Review – Abingdon Air & Country Show 2013

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Each May, Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire opens up for one day and plays host to the Abingdon Air & Country Show. With it being fairly local, I went along to see what one of the first shows of the season had to offer.

Unlike the majority of visitors on Sunday, my weekend at Abingdon started on Saturday night as I was invited to the small nightshoot. Even though it didn’t get dark until gone 9pm, it was a good chance to shoot some of the static aircraft without lots of people around. The Polish Navy M-28 Bryza, RNLAF PC-7, Belgian Air Component Marchetti SF-260, Me-108 and a civil registered Marchetti SF-260 were all sat on the ground under the floodlights. The main attraction for me was the Bryza but I have to say that I was quite surprised at just how good the Belgian Marchetti looked!

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The flying display doesn’t tend to start until around 2pm at Abingdon, even though the gates open relatively early at 10am – this meant that there was plenty of time to have a look around the show and see what was going on. One of the great things about this show is that the atmosphere is so friendly and welcoming, all the stallholders and classic car owners are more than happy to talk to you and tell you all about what they’re at the show for. As well as all the cars that were on show, there was also a small selection of animals which included birds of prey from the centre at Shuttleworth.

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Before I knew it, it was 12pm and the flightline was filling up pretty quickly. I’ve not had to get to the flightline much before 1pm before at Abingdon – I think the weather really helped in attracting a larger crowd, it was certainly the busiest that I’ve ever seen it! 90 minutes soon disappeared and the start of the show approached as the air ambulance flew in for a brief display but had to leave fairly quickly. Abingdon Air and Country Show helps to raise money for the air ambulance – it’s important to remember that none of the air ambulances are funded by the government so they need all the help they can get.

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The solo Twister display was first up and it was a rather special display for pilot Will Hilton. At just 19 years old, this was his first public display and he certainly managed to put the elliptical winged aircraft through it’s paces so huge congratulations to Will for such a superb opening performance!

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As the Twister landed, the RV8tors took to the sky to perform a very tight formation display – I’ve seen this team a few times now and they always manage to put on a good show. I admit that the colour schemes on the aircraft could be a bit more exciting but the actual routine is superb.

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I’m a massive fan of the older jet aircraft, so when the organisers announced that they had secured one of the Folland Gnats from North Weald, I was quite excited. I’ve only ever seen these in the air once before and that was at one of the events at North Weald last year when they gave a very low fly past before landing. Unfortunately my excitement was premature as the display was flown extremely high and most of the time was very distant from the crowd line. I think there was only two topside passes and these were still very high – unfortunately the Gnat was a little lost in the deep blue sky.

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Peter Teichman was up next in Jumpin-Jaques – his stunningly beautiful North American P-51D Mustang. Believe it or not, I’d never actually seen this display until yesterday and my goodness it was a good display. Everyone who frequents the airshow circuit knows exactly what to expect when it comes to Peter’s displays; fast top side passes with plenty of rolling and looping. The owner of the Hangar 11 collection sure knows how to display a warbird and he certainly didn’t disappoint yesterday. The slight breeze made sure that there was plenty of howling coming from those gun ports.

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A show like Abingdon normally benefits from the RAF trainer displays but unfortunately this year they were non-existent. I have to say I did miss the sound of the Hawk tearing over the Oxfordshire countryside but the Tristar flypast from RAF Brize Norton almost certainly made up for it. Although it was only the one dirty pass, it was more than welcome as seeing these at an airshow is getting rarer and rarer. Another workhorse of the RAF that is soon to be retired.

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Almost as soon as the Tristar had retracted it’s landing gear, the Harvard was airborne and with the sky still a rare shade of blue, the yellow trainer paint scheme shone brightly. The display was very camera friendly and you almost felt relaxed watching it glide through the air. A very well flown display from an airframe that I had not seen before.

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Having been stuck on the ground at Abingdon in 2012 due to an engine fault, the T-28 Fennec made a welcome return. Still wearing the Armée de l’Air North African camo scheme, the T-28 looked magnificent against the ocean blue backdrop. Plenty of top side passes meant that this was by far one of the best displays photographically speaking. Although the display itself was superb, I’m not entirely sure that I like this aircraft – it just looks like its a little swollen in places and slightly top heavy.

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After a short but brilliant display by the Bulldog, the Peter Vacher Hurricane taxied out and gracefully took to the sky. Running in from the left, the unmistakable sound of the Merlin engine filled the surrounding countryside with an almighty roar – it was as if we’d instantly been transported back to the Second World War. The Hurricane looped and barrel rolled around the sky as if it had just returned from a successful sortie and all these manoeuvres accumulated in some fantastic photographic opportunities. This was easily the best display of the day for me – everything just seemed to come together at the right moment.

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Carrying on the WWII theme, the only RAF display was up next – the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster. Even though the display still lacks those essential topside passes, it was a pleasure to see and a very fitting tribute to the RAF Bomber Command.

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While the Dakota warmed up on the taxiway, the glamorous Breitling wingwalkers filled the air with smoke as they demonstrated their aerobatic and acrobatic skills. The barnstorming act is always a favourite at UK shows and in the Summer skies over Abingdon, they looked to be in fine form having recently returned from a tour down under.

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As the show drew to a close, just three acts remained; the Dakota, Jet Provost and AAC Solo Lynx. The Dakota is definitely a beast and I’ve always said that it reminds me a little of a whale, however the display was almost angelic. The subtle lines of the aircraft make it look as though it simply glides through the air with minimal effort and the pilot made sure that while he was in the sky, he owned every inch of it. A very nice display indeed and one that I look forward to seeing again.

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With a few minutes of downtime, I decided to get my drink out and have a sit down…or that’s what  I thought I was going to do until the North Weald based JP arrived low and fast from the right hand side of the airfield. I almost totally missed it’s arrival but managed to just about capture it disappearing out to the left. This was probably one of the tightest displays I’ve ever seen a Provost perform – it was simply breathtaking. As I said before, I’m a huge fan of older jet aircraft and this didn’t disappoint at all. Plenty of camera friendly passes coupled with aerobatic manoeuvres helped this display become one of my favourite of the day!

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After a spectacular day of flying, it was over to the army boys to close the show. Last year we saw a practice display of the 2012 Lynx but this year the organisers went one step further and secured the full display. If you’ve never seen a Lynx truly put through it’s paces then you’re missing out. The AAC display is full of manoeuvres that you just wouldn’t expect from a helicopter – backflips, tight turns and horizontal rolls. This was the perfect way to end my 2013 season opener and I’m already looking forward to seeing this tightly flown display again!

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Abingdon may not have had the usual support from the Royal Air Force but this didn’t seem to have any impact on the show at all. Once again the team pulled out all the stops and put together a really enjoyable show for the whole family. If the crowds are anything to go by then I think the organisers may have just had an extremely successful show – the stalls, ground displays, inviting atmosphere and of course the flying display easily make this one of the best events in the South of England. If you didn’t make it this year, then let this review be a reason to attend in twelve months time.

I think it’s fair to say that Abingdon 2013 will be remembered as the year of the warbirds…..roll on May 2014.

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For all these photos and more, visit http://www.facebook.com/tommercerphotography

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