URGENT – SAVING RAF Comet C2 XK699 ‘Sagittarius’
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
05 Jul 13. In the year that the Royal Air Force celebrates its 95th anniversary I bring potentially tragic news that unless a new home can be found for Comet C2 XK699 ‘Sagittarius’ by the end of the summer she will be broken up and scrapped at the now closed RAF Lyneham air base in Wiltshire. Urgent action is now required to prevent this.
The de Havilland Comet is a hugely important aircraft in the history of UK air power and aircraft development. XK699 is the sole representative Comet C2 in existence and the only one left that spent her whole life in Royal Air Force service. Since as Air Commodore Her Royal Highness The Princess Anne unveiled the aircraft as Gate Guardian of RAF Lyneham back in 1987 XK699 has stood proudly in salute of the base. I am sure that Her Royal Highness would share with me deep disappointment that for lack of effort and forethought this very fine aircraft might soon be scrapped. We should be proud of our air power heritage and ensure that we preserve examples for future generations. To that end as a matter of priority I urge the Coalition Government and the MOD authorities quickly decide how they intend to ensure this historic aircraft is moved from Lyneham to be properly preserved.
I have been informed that as owners of the Lyneham site, MoD property services provider the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), are now seeking that XK699 is now removed. My information is that if she is not removed by the end of the summer she will be broken up and scrapped. The former air base is scheduled to become the Defence College of Technical Training and the first occupants are to be the Army Corp of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). They are due to move in some time during 2015.
The condition of the RAF Comet C2 XK699 ‘Sagittarius’ is clearly very poor and she now needs to be moved to a place of undercover storage whilst plans for long term restoration and a permanent home are discussed. For the past year my understanding had been that XK699 was to be moved to RAF Shawbury for storage ahead of final restoration and a probable eventual move to the RAF Museum at Cosford. It was thought likely that on completion of XK699 restoration the existing Comet C1 aircraft housed at the RAF Museum that had originally been built for Air France and registered F-BGNZ before later returning to the UK to be used as a flying laboratory for the Ministry of Technology would then be released to another UK aircraft museum.
Having walked all around the now closed and emptied RAF Lyneham base eighteen months ago I may also hope that the distinctive memorials to RAF Britannia crews, the Berlin Airlift, the Millennium Clock Memorial and the Startreck 3 crew bench will either be moved or continue to be properly honoured. However, my priority today is to ensure that swift action is taken to ensure the safety and future preservation of XK699. As the only survivor of the fifteen de Havilland Comet C2 variants built at Hatfield to allow XK699 to be scrapped some fifty eight years after the aircraft first flew would be an act of vandalism in the extreme. I repeat – air power heritage is extremely important just as is the industrial heritage that as the very first jet turbine passenger aircraft the Comet aircraft clearly represents.
All but four of the fifteen Comet C2 aircraft built had been allocated to the Royal Air Force with deliveries occurring between 1955 and 1957. Fitted with four of the more powerful 7,300 lb Rolls-Royce Avon Mk 503 jet engines (these replacing the 4,450 lb de Havilland Ghost 50 engines fitted to the Comet 1) the modified and strengthened C2 aircraft variant had slightly larger wings and larger fuel tanks that allowed extended range. RAF Comet C2 aircraft were to be used on a variety of transport related roles together with radar and electronics systems monitoring t