HISTORY OF THE FRADU

The Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU) are currently operated by Serco Defence and Aerospace, under contact to the Royal Navy. Currently based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall, the Unit is equipped with 11 British Aerospace Hawk T.1 and T.1A aeroplanes, all of which were previously used by the Royal Air Force. Two airframes are permanently detached at RNAS Yeovilton and are used by the Naval Flying Standards Flight (fixed wing) and although flown by Fleet Air Arm pilots, are still maintained by FRADU's engineers.
FRADU's pilots and engineers are all ex-military with varying fast jet backgrounds from the English Electric Lightning to former Red Arrows team members, which are now employed by Serco as civilians.

FRADU's task sheet fulfils several roles that belies the name of the Unit, including supporting the Royal Navy's Task Fleet with Simulated Ship Attacks and airborne Early Warning (AEW) exercises. Fighter Controller training, nicknamed the Direction School is also carried out, as is Helicopter Fighter Affiliation training. FRADU's former aircraft, namely the Hunters and Canberras did this to a very high level.
During the ship attacks FRADU maintains a close relationship with Flight Refuelling Aviation (FRA), which started in 1983 when its parent company Flight Refuelling Ltd won the contract to run the FRADU Unit on behalf of the Royal Navy. FRA operates a large fleet of Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft from both Bournemouth and Teesside, and has done so since the first aeroplane arrived in 1985.
FRADU's Hawks are often operated from bases in Mainland Europe as well as the UK, including previous deployments to France, Spain, and Portugal, as well as RAF Kinloss and RAF Waddington in the UK.


The Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU)

FRADU was formed at RNAS Yeovilton on 1st December 1972, following the merger of the Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU) and the Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU). The FRU was first formed in 1950 at Hurn, now Bournemouth International Airport by Airwork Services Ltd, operating recently-retired Fleet Air Arm front-line types. Its early inventory consisted of de-Havilland Mosquitos and Sea Hornets, and later progressed onto the Hawker Sea Fury.
The first jet aeroplane to enter FRU service was the Supermarine Attacker, entering service on 1955, but it had been withdrawn less than two years later. The Hawker Sea Hawk arrived at Hurn in September 1958, and the numbers gradually increased over the next four years as the Sea Fury was finally withdrawn in 1962. Painted all-over black and fitted with a powerful Harley light in the nose, these jets were a popular sight over the Dorset airfield. Another type to see FRU service was the Gloster Meteor, which joined FRU in 1961. These airframes were employed on target towing duties, for the remainder of the decade.
Another former front-line aircraft type appeared at Hurn in June 1966, when the first of a small number of Supermarine Scimitars, F.1 XD267 joined FRU. Unfortunately problems with the type's serviceability resulted in a short usage life, and they had all been retired in 1970.

A year earlier, the Hawker Sea Hawk had been withdrawn from service, FGA.6 XE390 having the honour of being the last airframe to leave Hurn. The type had given superb service to the FRU for 11 years and although sadness was felt with its retirement, the decision to replace them with the Hawker Hunter got a welcoming reception.

The first Hunter, GA.11 WV267 was delivered to Hurn on 27th March 1969. Throughout the rest of the year further single-seat examples arrived, rising to five by the end of the end of the year, and doubling in numbers in 1970, by which time the Hunters had taken out '83x' identities, when the Scimitars were completely withdrawn. The FRU occasionally loaned a single two-seat Hunter for training purposes whenever the need arose at first, until T.8C WT799/839 was permanently transferred onto FRU's strength.
The final Gloster Meteors were withdrawn in March 1971, having been completely replaced in the target-towing role by former RAF English Electric Canberra TT.18s. The first Canberra aeroplane, WK123 had arrived at Hurn on 15th September 1969, and further examples continued to arrive including two Canberra T.4 trainers, and were all assigned fleet numbers in the 84x sequence. The FRU moved to RNAS Yeovilton in October 1972, where it operated alongside, but run separately from Airwork's Air Direction Training Unit.

The Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU)

The Air Direction School was first established inside RNAS Yeovilton's control tower in 1941, and is tasked with training Royal Navy personnel in the control of fighter aircraft. It remained operating throughout the Second World War before it was moved to a purpose-built environment based in Pembrokeshire. Its aircraft were provided by Airwork Ltd's Air Direction Training Unit (ADTU) from RNAS St Davids, a satellite airfield to RNAS Brawdy. Its early fleet consisted of Sea Hornets, and these were joined by de-Havilland Mosquito T.3s, Supermarine Attacker, Gloster Meteor T.7s and latterly the Sea Venom.
The first Sea Venoms arrived at St Davids in 1957 to replace the Sea Hornets and Attackers, and they moved with the Unit to RNAS Brawdy the following year. The Air Direction School and the ADTU returned to RNAS Yeovilton in 1961, and the Sea Venoms gave sterling service until they were withdrawn and replaced by surplus Hawker Hunter GA.11 and T.8 airframes.
The last new type to enter service with the ADTU was the de-Havilland Sea Vixen, which began to appear in January 1971.

The Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU)

On 1st December 1972, the FRU and ADTU were officially merged together, and the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Training Unit (FRADTU) was born. The word 'Training' was dropped from the Unit's title the following year, as the ADTU's fleet of Hunters (assigned the fleet numbers 731-748) were gradually being re-assigned FRADU '8xx' identities – the single seat GA.11s became 86x, and the T.8s adopted 87x fleet codes (the x digit remained the same from their ADTU identities). The FRU Hunter GA.11s kept their 83x fleet numbers from their days at Hurn, as did the Canberra TT.18s and Canberra T.4s (840-849).
The de-Havilland Sea Vixens all retained their '75x' identities for the remainder of the type's FRADU career, which came to an end in February 1974 when the aeroplanes were moved to Hurn for potential conversion to pilotless drones.

In 1971, seven English Electric Canberra PR.7s aeroplanes were transferred to the Fleet Air Arm at RAF St Athan. Later moved to British Aerospace's Salmesbury plant, the seven airframes were to be fitted with the Blue Parrot radar, as fitted to the Blackburn Buccaneer as well as Buccaneer-orientated avionics in the cockpit. Re-designated the Canberra Mk.22 (T.22) the prototype airframe WT510 took its first flight on 28th June 1973, and the first aeroplane released for service was WH801, which arrived at RNAS Yeovilton in November 1973 and was coded '850'. A further five examples arrived during 1974 and were coded in sequence of arrival, with the seventh and final airframe, WH803 '856' arriving at Yeovilton in July 1976 following RAF trials.

On 6th September 1975, the FRADU created history when it flew the first ever civilian aerobatics team, using military aeroplanes at RNAS Yeovilton's Air Day, under the leadership of Derek Morter. Four Hunter GA.11s were chosen to be part of the 'Blue Herons', and they continued to fly at air displays, winning trophies at the International Air Tattoos of 1976 and 1977, until the winter of 1980, when the team was withdrawn due to FRADU's busy work schedule. It was briefly reformed in 1984 and 1986 for displays at RNAS Yeovilton and at Culdrose's Air Days.

In the summer of 1977, the FRADU was reported to have a fleet of 34 airframes, comprising twelve Hunter GA.11s, eight T.8Cs, six Canberra T.22s, six Canberra TT.18s and two Canberra T.4s. The Hunters were rotated through periods of maintenance and storage at Kemble, and the Canberras were handled at St Athan.

During 1983, the contract for the managing and staffing of FRADU came up for renewal, and it was offered on competitive tender. Flight Refuelling Ltd, owners of Flight Refuelling Aviation (FRA) based at Hurn, were the winners of the contract, replacing Airwork Ltd in the role. Over the next twelve months work began to give the Royal Navy a better product at a better competitive price, and also to find a replacement for the Canberra T.22 which was becoming more expensive to operate.
This resulted in the leasing and subsequent purchasing of several civilian Dassault Falcon 20 business jets, the first of which arrived at Hurn in late 1984 and was formerly presented to the Royal Navy in February 1985. These aeroplanes received several modifications for their new roles, and as they came on strength the Canberra T.22 airframes were slowly withdrawn one-by-one that year and placed into store, the last aeroplane to leave Yeovilton was WH780/853 on 20th September 1985.
The Canberra T.4 aeroplanes were also withdrawn and transferred back to the RAF, as were some of the TT.18 fleet.
Several GA.11 Hunters were also permanently withdrawn from use, but a servicing contract for the surviving members of the Hunter fleet was signed with Lovaux Ltd based at Hurn, that would extend the long-term service lives of the remaining airframes.

Throughout the rest of the decade, the Canberra TT.18 numbers was slowly reduced to four, with three remaining in service at any one time. The type was officially withdrawn from FRADU service in November 1992. Six months later, a small number of Hunters were also retired, whereas other airframes received further deep servicing and refurbishment by Lovaux Ltd to extend the airframe life to the end of the decade and perhaps beyond.

On 4th April 1994, FRADU received its first example of the BAe Hawk, when T.1A XX175 arrived at RNAS Yeovilton.
By the end of the month, five examples had arrived and were all operational by the end of the year. With the projected availability of further Hawk airframes, it was decided to bring forward the retirement of the Hunter from FRADU and Royal Navy service.
The contract with Lovaux to refurbish the remaining Hunters was cancelled, and GA.11 XE689/864 became the last to receive an overhaul in November 1994. The following month, an official flypast was staged at Yeovilton, to recognise the end of the Hunter's service with the Fleet Air Arm. The final four Hunters were withdrawn from service in May 1995, when they were flown to RAF Shawbury for storage and subsequent disposal into private hands.

In December 1995, FRADU moved to RNAS Culdrose where it remains today, fulfilling an important training role for the UK's military forces.


[ Adrian Balch]

[ Adrian Balch]

[ Lindsay Peacock]

[ Lindsay Peacock]

[ Lindsay Peacock]

[ Lindsay Peacock]

[ Kev Slade]

[ author]

[ author]

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