wessex HU.5
773 Westland Sea King Mk.47 (Ex-Egyptian Navy)

Gazelle House, Little Yeovilton
XW890 Westland Gazelle HT.2

© South West Aviation Photographers 2016 – All photos by Gary Morris/Kev Slade.


Military Exercise – Ex Aries Tor

Tom Howe reports for South West Aviation Photographers from the recent Ex Aries Tor.

© Tom Howe

Close up head on with ZJ136/U

Ten Tors is a very well known and popular annual event held during the second weekend of May on Dartmoor. The event allows over 2000 youngsters aged between 14 and 19 to take part in 35, 45 and 55 mile hikes across the moor in teams of six.  Regarded as one of the most gruelling challenges of its kind in the UK, event organisers are assisted by all three armed forces in the United Kingdom. This includes extensive support from the Royal Navy’s Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) based at RNAS Yeovilton. The joint military operation covering the event is collectively known as Exercise ARIES TOR.

For many years the Fleet Air Arm had supplied a pair of venerable ‘Junglie’ Sea King HC4s to carry out the various casualty evacuations (CASEVACs) and resupply duties required throughout the weekend. Following the retirement of the Sea King in March of this year, a pair of newly upgraded Merlin HC3is from 846 Naval Air Squadron took over the role for the 2016 event.

© Tom Howe

Resting at Okehampton Camp

The HC3i is an interim upgrade between the RAF HC3 and the future Royal Navy Commando Merlin (HC4). Seven airframes have been upgraded to HC3i standard to fill the gap left by the retirement of the final eight Sea King Commandos. This variant will remain in service until the majority of fully ‘marinised’ Merlin HC4s will be available in the early 2020s. The HC3i upgrade includes a folding main rotor head, lashing down points for operations from ships, as well as extra fast roping points for the Royal Marines.

With a Forward Operating Base (FOB) established at Okehampton Camp, and with the help of the local 1st Artillery Brigade of the Army, the aircraft retained a rapid search and rescue and resupply capability throughout the Ten Tors weekend.

© Tom Howe

ZJ118/B & ZJ136/U at the Okehampton Camp HLS

The aerial support began on the Friday with a field gun demonstration in which the Merlins were themselves involved. However, the regular CASEVAC operations did not pick up until the Saturday morning. In typically strong wind and rain, the two Merlin HC3is, marked up as ZJ118/B and ZJ136/U began airlifting injured participants off the moor and returning them to medical teams at the FOB.

The sorties provided the Merlin crews with invaluable experience in both low level navigational flying as well as deploying rescue personnel in rough and inhospitable terrain.

© Tom Howe

ZJ136/U low lovel departure

As well as CASEVACs, the Merlin force provided a crucial transport capability, particularly towards the end of the event, where the internal and under slung load capacity of the Merlin was utilised. This proves essential every year, particularly when closing checkpoints across the moor. Furthermore, it allows organisers to minimise the impact of the event on the surrounding landscape through a swift clean-up operation.

The poor weather which hampered photography during the Saturday morning soon blew over and the FOB was sunlit from mid-day right through until late afternoon, much to the delight of the small number of photographers who had gathered.

The afternoon was to provide a busy schedule for the Merlin crews including many short cadet flights to keep the FOB constantly active, with a number of supply and rescue missions in the mix.

© Tom Howe

ZJ136/U arrives back after another sortie.

© Tom Howe

ZJ118/B landing after a cadet flight.

The location of the Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) provides unique photography opportunities, especially later in the day as the sunlight moves around; with several angles available from higher ground. The surrounding hills and valleys are also popular with photographers wishing to get landlocked shots of the aircraft during their sorties.

© Tom Howe

ZJ118/B operating cadet experience flights.

© Tom Howe

Low level operations.

© Tom Howe

ZJ118/B is readying to depart from the HLS

The Saturday generally proved to be the best day for enthusiasts and photographers, with Sunday hampered with bad weather in the morning and aircraft reliability issues, which seem to be all too common within the Royal Navy’s Merlin fleet.

It is generally believed that the event itself would not maintain the same levels of efficiency and safety if the support of the Commando Helicopter Force was not available. The Merlin fleet will go on to provide more efficient transport service in future. The aircraft are capable of travelling twice as far, with twice the troop capacity in two thirds of the time of their predecessor; the Sea King HC4. Once 845NAS returns to Yeovilton from Benson in the summer of 2016, the CHF will be reunited and will have the aircraft to support Ex ARIES TOR for many years to come.

009 010

All words and images are courtesy of Tom Howe.

© Tom Howe / South West Aviation Photographers 2016

The Cheltenham Festival 2016

The Cheltenham Festival held this year between the 15th – 18th March in its 105th year attracts royalty, as well as the rich and famous. With this brings the more luxurious travel, some choosing flash cars, others the steam train and for the very rich the helicopter is the only way to go.


G-LAWX Sikorsky S-92 of Starspeed Ltd

Cheltenham is one of only a few racecourses in the UK to have a licensed heliport, which for most of the year has limited movements, with only a few helicopters using the facility for some of the larger one day and weekend race meets. For a few days in mid March this all changes with the rotary assets from across the UK and Eire descending on the Prestbury Park site. To manage the comings and goings of over 100 aircraft, Helicopter & Aviation Services Ltd (HASL) set up a full air traffic service, providing both Approach & Tower frequencies, as well as Rescue & Fire Fighter Services, weather and refuelling.

Due to the closeness of Gloucester Staverton Airport a lot of liaising has to take place between the two outfits, especially with Staverton being extremely busy itself with additional fixed wing bizjet and bizprop movements. The recently installed ILS at Staverton does have its advantages for aircraft attempting to arrive at the racecourse when visibility isn’t great.

The 2016 festival got off to a great start with good weather and large amount of movements for the opening day. Although the movements were constant over the four days the weather was somewhat variable. On my day of visiting, the Friday, this has historically always been the busiest day for movements, but sadly due to the weather this year it wasn’t as busy as planned, with a small number of aircraft not being able to make it. However, there were still 55 visiting aircraft.

Opening the heliport at 1130hrs due to low cloud, reduced visibility and freezing fog, was Starspeed’s Sikorsky S­92, the largest aircraft to visit the festival carrying 16 guests in VIP Comfort. For the remainder of the morning and into the early afternoon movements kept flowing right up to the first race with a variety of aircraft ranging from AW­139s and S­76’s through to R­44s and a single Enstrom.  As not to distress the horses, which at times are less than 100m’s from the heliport, no movements are allowed during the races meaning a few late arrivals had to wait in a hold pattern whilst the races ran.

Once all the movements had taken place the flight line was then opened up for a supervised tour thanks to HASL’s fire crew, in return for a small donation to Midlands Air Ambulance whose Helimed 06 was based on site for any unfortunate events.


G-HWAA Eurocopter EC135T2 of Midlands Air Ambulance

On a personal note the highlights of the day were the Bell 430 N430PR and the ex-Chiltern Air
Support Unit police helicopter G-­CHSU, which is now operated by 2Excel Aviation.


N430PR Bell 430


G-CHSU Eurocopter EC135T1 of 2Excel Aviation

Overall, despite the early set backs with the weather it was a very successful and enjoyable event and I look forward to returning in 2017.

© Matt Sudol/South West Aviation Photographers 2016