Following hot on the heels of RAF Waddington International Air Show, Air Day certainly had a lot to live up to and with temperatures soaring into the thirties, everything was in place for a sell out show in the Somerset countryside.
Yeovilton has always been one of my favourite shows on the UK circuit (this was my sixth year), mainly because it’s full of helicopters and pyrotechnics but also because of the warm and friendly atmosphere created by those that put the show together. Unfortunately last weekend was an absolute scorcher with a cloudless blue sky and this does not make it easy for photographers as the crowd is facing into the sun all day. Shooting into the sun generally means a lot of exposure compensation and bleached backgrounds, however I just about managed to come away with some fairly reasonable shots.
It’s fair to say that back in 2012 the organisers had a difficult time finding exotic acts for the show because most of Europe’s fast jet displays were pre-booked at a continental display. 2013 was a different story altogether with displays from the Czech Air Force, Belgian Air Component and the welcome return of the Royal Jordanian Falcons – add that to the might of the Royal Naval Fleet Air Arm and a couple of displays from the RAF and you’ve got yourself a fantastic line up. Two star acts had cancelled by the time the show came round; the Czech Hind and Swiss F-18 but I barely noticed their absence with everything else that was going on.
I decided to take a look round the static aircraft early in the morning while the majority of people were still coming in. A decent selection of aircraft all round but it was definitely quality over quantity this year.
The displays kicked off at 11am with nine glorious BAe Hawks appearing from over the main complex trailing the infamous red, white and blue smoke – the one and only Red Arrows. I was unable to photograph their display (possibly for the first time ever) as I was busy on the Lynx pan but from what I saw, it was the usual effortless, spotless display from the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team.
Once the Reds vacated the vicinity, the familiar sound of slapping blades echoed around the airfield as the Chinook Display Team ran in to crowd centre to begin their display. The 2013 team are kicking up a storm on the UK circuit this year and having just won the ‘Best Display’ accolade at Waddington a couple of weeks ago, it was nice for the team to add another trophy to their cabinet as they were awarded ‘Best Rotary Display’. Congratulations once more on a truly spectacular display routine!
Many still say that they attend an air show for one reason and one reason only – to see Avro Vulcan XH558. After taking off and displaying at another show, The Spirit Of Great Britain flew in from the far left in complete silence but unusually this wasn’t silence from the crowd. This year’s Vulcan display appears to be very sedate and almost (dare I say it) a bit boring with very little of that infamous ‘Vulcan Howl’. The entire display was just about rescued by the quick climb which generated that much needed noise. Another disappointing display from the Cold War icon and I wouldn’t be surprised if fundraising starts to struggle as a result of the lacklustre 2013 routine.
The first of the foreign displays took to the air around midday in the form of the Czech Air Force L-139. The ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) is a Czech-made multi-role combat aircraft derived from the Aero L-59 Super Albatros. The aircraft has been operational with the Czech Air Force since early 2000 and this was their chance to show off the capability of their homegrown lightweight combat aircraft. Although the display was a little high at times, it was still a tightly flown routine and I’m glad that I can add it to my list of display aircraft that I’ve seen.
The Royal Jordanian Falcons took to the skies in formation but unusually they were only flying a three ship display. Unfortunately the fourth Extra was tucked up in a hangar with cracked cockpit glass and this meant that the routine was missing it’s solo element. Due to the missing aircraft, the display was cut a little short but as usual these guys put on a very nice display of aerobatic precision.
One of the best things about RNAS Yeovilton is that they are one of the only UK venues to allow the use of flares and pyrotechnics during displays and the Maritime Role Demo certainly didn’t disappoint. The idea behind this routine is give the public an idea of what the maritime Lynx force encounters on a daily basis. One of the main roles of the Lynx force is to patrol the sea in search of pirates and this was the storyline for Saturday’s show.
As a crew of pirates enter the area and kidnap a helpless female, the Royal Navy is alerted to their presence and send in the Lynx force to assess the situation.
Once the RN have worked out what’s going on, the helicopters attempt to stop the pirates but are fired upon and immediately the Lynx has to take evasive action.
The Lynx finally manages to bring a stop to the chaos and rescues the damsel in distress as the pirates are detained. A fantastic operational display and I for one love seeing the role demonstrations that our armed forces put together. Certainly one of the highlights of the day for me!
Yeovilton is also well known for putting together some unique formations and this year the organisers managed to get the Hangar 11 P-51, RNHF Sea Fury and North Weald based Skyraider in the sky at the same time. Three very nicely flown displays from classic warbirds and a real treat for the ears.
An unusual display item for Air Day was the Saab 2000 from Eastern Airways. Although not the most interesting aircraft in the world, it made a pleasant change seeing a turbo prop airliner being thrown about the sky.
Having seen a preview of the Czech Gripen display on Friday, I was excited to see the Tiger schemed airframe take to the skies once more for it’s routine. The Saab Gripen may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I for one really like it. It’s nowhere near as powerful as the Eurofighter Typhoon but it’s still a fast multi-role aircraft and the Czech’s sure knew how to throw it about. Some high speed passes and plenty of high altitude loops meant that the Czech Gripen display team was awarded ‘Best Fast Jet’ display for 2013. Well done!
Another of Air Day’s star items was supposed to be the first public display of the Sea Vixen but unfortunately the team had failed to take their DA in time having only received their Permit to Fly last week. Even so a fairly low, high speed flypast on arrival was more than welcome and it’s a real treat to see this aircraft back in the sky.
As the Sea Vixen was on finals, the Belgian Air Component A109 was waiting to get airborne with a full load of flares. No sooner had it run in for the start of it’s display, the pilot had already let off the first burst of pyros. For such a small helicopter I felt at times that it was a little too distant from the crowd line but even with that, it was still a tightly flown routine and that’s why it was also awarded ‘Best Rotary Display’ along with the Chinook.
Not to be outdone by the Czech Air Force, the RAF made sure they put on a spectacular display with the Typhoon of Flt Lt Jamie Norris. The routine for 2013 is nothing short of amazing and has plenty of noise and reheat action. Against a deep blue backdrop, the Typhoon looked wonderful – well done Jamie!
A new addition (and a very welcome one at that) to the circuit for this year is the Royal Navy Merlin Mk2 display from RNAS Culdrose. It’s always a treat to see these giants thrown about in the sky – they always remind me of buses because of just how big they look. It’s amazing to see just how much power is in the Agusta Westland machine and this was a real pleasure to photograph. I look forward to seeing this display again later in the year.
The final foreign display took off with plenty of reheat late afternoon in the shape of the Belgian Air Component F-16. Captain Avi Renaud “Grat” Thys wowed the crowd flying a dynamic routine with plenty of technical maneuvers, flares and smokewinders – something that I believe the RAF should look at incorporating into their displays. The Belgian’s definitely made an impressive return to Yeovilton and I look forward to their display again at RIAT.
RNAS Yeovilton is home to the Royal Navy Black Cats Helicopter Display Team 702 NAS and for 2013 they’re displaying a solo Lynx (more on that later in my Black Cats article). Lt AJ Thompson flew a very tight routine showing off the strengths of the HMA8 Lynx but struggled to get everything out of the aircraft while the engines tried to cope with the unbearable heat. Well done on what looked like a difficult display to fly in those conditions!
The Commando Assault finale is what Air Day is all about and this year the Agusta Westland Wildcat featured heavily, showing off exactly what it’s capable of doing and just why the MoD have chosen it as the replacement for the aging Lynx. Also new to this year’s finale was the airfield attack by enemy forces in the form of the Red Star Rebels Delfin aircraft. A simulated attack by renegade Russian fighters leads to a mass rescue mission by the Commando helicopter force – I won’t say anymore, I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
After a tricky show in 2012, the organisers went out of their way to put on a spectacle for 2013 and they did so with huge success. A sell out crowd and superb flying display makes Air Day the show to beat for the rest of this year. It’s also worth mentioning that base personnel did everything they could to make sure that the public were kept hydrated – a huge thank you to the organisers for making that happen. The flagship show for the Royal Navy was absolutely fantastic, my only criticism would be that the stalls are still shutting up shop far too early – once the show has finished, it would be nice to be able to browse the stalls while the car parks empty. Apart from that, well done to all involved.
Roll on Air Day 2014!
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