HAWKER HUNTER GA.11 XE685 - '861'

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XE685's service history

Hawker Aircraft Ltd built XE685 as a Hunter F.4 at its Blackpool factory, and it was delivered to the Royal Air Force on 18th July 1955. After being prepared for military service by 33MU (Maintenance Unit) at RAF Lyneham, XE685 was first posted to RAF 93(F) Sqn serving as aeroplane 'B', and then was moved to RAF 98(F) Squadron, both of which were based at RAF Jever in West Germany. In 1960, the Hunter F.6 was beginning to come into RAF service, and many Hunter F.4 airframes, including XE685 were being withdrawn and placed in store. XE685's RAF career had seemingly come to an end.

The Royal Navy acquired XE685, and it contracted Hawker Aircraft Ltd to convert the aeroplane to GA.11 specification at Kingston-upon-Thames.
The aeroplane was delivered to the Fleet Air Arm on 6th May 1963, and entered service with 738 NAS (Navy Air Squadron) as '651/LM' at RNAS Lossiemouth, moving with the Squadron to RNAS Brawdy in December 1963. A year later, XE685 was returned to Lossiemouth where it was issued to 764NAS and was used for air warfare instructor training and conversion flights as '693' with 'LM' shore code on the tail fin.
During October 1966, the aircraft was loaned back to the manufacturers at Dunsfold and employed on practice bombing trials. It was fitted with four practice bomb carriers under the front fuselage and one under each pylon enabling the aircraft to carry eight 25lb bombs. It also undertook rocket projectile trials during its stay in Surrey. On completion of these tasks, XE685 was returned to Lossiemouth where it took up the coding '694' in July 1968.

On 27th February 1969, XE685 was ferried to RNAS Yeovilton, where it was given the new call-sign '708' and shore code 'VL', ready for service with the Station Flight. Its stay in Somerset lasted just over eighteen months, as by the end of November 1970 it had returned to Lossiemouth for a third spell with 764 NAS again as '694/LM, remaining in use until the Squadron disbanded in 1972.

XE685 then made the move back to Yeovilton where it joined the Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU) during October 1972 as aeroplane '731'. Employed on training duties, XE685 became a member of the newly formed Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Training Unit (FRADTU - the Training word was later dropped, hence becoming FRADU) at Yeovilton two months later. Aside from a two-month spell at Lee-on-Solent (February-April 1974) and several periods of maintenance and paint re-finishes, XE685 remained in service at Yeovilton as '861' until 30th March 1994, when it was retired from Fleet Air Arm service.

[ Robin A Walker]

[ unknown]

[ Martin Morley]

[ Hans Rolink]

[ Peter R Foster]

XE685's civilian life

The aeroplane was sold at auction during the summer of 1994 to Barry Pover, and it was placed on the UK civilian register as G-GAII under the ownership of the Lightning Flying Club.
Later incorporated into the Classic Jet Aircraft Company, XE685 made frequent airshow appearances between 1995 and 1998. In 1999 it was flown to RAF St Mawgan for storage, and a year later was delivered to North Weald for its new owner, where The Jet Centre maintained it.
It was flown back to Exeter in June 2000, and placed in store and again offered for sale. Acquired by a two-man consortium during 2002, a restoration programme was begun to bring 'G-GAII' back to flying condition. The aeroplane changed hands again during April 2005, and the restoration continued at a steady pace.

On 11th February 2006, G-GAII took to the air again for the first time in nearly six years with ex-FRADU Chief pilot Brian Grant at the controls. A full permit to fly was issued shortly afterwards following a successful test flight schedule. Following display appearances during 2006 at Kemble, RNAS Yeovilton and RNAS Culdrose, XE685 made appearances at Yeovilton and Farnborough during 2008, and also spent time operating from Sleap airfield in Shropshire.

During the summer of 2010, XE685 was acquired by its fifth civilian owner and became an integral part of Team Viper, a 4-ship display team that had recently re-equipped with Hawker Hunters. Usually flown in the No.4 position by Mark Southern, the 'new' team made its UK display debut at RAF Leuchars in September 2010, and the team and XE685 had a very busy 2011 display season, before disbanding at the beginning of 2012.

The airframe was put up for sale shortly after it had moved to St Athan airfield in January 2012, and was acquired by Hawker Hunter Aviation (HHA) based at RAF Scampton.
It departed for its new home on 25th May 2012, and despite initial fears it would be broken up for spares, was placed in store with the possibility of being reactivated pending potential contract/lease work.
Sadly, following the Shoreham airshow disaster in August 2015, and the subsequent restrictions placed on operating Hawker Hunter airframes fitted with the Avon 122 engine, any prospect of XE685 flying again completely diminished. It is now a static only airframe and acts as a spares source to keep the Company's Avon 207 powered ex-Swiss and Chilean examples in the air.

- December 2020


  • Hawker Hunter Aviation:

[ Ian Powell]

[ Andy Shelton]
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