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XF985's service history

XF985 was constructed at Blackpool by Hawker Aircraft (Blackpool) Ltd, as a Hunter F.4 for the Royal Air Force. It was delivered to the RAF on 6th June 1956 to 33MU (Maintenance Unit) at RAF Lyneham where it was prepared for military service. It was posted to RAF 26(F) Sqn at RAF Oldenburg, West Germany in May 1957, but its stay was brief as it was noted in store at RAF Kemble the following September. The aeroplane also saw service at RAF Bruggen before being withdrawn and placed in store.
During 1963, the aeroplane was officially transferred to Royal Navy charge for subsequent conversion to a two seat trainer for the Fleet Air Arm.

Hawker Aircraft Ltd at Dunsfold carried out the conversion work to T.8C specification, and on completion XF985 was moved to Shorts Brothers' Belfast airfield on 4th March 1964, entering Fleet Air Arm service with 759NAS (Naval Air Squadron) at RNAS Brawdy the following month. The aeroplane served with the Squadron, aside from periods of maintenance with the based Servicing Unit until September 1969, using several different fleet numbers, beginning with '656' and then later '806', '811' and finally '803'. A move south to RNAS Yeovilton for a two month stint between September and November 1969 was followed by a month with 764NAS at RNAS Lossiemouth, XF985 was then flown into 5MU Kemble for a prolonged spell of maintenance on 10th December that same year.

On 31st July 1970, XF985 joined the Airwork-run Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU) fleet at RNAS Yeovilton, as aeroplane '746' with 'VL' shore code on the tail fin. It was briefly moved back to Kemble for refinishing in November but remained in service until being moved to RNAS Lee-on-Solent in May 1972, for fitment of a Harley light in the nose.
A month later, XF985 was back at Yeovilton, and became a part of the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Training Unit (FRADTU) fleet of Hunters on 1st December 1972 following the merger of the ADTU with the Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU). For the next eight years, XF985 became an important member of the FRADU fleet as aeroplane '876', aside from the usual downtime for maintenance (February-July 1975, January-April 1978). The aeroplane also spent time grounded in the summer of 1977, whilst damage caused by the loss of an undercarriage leg during a heavy landing was repaired by RAF Abingdon's 71MU.
On 15th October 1980, XF985 moved to RAF Kemble for long term store with 5MU, returning to Yeovilton in January 1982 where it was later re-allocated the fleet number '873'. It began a further spell in store at RAF Shawbury during February 1987, but returned to Yeovilton in August 1988 for a brief period, prior to being ferried to Hurn for an overhaul and refinish to be carried out by Lovaux Ltd. On 31st March 1989 XF985, now painted in the standard dark sea grey scheme returned to Yeovilton and rejoined the FRADU fleet as '877'.

The aeroplane was lost on 10th April 1990, when its pilot Rick Lea experienced a severe control restriction caused by a jammed aileron whilst returning from a FRADU sortie. Despite efforts to regain control, Rick was left with option but to eject from the aircraft, thankfully without injury. XF985 crashed harmlessly into open countryside close to Charminster in Dorset.

- December 2020

[ Robin A. Walker]

[ Eric Tammer]

[ John Hale]

[ Rob Schleiffert]

[ Peter R. Foster]

[ Peter R. Foster]
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