On Sunday 9th June, RAF Cosford opened it’s gates for the annual air show – the first of three major RAF shows for 2013. With a forecast of blue skies and plenty of sunshine, it had been announced on the Thursday prior to the show that the organisers expected the car parks to reach capacity by mid-morning and that anyone with an advance ticket should arrive early to avoid disappointment. So with my bag packed and car filled with petrol, I set off on the 300+ mile round trip at just gone 5.30am.
This was my first time at Cosford and I had heard many nightmarish stories of people being stuck in traffic from very early on in the morning and true to the stories, I was in traffic on the slip road up to the airfield at about 7.30am. It took 30 minutes or so from there to get on to base where unlike many shows, the parking is all situated on the airfield. I had booked tickets earlier on in the week to save an extra £5 so was expecting to queue up at a ticket office once on site to collect them, however, this was not the case. The whole setup of the air show was quite bizarre – after waiting to get on base, we joined a queue where random cars were being security checked. After that, we joined another queue (still in the car) where the confirmation email was checked (but no tickets handed out) – if you plan to go to Cosford next year in multiple cars then make sure you stick together! Once we got the nod from SEE Tickets, we carried on driving down the length of the airfield to park up in the far end. Like I said earlier, the setup was very strange – the flightline and static area was split up by four large car parks capable of holding approximately 18,000 cars, meaning that if you wanted to get from the flightline to the toilets or static area then you had to cross the four large car parks. This made it an annoyance to go between the two and I ended up staying by the flightline all day to retain my seat.
The sky was still pretty grey and gloomy as I set up my stuff but true to the forecast, the blue skies started to appear an hour or so later. The proper flying display wasn’t scheduled to start until 12pm but there was still plenty to see with taxi runs of two of the based SEPECAT Jaguars as well as several displays from the Large Scale Model Aircraft club. Unfortunately I never saw the Jaguar fly while it was in service with the RA, so to see two of them (including the specially painted jaguar scheme) performing taxi runs up and down the runway really was something quite special. I had decided that I’d go for a wander when the large models took to the air but they were actually really interesting – the guys at the controls certainly knew how to get the best out of them!
The RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team and the Typhoon were the first two acts to get airborne shortly after midday. As the clouds dissipated, the six-man Falcon Team jumped from 3000ft and glided to the ground with their red,white and blue parachutes deployed – a very good display of control and teamwork.
A couple of minutes passed and above the horizon to the right of the display line, the infamous shape of the Eurofighter Typhoon could be seen. The display for 2013 is flown by Flt Lt Jamie Norris, a previous Harrier GR9 pilot and I have to say it is easily the most impressive RAF solo fast jet display I’ve seen in recent years. A combination of technical maneuvers and high speed passes were met with plenty of vapour in the stunningly lit summer sky, the display was a truly brilliant performance from the multi-role aircraft.
Having arrived earlier in the morning with a lovely low pass, the six Yaks of the Aerostars took to the sky to perform their formation display. Each aircraft has a different paint scheme so you can always be sure of a nice colourful shot as the team barrel roll and loop in the air. I’ve always been impressed with the displays that the Aerostars perform and Sunday’s was no different, a thoroughly decent display and one I’d like to see again this year.
Almost as soon as the Aerostars had departed, no sooner was the RAF Search and Rescue Sea King inbound and filling the sky with bright yellow awesomeness. This is a display that I have been wanting to see for a long time now and Sunday I finally got to see it in all it’s glory. Fortunately the grass had recently been cut on the airfield which made for some interesting atmospheric shots as the Sea King helicopter reached crowd centre. Through no fault of its own (like many of the displays to come later in the day), the Sea King role demo was hampered by the parking of dozens of light aircraft right on the flight line. I really can’t understand why they couldn’t have parked them up else where, so many panning shots were ruined by Cessna’s obstructing the view of the runway – just one more reason why the layout of Cosford was bizarre. Overlooking that though, the Search and Rescue display was nice to see and the paint scheme looked great in the bright sunshine.
After the usual crazy flying from O’Brien’s Flying Circus, the F-86 Sabre flew in from Duxford to perform a classic display. The Sabre has always been a favourite of mine, I have a real soft spot for the older jet aircraft – the sound and black smoke generated from the F-86 makes for fantastic viewing. It may not be the fastest jet in the world but in the hands of Cliff Spink, the Golden Apple aircraft shoots through the air like a bullet.
Split by a display from a Pitts Special, it was over to the first two displays from WWII aircraft and first up was the Royal Naval Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury. This is a regular sight at UK air shows but it’s always one that I look forward to seeing. The display tends to be flown quite fast, which isn’t really a surprise considering the Sea Fury once held the world air speed record, add some rolling to the speed and you’ve got yourself a nice little routine from a classic naval aircraft.
Another regular sight and sound across the country is that of the Merlin and Griffon engines – the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight. The Spitfire and Hurricane had landed earlier in the morning, so once they had taken off and regrouped with the Lancaster, they flew in formation and gave a couple of nice passes before splitting off into their own routines. The BBMF are a great national icon and I will always look forward to seeing them but their routine would be so much more photographer friendly if they just gave a couple of topside passes!
The Army Air Corps Lynx soon went into circuit to run in for it’s display and once again the army pilots put on a terrific performance which was followed by nine very red and very special Hawks. The RAFAT have had a tough couple of years recently, so it was a special sight to see all nine aircraft in Big Battle formation trailing their infamous red,white and blue smoke on arrival at Cosford. What I like most about the Red Arrows is that every single person stops what they’re doing and looks to the sky – you cannot help but feel immensely proud to be British as the team perform their unique formations and maneuvers. It was beyond amazing to see the Reds back at full strength and I’m already looking forward to seeing them at Yeovilton in July.
Next up were the AAC Apache, RAF Chinook displays and then the much anticipated MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team) role demonstration. As the Apache ran in for it’s display, the commentators announced something extremely special ‘…flying as well in today’s display is Captain Wales…’ – for those of you that don’t know just how special that is, Captain Wales is none other than Prince Harry. It was not made clear whether Harry would be performing any other displays this year or whether it was just a one off – nevertheless it was very special and I’m glad I was there to witness him in action.
As many of you know by now, I’m very fortunate this year to be doing some work throughout the summer with the 2013 Chinook Display Team so I’m a tad biased when it comes to their display. It seems however, that I wasn’t the only person to appreciate the incredible routine from the dual rotor aircraft – the display has changed a little since I saw the work-up back in May and I have to say that I think it’s got even better since then! The unmistakable sound of the Chinook’s blades slapping the air around them will never get old and neither will the sight of a helicopter pulling the moves that it does, almost defying physics. A top routine from the Odiham based team.
As mentioned in my article with the team last month, the Chinook and Apache were invited to put together a routine that would demonstrate the importance of the MERT’s in Afghanistan. As Afghan music blared out over the loudspeakers, the scene was set – the RAF regiment are out on a routine patrol when they’re ambushed by a Taliban vehicle.
Both sides engage in a firefight and while the British forces on the ground make an impact, the Taliban still manage to critically injure one of the soldiers. The wound needs immediate attention and Medevac is called in from Camp Bastion. Within minutes, the Chinook and MERT aircrew are airborne and travelling at high speed just 50ft above the ground.
Accompanied by an Apache attack helicopter, the Chinook comes in hot, straight over the casualty to get a look at the landing zone which is identified by a plume of red smoke. The Apache gains height to provide covering fire if needed while the Chinook lands and the MERT get to work on the injured soldier.
Just minutes later, the casualty is strapped up and loaded on to the Chinook so that they can return to Bastion as soon as possible.
The display may only have been put together days before the show but even so, it was a great chance to see what these aircraft get up to on the front line and was a real insight into medical extraction. I would probably say that the drive to Cosford was worth it for this alone.
A flypast from a C-130 followed once the airfield has quietened down again and then it was on to another tightly flown display by the SWIP team. The Vulcan To The Sky Trust recently announced that they may be able to extend the life of the airframe by two years if the funding is generated and how did they decide to celebrate this? By putting together possibly the most random flypast I think I’ve ever seen – XH558 with the RV8tors either side. I don’t know if it was just me but it seemed like a really random collaboration – fortunately both broke off into their own routines and both were equally impressive. The Vulcan has all the noise and power needed to wow the crowd while the RV8tors have the precision and skill.
Round two of the WWII aircraft was up next – Peter Teichman and his beautiful mk XI Spitfire, BBMF Dakota and B-17 Sally-B from Duxford. As always, Peter flew another breath taking display in what he says is his favourite aircraft – I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again in the future but Peter sure knows how to display a warbird! Sunday was the first time that I’ve ever seen the BBMF DC.3 display in the air and it was a really graceful show – it was then trumped by a stunning display from Sally-B.
With the show drawing to a close, it was time for this years RAF Tucano display and the first chance to see the desert camouflage scheme in the flesh. The scheme actually looks really nice on the Tucano and the routine was pretty impressive for a turbo-prop aircraft. Unfortunately it seemed to be flown quite high and distant which meant at times it was too far for the reach of my lens at the 300mm end.
The Blades closed the show for 2013 and with their blend of formation flying and ‘crazy’ stunts, the crowd gave a huge round of applause and headed for the car parks.
I had heard rumours that getting out of Cosford was one of the most frustrating things to experience and they certainly weren’t wrong on that front. I spent an hour and a half just wandering around the site, taking in the stalls and static aircraft (of which 90% were Jaguars) but this still wasn’t enough time for the traffic to disappear. I finally got off site two and a half hours after the flying display finished – the traffic was simply unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.
In short, Cosford provided fantastic weather and a great flying display but unfortunately a very unpleasant arrival and departure experience. I’ve already made the decision that I won’t be returning next year which is a shame – hopefully the team at Cosford will look at alternative parking arrangements and a different layout in the near future.
Superb flying but overall, a frustrating experience.
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