RNAS Yeovilton Air Day this year marked a major milestone in the history of the Trust with the launch of the charity’s new brand, Navy Wings, by the international bestselling novelist, former fighter pilot and foreign correspondent, Frederick Forsyth CBE.
As home of the Fleet Air Arm, Yeovilton Air Day has always highlighted the Royal Navy’s aviation heritage, but with this year’s focus on the continuity of the link between the past and the future with HMS Queen Elizabeth coming into service next spring, the award winning International Air Show also provided the perfect showcase to launch Navy Wings.
Speaking at the launch, Frederick Forsyth said “I truly applaud this visionary new direction for the Trust. It has all the hallmarks of the Fleet Air Arm. It’s innovative, it’s imaginative and it’s all about teamwork. Traditionally the charity has raised funds to preserve the aircraft of the Royal Navy Historic Flight, and it absolutely will continue to do this, but the BIG change with Navy Wings is the aim to work with owners of other historic naval aircraft to enhance the collection and tell the story of naval aviation in a much wider and more engaging way.”
“As a story teller myself, I know a good story when I see one! The story of naval aviation is riveting – it moves with great pace and once begun, cannot easily be put down. Who could have seen in the flimsy machines of the pioneering days of the Royal Naval Air Service, the powerful supersonic aircraft of today, or foreseen the total replacement of the battleship by the aircraft carrier – and carrier strike as the cornerstone of strategic defence capability. Preserving a collection of heritage aircraft and taking them out to the public on the air show display circuit is a great outreach programme, and it thrills and inspires millions each year, but on its own, it simply can’t tell the story adequately or completely enough.”
Frederick, an Ambassador for the Fly Navy Heritage Trust and a passionate aviator himself continued, “As a schoolboy I was mad on aeroplanes. I got my pilot’s licence at 17 and joined the RAF as a fighter pilot, flying the de Havilland Vampire. It was a modified prototype of the Vampire that Captain Eric Brown flew, when he made the first jet carrier deck landing. The naval version for carrier operations was the Sea Venom, the forerunner of the Sea Vixen. I have huge admiration for the work the Trust has done to preserve Sea Vixen FAW2 XP924. As a Cold War warrior myself, watching her fly sends a chill down my spine. The full significance of her role, keeping the peace against the massed forces of the Warsaw Pact went largely unrecognised – and it took a great toll. The incredibly high risks involved in carrier flying are little known and many fine aviators were lost. Keeping her flying today inspires modern audiences and helps us remember the service she gave to the country.”
“I chose those two words inspire and remember carefully” continued Frederick. “Navy Wings aims to inspire modern audiences and to remember the important part naval aviation has played, and continues to play in the history of our nation.”
As the Navy Wings flag was raised over the Navy Wings Pavilion, Frederick met and mingled with Trust supporters and guests including Rear Admiral Keith Blount OBE, Head of the Fleet Air Arm, Captain Michael Rawlinson OBE, a former Commanding Officer of RNAS Yeovilton and Lt Cdr Chris Götke AFC, Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy Historic Flight. Guests also included Trust Ambassadors and benefactors, Sir Peter Harrison KGCN CBE, Sir Peter Rigby, Julian Jones and Keith Knowles as well as Sea Fury and Firefly veterans, supporters and their families. “It was great to see the new brand come to life” said Keith Knowles, who generously also sponsored the new Navy Wings website.
Throughout the day the flying displays of historic naval aeroplanes, warbirds and helicopters maintained the heritage link as the Royal Navy builds towards a new age of naval aviation. An overriding theme was the farewell to the Westland Lynx with the new generation Merlin and
Wildcat helicopters sweeping in. In paying tribute to the Lynx, its predecessor was represented by one of the Navy Wings Associate Collection aircraft, flying under the Navy Wings banner for the first time, the historic Westland Wasp HAS1, flown by Terry Martin.
Classic carrier borne jets and Cold War history is an important part of the naval aviation story and the Trust’s de Havilland Sea Vixen gave an impressive display of long passes with pilot Cdr Simon Hargreaves OBE showing off the aircraft’s lines superbly against a suitably foreboding sky.
The last flying Sea Vixen in the world, XP924 drew gasps from the crowd as she taxied in after her display, mid crowd line, allowing spectators a ringside seat as she folded her wings and shut down.
Fairey Swordfish Mk1 W5856 also gave a beautiful display marking the 75th anniversary of one of the Fleet Air Arm’s most significant Battle Honours when Swordfish Torpedo Bombers crippled the German Battleship Bismarck.
The sizeable static display also provided a focal point for heritage with the Hawker Sea Fury FB11 and iconic McDonnell Douglas F-4K Phantom FGR1 outside the Navy Wings Pavilion attracting the crowds.
The day was a great success for the Trust as staff, supporters and volunteers engaged with new audiences, raising the profile of the naval aviation story, broadening the network, and raising funds to keep the aircraft flying. With constant heritage action in the air and on the ground, many new supporters signed up to join Navy Wings and the exciting new range of Navy Wings merchandise flew off the shelves! Over 100 supporters also enjoyed watching the Air Show from the Navy Wings supporters’ marquee, meeting up with friends and sharing a BBQ hog roast lunch.
Navy Wings will be at RNAS Culdrose Air Day on 28 July. Join Us there!