In the three decades that the Walton family has owned and cared for Bruntingthorpe airfield and proving ground, the collection of historic Cold War jets has grown and grown. And to mark the 30th anniversary, the entire collection – plus a couple of special military planes awaiting a decision on their future – has been lined up on the two-mile-long runway for a unique photographic opportunity.
“Each and every one of these aircraft has its own particular significance in terms of the defence of our country and our military operations around the world,” says David Walton, managing director of the family-owned business that employs almost 100 people. “It was in August 1983 that we acquired what was then Chrysler UK’s proving ground and started our mission to ensure that the long and successful contribution Bruntingthorpe has made to national and international security is never forgotten. The fact that we assembled all the historic jets for a very special photograph at the time the nation was celebrating Remembrance Day made it particularly poignant.”
Work on construction of RAF Bruntingthorpe was started in 1942. Its role as a heavy bomber base continued throughout World War II. After the war the airfield was chosen as the site for top secret tests of the jet-propelled aircraft designed by Frank Whittle’s company, Powerjets Ltd. His designs, and the development work at Bruntingthorpe, pioneered the flight-path to the world of jet aircraft and aviation that is today taken for granted.
During the 1950s, the Ministry of Defence redeveloped Bruntingthorpe and it was given over to the United States Air Force (USAF). The newly-constructed two-mile-long runway – still one of the longest in the UK – was essential for the USAF’s largest nuclear bombers. These were deployed here as part of the Cold-War defence of the Western world against perceived threats from the communist Soviet Bloc.
At the end of the long and tense Cold War, Bruntingthorpe’s role changed. In 1973, Chrysler UK, which had taken over the Coventry-based Rootes Group car company, acquired the site for vehicle testing. This continued until 1983 when the Walton family – David, his sister Elizabeth, and two brothers, John and Peter – bought the airfield and proving ground.
“From the very start we were keen to maintain the link to the aviation heritage of the site and encourage
d the growth of the Cold War Jets Collection as well as developing the site as a valuable and important element in local business and commerce,” says David. “It’s not always been an easy task. But I feel sure that during the past 30 years, when the name C. Walton Ltd has hung over the shop, it has been recognised as a aname dedicated to preserving Bruntingthorpe’s proud history. And our commitment to the cause – coupled with ensuring it continues to play a vital role in the prosperity of the local and regional area – will continue undiminished.”
The Cold War Jets Collection at Bruntingthorpe is impressive. From Canberra and Comet to Vixen and Victor, the list a veritable gazetteer of aviation’s finest – and fastest! Record holders such as the English Electric Lightning and the ‘Blue Ribband’ VC 10 are just two of the aircraft that visitors can see when the Cold War Collection opens its doors to the public each Sunday.
Not included in the 30th anniversary photo-shoot, but probably the aircraft most associated with Bruntingthorpe’s recent history, is the Avro Vulcan – XH558. It was restored to airworthy condition in one of the Bruntingthorpe hangars over a period of eight years at a cost of about £6 million. It flew out of Bruntingthorpe in mid 2009, was temporarily based at RAF Brize Norton as a flying base (and RAF Lyneham as its winter maintenance base) before moving to its permanent home at Robin Hood Airport, Doncaster, formerly the RAF Finningley V-Bomber base.