Keeping the world’s only airworthy NF.11 Meteor in the UK was not something Dave Thomas had foreseen. But a generous gesture enabled him to achieve the seemingly impossible, as he tells Darren Harbar
Following the closure of the Classic Air Force – formerly Air Atlantique Classic Flight – in early 2016, the UK’s active Meteor population was halved overnight. The T.7 WA591/G-BWMF and NF.11 WM167/G-LOSM were withdrawn from flying and put up for sale (the other half of the population being Martin-Baker machines for ejection seat trials). Having been offered for sale since returning to Baginton, Warwickshire, in May 2015, no UK buyers could be found. Therefore, it appeared both aircraft were heading for the USA – along with a pair of former Classic Air Force Venom FB.50s, WK436 and WR470 – Marty Tibbitts purchased the four aircraft last year to join the World Heritage Air Museum fleet in Detroit, Michigan. The T.7 was shipped to the USA and flew from its new home last June, but the NF.11 was destined to follow later. However, tragedy was to strike on July 20, 2018 – Marty was killed in the crash of his Swiss-marked DH Venom FB.54, while practising formation flying for a planned appearance at the EAA AirVenture event, alongside his newly acquired Meteor T.7. The accident created uncertainty for the fate of Marty’s aircraft on both sides of the Atlantic.
Shifter turned saviour
It’s not unusual to place the name Dave Thomas in the same sentence as a vintage jet acquisition. The ex-British Army soldier has an array of such aircraft based at Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire, within his Classic British Jets Collection, which includes the DH Sea Vixen FAW.2 XJ494, and Hawker Hunter GA.11 WT806. Aptly nicknamed ‘Mr Shifter’, Dave has been responsible for disassembling and transporting more than 200 aircraft over the years, and it was in this capacity he’d been called upon to prepare DH Venom WK436 for transportation to the USA. Dave is quick to admit he’s always had an interest in aviation, loving all things mechanical, which leads him perfectly into the conversation about how he recently became involved in keeping the NF.11 WM167 in the UK. He told FlyPast: “I’d been over to Coventry [Baginton], several times and had met Marty Tibbitts on some of his many visits there. We spoke on a number of occasions, and I recall my final chat with him just two days before his tragic accident. Marty had sold one of the Venoms he’d bought previously, WK436, and I was called upon to survey and dismantle it at Coventry. I came into contact with the new owner, Jerry Conley, and we spoke lots about his own aircraft and my collection at Bruntingthorpe. Our meeting was post-Marty’s Venom accident and, unbeknown to me at the time, Jerry had been talking to Marty’s family about the future of the Meteor WM167 and Venom WR470. Those conversations resulted in the family wishing to donate the two airframes to me, which was clearly a big surprise…
The rest of this feature can be read in the current FlyPast, in UK shops now, or available at www.flypast.com