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Air Displays

Watch the air display on Plymouth Armed Forces Day, flying over Plymouth Sound from 4pm.

4pm – Swordfish W5856

4.14pm – Wasp

4.30pm – RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire Display

Note: The air demo is planned for, but subject to weather and other commitments:

Swordfish W5856

W5856 is the oldest surviving airworthy Fairey Swordfish in the world.


She first flew on Trafalgar Day, 21 October, 1941 and was a “Blackfish”, built by Blackburn Aircraft at Sherburn-in-Elmet and delivered to 82 MU (Lichfield) on 20 October 1941 for overseas transport to Gibraltar. W5856 then served with the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet for a year. Little is known of her role while on active Service in the Mediterranean but it is likely W5856 was based at North Front, Gibraltar, carrying out patrols over the Straits. She was then returned to Fairey’s Stockport factory for refurbishment during winter 1942/43.


By the start of WWII, technology had moved on apace and the Swordfish was already regarded as obsolete, but with a large number already in service it was nonetheless put to very good use. It earned its nickname ‘Stringbag’ because, like the shopping bags of the day, it could accommodate practically anything. It could carry a 1,610lb torpedo or a variety of depth charges, bombs, mines, rockets or flares.


The type is famous for the attack on Taranto in November 1940, where 21 Swordfish effectively stopped the Italian battlefleet taking any aggressive part in WWII, (and which proved the blueprint for ‘Pearl Harbour’), the famous chase after the very fast and dangerous battleship ‘Bismarck’ ended when a Swordfish put a torpedo through the steering gear and the home fleet were able to sink her with gunfire and In February 1942, six Swordfish attempted to stop ‘Prinz Eugen’, Scharnhorst’ and ‘Gneisenau’ from moving up the English Channel in what is now known as the “Channel Dash”. The ships were very heavily defended by destroyers, E boats and a huge air armada and all six Swordfish were shot down.


However, probably the most important role the Swordfish played in the conflict was that of protection of the Atlantic and Arctic convoys. By providing constant daylight air cover, enemy submarines were kept below the surface where they were unable to move at more than 7 knots, thus rendering them less effective. Swordfish actually sank 21 submarines over the course of the war, most whilst escorting Arctic convoys to north Russia, and were responsible for the highest tonnage of enemy shipping sunk by any allied aircraft type.


Swordfish W5856 is now maintained and operated by the charity, Navy Wings which is funded by public donations. 

Photo credit: LHoward

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Wasp XT420

Wasp XT420 is painted as 422 of HMS Aurora Flight. She was built in 1964 and at various times served with 706 Naval Air Squadron (training) and the following ships flights of 829 Naval Air Squadron:  HMS Nubian, HMS Hecate, HMS Aurora, HMS Ajax. XT420 also served with HMS Hecla (Falklands) with red crosses painted on, in the casualty evacuation role. 


The Wasp served in its primary role with 829 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), but also in training units to supply crews for the front line with 706 NAS between 1965 and 1967 and in 703 NAS between 1972 and 1981. Although effective as a submarine killer, it was best deployed paired with a Wessex HAS Mk3 submarine hunter. It was taken out of front-line service in the late 1980’s with the introduction of the Westland Lynx.


It was brought back into full operational service when war with Argentina broke out in in 1982 following the invasion of the Falkland Islands.


Wasp XT420 is now maintained and operated by the charity, Navy Wings which is funded by public donations. 


RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire Display

The Royal Air Force (RAF) Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) commemorates all those who have lost their lives serving in the RAF, or its predecessor the Royal Flying Corps, in all conflicts from 1914 up to the present day.


Between 1959 and 1965 the Flight had only one Spitfire (PM631) and one Hurricane (LF363) on its strength. Now, as a “museum without walls”, it maintains twelve historic and irreplaceable aircraft in airworthy condition.


The BBMF is a regular RAF unit, manned by Service personnel and funded by the Ministry of Defence. Those who serve with the Flight feel extremely privileged to work with and to fly the BBMF aircraft, which are all precious artefacts of the RAF’s and the Nation’s aviation heritage.


At Plymouth Armed Forces Day we will have a display of two historic Spitfires, who fly within the BBMF.

Photo credit: Crown Copyright

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