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distinctive Firefl y trainers.

For the past two decades, this brightly-liveried small plane has been the mainstay of pilot training, teaching an estimated 900 naval aviators the fundamentals of flight – irrespective of whether they are ‘fast jet jockeys’ or, more usually, rotary wing fl iers. But its day in the sun is done.

The Firefl y is being succeeded by the ubiquitous Grob, already

WITH barely a cloud scarring the winter sky, this is the very last formation of naval aviators to grace the skies of Lincolnshire in their

in service with the RAF and 727 NAS training squadron in Yeovilton (although it’s painted white, making it rather more diffi cult to see than the bright yellow ‘birds’).

And now the Grob can be found too at Barkston Heath in Lincolnshire, home of 703 NAS where pilots undergo fi ve months of training on the ground and in the air, covering everything from the principles of fl ig

meteorology and navigation to handling, instrument fl ying and formation fl ying. To mark the Firefl y’s passing,

there was an eight-plane formation over the Lincolnshire countryside.

And the very last naval aviator ht,

to enjoy the Firefl y experience? Lt Matt Harding, whose fi n

fl ight in the trainer on February 11 didn’t go entirely to plan. Unfavourable weather played havoc with his planning for the last sortie. When he did get airborne, however, he was treated to an impromptu display from the Red Arrows, practising over Scampton Field. “I was fortunate enough to see the Red Arrows fl y past in formation trailing their trademark red, white, and blue smoke before they broke off to do aerobatics,” he said.


On his return, Lt Harding was due to land at the former Royal Naval Air Station Cranwell (apparently it’s known by a different name these days...) but problems there meant a diversion to RAF Waddington (15 miles away).

aircraft’s retirement with a bottle of bubbly.


After a long exchange with Air Traffic Control he was finally able to return home to Barkston

...and there was a nice surprise back on the ground. Lt Cdr Tony Hills, 703’s Commanding Offi cer, and the three other fi nal Firefl y students marked their

The Slingsby Firefly story begins in the 1990s at RAF Topcliffe in North Yorkshire, then home to the Joint Elementary Flying Training School (JEFTS), used by RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots.

makes it easier to spot from above, black from below). Up to its retirement, the

Back then, the two-seat Firefly was painted white and blue and powered by a 160hp engine. Since then, JEFTS has moved to Barkston Heath, not far from Cranwell; the Army has joined in the training; the RAF have gone their separate way; JEFTS has become DEFTS (D for Defence); and the 160hp blue and white Firefly has become the 260hp yellow and black Firefly (yellow

aircraft was responsible for training around 130 Fleet Air Arm and Army Air Corps pilots a year – 900 Naval, 1,100 Army fliers throughout its lifespan, including Lt Henry Wales (aka Prince Harry) – under the tutelage of military and civilian instructors.

Firefl y, but the skills and ethos taught to the many students who were fortunate enough to experience this sporty little aircraft will live on for the rest of their fl yin

S/Lt Robert Powell, one of the fi nal four naval students.

Picture: Martin Fox, DEFTS

g careers,” enthused “The sun may have set on the


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