XW550 was delivered to 15 Squadron RAF Laarbruch in 1973 and later moved on to 16 Squadron.
In the 1980s, there was a temporary grounding of the fleet after XV345 broke apart and crashed during a low level sortie. The cause was subsequently traced to a crack in the wing spar resulting in structural failure. The fleet was inspected, finding XW550 having the largest crack in the spar out of the entire fleet.
The airframe was then withdrawn from service and retired to St Athan for spares recovery to help keep the remaining fleet in the air. XW550 was eventually scrapped at St Athan with the cockpit saved and sold to Ricky Kelley
Ricky brought the cockpit along with many instruments and stored it undercover at his home with a plan to restoring it. This never came to be and XW550 was put up for sale in 2016.
In late 2016, the cockpit section was purchased by Francis Wallace and The Buccaneer Aviation Group. XW550 was road moved to Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire on the 5th November 2016 where it joined TBAG’s two complete Buccaneers, XX894 and XW544.
The cockpit was stored at Bruntingthorpe in one of the temporary hangars until the winter of 2017/18 when it underwent a full restoration with the view of having XW550 as a travelling exhibit to promote TBAG’s activities.
In between jobs on XW544 and XX894, by the end of December 2017 the cockpit’s rear seat was removed to make it easier to restore, the floor panels were also removed to gain access to the rudder pedal and flight control linkages which were freed up.
Because XW550 was going to be sat on a trailer and moved around, the cockpit needed to be light – in January 2019 XW550 was placed on bed of tyres resting on its starboard side so it made emptying the bottom of the cockpit out much easier. While on its side, the underneath was sprayed grey as this would have been much harder do once mounted to the trailer.
After the underneath was sprayed and bays emptied, XW550 was placed on its trailer temporarily with the nose intermediation section and cone fitted. The cockpit saw its first public appearance in nearly 25 years at TBAG’s 60th First Flight Anniversary event where it was seen with complete airframes XX889, XX894, XW544 and XX900, plus cockpit section XZ431.
On the next working weekend after the 60th event, XW550 was briefly removed from the trailer while a former was fitted to help secure the cockpit to the trailer. It was soon obvious that the trailer needed to be strengthened; XW550 was placed outside for several weeks while this was happening and by November 2018, the cockpit was back on the trailer.
During the winter of 2018/19, Francis and Jake slowly rebuilt the cockpits filling the vast majority of empty holes with instruments.
In March 2019, XW550 was sanded and prepped and repainted with the vinyl’s applied later. The cockpit was first seen in its new paint at TBAG’s 25 Years of Retirement event where XX894, XW544, XX900 and cockpit XZ431 was on display.
XW550 was seen at many events across the country throughout 2019 including cockpit-fest where it was awarded the ‘Spirit of Cockpit-fest’.
In 2020, Bruntingthorpe’s days of seeing vintage cold war jets fast taxi down the 2 mile long runway sadly came to an end. After much discussion, The Buccaneer Aviation Group elected to move both XX894 and XW544 to Cotswold Airport (formerly RAF Kemble) as this prospering location will allow both aircraft to continue doing what they do best…. blasting down the runway! With TBAG slowly starting to relocate, XW550 was put in storage at a private property where Harrier XV808 is housed in Bridgnorth.
In early September, XW550 came out of storage and was towed to Cotswold Airport ready for display at the Battle of Britain Fly In event on the 18th. The cockpit currently sits on the G-Site apron at Kemble in between XW544 and XX894!