During the Second World War the Norwegian Air Force were based at RAF North Weald and this year celebrated 70 years since they first touched down on the runway – I went along to check out the celebrations.
On Sunday 9th September, North Weald Aviation opened its gates to the public to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Norwegians arrival. With the newly opened ‘Little Norway’ commemorative area, the promise of some action in the sky and a ticket price of £5, there was no way I could let this little event go by without seeing what it was all about.
‘Norwegian Wings Over North Weald’ was billed as a ‘Fun Day and Fly-In’ and the organisers had made it clear that the event was NOT an airshow. However, it had been leaked that the site had applied for a display permit from the CAA and with Norwegian F-16s, Vampires, Hercules and newly acquired T-33 all present, my fingers were crossed for some flying later in the day.
Gates opened at 10am and there was plenty to see on the ground no matter what you were interested in – Harleys and Mustangs for the motor-heads as well as all the resident aircraft on display. The event itself had a lovely family atmosphere and was a fairly small event in terms of aviation meets.
Along with the local aircraft, there was a special static area for training aircraft as well which consisted of Jet Provosts, Hunters and Vampires to name a few. This area was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Central Flying School – sadly the Hawk T2 and Tucano of the RAF had to cancel.
The F-16s, Vampires and T-33 were lined up on the taxiway which was manned by yellow jackets. You could get from once side of the airfield to the central part by crossing this taxiway at a designated point. I think the best way to describe the way that this was managed would be ‘organised chaos’. One minute you would be told you could stand on the taxiway and get close to the aircraft to take photographs and the next you were being shouted at to get off again. Needless to say that trying to get close to the aircraft without the use of zoom lens was difficult at best. I did however manage to get VERY close to the vampires before being told to go elsewhere.
Sunday also seemed to be a bit of a meet up of helicopters with the Metropolitan police, Essex police and Essex & Herts air ambulance going in and out of the airfield all day. The freshly cut grass made for some fantastic shots!
The Vampires and T-33 soon fired up and taxied out to the runway for a short flypast over North Weald .
The next group of things rumoured to be flying was around 3pm – this included flypasts from a BBMF Spitfire, RAF Sea King as well as the Norwegians getting airbourne again for a formation flypast. Before then though, it was time to get some more photos of the aircraft on static display. The Norwegian Air Force brought tow F-16s with them and one of them was the special scheme for 2012. – a blue, white and red striped pattern that makes the aircraft look like an old prototype. A simply stunning scheme.
The Norwegian support C-130 was due to fly in around 1.30pm to start packing up their equipment, so at 1pm I was wandering round the arena checking out some of the Mustangs…
…when all of a sudden the commentator announced that the C-130 was due to flypast in about 30 seconds time. I have never had to change my lens so quickly in all my time as a photographer – 50mm prime dumped in my bag and 70-300mm attached just as the Hercules was crowd centre.
2.30pm saw the surprise arrival of the Royal Naval Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury, followed shortly by the double flypast of the BBMF Spitfire. The Spit even managed a nice topside pass – not something you see very often from the BBMF. The Kent Spitfire then took to the air to give a superb aerobatic display that really showed off the power of the Merlin engine.
The main event of the afternoon soon got under-way when the Norwegians went up to perform their anniversary flypast. I have to say this was a little underwhelming and only consisted of one very distant formation flypast – the aircraft then disappeared off into the distance to display at Duxford. The Vampires returned half an hour later and the F-16s were never seen again.
While the Norwegians were at Duxford, the resident Gnat display team returned with a nice low smoke filled flypast and the RAF Sea King also made its flypast (although much later than scheduled).
Once the Vampires had returned and landed, the T-33 fired up again. The T-33 wasn’t due to display at Duxford on the Sunday so this could only mean one thing…we were about to be treated to the first UK display of the Norwegian Air Force Historic Flight’s T-33 and boy was it a good display! I’d never seen a T-33 fly before so didn’t really know what to expect from the jet trainer but it was actually a very good performance. No wonder the airfield had applied for a display permit!
Aircraft began departing shortly after the T-33 had landed. The Sea Fury started up, swiftly followed by the Hercules. As the Sea Fury took off, it gave a very short display and then flew off into the distance to the West Country. The last highlight of the day was the departure of the Herc and although it didn’t beat up the airfield, it did give a fairly low take off.
Norwegian Wings Over North Weald was possibly the best £5 I’ve ever spent on an aviation related event. A warm friendly atmosphere coupled with some great displays made North Weald a fantastic day out. Although the ‘yellow jackets’ seemed confusing at times, it certainly won’t be the last event I attend at the Epping Forest aerodrome.
The full photographic set from North Weald can be found at www.facebook.com/tommercerphotography