On November 19th 2022 Chris Wilson, co-founder (with his wife Mel) of Jet Art Aviation (JAA) of Selby, Yorkshire, came to Kingston to talk to the Association about his aviation career in the RAF and JAA. JAA restores aircraft to museum standard display condition, and even for ground running and taxiing. An example of JAA’s high standards, currently on display at the Brooklands Museum, is transatlantic air race Harrier GR3, XV741.
    After an introduction by Colin Wilson (no relation!) Chris started with a video of a recently completed project, Sea Harrier FA2 ZH798, taxiing at Leeds East Airport, formerly RAF Church Fenton, where JAA rents hangar space.
    Chris’s enthusiasm for aircraft started aged six with a Matchbox Harrier kit and was nurtured by attending air shows with his family. At 13 he joined the Air Training Corps (ATC) where he had his first flight which was in a Grob G109 Vigilant T.1 motor-glider. Awarded a pilot-navigator scholarship he flew Chipmunks at RAF Turnhouse before joining the RAF at 18 and attending the No.1 School of Technical Training, graduating as the top trainee. He and his second place colleague were posted straight to the Red Arrows as airframe mechanics, the first time this had been done.

Jet Art Aviation
    He took part in the ‘Spring Hawk 1998’ training posting at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. As a flight line mechanic he flew two to three times per week in the back seat of the Hawks covering air tests in Cyprus and back in the UK for ‘Winter Servicing 1998‘. In ‘Spring Hawk 1999’, again at Akrotiri, he had a practice display flight with Red 5 taking some excellent photos on a 15 camera from Argos, which he showed. In the 1999 display season, which included an air show at Kristianstad , Sweden, he flew in many positions in the formations in the reserve aircraft and became an observer during air tests noting full flight envelope conditions (his personal maxima were 44,000 ft, + 8 g and - 3 g.) In 1999 the Reds made a six week Far East Tour with all eleven Hawks (9 + 2 spares). The Hawks were very reliable with few snags. The ground crew flew in the team’s Hercules between air show stops which included Amman, Jordan, where a bird strike into the engine and undercarriage was survived without damage; Dharan, Saudi Arabia (BAe funded); Doha, Qatar; Dubai, UAE; India, Delhi, where there was heavy pollution and smog and the ground support equipment was old and in poor condition, and Calcutta where another bird struck a nose cone and repairs were made with Araldite and speed tape; Thailand; Butterworth and Langkawi supporting a BAe sales drive, Malaysia; and finally Cairo, Egypt. In some overseas shows the height and speed limits were less restrictive than in the UK allowing lower and faster displays.
    Back in the UK Chris took a fitters course at RAF Cosford and in 2001 was posted to XI Squadron with Tornado F.3s. The amount of maintenance work required compared with the simpler, reliable Hawk was a real “culture shock”. There was more overseas work with the Tornados in Saudi Arabia; Fairbanks, Alaska (exercise ‘Cope Thunder 2001‘); Thumrait, Oman (exercise ‘Sair Sareia‘) supporting ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ coalition attacks on the Taliban in Afghanistan. Here Chris had his first contact with Sea Harrier FA2s which came ashore to make space on the carrier for helicopters. In 2002 the Tornados went to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. All the ground crew of XI Squadron were given flights in the back seat so Chris added the F.3 to his log book.
    In 2003 Chris married Mel, a teacher, and left the RAF. They decided to make a living from house renovation and here Chris learned many hard lessons of project management. After completing two houses Chris moved on to bathroom renovation but not liking the often squalid condition of the toilet systems decided a new direction was needed. ‘Jet Art’ was the outcome where Chris produced aviation themed furniture and decorative conversation pieces made from salvaged aircraft systems, engines and airframe parts which he sold at air shows such as Biggin Hill and Elvington. He even acquired a Lightning F1 (XM155) forward fuselage which he restored and sold.
    Chris and Mel had moved to give more room when, in 2007, Chris came across a stripped Sea Harrier for sale which he thought was restorable but he couldn’t afford to buy it. Mel to the rescue; she re-mortgaged their house and funded Chris with the resultant ‘home improvement loan’. Thus XZ459, a Falklands veteran, found itself in a field near the family house. Having sourced the missing parts and restored and painted the airframe with the help of some ex-RAF friends, XZ459 sold on E-bay in two weeks! Chris paid off the loan and bought more FA2s and restored them too. Sales destinations included Canada, Greece, New Zealand and the UK. Jet Art Aviation also started restoring for display ejection seats and engines.
    In 2009 Harrier T.4 XW269, which had been stripped to support the VAAC Harrier at Bedford, was acquired and rebuilt, outside, in the Winter of 2010 with temperatures down to -9 deg C in the snow. E-bay refused to take this aircraft as they considered it to be a “weapons delivery system” in spite of the fact that it was essentially a shell! However, there was a lot of press and TV interest and two days after being featured on BBC Breakfast TV XW269 was sold. It is now in the Caernarvon Air World Museum.
    In May 2011 the Wilsons and their business moved to a farm near Selby, Yorkshire giving more space to store more aircraft for restoration including Tornado GR.3 ZA353, a German F-104 (very rotten - corrosion much worse even than older UK built aircraft, a Swift, for instance) sold to Taiwan, nine Jet Provosts, and Tornado F.3 ZE256, sold to the Estonian National Aviation Museum together with a Jaguar and Harrier GR.3 XZ994.
    Harrier GR.3 XZ130, held out of doors by 1034 Squadron ATC at Surbiton on the parade ground from 2005 - 2014, was deteriorating and so was to be sold by the MoD. JAA tendered for it successfully. That was the easy part; extracting the GR.3 from its very confined location, more restricted than when it was installed, and loading it on one lorry was very difficult; especially so as it had not been fully de-fuelled - it had a ton of kerosene in its tanks. However by dismantling the airframe in situ and using a lorry with a built-in crane it was successfully transported to Yorkshire with fuselage wings, fin, tailplane and nose cone securely on the lorry. Here the airframe was reassembled, fuel system leaks fixed, hydraulic and electrical systems restored to life. The engine had been Waxoyled so was well preserved and after 15 month’s work and 25 years after it had last run, the engine started and ran sweetly, the nozzles rotated and the flying controls functioned. As usual with JAA a full and accurate repaint was carried out with the name Larry Ching, a USAF exchange pilot with No.4 Squadron, below the canopy. The aircraft was sold to the USA where a team will complete the restoration, possibly to flight standard. Chris closed his talk with a video of the first taxi test in America.
    Frank Rainsborough gave the vote of thanks for this remarkable “aviation adventure” and presented Chris with a framed print of a Sea Harrier FRS.1 signed by Tim Gedge, CO of 100 Sqn, RNAS. Frank also announced that Chris had said he would return to complete the story - another treat in store.

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