27 Squadron Centenary

Features

27 Squadron was formed back in 1915 as a Squadron within the Royal Flying Corps. During the last 100 years, the Squadron has been at the forefront of the modern battlefield and this week unveiled a special schemed Chinook to celebrate the occasion.

On 5th November 1915, 50 men were taken from No. 24 Squadron Royal Flying Corps and put under the control of Capt G J Malcolm with immediate effect, forming No. 27 Squadron. Since the Squadron’s formation, personnel have been involved in almost every major conflict since and have contributed to all aspects of air power.

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The Squadron was originally equipped with the Martinsyde G.100 ‘Elephant’ (hence the animal’s prominence on the Squadron crest), an aircraft originally intended for use as a fighter but one that actually found itself more suited to reconnaissance and bombing missions in 1916 when the unit moved to France during the Great War. Having participated in some of the biggest battles of the war, the Squadron re-equipped with the Airco DH.4 light bomber in 1917, before returning to the UK in 1920 to be disbanded. After an incredibly short hiatus, 27 Squadron was reformed and assumed air-policing duties over the North-West frontier.

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Less than 20 years later, the Squadron became a Flying Training School operating de Havilland Tiger Moths, Hawker Harts and Wapitis, before re-equipping once more with the Bristol Blenheim bomber. With the Second World War in full flow, 27 Squadron were relocated to Malaya and were tasked with fighting the Japanese advancements but were quickly overpowered and again disbanded in early 1942.

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Having reformed again later in 1942, the Squadron joined 47 Squadron and formed an anti-shipping Strike Wing with rocket-equipped Bristol Beaufighters. For the third time in its history, 27 Squadron were once again disbanded in 1946.

Over the following 40 years, the Squadron was disbanded again on two separate occasions but also underwent some drastic changes. Having flown Douglas Dakotas during the historic Berlin Airlift, the Squadron relocated once more to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire where the unit flew the English Electric Canberra, and later, the mighty Avro Vulcan. 27 Squadron played a crucial role in the UK’s nuclear anti-deterrent strike force for more than a decade.

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The Squadron moved to RAF Marham in 1983 where they were allocated the brand new Panavia Tornado GR1, before moving to their current home of RAF Odiham and flying the Boeing Chinook.

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The Chinook has been involved in every major conflict since the type entered service and under the guise of 27 Squadron, remained a key part of ISAF operations in Afghanistan right up until the very end when UK forces were finally withdrawn from the country in April this year.

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The Squadron is always ready to deploy at short notice and this was certainly the case earlier this year when they were called upon to aid with the relief effort in Nepal. Although the support was ultimately not required in the end, the deployment proved that the Squadron is always ready to respond to a global crisis.

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For now at least, personnel are finally enjoying a rest from enduring frontline operations; happy centenary 27 Squadron!

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.

RNAS Yeovilton Air Day

2015, Reviews

RNAS Yeovilton was commissioned as HMS Heron on June 18th 1940 and by the middle of the Second World War, young pilots were being taught essential fighter tactics on the Supermarine Seafire and Hawker Sea Hurricane. Since then the Station has been home, in one form or another, to some of the greatest sea-borne aircraft that this country has ever seen; the Venom, Sea Vixen, Buccaneer, Phantom and Sea Harrier. Today though, the Somerset base is the hub of the rotary Maritime Force and Commando Helicopter Force. On July 11th the gates were opened to the public for the annual award-winning Airshow and Air Day celebrated the Station’s 75th anniversary in style.

In the last couple of years Air Day has suffered from multiple headliner cancellations through no fault of its own, most notably in 2014 when numerous participants pulled out in the fortnight leading up to the show and the organisers were left pulling in lots of favours to bulk out the programme. Even with those cancellations though, Air Day has always been held in high regard by the enthusiast community.

An International Triumph

The programme for Air Day this year featured a number of international visitors both in the air and on the ground.

The French Navy were invited to return to the Somerset skies with their Maritime Role Demo; a ten minute display of air superiority from two Rafale and two Super Etendard aircraft. The Super Etendard doesn’t have long left in service so it was a real success to get these aircraft back over for a proper send off. As you can probably gather from the display, the Super-E (as it is affectionately known) is gradually being replaced by the fierce Dassault Rafale-M which has been in service with the French Navy since 2000.

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The first segment of the display consists of formation passes before the two types break crowd centre and bring the noise. Both the Super Etendard and Rafale-M demonstrated how dynamic they can be when required and delivered the perfect balance of noise and speed. The participating Squadrons had only recently returned from operational duty so for them to have worked up a presentable role demonstration in such a short amount of time, really was quite impressive. The fast jets of the French Navy proved that they’re a force to be reckoned with at sea – something that the Royal Navy is in dire need of.

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Patrulla Aguila also returned to Yeovilton with their seven-ship aerobatic display. The team were last at Air Day in 2005 and on that visit, won the award for ‘Best Overall Display’.

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Formed in 1985, the team flies the Spanish-built, patriotically decorated, CASA C-101EB Aviojet and unlike the Red Arrows, being part of the team is a secondary job for its pilots. As is quite common on the continent now, the routine was flown to a backing track of European dance music and I must admit, I rather like it. The enthusiastic commentary and fast-paced music really make the display enjoyable and while it is a little on the long side (in the region of 30 minutes), the formation landing to finish really is something that has to be seen to be believed!

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The Royal Jordanian Falcons may need to think of a new name soon, as year on year they return to the European circuit for most of the summer. The team have become a familiar sight at Yeovilton and returned as a four-ship display again for 2015.

The Extra EA300Ls may not be the most thrilling aircraft in the world but there is no denying the level of skill and competence that the pilots have; when you start to analyse the display, the routine really is quite technical and superbly flown. If nothing else, the Royal Jordanian Falcons simply have to be applauded for their dedication to the UK Airshow scene.

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The Czech Gripen was originally supposed to be displaying at Air Day but withdrew some time ago when the whole fleet was grounded. This was subsequently replaced by the L-159 ALCA (Advanced Light Combat Aircraft) and while it was good to see the aircraft back over here, the display itself felt incredibly distant and as a result, left the crowd wanting more.

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Unfortunately the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron MiG-15, which was supposed to be a star item, remained grounded and never made it to the UK in time for Air Day.

The international participation continued throughout the show ground with aircraft from the German Navy, Czech Air Force, Polish Navy and Royal Norwegian Air Force but the stars of the static display were the US Air Force A-10Cs, C-17 and NATO E-3A Sentry.

The US have been noticeably absent from the UK circuit for a number of years due to Sequestration so it was absolutely fantastic to see them back on the ground. As has always been the case with the US military, the teams on the ground were incredibly welcoming and more than happy to talk about their role. Much to the delight of those visiting, both the C-17 (which was awarded ‘Best Static Display) and A-10Cs were opened up later in the day for tours. The USAF really should be given an award for the way in which they present themselves and interact with the public; the RAF could learn a trick or two from them.

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Family Support

Support from the RAF and Army Air Corps has been somewhat lacking in recent years at the Royal Navy’s flagship event but 2015 saw a return to form with display items from both forces.

The Apache Helicopter Display Team from AAC Wattisham were representing the Army side with their new two-ship, pyro-heavy role demonstration.

The scenario is simple; a two-ship Apache formation is out on patrol when their aircraft are threatened by an RPG attack. The first simulated rocket is fired from the ground so Gunship 1 and Gunship 2 separate to assess the battlefield. Enemies are quickly identified by the advanced Longbow radar and both aircraft come in for a low strafing run. Enemy destroyed? Not a chance!

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The next five minutes are filled with simulated demonstrations of the Apache’s highly valued arsenal. Further strafing runs from the 30mm cannon, rockets from the helicopters’ pylon-attached pod and the finale; the mighty Hellfire. Each piece of weaponry has its own bespoke pyrotechnic explosion and each is well executed, timed perfectly with the aircraft’s positioning and in-cockpit audio. As the battlefield falls silent, the crowd are given an overview of the Apache and both aircraft drift up and down the crowd line, crossing over at several points. The Apache role demonstration really is fantastic and I can’t fault it in any way, I hope that the two-ship routine sticks around for a few more years.

Flying the flag for the RAF were the Red Arrows, BBMF Spitfire pair, Typhoon and Chinook. To be fair to the RAF, both the Chinook and Typhoon were on the programme last year but the Chinook failed to make it and the Typhoon was a single flypast.

The Reds arrived in style, as always, and the team quickly started filling the sky with smoke. Due to the low cloud base, only a rolling display was possible but this was more than enough to get the crowd excited and on their feet. I’ve seen the Red Arrows more times than I count and as much as I enjoy watching them, the display can only change so much year on year. What I absolutely love seeing though, are the facial expressions on the younger generation – 20 years ago my love for aviation was kick-started by those same little red jets.

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The Typhoon was back with a vengeance this year, presenting one of the most comprehensive routines that I have ever seen from the Royal Air Force. The Typhoon Display Team appear to be flying a number of aircraft this year; the red centenary scheme, the D-Day invasion stripes or, as was the case at Yeovilton, the full-fuselage commemorative Battle of Britain camouflage scheme. There’s no denying that the Typhoon looks fantastic in old-school camouflage and makes you realise just how boring our aircraft look in the all-over grey.

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The 2015 display is full of noise and high-g manoeuvres, meaning that for a large percentage of the routine, the aircraft is on full reheat. The combination of vapour trails, afterburner, fast manoeuvres and special scheme make this year’s Typhoon display something special.

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The Odiham based Chinook Display Team came in low and fast from behind the hangars before pulling up into the opening nose-down spiral. As you’ll probably know, I’ve been very fortunate to follow the team over the last couple of years and have seen the display develop quite a lot under the guise of each display pilot. The team have taken elements from last year’s routine and have completely made it their own; plenty of blade slap and gravity defying manoeuvres continue to make the RAF Chinook an award-winning display, walking away from Yeovilton again with the ‘Best Rotary Wing Display’ award.

Nobody Does It Better

Air Day has become synonymous with loud, explosive action and this year was no different. Although the Black Cats had displayed in two Wildcat aircraft earlier in the day, that clearly wasn’t enough for the Royal Navy’s attack helicopter.

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Two Lynx and two Wildcat took to the sky to start their Maritime Force role demonstration. This display hasn’t changed a lot over the years but the anti-piracy scenario is still incredibly relevant and gives the public a chance to see the crews demonstrate the skills that they use on a daily basis when deployed all over the world. The role demo does a very good job of displaying the differences between the two aircraft and makes it easy to work out just how much more advanced the Wildcat is when compared to the Lynx. It also works really well as an introduction for the finale of the show.

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Commando Assault – two words which fill people of all ages with excitement and adrenalin. Each year Air Day is closed with a phenomenal display by the Commando Helicopter Force and this year it was bigger and better than ever.

The face of the CHF is changing and for the first time in many years, the Mk4 ‘Junglie’ Sea Kings took a back seat. The Sea Kings are gradually being withdrawn from service and 2015 was the last time that the aircraft will appear in the sky at Air Day as the type is being phased out by the recently acquired, ex-RAF Merlins and these took centre stage in the show’s finale.

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The story for the Commando Assault remains similar but with a different line-up of aircraft; four Sea Kings, four Merlins, two Lynx, two Wildcat, two Apaches and a Hawk T1 which plays the future role of the F-35.

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The battle commences and Royal Marine Commandos are deployed from the nearby Queen Elizabeth Class carriers. Apaches are called in to provide top-cover and make sure that the Merlins and Sea Kings are able to hover safely while the troops fast-rope into the danger zone. Helicopters continue to arrive in waves and before too long, the airfield is covered in Marines that are trying to force the enemy to retreat. With the enemy identified, the Apaches and Hawk release their weaponry and multiple pyrotechnic explosions follow.

With the battlefield secured and the enemy defeated, every participating helicopter formed up on the airfield to face the audience and come into the hover. Last year things didn’t go to plan for this part of the finale but thankfully, this year it did. Once each helicopter had confirmed that it was in place, the trigger was pulled and the ‘wall of fire’ ignited, creating a truly awesome background for the Commando Assault finale.

Best of the Rest

The display was bulked out by a number of other display items including the Vulcan, Rich Goodwin’s Pitts Special, Sea Vixen, Norwegian Vampire pair, one half of the Czech Mates, Agusta Westland’s AW609, Avro Anson, Seafire and Huey.

Over the last few years Air Day has managed to come up with a number of unique formations and this year was no different. After much organisation behind the scenes, the Vulcan and Sea Vixen were united in the air again but were this time joined by the Vampire pair too. The formation was quite special and with the Vulcan due to retire at the end of the season, it’s something that really will never happen again. It comes as no surprise that this formation won the award for ‘Best Fixed Wing Display’.

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The highlight of the civilian displays for me though was the Huey. G-HUEY is based up at North Weald airfield and although I have seen the aircraft on static a number of times before, this was the first time that I had seen her in the air. There is nothing quite like the noise generated by the Huey and this echoed around the airfield as the crew put the legendary helicopter through its paces. A fantastically flown display indeed.

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Time for a Re-think

The showground had a good feel to it this year and was laid out pretty well. It was great to see that Yeovilton is now offering a wider range of food and drink; people seem to be willing to spend a little more for better quality food and that was evident in the size of the queues at some of the outlets.

Taking the Saturday on its own, Air Day was a complete success and a superb Airshow but I can’t complete this review without a mention of the Friday Photocall.

In previous years the Photocall has consisted of arrivals, rehearsals, display validations and a walk around the virtually empty static park at the end of the day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for 2015.

At a pre-season symposium, Air Day organisers were pulled up on the format of their Photocall event and were informed that due to new MAA regulations that were introduced a couple of years ago, the event in its current format no longer complied with said regulations. In simple terms, the regulations meant that Air Day were unable to conduct aircraft rehearsals or validations while members of the public were on base (for those already asking questions in their head, RIAT complies with special circumstantial rules and is therefore able to run P&V days).

This posed somewhat of an issue for Air Day; they could either cancel the Photocall completely or alter it slightly, reduce the admission fee  and hope that people would still enjoy the event.

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Anyone who has been to the Friday Photocall before will know that there are gaps where nothing happens but this year was worse than normal. We were on the airfield by 1030 this year and there were no movements until at least midday, with only a handful of arrivals before the event closed extra early at 1530. The static park was also closed to the public this year because everyone had to be off of the airfield ASAP so that foreign participants could validate; due to a printing mistake on the arrivals sheet, several believed that the static would in fact be open.

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People were frustrated by the complete lack of communication from staff up until the first announcement early afternoon and by all accounts, most felt that the day was almost a complete waste of time. With so few arrivals in so many hours, it’s almost inexcusable that none of the aircraft were asked to backtrack for photographic opportunities.

The Photocall was peculiar this year and at times it felt like the event had been completely forgotten about. If the Photocall is to survive then I think the whole day needs a drastic rethink. The event is supposed to be for the photographically-minded enthusiast, so why not tailor an event around that? Let’s say for a moment that the event in its current format is completely canned; what would you like to see in an ideal world?

For me, it’d be a case of getting all arrivals in before midday on the Friday and getting them into position in the static park without the metal fencing. With all aircraft in place, open the base for a few hours so that a limited number of people can wander and get the unobstructed shots that they desire. The static park is fine for the majority on Saturday but for those that are after that ‘perfect’ shot (whatever that may be), an event tailored specifically for photographers could be a real money spinner and would be true to the ‘photocall’ name. It’s unclear at this point whether the Photocall will return in any format next year.

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Putting the Friday aside, Air Day 2015 was a spectacular event and I’m sure that it’ll win awards from the tourism board once again. To everyone that helped organise the Royal Navy’s flagship event, thank you for a top show!

18 (B) Squadron Celebrates 100 Years of Service

Aviation, Features

18 (B) Squadron was established in 1915 by the Royal Flying Corps at Northolt airfield and although the face of the Squadron has changed considerably over the last 100 years, the Squadron is still at the heart of the Royal Air Force. I was invited to RAF Odiham on Thursday May 14th for a sneak preview of the special centenary scheme Chinook and to learn about how the scheme was designed.

To mark 18 Squadron’s centenary, a small team at RAF Odiham were tasked with researching the Squadron’s history and designing a very special scheme to commemorate their last 100 years of service. An intimate photo shoot was organised for Thursday afternoon and sheltered from the rain in one of the hangars, the commemorative scheme on ZA712 was finally revealed. At first, the scheme looks incredibly impressive but when you start to look at it in more detail, you quickly realise just how much time and effort has gone into it.

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Flt Lt Andy Donovan, a Pilot on 18(B) Squadron’s OCF, was on hand to talk us through the scheme:

“We’ll start at the very beginning of our existence; the crest on the side here – the white Pegasus and the blue shield – is the crest that the Squadron started with back in 1915. Major G I Carmichael was the first Commanding Officer when we were a Royal Flying Corps unit. In 1918 we became a Royal Air Force unit and it took until 1936 for the RAF to standardise Squadron badges (the crest you see today with the red pegasus is on the other side of the cockpit). The change from white to red was made by the Commanding Officer in 1936 when he decided that the white pegasus, against a white background would easily get lost and as such, needed to be drastically redesigned. He wrote to those in charge and asked to change the pegasus to red so that it stood out clearly from the all-white background.”

The decision had been made to include the original Squadron badge on the aircraft right from the very beginning but this soon led to a much bigger idea; was it possible to design a scheme that encapsulated the transition from 1915 right up to 2015? The concept was to show the transition from the white wings of the early Pegasus, to the red wings of the modern day Pegasus.

“The white banding at the front of the aircraft is to recognise the wings of Pegasus and ‘Animo Et Fide’ is the squadron motto; this translates to ‘With courage and faith’.”

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The Pegasus wings are clear to see at the front of the aircraft

“We had to trawl through all the photographic archives that we could find, which in itself was difficult because we (the Squadron) spent a lot of time deployed in the Second World War, so struggled to find photographs from that period. What became clear quite early was that in the 1920s, the identifying mark for the squadron was a white square, so we made the decision to break this thick white line with a square about a third of the way along the fuselage. Looking a little more widely, the white paint gave us an opportunity to recognise the age we were dealing with and with the black and grey paint, allowed us to convey the photographic technology of that era.”

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A white square was the identifying mark of 18 Squadron in the 1920s

“Moving back towards the tail end of the aircraft, you’ve got these various different bands and lines, they signify the various changing roles of the Squadron in the modern age. Now that my colleagues on the Squadron have returned from Afghanistan this is even more true and the Chinook Force as a whole is starting to diversify it’s training again so that it’s ready for any eventuality in the world; the recent deployment of three 27 Squadron Mk3 Chinooks to Nepal at short notice is a great example of that readiness. The white behind the fourth window along signifies the maritime role that we’re involved in as well, the wave demonstrates our commitment to exercises like Joint Warrior aboard HMS Ocean.”

A white wave signifies the Squadron's commitment to maritime operations

A white wave signifies the Squadron’s commitment to maritime operations while the red bands indicate the ever changing role of the UK Chinook Force

“Having recognised the early years of the Squadron already, we get down to this rear section and show the 1950s Canberra era when we were part of the Scampton wing but based at RAF Upwood. The Canberras usually carried a speedbird graphic on their nose, blue or black depending on where you read about it, but we’ve applied a bit of artistic license in making it red to coincide with the rest of the scheme.”

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The red ‘speedbird’ is a nod to the Squadron’s time equipped with the Canberra

“We then push right up to the modern day with the colours on the tail and if we look back 25 years to 1991, we were working on the 18 Squadron 75th anniversary scheme for the Chinook Mk1; this was a red and black scheme on the fuselage too. While this scheme is quite different, it owes a lot to that scheme from the early 1990s.”

“On the front, above the cockpit, you can see a poppy graphic and a white ‘W’. Prior to going into the paint shot, the aircraft was coded AT but we decided that the W was more relevant for this scheme because we are one of a few squadrons to have a Victoria Cross winner in our history, with Wing Commander Hugh Gordon Malcom. He was well known for leading extremely dangerous raids in his time and in December 1942 he was airborne on a mission to attack an enemy airfield to make sure that assets on the ground couldn’t be used to attack an offensive that was going on in the area by allied forces. During that raid, the entire Squadron was shot down alongside him which makes this a very significant event in our history; the ‘W’ recognises his Blenheim which carried a ‘W’ on the tail/fuselage. The red poppy sadly recognises each and every life lost in the last 100 years of 18 Squadron. We must never forget the sacrifices made by those who have come before us and at this time of celebration it was highly important to make them part of this moment.”

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To say that a lot of time and effort has gone into the design of this scheme would be a massive understatement. The sheer scale of the design has to be applauded.

“We’ve gone about as far as we possibly could with it, bearing in mind the limitations that were put on us. Looking back, the only time that a scheme has been done on this scale on a Chinook was in 1989/1990 for the 7 Squadron 75th anniversary. Amazingly there was no meaningful record of past schemes from an engineering perspective, the last accurate record we have is of the Gulf War scheme from 1991.”

Interestingly enough, ZA712 was actually one of the Gulf War schemed aircraft all the way back in 1990.

“It’s been a real challenge for the Station and not just because of its commitments all over the world. We were limited in scope because it was a ‘new’ challenge for the Station and the Chinook Project Team who provide engineering support to the fleet from Abbey Wood. We were therefore limited on how much of the aircraft we were allowed to paint. Additionally, with just 6 months to turn the project around…including design, co-ordination and generation of the mass of engineering documentation that goes with a project of this scale, we were unable to clear the use of new paint colours in time and were therefore restricted to the relatively ‘small paint palette’ which existed in stock already and was cleared for application to the Chinook airframe. In an ideal world we would have had a totally blank canvas but were also required to avoid the majority of safety/servicing markings so again, everything had to fit around those…quite a challenge! To turn this around for the Squadron in just six months has been difficult to say the least.”

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What makes this commemorative scheme even more impressive is that it was designed solely by active members of 18 Squadron and as Flt Lt Donovan explains, at times, the project progressed with as little as two or three people on board:

“It was entirely designed by the Squadron but due to operational commitments, this meant that at times it was just myself and Flt Lt Ryan Stowe working on it. I am only just converting to Chinook so I’ve had a period of four months waiting to get started, so working on this design has been an absolute honour. It’s absolutely not about us though. It’s taken a huge percentage of the Squadron’s involvement, plus the very talented and committed engineers and paint specialists at Odiham to get this researched, designed and delivered on time.”

“The aircraft has been painted on base by Serco and took roughly three weeks to paint from start to finish. The level of detail is unprecedented, you’ll find areas all over the fuselage with a number of different colours on just one rivet. This particular airframe had only recently returned from theatre so was completely sand-blasted. The whole fuselage was stripped, painted green and then had the special scheme applied.”

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Serco engineers working on the paint scheme – 2015 Crown Copyright

When compared to other Air Forces around the world, I think it’s fair to say that RAF special schemes have been somewhat lacking in recent years but 2015 seems to be a year of brilliantly designed specials. I’ve often wondered how it feels to be gifted the privilege of delivering and flying a one-off airframe; Flt Lt Donovan summed it up perfectly:

“It’s incredibly surreal. Juggling a lot of things for the past six months has been very tricky but seeing the finished aircraft here, I feel extremely proud. To stand here and see it in the flesh is surreal. It’s been fairly difficult keeping the design a secret. We started with chalk markings on the aircraft in February, so it’s been a long time coming. Obviously it’s something that happens in the fast jet fleets quite often but on rotary aircraft, it’s almost unheard of.”

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The good news is that there will be plenty of time to see ZA712 out and about in this scheme as it won’t be removed until the aircraft enters deep maintenance in the early part of 2016. Although the 2015 Chinook Display is flown by 27 Squadron, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see the 18 Squadron airframe appear at a number of events up and down the country, after all, why wouldn’t you want to show it off to the world?!

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the team at RAF Odiham for organising this intimate shoot and interview.

Feature – A Summer of Blade Slap

Aviation, Features

As we head into the Autumn months, the dust is finally starting to settle on the 2014 display season and for the RAF Chinook Display Team it’s been one incredible Summer.

The UK Chinook force is one of the busiest frontline units in the world and due to ongoing operational commitments, the display team didn’t get together until late May. The original timetable went straight out of the window and before the season even got underway, the six-strong team were already under immense pressure to deliver results. It wasn’t just the available work up time that made it difficult either; operational deployments and a reducing number of HC2 airframes meant that aircraft availability and serviceability was also a real challenge.

Flt Lt Charlie Brown’s aim for this year was to create plenty of noise. That noise came in the form of ‘blade slap’, the unmistakable sound generated by the change in pitch when the aircraft rapidly alters it’s direction of flight. With assistance from the whole team, a routine was established that would best demonstrate this unique sound.

The Displays

The team kicked off their season in June with a display in front of the home crowd at RAF Odiham. Families Day was the perfect opportunity to show off the new-look routine and it would seem that from the very first nose-down bow, the display was well received. I remember speaking to Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander RAF Odiham shortly after the display had finished – the smile on his face said it all really, it was definitely a show to be proud of.

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The three big shows followed – RAF Waddington International Airshow, the Royal International Air Tattoo and RNAS Yeovilton Air Day. The first two display weekends went off without a hitch and the team performed in front some huge crowds. RIAT is a massive show for the team with both their major sponsors (Boeing and Breitling) having a large presence at the event. Most would assume that display weekends are just a chance to relax and socialise, and while there is time for that, the team also has to heavily promote the role that the Royal Air Force plays in the modern world.

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With Waddington and Fairford behind them, the team were scheduled to display at RNAS Yeovilton. Unfortunately though, Yeovilton was the first appearance of the year that had to be cancelled. As the aircraft started up, engine no. 2 was indicating no oil temperature and this remained the same even after the sensors were changed, the internal wiring had to be checked and this meant that the aircraft had to be signed off as unserviceable.

After the mid-season break it was all go – six shows over three consecutive weekends. Having entertained the crowds at Eastbourne, the team made their debut at Ascot racecourse – the Red Bull Air Race World Championship made a welcome return this year and the Chinook Display Team were invited to display at the UK venue. Race day was a total sell-out and Flt Lt Charlie Brown, Flt Lt Andy Waldron and Sgt Anna Irwin ran through their routine in time to a soundtrack of intense house music. Ascot was a venue like no other and certainly one to remember.

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“Displaying in front of a Grandstand of 25,000 people ‘who just weren’t expecting it’ was a real highlight this year. Apparently we stole the show!” – Flt Charlie Brown, Display Pilot on displaying at Ascot

It was then on to Car Fest South and Dunsfold Wings & Wheels. Car Fest is held in support of Children in Need and the team were more than happy to be invited to the show for a second consecutive year. Displaying at Wings & Wheels means a lot to Odiham and in many ways is a chance to say a big thanks – Dunsfold is one of a handful of aerodromes that opens up to the RAF and as a result, the Chinooks frequently carry out training exercises in and around the airfield.

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The season ended with a weekend full of over-water displays. Unfortunately the team’s Friday appearance had to be cancelled due to another technical snag with the aircraft but nevertheless, on the final day at Bournemouth Air Festival, it’s estimated that some 600,000 people lined the beach between the two piers, giving the RAF Chinook Display Team their biggest crowd ever. From Bournemouth it was a short hop to a late addition on the display calendar – Dartmouth Regatta. Having not seen the display venue prior to the display slot, the team arrived crowd centre coming in low over a tree-lined hill top. What followed was a perfect demonstration of just how manoeuvrable the Chinook can be within a tight space and from speaking to the team the following day, it sounded like it was an awful lot of fun!

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“Arriving with the element of surprise using the terrain and displaying in such beautiful yet extremely challenging settings was brilliant. Completing the ‘over the shoulder’ effectively at the end meant almost instantly disappearing from sight of the crowd.” – Sgt Andy Caldwell, Display Crewman on displaying at Dartmouth Regatta

The Best Display This Year?

Over the course of the Summer, the display team have gathered quite a following on social media but what was their favourite moment of 2014?

Looking Ahead to 2015

On the Sunday at Bournemouth, the team displayed the Chinook HC2 for the very last time. Due to ongoing airframe upgrades under the Project Julius programme, the final HC2s will shortly undergo conversion to HC4 standard.

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A Chinook HC2 over Basingstoke earlier this year

Where does this leave RAF Odiham’s display capabilities for next year then? Well, in all honesty it’s still a little of the unknown. The upgraded HC4 is an incredibly capable aircraft but has so far not undertaken any displays; with an all-glass cockpit, it’s not known how the upgraded Chinook will react when it’s put under the strains of rigorous display manoeuvres. Depending on the outcome of display testing next month, it may be decided that the HC4 will not be used in a fully aerobatic role. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be a Chinook display in 2015, it just means that it might not be the display that we all know and love.

The HC4 looks almost identical to the HC2 from the outside

The HC4 looks almost identical to the HC2 from the outside

The Chinook is the workhorse of the RAF; it’s been involved in every major conflict since the Falklands campaign and for that reason alone, I’m confident that we’ll see it on the circuit next year.

“Its been an honour and a privilege to display in front of over 2.8million of you this season, a once in a lifetime opportunity.” – Flt Lt Charlie Brown, Display Pilot

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the 2014 Chinook Display Team, Flt Lt Meg Henderson and Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander RAF Odiham for all their help and assistance over the course of this year. Without you, none of this would have been possible.

Review – Dunsfold Wings & Wheels

2014, Reviews, Uncategorized

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 – 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.

And So The Season Begins…

2014 Chinook Display Team

After a phenomenal season in 2013, the RAF Odiham based Chinook Display Team are back for 2014 flying the Boeing Chinook HC2 with a fresh and expanded crew. 

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This will be the final year for the HC2 as the ‘Project Julius’ upgrade is due to come to an end before 2015.

Having flown the display for two years running, it was time for Flt Lt Paul Farmer to hand over the reigns to a new team. Selected back in the Spring, the 2014 team has grown to include six members – Display Manager Flt Lt Chris Gordon DFC, Display Pilot Flt Lt Charlie Brown, Display Co-Pilot Flt Lt Andy Waldron, Display Co-Pilot Matt Butwell, Display Crewman Sgt Anna Irwin and returning for a second year and keeping some experience within the team, Display Crewman Sgt Andy Caldwell.

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L-R: Flt Lt Chris Gordon DFC, Flt Lt Andy Waldron, Sgt Andy Caldwell, Sgt Anna Irwin, Flt Lt Charlie Brown, Flt Lt Matt Butwell.

The team have overcome many setbacks – time constraints and aircraft serviceability have made things tough but that’s always a risk when you’re such a heavily used frontline unit. Nevertheless, PDA was finally achieved on Friday 20th June and the team performed their first public display the following day. It was always going to be tight but the team put all their troubles behind them and displayed to a packed out home crowd at the RAF Odiham Families Day on Saturday 21st June. Flt Lt Charlie Brown was accompanied on his first outing by Flt Lt Andy Waldron and Sgt Anna Irwin.

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The 2014 display is almost an entirely new sequence – several elements from the past two years remain but Charlie has tried to add a lot more noise to the display and true to form, you’ll all be getting used to the ‘blade slap’ this Summer!

To find out more about the team, head over to http://www.raf.mod.uk/chinookdisplayteam/ and follow the team on Twitter – @ChinookDisplay@MrCharlie_B@Chrisdgordon@Calders86 and @acwalnut.

Throughout the Summer I aim to give you an insight into the workings of the Chinook Display Team so make sure you check back here soon and follow me on Twitter for all the latest – @thetommercer.

2013 Review

2013, Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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