RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2012

It is agreed by many that Air Day 2011 was the highlight of the UK airshow circuit last year and therefore 2012’s show had an awful lot to live up to. With the Sea Vixen having an accident earlier on in the year, many knew that it was unlikely to make its season début at Yeovilton but unfortunately for the staff behind Air Day, the Sea Vixen wasn’t the last cancellation before the show day. With the Vulcan’s engine explosion a few weeks ago, the French pulling their Navy Role Demo (two Rafales tearing up the airfield) and the Red Star Rebels unable to attend, Air Day staff were faced with an organisers nightmare – how do you fill the gaps left behind?

The answer was to fill the gaps with some of the most beautiful classic jet aircraft in the country – the Vampire, Venom and Meteor from the Classic Aircraft Trust in Coventry as well as Jet Provost XW289 from Kennet Aviation. That wasn’t all though, last minute RNAS Yeovilton managed to pull something extremely rare out of the bag – a short flying display by an Antonov An-124 – the worlds second largest serially manufactured cargo airliner.

Waking up to the sun shining Saturday morning was unexpected and it looked as if it could stay out all day, however sadly it wasn’t to be. It soon clouded over and the traditional grey sky that ruins the backdrop of UK airshows had announced its arrival. Add the 30mph winds into the equation and you get very difficult shooting conditions.

The flying programme started with the RAF Hawk display. This was the first time this year that I’d seen the Hawk’s display scheme in the flesh and my god does it look good! Unfortunately it would appear that 2012 is the last time that the Hawk T1 will display for the RAF and it would have to be said that it’s the best hawk display of recent years.

The RAF solo display was the first of three different displays showcasing the Hawks capabilities and next to take to the air was the infamous Red Arrows. Flying just seven aircraft this year, the team took off and regrouped behind crowd centre, the familiar site of the big battle formation turned in for the start of display and those famous words belted over the radio – ‘SMOKE ON…GO’.

The Red’s display really did seem to work well with just seven aircraft, beautifully tight formations with lots of coloured smoke led to the public smiling from ear to ear. Another superb display by a world class display team.

As the Reds landed, the piston engine of the RNHF Swordfish started up and soon took to the air. Flying a very agile display with some tight turns and low flypasts, the swordfish lends itself to some nice photography. With its bi-plane structure it is very easy to forget that this flew and saw service during WWII.

One of the highlights of the day for me was the Royal Navy maritime patrol demonstration. The scenario – Pirates have captured a young lady (played by a male member of the RN – my favourite detail was the tattoo on her arm that read ‘I love pilots’) and the Royal Navy have been called in to rescue the hostage and deal with the pirates. The display was flown by four Lynx helicopters – two dealing with the pirate situation and the other two escorting an aircraft that had strayed into restricted airspace.
Sadly the P-51 Mustang from Hanger 11 was unable to make it and was replaced by the P-40 Kittyhawk. This began its display with one of the RNHF’s Hawker Sea Furys before they broke off to run in and conduct their own performances.
Another one of my favourites displays around at the moment is the RAF Tornado Role Demonstration from RAF Lossiemouth and Air Day had managed to secure them for the second year running. Streaming in low level from the left and right at high speed were the Tornado GR.4s of the Royal Air Force. I’m not sure there was a single flypast that didn’t have full afterburner applied. The aim of the role demo is to show the public the sort of missions that are conducted in war zones on an almost daily basis. Pinning down the opposition and making sure they don’t make it out alive. An awesome display of power and might and has to be seen to be appreciated.
With a small break for ‘lunch’ (about five minutes) the classic jet aircraft took off, first performing flypasts as a three-ship and then breaking off into their own individual displays. It was the first time that I’d witnessed these three displays and I have to say that I was extremely impressed with the was they were flown, in particular the Meteor. Three stunning aircraft from the golden age of aviation.
The chatter on the radio started to get more and more exciting – the An-124 was in the vicinity. Those in the know looked left to right and back again, hunting for a huge airliner filling the sky. As soon as the Meteor had landed, the An-124 flew in from the right and gave an incredible display. I didn’t think it was possible for something of that size to look so graceful and pull such tight turns. Definitely one of the highlights of the year so far.
I had watched the Saudi Hawks validation display on Friday and I must admit that although the formations were nice to look at and the different coloured smoke made a nice change from the patriotic red, white and blue of the Red Arrows, the display itself seemed very distant with long pauses before the next section of the routine. Why should they be compared to the Reds? Well, they also fly the Hawk aircraft albeit a slightly different version and they were originally trained by the Reds. Unfortunately for the display team of Saudi Arabia there is still a lot to be polished off and perfected.

After a few more displays, including the Jet Provost and SBACH 300 flown by Gerald Cooper, it was time for the finale to Air Day.

The one and only Royal Marines Commando Assault.

The scenario – the opposition have managed to capture two innocent parties and are held up in a compound (consisting of several cargo crates) – air support is called in and the Royal Marines are deployed to engage the enemy and rescue the hostages.

The first group of marines were deployed by a Lynx helicopter, escorted by the weapon of choice for the British Army – the AH-64 Apache. The Apache provided cover while the marines abseiled to the ground, once down both aircraft moved off and the airfield fell quiet again. Fast air support is called in and this year came in the form of two Hawks on detachment to the Royal Navy.

As the Hawks depart the area and await further instructions, a number of Sea Kings fly in from the left and right deploying more marines to assist those already on the ground. With the marines now moving to form a line of attack, the Hawks are called back in for another show of force – this time however, a surface to air missile is launched and the atmosphere changes dramatically. The Apache is called in to lay down some covering fire while yet more marines are offloaded.

As the smoke is laid down to provide cover, flown in from the left is some equipment for the marines – some crates of supplies, an artillery gun and a Jeep. As another couple of Sea Kings arrive in the battle zone, flares are deployed as another surface to air missile is launched.

At last, the Hawks are called in for air support – this time laying down Brimstone missiles to eliminate the anti-aircraft weapons.

The two vehicles leave the compound as a result and are soon apprehended by the Royal Marine Commandos after a Lynx has prevented them leaving the area.

Fast air is called in for a few more passes to once and for all destroy the enemy compound.

Royal Marines 1 – 0 Enemy

Although not a true classic for RNAS Yeovilton, Air Day 2012 still provided an excellent and varied flying display and in my opinion, the role demonstrations are worth the entry fee alone! Roll on Air Day 2013.

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