2013 Review

2013 has been an incredible year for me and whilst I’ve already started making plans for 2014, it’s time to take a look back at some of the highlights from the last twelve months.

My aviation year started all the way back in May with a visit to RAF Odiham where the 2013 RAF Chinook Display Team were working on their display a few weeks prior to their PDA. After 90 minutes of continuous practice, I sat down with the team to work on my first written piece of the year – little did I know at the time that this would be my first printed article and would later appear in Odiham’s Helicon magazine.

IMG_4862800

IMG_4933800

May was a busy month because I also visited Abingdon Air and Country Show – the traditional display season starting point. Abingdon was slightly different for me this year as I was also invited along to the night shoot on the evening before the public day. Abingdon was a very strong show this year with some stand out displays and cracking weather.

IMG_4159800

IMG_3134800

As if that wasn’t enough for May, I then went to see the An-2 Club team down at Popham airfield – the team have had a tough twelve months and back in April, due to financial strains, they decided to take a year out and reassess things. The good news is that things have dramatically improved since then and 2014 is looking like a strong year for the Popham based team.

IMG_4570800

In June I visited the RAF Cosford Airshow for the first time and I have to say that it was a strange experience to say the least. Firstly, the layout of the showground was unlike anything I’d ever seen before – the main runway/display line and static displays were separated by a massive onsite car park. This meant that if you wanted to go from one side to the other you had to cross the large car park, which to me just seemed like a massive inconvenience. The air and static displays itself were fantastic though – a good balance between old and new but it also stayed true to what an Airshow should be; decent displays without the need for lots of  unrelated sideshows. The highlight for many was the Harrier GR.3 which had been restored and staged inside a classic camouflage hide – something that Cosford are looking to build upon in the coming years. Another highlight of Cosford was the MERT role demo that was put together by the RAF and Army – it was a fantastic demonstration of how our forces work together in Afghanistan to bring our injured soldiers home. And who could forget that one off Apache display from Captain Wales A.K.A. Prince Harry?!

IMG_6973800

IMG_7795Copy800

July is naturally the busiest time on the UK display calendar with most of the big shows taking place within a few weeks of each other. My first show of the month was RNAS Yeovilton’s Air Day where I attended both days and got to work with the Royal Navy Black Cats Helicopter Display Team – unfortunately due to circumstances outside of my control the article was scrubbed and never saw the light of day. As usual the Navy put on a spectacle of a show – if you’ve never seen the commando assault finale then you’re missing out!

IMG_9675800

IMG_1379800

My second show and possibly the highlight of my year was the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford – not because of the air display itself (which featured a breathtaking flypast consisting of the Red Arrows and BA’s new A380) but because I got to spend an entire day behind the scenes with the RAF Chinook Display Team. The work from this hasn’t seen the light of day yet as it is still waiting official sign-off from the RAF but the work will (hopefully) be displayed early next year at my first exhibition.

IMG_3888800

IMG_2177 copy800

The beginning of August was fairly quiet but the end of the month and into September became extremely busy with two shows and two new articles.

The first airshow was at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey for the annual Wings & Wheels display. Once more it was a superbly organised event and almost perfect in every way (except for the total washout on Saturday). The show itself had a good mixture of motoring, classic aircraft, helicopters and fast jets but equally as important, the showground layout was extremely well designed.

IMG_5061800

IMG_6423800

A few days later I was invited by RAF Odiham to write an article on the Chinook HC4 and the Chinook force drawdown in Afghanistan. The organised day was an opportunity for members of the armed forces to speak to the media and discuss the processes involved in preparing for withdrawal from certain areas of Afghanistan. My main focus for the day was to capture an overall view of the exercise, document the Chinook HC4 and also speak to (then) RAF Odiham’s Station Commander.

IMG_6599 copy800

IMG_7363800

Next stop was Bournemouth Air Festival and it was my first time shooting from the cliff top. Bournemouth is a special show because you get to see the Fleet Air Arm operating in their natural environment and being on the cliffs gives the perspective of almost looking down upon all of the displays. The highlight of the show for me was the Royal Navy’s anti-piracy role demonstration which involved all aspects of the force, including the Royal Marines.

IMG_8071800

IMG_7983800

2013 has been an eventful year for aviation and unfortunately it saw the retirement of the mighty VC-10. Fortunately I was invited to Dunsfold Aerodrome where Brooklands Museum were taking delivery of ZA150. Although owned by Brooklands, the aircraft will remain at Dunsfold for the foreseeable future and there is a high chance that it will be maintained in fast taxi condition and should be on display at next year’s Wings & Wheels event.

IMG_9280800

IMG_9384800

So in a nutshell, that’s what I’ve been up to in the last twelve months. It has been a very enjoyable year but it is nice to take a step back over the winter and look at everything that I’ve achieved. Plans are well underway already for 2014 and I hope that you will continue to follow me along the way.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those that have helped make 2013 such a fantastic year – it wouldn’t have been possible without you!

The start of the 2014 Airshow season is just five months away…

Review – Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

For the first time this year, organisers decided to host the annual Wings & Wheels show on the Saturday and Sunday of the bank holiday weekend instead of the Sunday and Monday. When they saw the forecast for the weekend I can only imagine what must have been said in the office…

Having had such a brilliant two days last year, I once again opted for the two day ticket but almost immediately started regretting that decision on Saturday morning. Setting up early seemed almost pointless with just a handful of people on the display line first thing. Chair out and umbrella firmly in the ground for what was going to be a very miserable day.

The forecast early on in the week said that both Saturday and Sunday were both going to be full of sun and cloud – unfortunately as the week went on. Saturday’s forecast just got worse and worse. True to the forecast it was very wet and the cloud base was extremely low which meant poor visibility all around.

The car runs were slightly sparse with many private operators choosing not to run as there was too much standing water and only a handful of air displays got airborne during the day – the first of which was Peter Teichman in Lulu Belle. The Kittyhawk’s engine purred as it took to the dull grey sky and Peter showed that even in these horrendous conditions, you could still put a warbird through it’s paces. This was to be Peter’s first display of the day as he later performed a full routine with his Hawker Hurricane – disappearing into the low cloud clearly didn’t stop the Hangar 11 owner from having fun!

IMG_4019review

Dunsfold managed to secure the RNLAF historic flight B-25 Mitchell for the third year running but unlike the last two years, it actually turned up! The WWII bomber graced the skies above Dunsfold and put on a truly magnificent display. Plenty of sweeping turns and low passes easily made this a contender for top display but unfortunately Saturday was the only time it managed to run through it’s routine. Shortly after take off on Sunday, the pilot reported that the gear was locked down and therefore the aircraft landed almost immediately. A real shame considering the weather on Sunday was fantastic.

IMG_4134review

IMG_4075review

The AAC Apache, RN Lynx and RAF Chinook also all managed to put on a display for the crowd but these were also somewhat hampered by the persistent drizzle and low cloud.  All three put on superb displays considering the conditions but Flt Lt Paul Farmer stole the show when he managed to pull of the the full 720 degree downward spiral mid-display – incredible considering the cloud base.

IMG_4142review

Saturday was all over and done with at 4pm as the heavens opened – well done to Jonathon Whaley for still managing to get out for a fast taxi on what looked like a river by the time I left!

With Saturday’s weather behind us, the sun was shining and blue skies were aplenty as I pulled up for day two on the Surrey based show. Temperatures slowly rose throughout the day and the sky just kept getting better and better for photography. I’d almost go as far as saying that it was the best light I’ve shot in all year.

The runway was still a little damp from the night before but this didn’t stop anyone from coming out for a run. Every single serviceable car powered up the straight demonstrating that this show wasn’t just about what was in the sky but that it was also about what the motoring industry has to offer. From classic Mustangs to modern day Porsches, Aston Martins to hot rods – there was something for everyone including a visit from the Louisiana State Police.

IMG_4916review

IMG_4993review

IMG_4873review

The first air display of the day came from Dan Arlett in his Jet Provost. Dan took off into an almost cloudless blue sky and the lingering vapour made for some incredibly shots. The display seemed to go on forever and I simply didn’t want it to end – it was one of the most entertaining displays I’ve seen this year and was easily the most photogenic. An outstanding display by a former RAF jet trainer – thank you Dan!

IMG_5050review

IMG_5034review

Something slightly different to a normal air display and an act that hasn’t been seen at Dunsfold before was the Reds Duo RC Hawk display team. The 1/4 scale Hawks lined up and took to the air in formation and performed a routine which consisted of passes and aerobatics pulled from the Red Arrows synchro pair display. I was expecting to find this little display boring but it was absolutely brilliant and even the real Reds approved of the smoke filled show.

IMG_5164review

The Brietling Wingwalkers flew into the display circuit and Dani and Freya demonstrated once again that you have to be incredibly fit to perform acrobatics whilst in flight. The bright orange Stearman aircraft are always a pleasure to see and somehow manage to make the crowd smile every single time they fill the aerodrome with smoke.

IMG_5300review

The RAF Odiham based Chinook team returned for the second day in a row to demonstrate the agility and capability of the tandem rotor aircraft. Dunsfold was one of the display venues that the team had hand picked earlier in the year so that they could say thank you to the owners for letting them use the aerodrome for training – and what a way to say thank you! Another top performance by the award winning display team and the penultimate show of their season.

IMG_5458review

Lt Si Dixon carried on the rotary theme by taking the Lynx up for the solo Black Cats routine. Throwing the aircraft around the sky as if it were just a toy, Si demonstrated just what the Agusta Westland helicopter is capable of. It’s still a little strange to see the Black Cats  display as a solo performance but I’m really excited for what the 2014 season holds…bring on the Wildcat!

IMG_5628review

After a slightly disappointing solo display at Abingdon back in May, I was slightly sceptical about seeing the Gnat pair display but I had no need to be. Flying in from North Weald and straight into their routine, the two Folland Gnats filled the sky with smoke trails and put on a very impressive display of formation flying – it’s easy to see why the Reds used to fly them! A smaller airfield and another aircraft led to this display being one of my favourite from the weekend. Well done guys!

IMG_5688review

After another faultless display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, XH558 began running in for it’s display. Although I’m getting a little bored of seeing the cold war giant display, the crowd seemed to disagree. The aerodrome fell almost silent as the Olympus engines kicked into life and let out a short burst of that infamous howl – a nice sight to see but I’m not sure I’ll miss it that much when it’s gone.

IMG_5892review

Over the far side of the airfield, nine Hawks were powering up and children started to gather at the display line – it was time for the Red Arrows. Taking off in three staggered formations of three, the Reds retracted their landing gear and went into circuit to start their display. I love seeing the younger ones’ reactions when the Reds take to the sky – nothing on earth produces a smile quite like the site of red, white and blue smoke. The Arrows are on top form again this year and every single one of their displays has been fantastic – well done guys and thank you!

IMG_6008review

Over the last few years Dunsfold has become infamous for putting together unique formations that you’ll be hard pushed to find elsewhere and this year they carried on that tradition with not one but two set pieces. Firstly was the RNHF Sea Fury and the Hangar 11 Hurricane which performed a few formation flypasts before breaking into their individual routines. The second formation seemed as though it was arranged last minute – there was a brief gap in the display programme while the Wingwalkers, Sea Fury and Swordfish all departed. The commentators then announced over the loud speakers that they were going to positions themselves together and fly in for a formation fly past before going their separate ways. Top marks to all involved, especially the RNHF Sea Fury which had to fly with flaps down just to slow down enough.

IMG_6137review

IMG_6166review

Now late into the afternoon and the sun was starting to go down in a clear sky, needless to say that for the remaining displays the light was absolutely phenomenal. First to take to the sky in the fading light was the multicoloured Hawker Hunter – Miss Demeanour. Dunsfold’s aim is to get aircraft involved with the show that have some sort of history with the airfield and of course, the aerodrome was home to Hawker/Hawker Siddeley back in the day. Jonathon was able to put on an outstanding show and there were even traces of that desirable blue note – a controversial scheme but always a truly awesome display.

IMG_6219review

The day concluded with displays by the RAF Typhoon and AAC Apache. As I mentioned earlier, the light was out of this world and meant that both displays made for some incredible shots. Flt Lt Jamie Norris gave yet another amazing display in his Eurofighter aircraft – I really feel that the Typhoon has been brought to life this year and that’s all down to Jamie so lets keep that momentum going into next year.

IMG_6320review

The Apache closed the show demonstrating that the combat proven helicopter is more than capable of keeping up with the likes of the Chinook and Lynx in terms of display flying. Although not a full aerobatic display like it’s Dutch cousin, the Wattisham based team still managed to fill the sky and wow the crowd with it’s tight banking and combat manoeuvres.

IMG_6408review

So Dunsfold Wings & Wheels 2013 really was a show of two halves – a rain filled Saturday and sunny Sunday. After leaving the grounds soaking wet on Saturday I really feared for the organisers and couldn’t work out why they’d decided to change the show days given that it’s always been such a huge success in the past. Nevertheless, the weather pulled in the crowd on Sunday which hopefully more than made up for the lack of money taken on Saturday. The organisers must be highly applauded for their efforts in constantly rescheduling the show on Saturday and making sure that the audience were not left totally disappointed. Gaps in the display programme were filled with aviation related chat which didn’t feel at all forced so congratulations to the commentary team too. One thing also worthy of mentioning was the improved layout of the show ground – toilets were placed throughout the arena meaning that you never had to walk far and the dedicated WWII re-enactment area was very interesting. The bigger shows could learn an awful lot about catering if they were to speak to the organisers too, with a huge selection of food available; hog roasts, locally sourced burgers and even a Domino’s wagon – as well as all the fast food regulars.

If you ignore the terrible weather on Saturday then I really can’t fault the show.

Full marks awarded to Dunsfold Park.

Roll on 2014…

Review – Royal International Air Tattoo

IMG_3152Cover

The Royal International Air Tattoo is seen by many enthusiasts as THE greatest military air show in the world but this year’s show left a sinking feeling in my stomach. Slightly sceptical about the show, I headed to the Gloucestershire countryside on 20th July to see what the organisers had to offer.

The 2011 show was a total disaster on the ground – a plethora of stalls totally unrelated to aviation, a concert stage that meant the commentary feed was inaudible and far too much money was spent on acts to display on that stage which ultimately led to a poorer display in the air as a result. It’s fair to say that the enthusiast community was thoroughly unimpressed with the outcome and many a meeting was held by those in charge to address the many complaints generated from unhappy customers. A few months passed and it was announced that 2012 would be a classic year for the Air Tattoo – a stripped back show trying to get back to its aviation roots without any of the cumbersome additions that plagued the ground just 12 months previously.

Last year’s show was absolutely fantastic. As promised the concert stage had all but vanished and the stalls selling double glazing, garden swings and ornaments had also disappeared. The focus was clearly on getting star items for both the flying and static displays…and it showed! The team at RIAT had turned over a new leaf and for the first time in many years it felt as though all was on track to get back to the glory days of aviation. The aviation community praised the efforts put in by all involved and were genuinely excited for this year’s show…that was until the plans for this year were revealed.

Much of the fun about the Air Tattoo is in finding out what will be attending in the months running up to the show. This year though, the excitement turned into frustration and disappointment when ‘star’ items turned out to be RAF displays that were always guaranteed to be there anyway. The lack of US hardware both on the ground and in the air was compensated with civilian flown warbirds which many would argue, do not belong at the world’s biggest military air show. As if that wasn’t enough, the press day consisted of an RAF Typhoon landing, a BMX stunt display and a comment that will probably be remembered as the beginning of the end – a comment stating that RIAT’s biggest competitor was a theme park and that’s the sort of atmosphere they wanted to create.

Two weeks of brilliantly blue skies and soaring temperatures meant that Saturday’s show was sold out before the gates had even opened and as I set up on the flight line at 8am, I was soon glad that I’d decided to settle down early rather than look round the static. Even though the build up to the show had been full of let downs and missed opportunities (not even approaching the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight), there was still plenty of interesting items to be seen in the air – the first of which were the routines from the Dutch Air Force.

The Dutch Air Force display teams are becoming regulars on the UK display circuit and they have to be admired for their commitment to us. Dressed in a fantastic scheme to celebrate the Dutch Air Force centenary, the Apache kicked off the weekend with a superb display of rotary agility. The Apache and F-16 completed a fly past together before the ‘Orange Lion’ kicked in the re-heat and tore up the sky. We’ve come to expect a fantastic routine from the Dutch F-16 pilots and this year’s display was no different – another superb performance in one of my favourite fighters of all time.

IMG_1428LQCover

IMG_1484LQCover

IMG_1531LQCover

IMG_1564LQCover

The next display that was of particular interest was the Finnish Army’s new NH90 which was making it’s UK debut. I’d seen the company’s display of the NH90 back at Farnborough last year and was rather impressed with it’s routine. Unfortunately I felt a little let down by the Finnish routine because it was very much focused on crowd centre, so if you were either end of the runway you barely got a look in apart from a few turns.

IMG_1678LQCover

Another aircraft making its UK flying debut was the brand new Boeing KC-767A from the Italian Air Force which flew in formation with two Typhoons (one from the RAF and one from the RSV). Although a very short display with just one fly past, it was nice to see the aircraft in a refuelling formation and even more impressive were the performance takeoffs of all three aircraft.

IMG_1698LQCover

One aircraft that has really grown on me in the last twelve months is the Saab Gripen and to my delight there were two present at RIAT – the first of which was a routine from the Swedish Air Force. In previous years I’ve found the Swedish routine to be fairly sedate but this year it was brilliant and in my opinion was far superior to that of the Hungarian Air Force that displayed later in the afternoon. The Swedish display felt much closer to the crowd line where I was and I thought the routine flowed much more naturally. Overall though I thought they were both very good and should both be commended for their displays.

IMG_1833LQCover

IMG_1852LQCover

IMG_2802LQCover

IMG_2837LQCover

Making a very welcome return to RAF Fairford was the Polish Air Force MiG-29. Staying low on take off and pulling into a high G turn to begin it’s display, the Polish Air Force did their absolute best to show off the power of this Eastern block fighter. A lot of afterburner and plenty of that infamous black smoke made this one of the stand out displays of the weekend. Always a pleasure to see Russian built hardware at UK shows.

IMG_1885LQCover

IMG_1927LQCover

Although I said earlier that warbirds didn’t really belong at RIAT, for me there were two exceptions to that rule. The Flying Bulls have displayed here several times in the last couple of years but never at Fairford. Red Bull’s original plan was to send their P-38 Lightning and Corsair but the Lightning sadly had engine issues – as a replacement, they happily sent their chrome-finish B-25J Mitchell. I was almost glad that it had clouded over a little more when the aircraft got airborne, had it have been really sunny then the chrome finish would have been a nightmare to shoot! A lovely formation display by both aircraft before splitting and carrying out their solo routines. It was a display I’d not seen before and I look forward to seeing more from the Flying Bulls in the coming years.

IMG_1989LQCover

IMG_2037 copyLQCover

As well as their shiny new tanker, the Italian Air Force also sent their RSV Typhoon and C-27 Spartan for the flying displays. I had heard many good things about the RSV Typhoon display in previous years so was rather excited to see it announced for the flying display a few months back. As the Eurofighter multi-role aircraft left the runway, it’s smokewinders kicked in and off it went into the circuit to begin it’s routine. Although the smoke added an extra dimension to the display, I felt that the RAF Typhoon was much superior – the Italian routine lacked both power and noise. Putting the Typhoon aside, the C-27 Spartan routine was absolutely phenomenal and no matter how many times I see the transport aircraft roll and loop, it still defies physics in my eyes. A tightly flown display by the Italians – it’s incredible to see what can be done with just two of the C-130J’s turboprop engines.

IMG_2321LQCover

IMG_2339LQCover

IMG_2107LQCover

IMG_2117LQCover

IMG_2129LQCover

IMG_2135LQCover

I think possibly the highlight of RIAT 2013 for me was the formation fly pasts from the RAF Red Arrows and British Airways’ brand new Airbus A380. It was one of those moments that will forever stand out in my mind and I can honestly say that it made me feel incredibly patriotic – The Red Arrows trailing red, white and blue smoke while the A380 is leading the display with BA’s trademark colours. A truly fantastic fly past and if that alone wasn’t enough, the A380 then broke off and performed a missed approach – my jaw hit the ground as the Airbus giant slammed on the thrust to pull into a climb. A very British display and one that I’ll never forget.

IMG_2182LQCover

IMG_2209LQCover

The Airbus A400M was also present at the show and like the A380, it also made a fly past on the Sunday with the Red Arrows. The first time I saw the Atlas display, I remember thinking how majestic it was in the air and the show at RIAT certainly didn’t disappoint. It was fascinating to see how the Hercules’ replacement can be thrown about the sky and it’s easy to see that it will excel in an operational environment. The most impressive feature of it’s entire display was the steep approach to full stop landing using just a minute part of the available runway. I’m looking forward to these coming into service, that’s for sure.

IMG_2665LQCover

IMG_2637LQCover

IMG_2732LQCover

A first for the Air Tattoo was the participation from the Estonian Air Force who sent half of their fleet – one Antonov An-2 and an L-39 Albatross. The L-39 was for the flying display and was painted up in a scheme inspired by the Baltic Bees. The pilot gave a spirited display of the small jet trainer but at times the aircraft was just a little too far from the display line and the routine felt disjointed. At several points in the display, the commentators called the wrong parts of the display – I can only assume that they had a very basic routine script to talk about. It was lovely to see Estonia contributing so much (compared to the size of their air force) to the flying programme and hopefully as their air power grows, we’ll see more from them in the future.

IMG_2540LQCover

Finally for the flying displays – it would be rude not to mention another award-winning performance from the RAF Chinook display team, well done on the hat-trick!

IMG_2447LQCover

IMG_2412LQCover

It’s fair to say that the static display at RIAT this year was empty compared to previous years – it would appear that Fairford just can’t cope on the ground without US participation. There were plenty of big gaps where US tankers and transporters would usually see and it all looked a bit sorry for itself – I don’t understand why they didn’t shrink the display line a little too compact everything up a little more. There were also plenty of civilian types that just wouldn’t have been seen in previous years and these simply don’t belong at a military air show.

There were really only three aircraft on the ground this year that I really wanted to see; the Breitling Super Constellation, French Mirage’s and Canberra XH134. The latter only got approval to fly in late Friday afternoon so very well done to all involved and it was great to see her back at the Air Tattoo after her final display there in 2006.

IMG_3179Cover

The Super Constellation was due to attend last year but due to engine troubles, it had to cancel. Fortunately it was available this year but only for static display – nevertheless it was a chance to see a beautiful airliner from a bygone era and I really hope to see her in the air in the near future.

IMG_3166Cover

The star item(s) of the static display for me were the two Mirage F1s from the French Air Force – two stunning aircraft that I’ve not seen before so it was a pleasure to shoot them up close. Sadly I didn’t see them in the air at any point but I understand that those in the Mach Loop on the Monday got a welcome treat when they took the long way home!

IMG_2965LQCover

As I mentioned earlier 2013 is the first in a three-year plan to change things at RIAT and this year saw the addition of ‘service stations’, a larger fayre ground and the ‘adrenaline zone’. The service stations were actually a really good idea – a choice of different food, free public WiFi and toilets all in one location and there were three of these stations (one for each coloured zone). Unfortunately the standard of the food available was still dire and the prices still unreasonable – the service stations are a great idea but really need refining.

Now the parts I wasn’t too sure on.

The adrenaline zone consisted of a Caterham driving experience where you paid £10 to go doughnutting and an extreme sports show hosted by Animal and…WD-40. On the Saturday I saw these two things from a pure aviation enthusiast perspective and thought ‘What the hell are these doing here? They’ve nothing to do with aircraft’. However on Sunday when I was walking around the showground, the Caterham experience queue was at least 30 people long all day and the stunt show was crowded and drawing more attention by the minute. The same with the fayre ground too, all day there were families queuing to go on the rides.

As much as I disagree with these things being at an air show, I guess as long as people are showing an interest in them then they’ll continue to pay for them to be there.

RIAT 2013 was strange. A fantastic flying display that overall stayed true to what the Air Tattoo is all about – securing top displays from the world’s air forces but a static display that was almost verging on being a total disaster.

If July’s show was anything to go by then this year was a turning point for the Royal International Air Tattoo.

It is absolutely crucial for the team to remember where the Air Tattoo all started and not to forget it’s pure aviation roots. After all, ‘the world’s largest military air show’ needs to remain exactly that. The show used to be something that you could be proud of but now, if it’s to carry on in this direction then I’m not so sure. There’s a lot to be learnt from 2013 and only time will tell as to whether the organisers choose to listen to the feedback or not. I know many people that are seriously considering not paying for a Mach pass next year – many who have attended the show for longer than I’ve been alive.

Sadly, due to a sell out show on both days, RIAT 2013 will be seen as a huge success but underneath those ticket sales are many things that need addressing.

RIAT…it’s over to you.

Review – RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2013

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.

IMG_9657800Review

IMG_9575800Review

IMG_9592800Review

IMG_9609800Review

IMG_9636800Review

IMG_9648800Review

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.

IMG_9724800Review

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!

IMG_9803800Review

IMG_9752800Review

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.

IMG_9899800Review

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.

IMG_9944800Review

IMG_9970800Review

 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.

IMG_0069800Review

IMG_0024800Review

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.

IMG_0106800Review

IMG_0127800Review

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.

IMG_0147800Review

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.

IMG_0198800Review

IMG_0244800Review

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.

IMG_0304800Review

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!

IMG_0357800Review

IMG_0440800Review

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.

IMG_0531800Review

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.

IMG_0565800Review

IMG_0643800Review

IMG_0694800Review

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!

IMG_0768800Review

IMG_0804800Review

IMG_0830800Review

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.

IMG_0896800Review

IMG_0915800Review

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.

IMG_0280800Review

IMG_0945800Review

IMG_0952800Review

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!

IMG_0988800Review

IMG_0995800Review

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.

IMG_1058800Review

IMG_1077800Review

IMG_1064800Review

IMG_1065800Review

IMG_1099800Review

IMG_1107800Review

IMG_1160800Review

IMG_1174800Review

IMG_1189800Review

IMG_1232800Review

IMG_1237800Review

IMG_1275800Review

IMG_1282800Review

IMG_1357800Review

IMG_1379800Review

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!

Full set will be available at http://www.facebook.com/tommercerphotography 

Review – Cosford Air Show 2013

IMG_6866800

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!

IMG_6813800

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.

IMG_6852800

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.

IMG_6972800

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.

IMG_7016800

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.

IMG_7038800

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.

IMG_7241800

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.

IMG_7145800

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!

IMG_7279800

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.

IMG_7441800

IMG_7503800

IMG_7505800

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.

IMG_7874800

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.

IMG_7696800

IMG_7735800

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.

IMG_7751800

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.

IMG_7770800

IMG_7779800

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.

IMG_7795800

IMG_7823800

IMG_7834800

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.

IMG_7849800

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.

IMG_7975800

IMG_7994800

IMG_8060800

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.

IMG_8141800

IMG_8085800

IMG_8189800

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.

IMG_8250800

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.

IMG_8295800

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.

IMG_8333800

IMG_8366800

IMG_8376800

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.

The full set will be available on the Facebook page.

Review – Abingdon Air & Country Show 2013

IMG_3804800be

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!

IMG_3134800w

IMG_3116800w

IMG_3240800w

IMG_3275800w

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.

IMG_3408800b

IMG_3308800b

IMG_3326800b

IMG_3368800b

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.

IMG_3426800b

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!

IMG_3455800b

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.

IMG_3512800b

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.

IMG_3571800b

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.

IMG_3607800b

IMG_3593800b

IMG_3344800b

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.

IMG_3668800b

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.

IMG_3739800b

IMG_3735800b

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.

IMG_3815800b

IMG_3774800b

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.

IMG_3974800b

IMG_3891800b

IMG_3932800b

IMG_3867800b

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.

IMG_4056800b

IMG_4048800b

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.

IMG_4124800b

IMG_4145800b

IMG_4085800b

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.

IMG_4178800b

IMG_4159800b

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!

IMG_4259800b

IMG_4277800b

IMG_4232800b

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!

IMG_4302800b

IMG_4355800b

IMG_4359800b

IMG_4395800b

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.

IMG_4474800b

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

My 2013 – Aviation Preview

The clocks have gone forward and the evenings are getting lighter which means that the start of the airshow season is just around the corner. Here’s a small preview of what you can expect to see from me in the coming months –

My Calendar:

May 5th – Abingdon Air & Country Show

IMG_4918 copy800bln

Dalton Barracks in Abingdon will once again host one of the first shows of the season but what can you expect to see?

Unless you’ve been in space for the past few years, you will all be too aware that there is a lot less money around today. Nevertheless, the organisers of this fairly small event have done their absolute best in putting together a stand out show. With just a few weeks left we have been promised a couple more additions to an already fantastic lineup which includes appearances from a Folland Gnat T1, the Hawker Hurricane and North American P-51D Mustang from Hangar 11, Breitling Wingwalkers, AAC Westland Lynx AH7 as well as favourites such as the RAF BBMF Avro Lancaster.

At present there are 15 confirmed flying displays and despite the lack of current RAF displays, Abingdon looks as though it’s going to be a superb day.

You can find out more at http://www.abingdonairandcountry.co.uk/

May 26th – IWM Duxford Spring Airshow

The end of May can mean only one thing – the Spring airshow at IWM Duxford.

A short drive up the A1(M) will mean that I get my first taste of an air display at this iconic airfield and I’m really looking forward to it.

This year’s Spring airshow will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the USAF arriving at Duxford in April 1943. One act that has been confirmed to display in May to help celebrate this landmark is the Horsemen Flight Team from the US. It is unknown at the moment what aircraft they will be using in their display but whatever it is, it should be well worth going for!

You can find out more at http://www.iwm.org.uk/events/iwm-duxford/spring-air-show

12-13th July – RNAS Yeovilton Air Day

IMG_0165 copy800bln

RNAS Yeovilton is home to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s premier event and in 2012 provided yet another award winning show.

Of course being an active Royal Naval Air Station means that the Navy get to show off all their toys. After a long day, Air Day comes to a close with a spectacular role demonstration from the armed forces finest. This year will be even more special as it will see the RAF, AAC and Royal Navy get together for the first time in years – expect to see explosions, helicopters, jets, armoured vehicles and ‘armed’ marines fighting to gain control of the airfield. If you ask me, the commando assault finale is worth the entrance fee alone.

Other confirmed acts for Air Day 2013 are the RAF BBMF, RAF Red Arrows, RAF Typhoon, Royal Jordanian Falcons as well as the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet. So far this show has all the ingredients for another brilliant display like back in 2011.

To find out more and order your tickets, go to http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/The-Fleet/Air-Stations/RNAS-Yeovilton/Air-Day-2013

20th-21st July – Royal International Air Tattoo

IMG_3039 copy800bln

The World’s largest military airshow will begin to take place from 15th July as aircraft start to arrive for what will hopefully be a great show.

Over the last few years RIAT has been criticised by many enthusiasts for becoming too commercial and forgetting it’s aviation roots. With this in mind, a meeting took place late last year to discuss which direction the show would move in and as a result, it was promised that the show would try to go back to its strong aviation origins.

Although the team are working as hard as they can on producing what they promised, so far it all looks a little thin. As a USAF base, the event usually sees many American participants on the ground but with the current state of affairs in the US, the static display could look a little bare this year.

I’ve got everything crossed that the team pull something incredible out of the bag because at the moment, I’m not entirely sure that I will be attending – this is the first year that I haven’t purchased earlybird tickets.

If you wish to find out more about the Royal International Air Tattoo, then visit http://www.airtattoo.com/airshow

August 24th-25th – Dunsfold Wings and Wheels

IMG_5114 copy800bln

This is by far one of my favourite shows of the year and I’ve no doubt that the 2013 show will be just as good as last years.

Somehow the organisers always manage to pair displays together to give the crowd a rare opportunity to see some unique collaborations.

The warm, friendly atmosphere is always extremely welcoming and this is one of the main reason why I look forward to this show so much.

Some of the items already confirmed for this year are the Royal Navy Black Cats Hellicopter Display Team, RAF Red Arrows, The Blades and the Royal Naval Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury.

To find out more, check out http://www.wingsandwheels.net/

29th August – 1st September – Bournemouth Air Festival

IMG_1523 copy800bln

For the first time ever, I will be heading down to Bournemouth at the end of August for the Air Festival.

I’ve been meaning to tick this off my ‘to-do’ list for some time now but have always been unavailable for different reasons. This year I aim to capture all the magic and atmosphere from various different places along the seafront.

Already confirmed to display in front of this impressive backdrop are the RAF Chinook, BBMF, Red Arrows, RAF Typhoon, Royal Navy Merlin and the SWIP team who will again be providing a pyrotechnics enabled dusk display.

The official website isn’t quite ready but everything you need to know will be available here http://www.bournemouthair.co.uk/

So, what else?

As well as those shows, I also have a number of exciting features lined up for you guys but for now, they can remain a surprise!

If you’re going to any of these shows then please do come and say hi!

Hopefully 2013 has a lot in store for me – if all goes to plan then it should be an incredible year.