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XL602's service history

Hunter XL602 was one of ten Hunter T.8 aircraft built for the Royal Navy by Hawker Aircraft Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames. It took its first flight on 18th November 1958, and a month later was handed over to the Fleet Air Arm at RNAS Lossiemouth. It was assigned to 764NAS (Navy Air Squadron) based at Lossiemouth, and aside from a period of modernisation between June 1961 and April 1962, remained in service until June that year. The aircraft was then moved to RNAS Brawdy to initially join 738NAS (June 1962 to July 1963) and then later 759NAS. In November 1964, it was flown to RAF Kemble and placed in long-term storage with 5MU (Maintenance Unit).
On 17th October 1966, XL602 re-joined 764NAS and served for a 10-month period as aircraft '687'. Between August 1967 and July 1968 it was part of Heron Flight based at RNAS Yeovilton, and following a period of modernisation at Kemble and subsequent servicing at Brawdy it rejoined 759NAS in April 1969. Six months later, XL602 was back at RNAS Lossiemouth for a third spell and third identity with 764NAS as aircraft '699', and continued in service until 26th July 1972, when it was moved south following a transfer to the RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) at Farnborough. During November 1973, XL602 re-joined a Fleet Air Arm Unit, the NATIU (Navy Aircraft Trials Installation Unit) at RNAS Lee-on-Solent. Two years later, in June 1975, it was in use at RNAS Yeovilton.

On 14th July 1975, XL602 was taken on MoD(PE) (Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive) charge at British Aerospace Dunsfold. It was subsequently used as the prototype Hunter T.8M, a type for the Fleet Air Arm. The aircraft received a Sea Harrier Blue Fox radar. and a Sea Harrier-orientated cockpit for this key role. Although delivered to RNAS Yeovilton during 1979, XL602 soon returned to British Aerospace for various flight-testing trials. It spent time at BAe's Holme-on-Spalding Moor and Brough airfields, before settling down at Dunsfold airfield. The aircraft was later used for avionics integration tests during the development of the Sea Harrier FRS.1, and as a target and chase plane for the FRS Mk2 programme. Retired in March 1994, XL602 carried out a total of 707 flights during 15 years of distinguished service with British Aerospace.

Later that month, XL602 departed Dunsfold for the last time, bound for its new home at RNAS Yeovilton.
XL602 was then operated by the FRADU (Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit) and continued her role as a target plane for Sea Harrier trials. In December 1994 it was retired from Fleet Air Arm service and placed in store at RAF Shawbury.

[ British Aerospace]

[ Peter R. March]

[ Kev Slade]

[ author]

XL602's civilian life

XL602 was auctioned by Phillips in London during the early months of 1995, and was acquired by Barry Pearson. The aircraft was assigned the civilian registration G-BWFT in July 1995, and was ferried by air to Exeter a few weeks later to join the Classic Jet Aircraft Company. It was subsequently operated on the airshow circuit between 1996 and 1998, before being placed in store.

In early 2005 the aircraft was sold into new ownership, and it came under Hunter Flying Ltd's (HFL) control. Later sold on to Global Aviation Services Ltd, HFL began to carry out a comprehensive overhaul on the aeroplane, although the progress on the project has slowed in recent years as other projects have taken priority.  In January 2012, XL602 was moved by road to HFL's new base at the former MoD St Athan airfield in Wales, where it was placed back into store.

Unfortunately the restoration project was abandoned in 2019, and the airframe has since been broken up.
Its cockpit section was exported to Canada, and the rear fuselage section was moved to Dunsfold where it will be utilised in the comprehensive restoration of Hunter T.7 XL623 by the Hawker Association.
The remainder of the airframe, it is believed, is still stored in the UK - its CAA registration G-BWFT was cancelled by the CAA as permanently withdrawn from use in March 2020.

- December 2020


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