Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

2015, Reviews

For over 50 years Dunsfold Aerodrome’s history remained top secret under the protection of the Official Secrets Act but in 1990 the government declassified records and the importance of Dunsfold was revealed to all. The airfield played a crucial role in the Second World War but once war was over, the airfield was declared as inactive in 1946. Some five years later, the airfield once again returned to the forefront of British aviation and became home to the infamous Hawker Aircraft Company, where the boundaries of modern technology were pushed to their limits in order to design, test and develop aircraft like the Harrier and Hawk. It’s fair to say that Dunsfold Aerodrome is a shadow of its former self but each year the public are welcomed on to the historical site to enjoy the wonderful Wings & Wheels show.

In recent weeks the Airshow community has been thrown into a media frenzy, with every aspect of the industry coming under extreme scrutiny following the tragic accident at the Shoreham Airshow. Strict measures were instantly put in place to help prevent a similar incident occurring; all UK-based Hawker Hunter variants were grounded, pending a full investigation by the AAIB, and all vintage jet aircraft displays were temporarily restricted to a number of flypasts, rather than their usual aerobatic sequences.

In light of this news, a number of events up and down the country announced that they had decided to cancel or postpone their event, but this wasn’t really an option for the Wings & Wheels team. The team quickly realised that now, more than ever before, the Airshow community needed to stand strong, acknowledge what had happened but at the same time, continue to demonstrate just how safe the UK Airshow circuit is and to re-confirm that this country really does have one of the safest and strictest set of Airshow regulations anywhere in the world (regulations that are the envy of many foreign nations).

Aviation at its Best

In September 2013, one of the last RAF VC-10’s touched down at Dunsfold Aerodrome for the final time. Brooklands and Dunsfold Park had worked together to acquire this example and the plan was for the aircraft to be in taxiing condition by the weekend of the show in 2014. Due to a number of technical difficulties (and perhaps an underestimation in what was required in maintaining such a complex aircraft) this didn’t happen but it was promised that the Conway engines would roar once more at Wings & Wheels this year; and boy did they roar! Brooklands delivered on their promise and much to the enthusiasts’ delight, opened the Sunday show with two fast taxis up and down the runway.

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With the VC-10 runs complete and the first round of motoring out of the way, it was time to reflect on the events at Shoreham and hold a minute’s silence. As the announcement was made over the  loud speakers, people immediately stood to show their respect; it was so silent that I’m pretty sure you could have heard a pin drop on the other side of the airfield!

The end of the 60 seconds were signalled by Peter Teichman in his P-40 Kittyhawk screaming over the tree tops and carrying out a victory roll over the aerodrome, before going to hold briefly prior to conducting his solo display. Peter is one of the best (perhaps the best) warbird display pilots going, so for him to take part in this way was an extremely fitting tribute to the events that had occurred just a week previous.

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Rich Goodwin’s ‘Muscle Biplane’ act is becoming increasingly popular on the UK circuit and for Wings & Wheels, his display had been altered slightly to include a number of ‘races’ in which he tried to match his ability with that of a Porsche 911 that was going at speed up and down the tarmac. There is no doubt about it, Rich Goodwin’s aerobatic ability is phenomenal and no two displays are exactly the same due to the nature of the free-flow routine; the Pitts Special is a great little aircraft and it was certainly pushed to its limits by Goodwin.

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A familiar sight at Dunsfold is the Aces High DC-3 Dakota. The aircraft has been a star of many Hollywood films and TV series, and has a rather unique, distressed look to it. For such a large aircraft, this display was flown with exceptional grace and was an extremely photogenic display. I’ve seen this routine on a number of occasions over the last few years and this was easily one of the most polished to date.

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Another common sight at Wings & Wheels was the Old Flying Machine Company pairing of Spitfire MH434 and P-51 Mustang Ferocious Frankie. This act has been at the event on numerous occasions over the last few years but the display always manages to impress with its tight formations and solo routines. The formation section of the display seemed especially tight this year and the pilots of OFMC really have to be applauded for their skills in flying such historic aircraft.

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Although the 2015 Chinook Display team is made up of members of 27 Squadron, the team have been displaying in the 18 (B) Squadron centenary-schemed aircraft at a number of events over the summer. The aircraft has been somewhat of a ‘problem child’ over the course of the season but finally, I was able to see the display in this special commemorative paint scheme. In my opinion, the Odiham-based team have easily won the award (again) for the most consistently impressive RAF display this year; there’s something about the gravity-defying, tandem rotor routine that just never gets boring.

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Returning to the Surrey airfield again was the Dutch B-25 Mitchell. Even though the aircraft are very different, the RAF could learn a trick or two from display routines like this; the B-25 was thrown about the dull grey sky and almost instantly brought a bit of colour to proceedings. Always a welcome sight and a thoroughly entertaining display.

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One of the stars of the show for me was the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron MiG-15. This was fortunately the only aircraft affected by the temporary display regulations and whilst the aircraft was a joy to see (and one that I’ve never actually seen in the air before), the tame routine left a lot to be desired. There didn’t appear to be much of the trademark Russian-built black smoke but I’m guessing that’s because the display wasn’t flown at any real speed. A disappointing display in my eyes but this couldn’t be helped; in terms of the aircraft though, it’s another one that I can tick off my wish-list!

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I can’t really believe that I’m saying this but the Breitling Wingwalkers have been fairly absent from the display circuit this summer with much of their work being focused on a more international scale, with trips to India, Japan and Dubai. To see them back in the air down South was a welcome sight and whilst their display is of a much slower pace to most items, the formation and opposing sections of the routine are incredibly photogenic. The sound of the radial engines is also something that I’ll never tire of!

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The RAF Hawk T2 Display Team are new to the circuit this year and their display is built around a role-demonstration, with a view to showing off the capabilities of the modern jet-trainer aircraft. The RAF Valley-based team have built a routine that shows off the aircraft’s agility nicely but at times the two-ship passes feel very distant. The pyrotechnics add another dimension to the display and I feel that this team has an awful lot of potential. In their inaugural year, they’ve done Valley proud!

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The rest of the air segment featured displays from The Blades, Turb Team, two Aerobility-backed routines (Yak-52 and Glider – both flown by Guy Westgate), Sally-B, the RAF Typhoon/Spitfire Synchro Pair, RAF Tutor and the RAF Typhoon Display Team. The solo Typhoon display was perhaps the most impressive Eurofighter Typhoon display I’ve ever seen; the combination of noise, power and reheat wrapped up the 2015 show in style.

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The Vulcan was due to attend but must to the disappointment of the crowd, XH558 couldn’t get through the bad weather front that was lingering around country for most of the day.

There were many intriguing acts this year but I can’t help but feel that the aviation element of Wings & Wheels is starting to feel a little stagnant. If you look at the above, the B-25, Blades, Turb Team, OFMC pair, DC-3 and to a degree, the Kittyhawk, are all acts that appear at Dunsfold almost every year (or at least feel like they’re far too common there). With the wealth of warbirds and display teams in this country, I find it difficult to understand why we don’t see more variety at Wings & Wheels year on year.

With the Vulcan exiting the display scene later this year, I really hope that the organisers make the most of the spare funding and book some really interesting (and new to the event) items in 2016.

Also, what happened to the large-scale model section this year?

Burning Rubber

Keeping true to the ‘Wheels’ part of the event’s name, the show also focuses heavily on motoring with two sections of running from both historic and modern-day cars and motorbikes.

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The first segment runs right at the beginning of the day and the noise that some of the vehicles produce is almost spine-tingling at times. Whether you’re interested in motoring or not, the speed at which some of these cars can go is truly fascinating and the first run is always something that I’m interested in. To see so many beautiful motors at once is a real treat.

I guess that’s where one of my main problems with the show comes from. Just two hours later, that entire run of cars and motorbikes is repeated and you end up with an almost identical 60-minute slot of driving. No one usually watches any given TV programme and then re-watches the exact same episode just two hours later that day; why would you?

It’s not the first time that I’ve said this and I have a feeling that it won’t be the last, but the motoring element of the show really could benefit from a little re-think. Why not break up the running order into two sections so that you don’t have to just run a repeat session? Many people immediately around me were making similar comments on the day and a large proportion of the crowd line took the second session as an excuse to go and get some food or have a toilet break. A few years back I remember seeing a Mercedes-Benz act at Dunsfold; what happened to that? Motoring entertainment acts do exist and I can’t understand why they’re not used more at shows like this.

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Still a Top Show

Despite the slightly familiar air displays and repetitive motoring sections, Wings & Wheels is still a very enjoyable event and always manages to provide an entertaining day at a reasonable ticket price.

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The team are always thinking on their feet and brought in a load of hay for the weekend to help out with the extremely boggy ground. The showground itself wasn’t too bad but the car park itself was incredibly muddy and slippery. The car park could have really benefitted from some metal tracking on the main paths coming in and out but as it dried out towards the end of the day, it got a little better.

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It was also great to see an even larger range of catering options available on site this year; people are definitely willing to spend a little more at the moment, as long as they’re getting a quality product in return.

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Many have moaned about the queues getting out of the car park but from what I can gather, this wasn’t really avoidable. A lot of people decided to leave once they found out that the Vulcan wasn’t attending (an hour or so before the end of the show) and at that time, by design, there weren’t as many marshals around to direct traffic so it became a free-for-all to get out first. Had some people hung around at the end of the show, grabbed a coffee and listened to the live music, they would have found that getting out of the site was in fact incredibly easy; it was then only the slow moving traffic all the way to Guildford that was a problem but that seems to be completely unavoidable.

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In my eyes, the organisers have got a little work to do for the 2016 show but I can guarantee that I’ll be there regardless of any changes. Wings & Wheels is still a great show and for atmosphere and friendliness, is still one of the best on the display calendar.

Red Bull Air Race – Round 5, Ascot Racecourse

2015, Reviews

For the second year running, the UK leg of the Red Bull Air Race championships took place at Ascot Racecourse; a track that’s more used to hosting horse racing than air racing. Staged over three days; Practice on Friday, Qualifying on Saturday and the Race on the Sunday, the weekend promised to be full of adrenaline and excitement for the capacity crowd.

Qualifying took place on the Saturday of the race weekend and determined the starting order for Sunday. For those unfamiliar with the format of the Red Bull Air Race, Race Day is broken down into three distinct rounds; Round of 14, Round of 8 and then Final 4, as described below:

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As the race itself didn’t start until mid-afternoon, there was a chance to get up close and personal with both the pilots and aircraft in the pit area. It was more than a little refreshing to be invited into most of the hangars for a chat and some unique photo opportunities, with most of the participants available to answer any queries.

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It was also great to see so many people waiting at the fence to grab photos and autographs from their favourite pilots.

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Race Report

The format of the Round of 14 means that those that perhaps didn’t perform to the best of their ability during qualifying, effectively get given a second chance to proceed in the race and in the most extreme case can mean that the slowest person from Saturday knocks the fastest person out.

Importantly for the home crowd, there were two pilots flying the flag for Great Britain; Nigel Lamb of the Breitling Racing Team and Paul Bonhomme of Team Bonhomme, winner of the Ascot race in 2014 and leader of the 2015 championship.

Nigel Lamb went up against Kirby Chambliss (Team Chambliss) in Heat 5 and picked up a 2-second time penalty for ‘Incorrect Level Flying’ which meant that his chances of progressing to the next round were severely impacted. However, Chambliss then went on to pick up a similar time penalty in the last stages of his run and this meant that incredibly, Lamb was through to the Round of 8.

The rest of the field continued with their duals and after a particularly intense Heat between Matt Hall and Pete McLeod, Hall joined Muroya, Bensenyei, Ivanoff, Sonka and Lamb to take up his place in the Round of 8.

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Qualifying fastest on Saturday, Paul Bonhomme was in the best position possible to crack on with getting the job done on Sunday but it wasn’t going to be easy. Hannes Arch took to the sky first and set the fastest time of the day so far, putting his terrible qualifying behind him and guaranteed himself a place in the Round of 8. Bonhomme was under pressure to perform but just couldn’t quite put his mark on the circuit and lost out to Arch by seven tenths of a second but fortunately for Paul and the team, his time was enough to get him through to the next round as the Fastest Loser.

After a short break, the Round of 8 got underway and saw Lamb facing off against Australia’s Matt Hall. Lamb appeared to be in a world of his own as he posted his quickest time of the weekend but it just simply wasn’t enough to beat a truly stunning performance from Hall which saw the Brit instantly knocked out.

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Matt Hall joined Muroya and Ivanoff in the Final 4 with just the last place to be decided in Heat 7.

The Race format meant that Bonhomme was to face Arche once more and Paul put in a stunning time that set the bar high but unfortunately the crowd were robbed of that fight. For the second time in the weekend, Hannes Arch and UBFS Racing were unable to get their engine started and after running out of time were declared out; Bonhomme was through and within reach of the top prize.

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Unlike the previous two rounds, the Final 4 is a straight fight and the best time wins. Bonhomme was set to fly last and it was looking like all he had to do was fly a clean lap as each of the finalists picked up time penalties, with Hall guaranteeing himself second place on the podium, setting a time of 1:09.024.

As Bonhomme started his run to the first gate, 29,000 people were on their feet cheering and clapping with encouragement for the home team. Eyes darted between watching Bonhomme fly tightly around the gates and to the big TV screens in front of the crowd. As Paul reached the final gate he was well within the green and meant that as he shot through the finish gate and into the vertical, he had completed his lap in a time of 1:06.416 – just under three seconds faster than Hall!

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For the second time in two years, Paul Bonhomme claimed first place at Ascot and goes into Round 6 of the Championship with a lead of eight points over Matt Hall.

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Filling The Gaps

Tasked with entertaining the massive crowd between the Rounds were the AAC Apache Helicopter Display Team, RAF Chinook Display Team and Breitling Wingwalkers.

2015 has seen the Apache team conducting a pairs role demonstration but due to the confined display line at Ascot, this was not possible. Instead a solo aircraft took to the sky and put the helicopter through its paces much to the delight of the crowd, many of whom had not seen the aircraft before judging by various comments that could be heard. The display may have lacked the explosive punch that we’ve become accustomed to over the last few months but it certainly did a good job of showing off the agility of the aircraft.

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Having stunned the crowd with their gravity-defying routine in 2014, Red Bull invited the Chinook Display Team back to Ascot to once again demonstrate the incredible manoeuvrability of the tandem-rotor aircraft. Chucking the helicopter about the sky seemed to leave an incredible lasting impression with the crowd as almost everyone rose to their feet and applauded the team as they bowed and exited to land back on. There may have been no running landing in their display but the increased number of nose-down quick-stops seemed to go down well!

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The Breitling Wingwalkers have been busy all over the world this year and incredibly, Ascot was the first time that I had seen them display this season. Unfortunately for the team, there was little wind and this meant that their smoke lingered on the display line for longer than was desirable but the full two-ship display still seemed to entertain the crowd.

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The Venue

There’s no doubt about it, Ascot Racecourse has a fantastic atmosphere and is an incredible place for flying but there is a lot about the venue that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

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Like in 2014, it was as if no-one had told the people on the gates that this wasn’t going to be a normal race day and when help was needed, a number of staff didn’t appear to have the answers that were required. One particular member of staff on the entrance gates was heard telling a paying visitor that they were not allowed to bring their picnic in and that they must eat it all before they got in as ‘his boss wanted them to spend their money inside the gates’ – this wasn’t a joke either, he was deadly serious. Similar reports of this sort of behaviour were also voiced on social media over the weekend, leading me to think that perhaps the guidelines for picnics needs to be revised for the event next year; especially when the prices of food and drink on the premises were higher than even the most expensive Airshows on the calendar. While there was certainly lots of variety, charging £8 for a single burger is unbelievably expensive when you’ve already paid £40 entry.

Ascot provided yet another fantastically exciting race weekend and I’m already looking forward to it again next year but certain aspects of the venue need to be refined if it’s going to attract the same people back again.

Review – Farnborough Airshow 2014

2014, Aviation, Reviews

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

2014, Aviation, Reviews

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!

Feature – RIAT 2014 Thursday Arrivals

Aviation, Features

The Royal International Air Tattoo is well and truly underway at RAF Fairford. Below are some photographs from the arrivals on Thursday 10th July.