Review – Shuttleworth Season Finale ‘Race Day’ Airshow

The Shuttleworth ‘Race Day’ airshow was the finale to Old Warden’s long season and for many enthusiasts, the last airshow of the year. The weather forecast had been getting marginally better for a number of days and on Saturday night I took a gamble and booked my ticket.

You couldn’t have asked for more really; a crisp autumn day and plenty of displays to watch in the skies above rural Bedfordshire. I attended the Military Pageant airshow earlier in the year and it was more than enough to tempt me back again for the end of season display.

Race Day

The idea behind the ‘Race Day’ season finale airshow was to celebrate the golden years of ‘air racing’, most notably because this October marks 80 years since the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race in which the Collection’s de Havilland DH.88 Comet claimed first place.

To mark this anniversary, the Collection organised a special flypast of six aircraft that participated in the ‘World’s Greatest Air Race’; a de Havilland DH.88 Comet (Grosvenor House – the only specific airframe to fly in the race), a Dragon Rapide, a Miles M3A Falcon Major, a Miles Hawk, a Desoutter Mk1 and a de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth. All six aircraft flew past in a very loose formation (sadly too loose for me to capture in one frame) and then carried out several solo fly pasts before landing in the order that they arrived in Melbourne in 1934. It was a lovely way to celebrate such a momentous occasion.

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The Air Race theme continued with another special formation flypast of three aircraft; two Percival Mew Gulls and a Vans RV-7. In 1939 Alex Henshaw flew Mew Gull G-AEXF and completed the 12,754-mile round trip in a staggering 4 days, 10 hours and sixteen minutes – some 71 years later, Steve Noujaim beat Henshaw’s record by 23 hours in a Vans RV-7. These trips to South Africa are regarded by many as two of the greatest and most intriguing stories in the aviation world and rightly so. The speed, sound and agility of the 1930s Mew Gull has to be seen to be believed, it’s a truly remarkable piece of British engineering.

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The show also celebrated the Formula 1 air racing class of aircraft with a Cosmic Wind and a Taylor JT.2 Titch. These two aircraft are exceptionally small but can travel at incredible speeds – the Cosmic Wind was first built in 1947 and can achieve an impressive airspeed of 185mph! The Formula 1 racers flew several laps of the airfield before landing safely back on the grass runway.

Capture

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The Air Race celebrations ended with a fantastic mock air race. The race used a handicap system which meant that the ten participating aircraft (two Chilton DW1s, a de Havilland DH60X Moth, Miles Hawk Speed Six, Miles M3A Falcon Major, Miles Whitney Straight, Comper Swift, Miles Magister and a Spartan Executive) took off in order of slowest-fastest with time advantages between each aircraft. Each aircraft had to complete eight laps of the triangular course which stretched to the airfield boundaries in each direction – the winner was the first to cross the finish line having successfully completed all eight laps. For twenty minutes the audience was transported back in time and it was incredibly easy to forget that you were still in 2014. The sound, sight and atmosphere was electric – the organisers did a terrific job of demonstrating what air racing was all about in a bygone era. An epic way to finish off the Race Day spectacle.

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Best of The Rest

The rest of the airshow was padded out with some truly fantastic displays.

The Hawker Hunter T7 from North Weald Airfield arrived in style low and fast and let off just the tiniest hint of a blue note. Chris Heames flew a beautiful display in what has to be one of my all time favourite aircraft and filled the sky with the roar of the timeless Avon engine.

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Hawker aircraft continued to thrill the crowd, this time in the form of the Collection’s own Sea Hurricane. I’ve seen a lot of Hurricane displays over the years but this was, hands down, the most thrilling and exhilarating routine I’ve ever seen. It felt closer than ever thanks to the sweeping curve of the Shuttleworth display line and it seemed to just go on forever – it was like an enthusiasts dream display.

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Joining the Sea Hurricane in the golden autumnal light was the Westland Lysander. The Lysander is a peculiar looking aircraft with it’s bulky fuselage and high cockpit but’s it’s an incredibly graceful and majestic aircraft. This was the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to see the Lysander in all it’s glory and it really is quite a special aircraft.

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The Shuttleworth collection is home to a fantastic array of aircraft but perhaps one of the most unusual looking airframes is the Fauval Glider. The glider was taken up on a tow and released at altitude; what followed was a brilliantly flown aerobatic sequence. With it’s short fuselage, large wingspan and small twin tail, the aircraft is capable of flipping on it’s tail in no time at all. The crowd was all but silent and all you could hear was the wind passing over the aircraft as the glider came into land. It was a glider display unlike any I’ve seen before.

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A Fitting Tribute

Overall the ‘Race Day’ finale was a show of epic proportions – a packed flying display and almost perfect weather conditions made this one of the best airshows of the year for me. I attended the Red Bull Air Race at Ascot earlier this year so was more than intrigued when I heard that Shuttleworth were planning to celebrate the golden age of air racing. There were plenty of aircraft types that I’d never been fortunate enough to see before and the mock air race finale really was enough to make your jaw drop.

It may only have been my second show at Old Warden but I feel that I’ll be attending many more shows in the coming years. There’s something quite unique about this small all-grass airfield and there’s no doubt in my mind that The Shuttleworth Collection will make you fall in love with aviation all over again.

Review – Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

For the past ten years, the August bank holiday weekend has been home to the Dunsfold based Wings & Wheels show – an all-day event dedicated to showcasing both motoring and aviation displays.

The Wings & Wheels show is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary this year and Dunsfold Park were extremely keen to show that they’re still one of the best shows on the UK circuit. With two massive crowd-pulling aircraft confirmed for the show, the ‘double V effect’ led to an almost capacity show on Saturday and a completely sold out show on the Sunday.

The Wings

The team at Dunsfold Park pride themselves on being able to stage a fantastic air display year in, year out and 2014 was no different. With a backdrop of greenery at both ends of the airfield and a relatively short crowd line, the venue has become synonymous with both warbird and vintage jet displays.

After being absent from the show in 2013, the Old Flying Machine Company Spitfire and P-51 Mustang made an incredibly welcome return in the form of MH434 and Ferocious Frankie. If you’ve only ever seen WWII aircraft flown in the hands of the RAF’s BBMF then you might be in for a bit of a shock. With plenty of low, extremely tight formation flypasts and two superb solo performances, the OFMC duo certainly rank extremely highly on the list of this country’s best warbird displays (if not the best). The noise of these two aircraft in close formation is just phenomenal and it really is a display that’s ideal for photographers. I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of seeing these two machines.

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2014 is an epic year for any aviation fan – for the first time in more than 50 years, two flying Lancasters are in the UK at the same time. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby are currently hosting the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster ‘VeRA’ and for a handful of shows in the country, both aircraft are displaying together with fighter escorts. Wings & Wheels was one of those events that drew a lucky straw and my goodness did it show. Having attended the show for the past six years, I’ve become quite used to the relaxed and laid back atmosphere at Dunsfold but this year was the busiest I’ve ever seen it – if you weren’t on the crowd line by 9.15am then you’d missed your chance for a front row seat. The routine was mainly just the normal BBMF trio routine with an additional Lancaster – don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible what the team have achieved in getting the aircraft over here but I’m just so gutted that we didn’t get to see ‘VeRA’ in all her glory in a solo routine. Saying that though, the sight and sound of all those Merlin engines was simply spectacular and a really special tribute to all those that were lost in WWII.

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Making it’s second appearance at the show in as many years was the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight B-25 Mitchell. After a problematic weekend last year, the team behind ‘Sabrina’ demonstrated that you really don’t have to just fly wide circuits with historic aircraft and put on a truly breath taking display of strength and agility. Looking at the American-made bomber, you’d never believe that the aircraft was capable of flying in the way that the team did – it makes you wonder what a slightly heavier bomber would be capable of if there were no limitations…

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The Dunsfold Park team have become renowned for putting together unique flypasts and this year there were two such displays. The first consisted of the B-25 Mitchell, the Dunsfold based DC-3 and the OFMC fighter pair and much like the BBMF routine, it was a fitting tribute to all those that took part in the Second World War. The second formation routine saw Avro Vulcan XH558 take to the skies with the three-ship Gnat display team and although it was a nice thing to see, I actually thought that it was a rather lack-lustre formation. I think I would have preferred to see the three Gnats leading at the front of the formation in a short arrow, rather than at each tip of the Vulcan’s vast triangular fuselage. Putting that personal dissatisfaction aside, the organisers have to be applauded for continually thinking outside of the box and supplying elements that can only be seen at Dunsfold.

The Midair Squadron continued the classic jet theme with their Canberra PR.9 and Hunter T.7. Over the past twelve months, the Kemble based display team have well and truly stamped their mark on the UK airshow scene. The display started out with a beautifully elegant pairs routine which showed off the pilots’ skill in maintaining a constant close formation throughout the opening section. After a crowd centre break, the Hunter and Canberra split into two solo performances. Both aircraft were flown with extreme enthusiasm, especially on the Canberra’s finale which brought back that almighty high speed pass from earlier in the year at Abingdon – boy can that aircraft howl! It’s easy to see why the team have had so many bookings this year, I’ve got everything crossed for the Midair Squadron to be around for many years to come.

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The display programme was bolstered by both Army Air Corps and RAF assets. Continuing on a rollercoaster of epic proportions, the Odiham based Chinook Display Team took to the skies over Dunsfold and delivered yet another awe-inspiring display of power and agility – the type carries out a lot of routine training at Dunsfold so it means an awful lot to Odiham to be able to say thank you in their own special way.

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The show was closed by the AAC Apache and for 2014, the Wattisham team have opted for a role demonstration. The scenario follows a typical mission in Afghanistan – whilst out on a routine patrol, the Apache is called in to provide close air support for a coalition unit who are heavily under fire on the ground. A show of force (a low and fast pass without any use of weapons) prompts the enemy to launch a surface-to-air missile (SAM) which narrowly misses the gunship. After repositioning, the aircraft is authorised to fire a Hellfire missile on the enemy position and to use it’s 30mm cannon to completely neutralise the enemy. It’s thought that the enemy are all but gone when the Apache takes enemy fire from small arms but they’re quickly dealt with when the mosquito (the name the Taliban have given to the mighty helicopter) unleashes a salvo of CRV7 rockets. The Apache’s weapons systems are simulated by specially designed pyrotechnics which range from a series of single bursts of smoke for the strafing run to full blown balls of fire that represent rocket and Hellfire attacks. The whole routine is very reminiscent of the old Tornado Role Demo and it’s an absolute pleasure to watch – personally I prefer these types of display to the more normal aerobatic performances. To see just a fraction of what an aircraft is capable of in a combat environment is incredibly impressive and it gives a fantastic insight into the role that they play outside of the airshow bubble. I really hope that the role demo returns in 2015 – it would be great to see the Apache joined by an AAC Wildcat and maybe even some Army ground elements. I strongly believe that role demonstrations captivate the audience much more and it can only be a good thing for recruitment.

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The Wheels

The motoring element, like the air display, is broken up into two separate segments; one in the morning and one in the middle of the afternoon. The cars and motorbikes are provided by Brooklands Museum as well as many private owners/collectors. Once again Dunsfold slightly improved the motoring section by having several different groups of vehicles run right along the crowd line so that people could get a little closer while the main driving was still happening on track.

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As much as I love watching the motor displays, I don’t quite understand why it’s repeated later in the day. At the moment it’s broken into two one-hour slots which are exactly the same – for the first run the audience seems to be fully immersed in the sights and sounds that cars and bikes have to offer but later on in the day, it seems like it’s used by most to go and get some food or to look around the stalls. I feel that the show could really benefit from breaking up the motoring section into two completely different sections, even if that it means that each section is only 30-40 minutes long. I’m confident that in doing so, the team would be able to keep all eyes on the track at all times of the day, rather than just doing a complete re-run from a couple of hours previous.

The Rest of The Show

Also new for the 2014 show was a small remote controlled aircraft section. After the very successful Dunsfold debut of the ‘Reds Duo’ last year, a larger contingent was put together for this year and I have to be honest, it was a very welcome addition. The skill that these people have in controlling an aircraft from the ground is incredible and one of them was just ten years old! I’m 24 years old and all I can do with my R/C Spitfire is fly it into the ground.

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As usual there was a nice mixture of aviation related stalls which is a danger to any enthusiast who carries a purse or wallet – amazingly I managed to resist buying anything although I did very nearly buy a nice print off Aces High.

The Brooklands owned Vickers VC-10 that retired to the airfield late last year was supposed to conduct it’s first public taxi runs this year but unfortunately the aircraft has deteriorated more than was expected and as a result it will not be ready for running until the 2015 show.

For all that Wings & Wheels is an airshow, the number of aircraft on the ground for the public to see and get close to is fairly limited. Yes you can pay to go on both the VC-10 and 747 but it could be so much more. The amount of space available on the taxiway at the end of the airfield (next to the two large aircraft) where some displaying aircraft park, is not used nearly enough and it would be great if this could be opened up early in the morning for a limited number (possibly first-come first-served) of people to get close for photographs. I honestly feel that Wings & Wheels still has room to grow without becoming too big for its boots – even something like a small night shoot could easily be arranged on the Friday or Saturday night without too much hassle or extra costs.

I went on the Saturday but heard that exiting the site on Sunday was a bit of a nightmare with some cars only moving a few metres in half an hour. If the show continues to attract unique and special aircraft, it may soon be time to start thinking about advance ticket sales only.

Overall the 2014 show was a massive success; a close to capacity crowd on Saturday, a total sell out on Sunday and plenty of star items all combine to make Wings & Wheels one of the best airshows of the year.

Happy 10th birthday Wings & Wheels – I cannot wait to see what the next decade holds for the Surrey show.

Review – RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2014

RNAS Yeovilton Air Day is one of two flagship airshows for the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm, with the other taking place at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. The Somerset based show took place much later than usual this year and followed hot on the heels of the Royal International Air Tattoo and Farnborough Airshow. Over the last couple of years the show has won numerous awards and has arguably become the best event in the South-West.

RNAS Yeovilton Air Day is always well attended and due to it’s location, people seem to travel from all over. Home to the Royal Navy Lynx, Wildcat and ‘Junglie’ Seaking Squadrons, the show is engineered towards displaying the latest and greatest of the Fleet Air Arm but that doesn’t stop the organisers from attracting participants from overseas too.

International Visitors

In recent years the Belgian Air Component have been extremely generous with their display allocations; in 2013 we had the AW109 and F-16 and this year we were fortunate to have the F-16 once more. Having previously seen the 2014 F-16 display at RIAT, I was quite cruel and critical of the display but the routine flown at Yeovilton was simply stunning. A smaller airfield really showed just how dynamic this year’s display is – it was fast, tight and flown with a lot of confidence. Add ‘smokewinders’ and flares to an already entertaining routine and you’ve given most photographers a dream display. Pyrotechnics really do add another dimension to airshows and it’s something that I believe the RAF seriously need to consider if they wish to stay at the forefront of display flying.

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The F-16 wasn’t the only fast jet on the scene at Yeovilton either, the Belgians were joined by the Swiss Air Force F-18 Demo Team. The team were due to attend the show in 2013 but due to the failure of PDA, the slot was cancelled and postponed until this year. The Swiss F-18 display was everything that a Hornet display should be – noisy, agile, fast and technical. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is just how manoeuvrable this fighter aircraft is and unique to the Swiss display was the pilot’s own take on Boeing’s ‘Square Loop’; a vertical climb before pulling 90 degrees to go inverted and down into a spiralled descent.

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The RNLAF Historic Flight sent over their beautiful B-25 Mitchell which performed a very graceful routine above the Somerset countryside. Their display should really serve as an eye opener to the RAF on how these historic WWII aircraft can be displayed to their full potential.

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There were also three international display teams; The Royal Jordanian Falcons (now a regular sight on the UK airshow circuit), the Belgian Air Force Red Devils and also the Royal Danish Air Force Baby Blues. I’d personally never heard of the Danish display team so was naturally quite intrigued when I heard they were visiting. The team flies four Saab T17’s and the routine mainly conisists of a series of tight formations. As much as I enjoy watching display teams and admire the skill that it takes to fly these formations, I found the routine to be rather dull and extremely slow. I don’t think it helped that all three of these trainer aircraft displays were in very quick succession of each other.

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Classic Aircraft

The air display was padded out with some fantastic additions, in most cases very last minute after several items had to cancel.

The Vulcan is always a big crowd puller at Yeovilton but it was a rather forgettable display once again. I don’t really have a lot to say other than just how unbelievably rude many of it’s supporters appeared to be when the aircraft began to taxi in after it’s display. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many elbows in my sides or people standing on and kicking my camera gear in all the time I’ve been going to airshows. If you don’t get on site early then you don’t get to be at the front, it’s as simple as that and because you were late in, it doesn’t mean you can just push your way through to the front. I can understand when it’s small children but these were mostly adult men. Rant over.

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The more positive displays came from a T-6 Texan, the Catalina and two very different Hawker Hunters. First into the skies was the Midair Squadron Hunter – this was supposed to be accompanied by the EE Canberra PR.9 but due to a technical fault that developed on Friday, the Hunter was left to fly a solo routine. There were many hints of the infamous ‘blue-note’ during the exceptionally graceful routine but the Midair Squadron were simply outclassed by Miss Demeanour.

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Jonathon Whaley attempted to retire from the airshow scene in 2013 but it would appear that he just can’t stay away. His performance at Yeovilton was the best I’ve ever seen from him but even better than his actual display were the two high speed passes that he carried out later in the day. Jonathon had departed for another display before returning just twenty minutes later when ATC failed to route him through to his destination. This meant that he had plenty of fuel to burn and a brief gap in the programme to fill when he arrived back at Yeovilton. Having called up on the radio, ‘Flapjack’ was cleared in to circuit for five minutes or so. A Hunter streaming past at close-to top speed is a sight and sound to be cherished – thank you to both parties!

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What Royal Air Force?

Apart from a display by the BBMF Dakota and two Spitfires, RAF participation at Air Day was pretty much non-existent. Most display assets were engaged up North so this meant that the Chinook Display Team were left to represent the modern day RAF.

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Unfortunately due to an oil pressure issue on start-up, the Odiham based team were forced to cancel their appearance for the first time this year – with only two Chinook Mk2 aircraft remaining (the only model currently cleared for display), a spare aircraft is not available.

The reserve Typhoon also made a ‘blink and you miss it’ appearance in the form of a flypast. This was a massive disappointment as the aircraft had pulled up into the cloud before it was even halfway along the display line.

A truly poor contribution from the RAF considering how well the Royal Navy support the RAF flagship show(s).

The Home Team

The face of the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm is changing and modernising with every week that goes past. The Lynx HMA.8 will eventually be replaced by the Wildcat and the veteran Seaking Mk4’s will be replaced with the current RAF Merlin force when they leave RAF Benson in the next 18 months. These will be upgraded to Mk4 ‘Junglie’ standard and will be made carrier-capable.

The Royal Navy Helicopter Display Team, The Black Cats made two appearances at Air Day this year. The first was the much anticipated return of the pairs routine – having spoken to the team last year at Yeovilton and discussed the plans for 2014 at length, it was fantastic to see it finally all come together. Both a Lynx HMA.8 and Wildcat took to the sky to put on a spectacle of a show which can only be described as aerial ballet. The timing and synchronicity of the routine was spotless. Later in the day, the Lynx went up on it’s own to run through the Black Cats solo routine but the display was unfortunately cut short when the aircraft developed a technical fault and was forced to land.

Role demos play a big part at Air Day and it gives the Royal Navy a chance to show what the force is capable of operationally but more importantly, it gives the public a chance to see what their taxes are funding.

The first role demo was from the Maritime Patrol Force – a combination of Lynx HMA.8 and Wildcat helicopters working together in an anti-piracy role. Piracy is a very real threat and one that most people have read about in the news, so to see how the Royal Navy tackle such a threat is thrilling. A series of ‘show of force’ manoeuvres entail before the aircraft open up on the Pirates with heavy calibre gunfire and heavier weaponry such as the Stingray torpedo. Pyrotechnics aplenty, the Maritime Patrol demo was very entertaining and a great sneak peek at what was coming later in the afternoon.

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The finale to Air Day is always spectacular and usually worth the entrance fee alone.

For 2014 the airfield was transformed into a troubled land somewhere over the horizon from a nearby Royal Navy carrier strike group. Two fast jets (played by two BAE Hawks) are on a routine patrol when one of the aircraft is hit by a surface-to-air missile (SAM), the pilot manages to eject safely but lands behind enemy lines. The remaining Hawk tries to locate the downed pilot while the carrier group prepares for a rescue mission. Within minutes a plan is outlined and the ‘Junglies’ are en route with Royal Marine Commandos on board and Lynx/Wildcat aircraft providing cover. While the rescue party is in the air, the situation on the ground has changed dramatically with enemy forces now also looking for the pilot and as the first wave of Seakings arrive, the enemy forces immediately begin to attack. With the battle on the ground getting fiercer, additional Marines are scrambled and once in the area, the Seakings are almost instantly targeted by further SAMs – evasive action is taken and flares are deployed to attract the heat-seeking missiles. Once safely on the ground, the Royal Marines begin to take control of the situation with air support provided by ‘fast air’ and Lynx helicopters – the combined air and ground operation quickly deals with the enemy forces and eradicates the hostile contingency.

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The narrative for this year was new and exciting but at times felt a little disjointed. Earlier on Friday the finale team had some difficulties communicating over the display frequency, whether this problem occurred again on Saturday is unknown but there were fairly lengthy gaps at times that made it feel a little unorganised. I’ve been attending Air Day for six years now and at the end of every previous finale, the aircraft have all lined up in formation before a massive burst of fire was ignited behind them. There I was, all prepared for the mass pyrotechnic explosion, pointed at a Seaking and Wildcat to capture the present and future of naval aviation when…well nothing, no explosion at all. I’m unsure whether this was by design or whether it just didn’t ignite properly but either way it was a huge disappointment and a missed opportunity. If this was by design then it absolutely has to return for 2015, Air Day should go out with a bang and the lack of heat from the explosion was dearly missed.

EDIT: The organisers of Air Day have responded to this review and explained that the ‘wall of fire’ was not cut from the display. The pyrotechnics were primed but still failed to ignite after two attempts.

Still One Of The Best

With it’s variety of international display acts and lengthy operational role demonstrations, RNAS Yeovilton Air Day is still one of the most entertaining airshows in the UK and it’s no surprise that the show continues to win ‘Best Event’ prizes year on year.

The static display was fairly impressive this year with the French and Polish both supporting the show again – it would be great to see some flying displays from both of these nations next year. Maybe look into getting the French Navy role demo again or even Ramex Delta? The star of the static though was the painstakingly restored Royal Navy Phantom – what a beauty!

Toilets and food outlets were conveniently placed for most on the main crowdline and it was fantastic to see the home team handing out water again due to the great British weather. When bottles of water are charged at somewhere between £1.50-£2.50, free water is a luxury – top marks to Yeovilton for providing this commodity.

As usual the parking and traffic control were fairly decent but it would be nice to see additional marshals at the end of the day so that cars are guided in the correct direction out of a car park. Exiting the car parks is a bit of a free-for-all and at the end of a long day, some people appear to get quite heated with the lack of cooperation from other drivers.

Once again, the team behind Air Day can pat themselves on the back knowing that on the most part, they’ve done an exceptional job and organising a top airshow. Filling in cancellations at the last minute (as late as Thursday evening) is certainly impressive and just goes to show how highly regarded the show is on the UK circuit.

Congratulations to the team on continuing to deliver a top show and all at a very competitive price. Value for money at it’s absolute best.

Royal Navy 1 – RAF 0.

Review – Farnborough Airshow 2014

After a hugely successful and record breaking week at the Farnborough International Airshow, airfield owners TAG once again opened up the gates to some 80,000 people for a mid-summer spectacle.

I think almost everyone will agree that the shows at Farnborough have become a shadow of their former self and having had many complaints from the 2012 show, the team at FIA were keen to show that they could improve on their offering.

I attended the Sunday show two years ago; the weather was beautiful but the flying display programme was average at best and the showground was far too crowded. Having held several focus groups, the organising committee had a clear idea of what they needed to do to put Farnborough back on the map.

Fast forward almost two years to the launch day of a re-branded ‘Farnborough Airshow’ and it was an almost unrecognisable event. The entire team held their hands up and admitted in front of the media that they’d fallen behind and delivered a mediocre show in 2012. It was revealed that several star items had been secured for the ‘Celebration of 100 years of aviation’ show; a Spanish Navy AV-8B II Harrier (the result of over 14 months of negotiations with Spanish authorities and a first for Farnborough), the replica Me-262 from Germany, the Breitling sponsored Super Constellation and the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II.

Through absolutely no fault of their own, just weeks later the Me-262 developed a technical fault which meant that it was to take a sabatical for the rest of the 2014 display season and after a long drawn out PR disaster, Lockheed Martin announced that the F-35 would not be making the transatlantic journey due to a grounding being lifted just days before the show started.

Eyes To The Sky

As mentioned previously, the flying display was one of the main areas that needed development and as well as announcing star items at the launch, it was also explained that a contract had been signed with Airbus to keep several of their ‘trade’ items on the ground for the public show. It later transpired that this signing had been part of a new major sponsorship deal with the aircraft manufacturer for the public two day event.

The Airbus backing meant that the A400M, A380 and E-Fan were all displaying in the flying programme over the weekend and as usual, the test pilots put on an incredible show. Seeing an airliner the size of the A380 being thrown about the sky as if it were a fighter is something that has to be seen to be believed. The A400M (‘Grizzly’ as it’s known to it’s testing team) is due to enter service with the RAF later this year as the ‘Atlas’, so to see it at Farnborough demonstrating it’s tactical capabilities was a real treat. It has to be said that when it comes to large aircraft displays, Airbus are the Kings.

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A contract was also signed with Boeing to supply the airshow with its F/A-18F Super Hornet – the aircraft had flown every day for the trade week and even though I’d already seen it, the technical demonstration of the Super Hornet is simply stunning. Even with the airspace restrictions enforced by Heathrow, the Boeing flown display was easily one of the most entertaining of the weekend. A combination of high-g flicking and turning built up to a finale which consisted of a square loop flown to maximum altitude.

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Without a doubt though, the star of the show was the Spanish Navy AV-8B II Harrier. The RAF disbanded their Harrier squadrons in 2010 and retired the aircraft amidst the political storm that was the SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review). Having been absent from the UK circuit for over three years, a Harrier in the Hampshire sky was an almost perfect way to signal Farnborough’s commitment to delivering a better show. The display itself was reminiscent of the ‘role demo’ type displays that the RAF aircraft was forced to fly in it’s final years – three high speed passes and then five full minutes of dirty, smoking hovering. The Harrier is an incredible machine and at a show where it’s successor was a no-show, it was a poetic reminder that the RAF GR.9s were retired way before their time.

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Other highlights from the flying display included the Midair Squadron Canberra PR.9 (filling the gap left by the Me-262) which signed off on that unmistakable howl, a full routine from the Red Arrows who in their 50th year look at the top of their game, a brilliant display of solo aerobatics from Mark Jefferies, a decent routine from Kev Rumens in XH558 and a stunningly beautiful display from the majestic, dolphin-shaped Super Constellation. The ‘Connie’ was on the ground at RIAT last year but this was the first time I’d seen it in the air and even though the display consisted of just two straight and level flypasts, the sight and sound of a 1950s prop-driven airliner was a truly spine-tingling experience.

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It’s fair to say that the past, present and future were fully represented at this year’s 2014 ’100 Years of Aviation’ show.

A Missed Opportunity

During the week, the Farnborough International Airshow takes full advantage of the space available on the ground to showcase commercial and private aircraft, helicopters and in places, light aircraft. The static aircraft that had departed the trade show on the Thursday and Friday left plenty of space that should have been filled but for some reason it wasn’t. Apart from the Catalina, a Royal Navy Merlin and the relocation of the Super Constellation, the static area felt empty. The main reason for this was that the Alenia Aermacchi, TAI and US DoD areas were at the far east of the showground – three of the biggest contingents that remained on the ground for the public days.

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I would have liked to have seen the empty space filled with more aircraft that could have represented the ‘100 Years of Aviation’ theme. There are many warbirds in this country and a handful of classic jets that would have padded out the showground a little more. It would even have been nice to see some aircraft from the RAF and AAC – Farnborough surely could have been a massive recruitment drive for both forces. On an airfield the size of Farnborough, gaps are unfortunately incredibly noticeable.

The Showground

As mentioned previously, 2012 was overcrowded and this meant that queues for both toilets and food had waiting times upwards of 30 minutes. 2014 was a different story (at least on Saturday when I attended) – many more toilets were provided and certainly at the grandstand end of the airfield, they were very clean and well maintained. Food was on the edge of becoming too expensive but at an average price of £5 for a single hot item, it seemed to fit in with the majority of other events up and down the country.

New for 2014 and on the back of similar ideas at both RIAT and Bournemouth Airshow, Farnborough Airshow Live! made it’s debut appearance. Fronted by TV presenters Michael Underwood and Angelica Bell, I have to say that I was a little nervous when I heard about the idea but any worries were soon put to rest. It turns out that both are genuinely interested in aviation and this became clear from some of the conversations that took place between Michael and the commentary team during the show. There was also a large stage just behind the main grandstand that allowed the presenters to question the likes of the Red Arrows in front of the audience. As well as the stage, the air displays were being streamed to large TV screens dotted around the showground thanks to fantastic videography from the guys over at Planes TV – this meant that you could go and get something to eat without being too far from the action.

On the whole I think this concept worked extremely well, even more so with the strong presence of families. It may not have appealed to the hardcore enthusiast but at the end of the day, Farnborough Airshow is targeted as a major attraction to families all over the South of England.

How Much?

With a gate price of £48 per head (under 16s go free), I can’t help but feel that Farnborough is somewhat lost when it comes to ticketing. On the basis of an average family (mum, dad, two teenagers and an infant), the entrance fee alone is more than £140; add travelling costs, food and drink to that and you’re probably looking at somewhere in the region of £200-£250 for a day out at the airshow.

By contrast, a ticket for the Royal International Airshow (an eight hour flying display and extensive static park) costs £44pp and a two day ticket for the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day costs just £39pp (the gate price for the Saturday is just £25). Even with a varied and entertaining flying programme like this year’s, the ticket price is still way off. If the team at FIA are serious about putting Farnborough back on the map, something has to be done about the entrance fee – there is simply no excuse.

One thing that did come down in price however was the souvenir display programme. Created by Key Publishing and priced at just £4, the quality of the programme was exceptional and a massive improvement on the over-glossy, advert filled magazine from 2012.

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The juxtaposition of the ticket price and programme is just mind boggling. I really do find it difficult to understand.

A Promising Step Forwards

To say that Farnborough Airshow is ‘the best airshow in the world’ right now would be a lie. It isn’t. What it is though, is a solid airshow that’s making footsteps in the right direction. The team listened and acted upon certain elements that were heavily criticised in recent years but there are still a handful of things that need addressing, most importantly the shows pricing structure.

With the strong re-branding and procurement of key airborne stars, Farnborough Airshow is definitely making a comeback one step at a time. In years gone by, Farnborough was the home of cutting-edge British technology and a worldwide stage for aviation; don’t be scared of it FIA, embrace it.

Having just celebrated the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the centenary of WWI and the Red Arrows 50th anniversary, aviation is once again making the headlines and one thing is clear – this country is still very much interested in airshows.

It’s time to take full advantage of that and I’m counting down the days until FIA 2016.

Farnborough, it’s over to you…

Review – The Royal International Air Tattoo 2014

The Royal International Air Tattoo prides itself on being the world’s largest military airshow but over the last couple of years many have begun to doubt that. With much to improve on from 2013, the team pulled out all the stops to put on one hell of a show.

Every July, aviation enthusiasts descend on a usually quiet and picturesque village in the Cotswolds and set up, on the most part, for a full six days of intense aviation action. RAF Fairford is operated by the USAFE and each year hand over control to the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises based out of Douglas Bader House. In recent years the team have had a lot to answer for in terms of some of the decisions that have been made about the show but it would appear that 2014 will go down in history as a ‘classic year’.

In the current economic climate it’s increasingly difficult to secure the ‘rare’ items that many enthusiasts want to see and as a result we’ve had to adjust our expectations accordingly. One of the unique features of RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) is the long build-up and how the team attempt to excite it’s longstanding customer base with weekly participation updates. By mid June last year, many were saying that the best years had been and gone and that the participation list was anything but exhilarating. In contrast, by mid June this year the impressive and unexpected updates just kept on coming. 2014 saw the return of the USAF (albeit with just a couple aircraft), the Estonians (which given the size of their force is impressive), the Hellenic Air Force and the Japanese as well as many other regular attendees.

For many in the hobby it’s increasingly obvious that aircraft rarity is more important than abundant displays by common types. It would appear that given the feedback from last year, the team at RIAT listened to this request and boy did they deliver.

The Star Of The Show

Fitter. That’s all that needs to be said really – a cold war relic that somehow manages to keep going in a world of fifth-generation, multi-role aircraft. RIAT managed to secure the Polish Air Force Su-22 role demo display which consists of not one, but two of the Russian built fighters. It would be fair to say that the display – which was a combination of formation passes and missed approaches – was not the most dynamic of routines and didn’t fully demonstrate the capabilities of the aircraft but when you’ve got an act like this that’s rarely seen outside of mainland Europe, who cares? The display was loud, dirty and at times fast – tick, tick and tick. Job done. It’s a shame that an aircraft couldn’t be supplied for the static park but that’s just me being greedy!

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Italians In Force

For me the Su-22’s main challenger(s) were everything that the Italians could offer to the show. The Italian Air Force provided a C-27J Spartan, Panavia Tornado, Eurofighter Typhoon and an AMX International AMX (plus the Frecce Tricolori).

The Spartan display has always been an epic show and this year it continued in that manner and delivered a brilliant display that really demonstrated the capability of the transport aircraft. It’s amazing to see an aircraft of that size looping and rolling – I’m still not sure I understand how it’s all possible.

Both the Typhoon and Tornado have been present at the show before but this was the first time seeing the Tornado for me. The RAF’s Tornado Role Demo has now been absent from the UK circuit for two years so to see the aircraft in the air again, albeit with another Air Force, was an absolute delight. The two fast jet displays may not have been the most photographically friendly of the day but they definitely delivered on the ‘fast’ front. The routines seemed to be flown at close to maximum (allowed) speed almost the entire duration of the displays and when you’ve got a Tornado streaming past you fully swept, what more can you ask for?

The AMX was at the Air Tattoo  in 2010 but I’d not seen it before. Although I started to look around the static park by the time it began it’s display, it appeared to be a very dynamic routine which made plenty of noise.

The Italian Air Force has to be applauded for it’s contribution to the 2014 flying programme.

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A Trio Of Fighters

Specifically in this case, the relentless Lockheed Martin F-16. Displays for the type were provided by the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Belgian Air Component and the Turkish Air Force. Three very different displays from three different nations.

For the last few years (in my opinion anyway) the Dutch have ruled the F-16 display world. Their routines have always been fast, dynamic, with plenty of noise and in true patriotic fashion, flown in a bright orange aircraft. Sadly due to budget cuts the ‘Orange Lion’ is no more and for 2014 at least, the display is flown in a standard all-over grey F-16 with a team logo on the tail. The colour is most certainly missing from the display but the skill and excitement is still there.

On the mainstream European circuit, the Belgians have been their closest competition but the routine this year just didn’t seem to cut it for me. It appeared uncharacteristically high in places and extremely distant from the display line which meant that as a whole, the routine was a little underwhelming.

The team from Turkey blew the other two nations out of the water. This was the first time I’d seen the ‘Solo Turk’ F-16 and I seriously hope that it isn’t the last. A truly mesmerising display meant that I actually forgot to take photos for most of the display. A fantastic black and gold paint scheme helps the aircraft stand out in a sea of grey/blue, add smoke winders and plenty of noise to that and you’ve got the ingredients for a stand-out performance. Solo Turk, take a bow.

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Reds 50

‘Reds rolling now…’ – a phrase that’s been heard countless times over the last five decades by people all over the world.

The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team may be a national treasure to us but the Red Arrows are also an international icon. They are the display team that all others strive to be, they are the pilots that every young boy/girl want to be, they are British and they are most definitely the best.

2014 marks the 50th display season for the Reds and the Royal International Air Tattoo was keen to mark this milestone in style. For the first time ever, the Friday of RIAT was turned into a public day and sold as a ‘Red Arrows All-Access’ event. Display teams from all over were invited to attend and celebrate; The Patrouille Suisse, The Patrouille De France, The Breitling Jet Team and The Polish Air Force Orliks.

Display teams aren’t for everyone but with the Red Arrows, I never get tired of seeing them. The sight of nine red BAE Hawks in diamond formation never fails to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and with the patriotic red, white and blue smoke, you can’t help but feel extremely proud to be British.

The Reds may have been going for 50 years but they just keep getting better – the 2014 team are flying the routine exceptionally tight and in all honesty, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in recent years. Happy Birthday and keep up the incredible work!

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Empty Space

As well as an extensive flying display programme, RIAT also boasts on having the largest and most diverse static aircraft display in the world.

2013 was empty on the ground – aircraft were sparse and big gaps lurked where USAF heavies usually parked up. US sequestration put an unfortunately grim spin on the static park last year and although the list was bolstered somewhat this year, it was still a fairly quiet place to be.

Even with several C-130s parked up, numerous F-16s and a USAF KC-135, the park still felt a little empty. There were still lots of large gaps that used to be filled but maybe that’s something that we’re going to have to get used to. The world is an ever changing place and I think we’re probably going to have to suck it up and be happy with what we get.

The Reds 50 theme seemed to help out the static park a little. To the far east of the airfield was a cordoned off area where the Red Arrows were parked up (with other display teams at times) and this offered the chance to get a little closer than normal to the team. This area was opened up on the Friday and gave people a chance to have a look around.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, the Hellenic Air Force brought over two of their aging A-7 Corsairs, another rarity that the enthusiast community welcomed open armed. The Greek Corsairs are the last in the world and are due to be retired in the near future. A type that most likely won’t ever be seen at an airshow again – RIAT have to be applauded once again for their persistence in acquiring the two aircraft.

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A Classic Year

2014 signalled a year of improvements but most importantly a year of change. Tim Prince, one of the founders of the Royal International Air Tattoo and CEO of the RAFCTE, steps down this year and hands the reigns over to a fresh-faced, passionate and dedicated organising team. Tim will be remembered by many as the face of RIAT and with his departure, many will see this as the end of an era and quite rightly so.

The flying display was spot on this year with plenty of variety and rarity. If the team can match that in years to come, then words such as ‘classic’ and ‘vintage’ may in fact becomes terms (ironically) of the past.

It’s also worth noting that vast improvements have been made to the showground itself. The ‘service stations’ that were implemented last year were bigger and better – more toilets and a larger selection of food outlets convinced me that this is the way forwards for RIAT.

As well as that, extra teams of security were employed to police the queues that build-up before the gates open. Queue jumpers were removed and forced to join the back (at least at the blue gate where I was situated), a concept that amazingly has taken this long to implement. Please, please, please bring this back next year – if you don’t get up early enough then you join the back of the queue. Deal with it.

One thing that the team definitely need to improve on in my opinion is the souvenir programme. Priced at £12, the advert filled magazine is an absolute rip-off. No other show charges this much for a programme and I find it difficult to understand what makes it so expensive – yes it’s a little glossy and places and yes it has a lot of pages but it really is no more than a padded magazine. The average aviation magazine is £5 and display programmes can be as cheap as £4 so why charge so much?! This was the first year I’ve not bought one and I honestly can’t say that I missed it. With the presence of social networking getting stronger by the day, it’s increasingly easy to find out what’s displaying and when. Unless the price is drastically reduced, I certainly won’t be purchasing it again.

RIAT, see you next year!

Review – Shuttleworth Military Pageant

Set in the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside, Old Warden airfield is home to the world famous Shuttleworth Collection and on June 29th, hosted the 2014 Military Pageant Airshow.

Old Warden is home to the unique and renowned Shuttleworth collection – a museum full of working airframes, many of which are the sole remaining aircraft of their type. Driving on to the airfield, you’re instantly transported back to 100 years ago – the airfield and it’s surroundings are truly stunning and make the perfect setting for an airshow full of vintage aircraft.

The weather forecast was predictably unpredictable with rain forecast on and off for most of the day. This meant that there weren’t too many people fighting for the front row early on so I decided to have a look at the participating aircraft while they lined up on the grass. Unfortunately they were nearly all facing away from the crowd line but it’s almost impossible to catch most of these aircraft in an ugly light. The stretched canvas and simplistic shapes make for some fantastic photographic opportunities.

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Having spent a couple of hours looking around the collection and the stalls that were set up, the air displays finally got underway about 2pm. The show got off to a beautiful start with the based Hawker Sea Hurricane and the newly restored Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Ia from the Aircraft Restoration Company, based at IWM Duxford. Beginning with a pairs display, the two Merlin-powered WWII fighters graced the Bedfordshire skies with some truly timeless aerobatics. It was a fantastic way to open the afternoon’s event.

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After another very graceful display by the based Gloster Gladiator, the second visitor of the day came in very low over the opposite end of the airfield. With a bright white paint scheme and super sleek lines, it was the Duxford based PBY Catalina’s turn to impress the crowd…and boy did they impress. I’ve seen the membership-sponsored Catalina display countless times but never like it was flown on that Sunday. Seeing the Catalina being thrown around the thunderous sky was like watching a modern day fighter/bomber; the display was low, powerful and flown with 110% commitment. By 2.30pm, I’d already witnessed the display of the day – just stunning.

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Following the Catalina was a brilliant display by a trio of monoplane trainer aircraft; a Miles Magister, DHC 1 Chipmunk and a Percival Provost T1. Like the pairs display earlier in the day, the trio flew several tight formations before splitting off into their own solo displays. All three were flown superbly but for me the highlight was the Magister- the two seat basic trainer was first flown in 1937 and with the gorgeous backdrop of Old Warden, it didn’t look at all out of place. Elegance personified.

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From monoplane to triplane – a late production Sopwith Triplane to be exact, nicknamed ‘Dixie’. The start of the triplane’s display was lovely with lots of sweeping passes showing off the unique structure of the aircraft. However, what followed was very much unexpected. Halfway through the display, the engine sounded like it cut out for a few seconds but fortunately the pilot managed to get things going again. Towards the end of the routine, the engine sounded like it cut out completely – I didn’t realise what was going on at first but it soon became clear that the pilot was trying to make an emergency landing.

What happened next took everyone by surprise – the aircraft came in extremely low over the back of the airfield, so low in fact that the aircraft got caught on a fence and as a result, went nose over. The crowd fell silent and within 30 seconds the crash site was secured by the show’s emergency responders. I’m happy to say that the pilot was in fact completely fine and didn’t suffer so much as a bruise. That was the first crash I’d been witness to the whole things was fairly surreal.

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Making sure the pilot was ok was clearly Shuttleworth’s primary focus and rightly so. After just under an hour later, the airfield was clear and ready to kickstart the air displays again. Full marks have to be awarded to Shuttleworth here – the flying schedule was rearranged and extended so that all the booked items could still display.

The afternoon got back into the swing of things with a display from the collection’s Hawker Hind and Hawker Demon. To the untrained eye, the Hind and the Demon look incredibly similar and at times even I struggled to tell them apart – the pair performed a wonderfully synchronised routine with plenty of noise and low passes. The Hawker pair put on an aerial ballet that was an absolute pleasure to watch and I found myself watching this display more than photographing it.

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As the Hawker pair landed, a trio of biplanes prepared to get airborne; a Blackburn B2, DH82a Tiger Moth and a Polikarpov Po2. The aircraft were flown beautifully but unfortunately the Po2 was the last of the three to come in for it’s solo routine and as a result, suffered possibly the worst weather of the entire day. The rain was absolutely pelting down but with visibility still pretty good, the pilot decided it was safe to stay up and finish his display. The Soviet built trainer (and cropduster) was an aircraft that I’d not seen before so I was slightly gutted that the sun couldn’t come out for it’s display.

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The rain continued and the cloud began to get lower and lower but amazingly it didn’t stop Hawker Hunter T7 WV372 from putting on a spectacular display. This particular Hunter was a member of the short lived Team Viper Display Team and having been purchased by a new owner, now resides at North Weald airfield. Many thought that given the conditions, the Hunter would be unable to join the show so late in the afternoon but the low cloud didn’t seem to bother the pilot. With a beautiful long ‘blue note’ on arrival, the T7 certainly showed off it’s agile handling capabilities and seeing a jet aircraft after so many props was a very welcome treat. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the older aircraft but you just can’t beat the sound and shape of a Hunter.

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Sadly the Hunter was the last display of the day for me, I was soaked through and had a 90-minute drive home. Given that the rain didn’t look as though it was going to clear any time soon, I made the decision to call it a day. Old Warden offered up a truly fantastic spectacle of an airshow and to begin with, I wasn’t sure that I’d enjoy the classic side of aviation – how wrong could I be. Vintage aircraft set it beautiful surroundings made for a brilliant day. As well as the display, the organisers also made sure that all stalls present on the day were 100% related to aviation; whether it be books, prints or models, there was something for everyone to enjoy. Unfortunately it meant that I had to part with some additional money but hey, my display cabinet looks all the better for it!

The Military Pageant was an incredible show and it certainly won’t be the last time I visit the Bedfordshire airfield.

You can keep up-to-date with the Shuttleworth Collection via their website http://www.shuttleworth.org/index.asp, Twitter @Shuttleworth_OW and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ShuttleworthCollection.

Review – Support Our Paras Show

The Parachute Regiment Charity was set up to help support soldiers and families of The Parachute Regiment, as well as members of the Airborne Forces who are also in need of help. In 2008, a small but successful event was held at Old Sarum airfield in Salisbury and after six years away, the organisers decided to put another show together for the 11th May.

The weather forecast for the show wasn’t great but for once it wasn’t rain that was the issue. The 30-40mph gusts were a real cause for concern and it could quite easily have led to all participating aircraft being unable to display – the first show of 2014 at Old Warden was cancelled early in the morning due to the extreme conditions. Fortunately though, those that braved the wind were rewarded with a very pleasant day in the Wiltshire countryside.

The main air displays didn’t start until after 2pm but the early birds were treated to a short role demonstration by a Chinook HC4 from RAF Odiham. As two Jackals secured the landing site, the Chinook carrying Prince Michael of Kent appeared out of nowhere and flew in from the hills in the distance. As the aircraft touched down, soldiers from 2 Para poured out and immediately started countering the enemy’s attack. With the area secure and the role demonstration over, Prince Michael made his way by convoy to the crowd line to meet members, past and present, of The Parachute Regiment. The role demo was exciting to watch and it’s always great to see frontline aircraft perform operationally in a way that the public may not always get a chance to see.

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The role demonstration was over by about 11am and with the high winds, the display programme was already in it’s third iteration since Saturday evening. Flying wasn’t due to get underway properly until 2.30pm so there was plenty of time to have a look around the small event, get up close and personal with an AAC Lynx Mk7 from Middle Wallop and also watch the Chinook  depart and return to base. At an event of this size, three hours seemed like a long time to wait for the displays to start but this was made easier by the presentations that were made in the main arena area.

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The display programme was reshuffled for a fourth time because sadly several aircraft were unable to get out of their home airfields – this included the Great War Display Team and Duxford based Spitfire MH434. The planned jump by the Red Devils Parachute Display Team was also scrubbed as the gusts at lower levels proved to be too dangerous.

Finally, the display programme started and the first of two Yak-50s took to the sky. Designed by the Soviet Yakolev company in 1970s, the Yak-50 was the chosen aircraft of the national aerobatic display team. The USSR wanted an aircraft that would dominate international display competitions and they weren’t concerned about how much it would cost. The result was a 360mph, turbo-charged radial engine monoplane that soon dominated competitions later in that decade. G-SKPH is a member of the Aerostars display team and put on a fantastic solo display in very challenging conditions. Although the display was flown a little higher than normal, the skill involved in such a routine was easy to see and was more than enough to whet the appetite for what laid ahead.

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Ben Lovering was next to display in the Raging Bull of Biplane Aerobatics. G-KLAW is a Christen Eagle II – a kit-built sporting biplane that was designed as a competitor to the Pitts Special. Ben put on a brilliant display of aerobatics but unfortunately due to it’s size and the height at which it was performed, the aircraft was lost all but lost at times. Had the display been slightly lower, I’m confident it would have been extremely photographic.

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The RV8tors have become a regular sight at airshows up and down the country over the last few years and in the skies above Old Sarum, the pair put on a stunning display in less than ideal conditions. The smoke generators on the home-built RV8 really demonstrated the drift that both Alistair Kay and Andy Hill had to contend with. Both have to be applauded for managing to pull off a pairs routine in such high winds.

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The second Yak-50 got airborne, this time it was an aircraft marked ’49’ from the Yakovlevs Display Team based at Henstridge Airfield in Dorset. The silver and red colour scheme looked great and although I’m used to seeing the full team display, this solo managed to show off the Yak-50 in all it’s glory. Unfortunately I messed up my shutter speeds on this display and didn’t realise until I got home. I’m hoping that I get to see the full team display somewhere later this year.

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Just in case you hadn’t got your full fix of Soviet props for the day, a beautiful Yak-11 was next on to the grass runway. The throaty roar of the Yak-11 is absolutely fantastic and in true Russian style, the display came complete with a familiar dark smoke trailing behind the aircraft. A beautifully glossy paint scheme added to the joy of watching this warbird display. This was the first time that I had seen this type fly and I’m already looking forward to seeing it again. A superb demonstration of display flying.

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Having had several items cancel earlier on in the day, it was a surprise to hear that RAF Brize Norton were sending in a Hercules for a couple of flypasts. This was a real treat and it is believed that this was arranged last minute – the aircraft had been conducting a two hour training mission over the Salisbury Plain Training Area and the organisers managed to pull in a favour. The first flypast was a simulated supply drop with the ramp down and the aircraft flown at nice slow speed. The C-130J went into circuit before winding up the engines to perform a final high speed pass. The Hercules is becoming a rare sight at UK airshows so well done to the team on securing this.

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Now in late afternoon, there were just two aircraft left to display and the first of those was the Duxford based Scottish Aviation Bulldog. The aircraft was also in the flying display at Abingdon last week so I knew what to expect from the display. The Bulldog should be a lesson to the RAF on how the Tutor display should be flown; the aircraft are of similar size and power yet this display is flown with much more enthusiasm.

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The buzz of the Extra 300 has become synonymous with competition aerobatics and although the noise can be slightly irritating at times, Justyn Gorman from World Aero Aerobatics really put on a fantastic display of high ‘G’ manouvers. The World Aero Aerobatics team were a unique act – the team had agreed to display free of charge in exchange for their manager doing the commentary for ten minutes, talking about the aircraft, pilot and parent company. It’s not very often that you get something for free these days and it’s nice to see that some people are still managing to think outside the box.

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All that remained was for the visiting aircraft to depart (which included a gorgeous Gazelle of the Gazelle Squadron Display Team) and the evening sunset ceremony to take place. The Support Our Paras event is only in it’s second year and it’s yet to be decided as to whether the event will return in 2015 or not. Attendance figures did not appear to be exceptionally high but with strong winds and very little advertising, it’s easy to see why. I only found out about the event at Abingdon last week because one of the organisers there was helping at Old Sarum on the day. With many online forums, websites and social media, it’s difficult to understand why this event wasn’t publicised more.

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The show has everything needed to make this a success in the future – a team of willing volunteers, a great location and plenty of space for people to set up stalls and mobile shops. With a little bit of work, Support Our Paras could easily be turned into a ‘country fayre’ style show and become a flagship fundraising event for The Parachute Regiment Charity. Only time will tell what will happen next but I for one hope that this returns to the calendar in 2015.

To find out more about The Parachute Regiment Charity, visit www.paracharity.org and follow @ParaCharity on Twitter.

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!