The Royal Navy Historic Flight is a Royal Naval unit established in 1972 as a living memorial to all those who have served in the Royal Naval Air Service and Fleet Air Arm since the birth of naval aviation in 1909.
The Flight operates historic naval aircraft, namely Swordfish, Sea Fury and a Sea Hawk, attending air displays throughout the United Kingdom which also provides something of a 'shop window' on the Fleet Air Arm.
The Aircraft collection
- Swordfish MkI W5856, Swordfish MkII LS326, Swordfish MkIII NF389
- Sea Fury FB.11 VR930
- Sea Hawk FGA.6 WV908
The first aircraft of this unique collection was Swordfish II LS326, which was presented to the Royal Navy in 1960 by the Westland Aircraft Company at Yeovil. This was followed in 1971 by the presentation of a Sea Fury FB.11 to the Royal Navy by Hawker-Siddeley Aviation. In 1972 the Sea Fury was joined by Fairey Firefly AS.5 WB271, the units looking after the three aircraft merged into one, and so the Royal Navy Historic Flight (RNHF) was born in October 1972.
In 1976 the Flight acquired a second Sea Fury - WG655, a T.20 two-seat trainer donated by the Federal German Government who had used the aircraft in a target towing role. Also in 1976 work began at the Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose - which bears the name HMS Seahawk - to restore Sea Hawk FGA.6 WV908 to flying condition, a task which was completed in 1978. Thereafter it flew from its Cornish base for several years before being transferred to the RNHF collection in Somerset. After a few display seasons the aircraft was placed in storage in 1989 until 1995 when it was transferred to British Aerospace's Dunsfold works for restoration, returning to the Flight in October 1996.
In 1990 British Aerospace bought the remains of Swordfish I W5856 from the Strathallan Collection in Scotland and, having restored it to pristine flying condition, presented it back to the RNHF in 1993. Sadly both Sea Furies were lost in accidents in 1989/1990, and the Firefly in 2003. Thankfully British Aerospace once more came to the Flight's aid and restored the remains of Sea Fury FB.11 VR930 at their Brough works, returning the aircraft in an as-new condition to the Flight in 1997. A third Swordfish is currently in storage and awaiting an opportunity to rebuild.
The Flight is commanded by a full time serving naval officer with the maintenance element of the Royal Navy Historic Flight provided by Babcock International PLC. The pilots are serving naval officers who have volunteered to fly the aircraft as an additional duty to their normal flying duties in other naval units. The Swordfish rear cockpit crews are also volunteers drawn from pilots, observers and aircrewmen/women from the various naval frontline and training squadrons.
Considerable engineering and design support continues to be provided by base facilities at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, where the RNHF is based, and by aerospace industries. In 1995 the RNHF, whilst remaining a Royal Naval unit, had to become partially self financing and the Swordfish Heritage Trust (since superseded by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust) was set up as a charitable institution to oversee fund raising and make grants to the RNHF, primarily to pay for aircraft restoration and overhauls. The Fly Navy Heritage Trust continues to this day ‘Educating, Inspiring and Remembering’, with its sources of income derived from flying displays, donations, fund raising events, sponsorship from aerospace industry companies and a Supporters Group. Their activities and how you could support them can be viewed via their website www.fnht.co.uk
The Uniqueness of the RNHF Aircraft Collection
The Royal Navy Historic Flight aircraft collection is unique and forms a major part of our national heritage for two main reasons:
Firstly, the aircraft are historically significant. During the Second World War Swordfish aircraft accounted for the sinking of over 300,000 tons of enemy (Axis powers) shipping - more than any other single Allied aircraft type, and thereby made the most important maritime airpower contribution towards the Allies winning the Battle of the Atlantic and in gaining sea power supremacy in the Mediterranean.
Sea Fury aircraft fought with distinction during the Korean War, helping to provide the spearhead of British Forces' ground attack air offensive operations. One Sea Fury had the distinction of being the first United Nations piston engined aircraft to shoot down the much faster MiG 15 jet, and it remains to this day the fastest production single piston engine-powered military aircraft in the world.
The Sea Hawk was the Royal Navy's first truly successful fighter/ground attack jet aircraft and made the greatest contribution to the success of British ground attack forces during the Suez Campaign on 1956.
Secondly, the collection contains some of the rarest airworthy military aircraft. There are only five airworthy Swordfish in the world - one is in Canada, one in the USA and the other three are owned by the RNHF. The Sea Hawk flying with the RNHF is absolutely unique, there are no others in flying condition anywhere in the world. Although there are a number of Furies/Sea Furies still airworthy, the majority have been re-engined and converted into "hot-rod racers" and are therefore not truly authentic examples of the type. VR930, the example flying with the RNHF, is currently the only FB.11 variant in Europe.