|THE FRADU HUNTERS|
|HAWKER HUNTER GA.11 XE685 - '861'|
|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1960, the Hunter F.6 was beginning to come into RAF service, and many Hunter F.4 airframes, including XE685 were being withdrawn and placed in store.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.
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]
[© Martin Morley]
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.
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 DARA St Athan in January 2012, and was acquired by Hawker Hunter Aviation (HHA) based at RAF Scampton.
- January 2015
[© Ian Powell]
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