Hawker Sea Hawk FGA.6

XE364 Sea Hawk

XE489 (485)/’XE364’/G-JETH

With the H.A.M. from May 1972 to May 1983

Delivered to the Royal Navy in January 1956, XE489 was the last but one Sea Hawk to be built and enter service. She initially began her career with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve unit at RNAS Abbotsinch before later heading off to the warmer climes of Malta in 1957. Lacking any evidence to the contrary, she likely ended up with 801 NAS on HMS Bulwark and HMS Centaur, this apparently being the only naval squadron operating FGA.6 Sea Hawks with the Mediterranean Fleet during 1958. On her return to the U.K. in July 1959, she went to RNAS Brawdy and later to RNAY Fleetlands near Gosport. Her final placement was with the Fleet Requirement Unit where she ended up in June 1961. Somewhat interestingly it would appear that during her tenure at the FRU and her arrival at Southend, the tail of the aircraft had been swapped with that of WM983, a fact that only became evident when she was stripped back for painting several decades later.

The B.H.A.M. bought XE489 in May 1968 and collected her shortly afterwards, although this event ended up being far from uneventful. Having arrived at Hurn in a Land Rover, Tony Osborne and his fellow helpers lashed the Sea Hawk to a trailer behind it and then with the wings folded, headed back to Southend. However, it quickly became apparent that the Land Rover was struggling to tow such a heavy load, but they were forced to venture on regardless, that was until they got stuck under a bridge in Crawley. It wasn’t long until the police arrived and enquired as to why Tony had not asked permission before towing such a large load and hadn’t checked all bridge clearances before proceeding (something that Tony had incidentally assured his helpers that he had done prior to leaving Southend). Thankfully though, the police seemingly saw the funny side of things and told the volunteers to be gone by the time they came back and with a subsequent deflation and reinflation of the trailer tyres, they were on their way again. Sufficed to say, by the time the Land Rover arrived back at SEN, the clutch had gone and the brakes were on their last legs.

The aircraft was later rendered non-airworthy due to the Royal Navy’s demand that the main spar be cut or drilled as a condition of her acquisition although there may have actually been more to this request as the following reveals. It was not long after the Sea Hawk’s arrival that a rather curious episode occurred. Having become involved with the conflict that was raging in Biafra, Tony Osborne sought to provide help wherever he could, even going as far as to procure combat aircraft for the Biafrans. Needless to say, the museum exhibits didn’t escape Tony’s attention and he was later caught by airport security, attempting to remove the Hispano V cannons from this aircraft. The Saab Tunnan’s cannons also vanished during this period and it was likely that the Sea Hawk’s weapons would have disappeared too had he not been stopped.

XE489 was eventually towed across to the new museum site in 1970 after which she was repainted to represent Sea Hawk XE364 of 899 Squadron and given pride of position at the entrance to ‘Fighter Row’ where she remained until the demise of the museum. After the auction, she went the same way as the Meteor, first going to Eastleigh in August and then later on to Bournemouth for the Brencham Historical Aircraft Collection in November 1983 where she was registered as G-JETH and painted in a rather curious, all red scheme. The aircraft was then passed on to the Gatwick Aviation Museum in October 1987. By the end of 2009 and having stood outside for many years, she was looking rather worse for wear and the decision was taken to restore the ‘XE364’ scheme that she had originally worn at the H.A.M.  As of 2019, XE489 is still resident at the GAM.

With thanks to Tony Avis for providing additional information for this page.

 

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