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XF358's service history

Hawker Hunter XF358 was built by Hawker Aircraft (Blackpool) Ltd, as a Mk.4 for the Royal Air Force.
Following the necessary flight tests by the manufacturers, it was delivered to the RAF at Lyneham on 1st March 1956, where the resident 33MU (Maintenance Unit) prepared it for military service. It was subsequently posted to RAF No.112(F) Sqn, based at Bruggen, West Germany on 10th April 1956, where it served as aircraft 'P'. The aeroplane was returned to the UK in 1957, when it was flown to RAF Kemble for storage with 5MU, as it turned out a move that ended its RAF career. Whilst at Kemble, it was transferred to the Royal Navy in 1958.

Rebuilt as a Hunter T.8, XF358 was handed over to the Fleet Air Arm on 21st July 1959, and prepared for service at RNAS Lossiemouth. Initially painted in a day-glo colour scheme with yellow training bands, XF358 saw service with 700Z NAS (Navy Air Squadron) between 1961 and 1962. It was used to assist with the training of Fleet Air Arm crews for the new aircraft about to join the Admiralty, the Blackburn Buccaneer. Between 1963 and 1965 XF358 was based at RAF Tengah, Singapore, with the Royal Naval Air Holding Unit and was used for pilot currency, helping to give land-based FAA pilots valuable flying time. It was allocated back to the UK in March 1965, and following a spell at RNAY Belfast (May 1965-January 1966) the aeroplane joined 759NAS (Naval Air Squadron) at RNAS Brawdy as aeroplane '804' with the shore code 'BY' on the tail. Over the next three years it also adopted the identities '802' and '806'.
On 1st May 1969, XF358 was transferred to Heron Flight at RNAS Yeovilton, becoming '728' and it remained in service for a fourteen month spell until it was moved into store at Kemble on 31st July 1970.

XF358 returned to active service on 28th September 1976, joining the FRADU (Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit) as aeroplane '875'. It was a part of the FRADU fleet for the next two years, until making a return to Kemble for maintenance in April 1978, but was re-introduced into FRADU service at Yeovilton the following month. Paint refinishing took place between January and February 1981, and XF358 remained in service with FRADU until 17th June 1982, when it was ferried back to Kemble for long-term store with 5MU. In March 1983, XF358 became the last Hawker Hunter to leave Kemble following the closure of 5MU, when it was ferried to RAF Abingdon by Sqn Ldr Mike Lawrence for preparation for a return to service.
On 29th July 1983, XF358 arrived back at Yeovilton, still in the old style light aircraft grey finish but with a different fleet number, '870'. It was operated as such for the next five years. It made the short ferry flight to Hurn in November 1990 for re-finishing by Lovaux Ltd, and XF358 returned a month later painted in dark sea grey livery, and it was kept in service until its last military flight on 12th June 1995, when it arrived at RAF Shawbury for storage.

Unfortunately due to complications relating to the aircraft's ownership, having been built originally using money donated by the USA, XF358 was withdrawn from the August 1995 Phillips auction and instead remained at Shawbury. During March 1998, the aeroplane was dismantled by a team from Kemble-based Delta Jets and moved by road to Boscombe Down airfield in Wiltshire. Plans to restore XF358 to flying condition, for use as a mock-target aircraft for the military were ultimately cancelled, and instead it was loaned to the on-base apprentices school for ground instructional duties.

[ Robin A. Walker]

[ Rob Schleiffert]

[ Martin Morley]

[ Peter Mitrovitch]

[ Chris Lofting]

XF358's civilian life

During 2004 XF358 was sold to Gary Montgomery, and it was moved by road to Hunter Flying Ltd's (HFL) base at Exeter in August the same year.
Bought as a source of spares for Gary's other Hunter airframe that was housed at Exeter, it was placed in open store and gradually broken up.

Shortly after XF358's arrival at HFL, its cockpit section was removed and acquired by Lortie Aviation Inc (formerly Northern Lights Combat Air Support), a military contractor and operator based in Canada that has one of the largest fleets of ex-Swiss Hunter F-58s worldwide. Shipped by sea to Quebec, work was begun immediately to fit it to ex-Swiss Hunter J-4095 (F-AZHS). During April 2006, the aeroplane flew in its new configuration as N325AX, and has been extremely busy ever since.
The rear fuselage of XF358 was fitted to Hunter F.6A XJ639 in May 2006, an aeroplane that was sunk at the Blue Lagoon Diving and Leisure Centre in Wormersley, North Yorkshire later that year.
The centre section and wings remained in store at Exeter, and are likely to have moved with HFL (now renamed Horizon Flight Training) to its new base at St Athan in 2012 or have been scrapped.

- December 2020


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