HAWKER HUNTER PR.11 WT723 -'866'

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WT723's service history

WT723 was built as a Hunter F.4 for the Royal Air Force, entering military service on 25th March 1955. Its RAF career was ultimately short yet varied, and included spells with two front-line Squadrons; RAF 54(F) Sqn based at RAF Odiham, and then later stationed at Oldenburg, West Germany as aircraft 'T' with RAF 14(F) Sqn. The final chapter of its RAF career was spent undertaking second-line training duties with 229OCU (Operational Conversion Unit), at RAF Chivenor.

WT723 was then transferred to the Royal Navy, and Hawker Aircraft Ltd was contracted to overhaul and convert the aeroplane to GA.11 standard. It was delivered to the Fleet Air Arm at RNAS Lossiemouth in August 1962, where it joined 764 NAS (Navy Air Squadron) as aircraft '694' with a 'LM' shore code applied on the tail a month later. In December 1964, WT723 was flown to Short Brothers, Belfast to be brought up to PR.11 specification. It was fitted with three high-quality reconnaissance cameras in the nose, and was returned to Fleet Air Arm service with 764 NAS in November 1965 again as '694'. It remained with the Squadron until June 1972, a month before it was disbanded.

Given a thorough overhaul at 5MU (Maintenance Unit) at RAF Kemble, WT723 was transferred to the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU) at RNAS Yeovilton in May 1973. Employed on military taskings and initially assigned the call-sign '736', WT723 soon became aeroplane '866', complete with 'VL' shore code on the tail fin.
It remained in continuous use with the FRADU, aside from a spell in store at Kemble (April 1979 to August 1981) and a major overhaul at Abingdon (April-Oct 1985) for the next 20 years. A highlight in its FRADU career was being used in a special Yeovilton Flypast in front of Her Majesty the Queen during June 1991, when new colours were presented to the Fleet Air Arm

One of the first Hunters to be retired from FRADU service in the 1990s, WT723 was ferried to RNAS Culdrose in March 1993 for use as an instructional airframe with the School of Aircraft Handling (SAH). This was later renamed the School of Flight Deck Operations (SFDO), and WT723 was maintained in serviceable condition and regularly taxied at the Cornish airfield, until being permanently withdrawn from use in 1996.

[ Peter R. Foster]

[ Mick Freer]

[ Peter Hellier]

[ Bob Turner]

WT723's civilian life

Sold at auction to Lynn Florey in May 1997, WT723 was ferried from Culdrose to Exeter by ex-FRADU pilot Brian Grant in September of that year where work was begun to bring it to full civilian airworthy standard. Initial plans to export and operate the aircraft in the USA did not proceed, and the aircraft was instead placed on the UK register as G-PRII. After a two year rebuild the aeroplane undertook her first flight on 21st August 1999, and made its European airshow debut on 5th September at Beauvechain, Belgium flown by John Aldington. It was subsequently operated on the airshow between the years 2000 and 2002, before moving onto a new home in mainland Europe.

During early 2005, WT723 returned to Hunter Flying Ltd's (HFL) base at Exeter under new ownership following a period of open store in Holland, and it was returned to the air in July 2008. The aeroplane was completely re-finished in RAF 111(F) Sqn livery, representing Hunter F.6 XG194 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 22-aircraft loop at Farnborough in 1958. She made her airshow debut, rather fittingly at Farnborough's 2008 airshow.

Following sporadic display appearances in 2009, 'XG194' became a permanent member of Team Viper during the summer of 2010, as the team upgraded its BAC Strikemasters with four Hunter airframes. The team made an outstanding debut performance at RAF Leuchars, with the airframe flying in the No.3 position. The aeroplane became a popular member of the team during the 2011 season, with its traditional Hunter 'cartridge' start never failing to impress on the ground. Following HFL's move to DARA St Athan, 'XG194' moved with it from Exeter in December 2011. Sadly Team Viper disbanded in early 2012, and although the airframe was kept airworthy, it was not seen in public as often.

In early 2014, WT723 was rolled out of Horizon Aircraft Services' (formerly HFL) hangar, resplendent in its old 764NAS livery as platform '692'. It made its static debut at Farnborough in July 2014, with appearances at RNAS Yeovilton and Culdrose also completed later that month.

Following the Shoreham airshow disaster in August 2015, and the subsequent restrictions placed on operating Hawker Hunter airframes fitted with the Avon 122 engine, WT723's permit to fly lapsed in June 2016.
It's long term future as a flying example is now on hold, as work continues behind the scenes to try and get approval for the airframe to fly again - in the meantime it is kept hangared at St Athan.

- December 2020


  • Horizon Flight Training & Aircraft Services:    

[ Hugh Trevor]

[ Jake Dalton]

[ author]
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