Review – Abingdon Air & Country Show

After more than four months since the last show of 2013 and some of the worst weather that this country has seen in a long time, Spring has well and truly arrived. The 2014 display season got underway last weekend at Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire with the Abingdon Air & Country Show.

With less than seven days to go before the show, the organisers went through what can only be described as a nightmare of a week – both the Catalina and RNHF Sea Fury dropped out due to needing replacement parts, the AAC Lynx was cancelled because of the recent accident in Afghanistan and the RAF Tutor was grounded for unknown reasons. Some last minute phone calls and emails meant that the gaps were filled by a Fiesler Storch, a Harvard, a Dragon Rapide and the lesser known Renegades Parachute Display Team.

In recent years there hasn’t been too much of a struggle to get a seat on the display line, however, with bright blue skies and temperatures steadily rising, the first row started to fill up just before 11am. Although I had a press pass for the event, I decided to sit among the crowd – there’s a much better atmosphere when you’re surrounded by lots of people in good spirits.

Something new to the start of the show this year was the brief demonstration by an ex-Czech Army T-55 tank. Charging along the crowd line deploying smoke was a great sight and was made even better when two blanks were fired from the vehicles main turret – needless to say a few people around me suddenly woke up!

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Abingdon is just a stones throw from RAF Brize Norton and as such, the show sometimes gets treated to a flypast from one of the based ‘heavies’. Last year the crowd were treated to a missed approach by the retiring Tristar and this year didn’t disappoint either, with a nice low flypast from a C-130J Hercules. Although it was just a single flypast, it was nice to see and was better than not having it at all.

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Almost as soon as the Hercules had left the circuit, one of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfires entered. As much as I hate to say it, the display seemed very timid and at times, extremely far away from the display line. I understand that the idea is to preserve these aircraft as best as possible but when you compare it to the Spitfire display from Peter Teichman, the two are simply worlds apart. I have to be honest though, the BBMF aircraft did look fantastic in its new D-Day invasion markings.

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There are some fantastic Pitts Special display pilots in this country and the crowd at Abingdon were treated to a wonderfully dynamic routine from the Trig Aerobatics pairing of Richard Grace and Dave Pulestone. The two aircraft looked fantastic against the idyllic blue sky and flew a beautifully tight routine. It was easily the most exciting two-ship display of the day.

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I had been looking forward to seeing the RAF Tucano’s Royal British Legion display scheme in the flesh since I first saw the designs online a couple of months ago and it didn’t disappoint. The simple, yet effective scheme really stands out on the jet black aircraft and it’s a fantastic way to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. I’m not usually a fan of the Tucano but at the hands of Flt Lt Dave Kirby, the routine felt refreshed and contained a couple of new pieces that I’ve not seen from a Tucano before. I think I’d go as far as to say that it’s the most exciting Tucano routine I’ve ever seen.

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The Jet Provost is one of my favourite classic jet aircraft so imagine my excitement when the announcement was made about a pairs routine displaying on the day. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t to be. Neil McCarthy had a bit of an issue the night before the show when he realised that one of the tyres on the aircraft needed changing – working until the early hours of the morning and finishing the work just minutes before he needed to leave for display meant that he had to display on his own. The plus side is that we were still treated to two displays – Dan Arlett’s routine in the T5 followed by Neil’s in the T3. Believe it or not the two displays are actually quite different and it was a pleasure to see both flown in the hands of two very talented display pilots.

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The first two of the replacement acts then took to the air. The Fieseler Storch is a peculiar looking aircraft and one that supposedly has no stall speed. An on-crowd wind meant that this particular aircraft had everything it needed to put on a very intriguing display. Gliding through the air like a paper plane, the Storch managed to stun the crowd with it’s agile routine – I can only hope that the crowds clapping and cheering could be heard from inside the aircraft as it came in to land. Following in the soft footsteps of the Storch was the Duxford based Dragon Rapide – a fascinating passenger aircraft from a bygone era. The classic lines and delicate shapes of the Rapide make it look as though it’s at ease in the air and after a graceful routine, the aircraft touched back down to the ground.

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The Breitling sponsored Aerosuperbatics display team are a regular sight at Abingdon and after a busy twelve months circling the globe, the bright orange Boeing Stearman returned to home soil for their first big UK display of 2014. With Martyn Carrington and David Barrell at the controls and Dani and Stella on top, the Breitling Wingwalkers took to the sky. Many enthusiasts would probably describe the routine as ‘tame’ but I’ve always enjoyed it – the aircraft look fantastic against a rich blue sky and the routine has some great photographic opportunities.

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Although not in the flying display, Team Merlin from RAF Benson left the airfield in true style – low pass, pedal turn and then a faster pass to exit the circuit. It was a welcome surprise and a real treat to see.

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After a brilliantly flown routine from the North American Harvard, it was time for the moment that every enthusiast had been waiting patiently for. With the circuit clear and the words ‘Clear to display’ uttered, the stunningly beautiful English Electric Canberra PR9 flew into it’s display slot with a lovely topside pass. The Midair Squadron aircraft was due to display with one of their Hawker Hunters but an issue with paperwork stopped that from happening. Nevertheless, the Canberra was enough on it’s own to create silence on the flightline. This was the first time I’d ever witnessed a Canberra display and I found myself thinking at times ‘Wow, I didn’t expect it to be this quiet’…that was until pilot Dave Piper wound up towards the finale of the routine and poured on the coals. From left to right came a low and fast, howling pass that left me with my hairs on end and a massive smile. I can only describe the noise to be the love child of a Vulcan and Hunter blue note – it was incredible. Just thinking about it now is making me want to see it again and again and again. I truly believe that the Midair Squadron Canberra is going to be THE aircraft to see this year. Absolutely fantastic.

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Initial figures show that somewhere between 8,000-10,000 paying customers attended the bank holiday show and on that basis alone, Abingdon Air & Country Show 2014 will be seen as a huge success – and so it should be! There are talks of the show moving to a new position in 2015 on a trial basis, taking place in September rather than in May. My opinion? The last two years have had fantastic weather and huge crowds – if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. The May slot works perfectly and is a fantastic introduction to the UK airshow season.

I’d like to thank Neil Porter for the special access and the rest of his team for all the hard work that goes into putting this show on.

I’m looking forward to 2015 already!

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