RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2012 Review

This year’s RNAS Yeovilton Air Day has been fraught with bad luck from the cancellations to the grey stormy weather. It was already obvious due to being unserviceable that the De Havilland DH.110 Sea Vixen FAW.2 and the Avro Vulcan B.2 would not be attending the show as a result from a crash landing and engine troubles respectively. Further cancellations closer to the show included the French Dassault Rafale M duo and the debut of the NHIndustries NH90 also from the French forces. Even more frustrations occurred on the day with the Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider of Kennet Aviation was reduced to static display and the airshow debut of the Red Star Rebels was cancelled due to paperwork issues. Despite all these shortcomings the show organizers gathered together some replacement items in the form of several classic jets from the Classic Flight Trust as well as the rare appearance of an Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan.

This year’s air day saw the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands Campaign which RNAS Yeovilton was heavily involved with. The occasion was reflected in the static display including BAe Sea Harrier FA.2s, Bell UH-1H Iroquois, Westland Wasp, Westland Wessex and a Westland Lynx HAS.3. There were several other interesting aircraft in the static display area including the Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider and one of Dassault Rafale Ms that were due to display. There was also an Antonov An-28RM Bryza 1RM of the Polish Navy and a Hawker Harrier T.8 of the Royal Navy. However the crew of the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk was presented with the award for the Best Static Display at the end of the show.

Kicking of the show, just as the gray clouds were starting to clear was the BAe Hawk T.1A in a spectacularly patriotic paint scheme. The hawk solo was incredibly enjoyable and stood out brilliantly against the dark clouds as it performed its routine. The hawk is operated by 208(R) Squadron at RAF Valley in Anglesey. The 2012 airshow season is the Hawk T1 role demo display’s last season as it will be phased out of service and be replaced by the BAe Hawk T.2.

BAe Hawk T.1A

Two more trainers of a different era and origin took to the skies to begin their display. Both the Soko J-20 Kraguj and the Yakovlev Yak 52 were built in Eastern-European countries. The Kraguj was used for counter insurgency work by the former Yugoslav Air Force as well as having an impressive short take off and landing. The more familiar Yak 52 was developed in the Soviet Union as an aerobatic training aircraft for both sports and military pilots. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Yak 52 has become a massively popular aircraft with private owners. During the display both the Kraguj and the Yak flew in formation before breaking from each other to perform their solo routines. The Yak demonstrated its highly versatile aerobatics whilst the Kraguj showed of its slow speed and handling. To finish the display of the Kraguj demonstrated how slow it could go by matching the landing speed of the Yak whilst it was landing. The more impressive part was the fact that the Kraguj landed in front of the Yak whilst it was still taxiing. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the display and it was great to see a familiar aircraft participating with a rarely seen counterpart.

Yakovlev Yak 52 & Soko J-20 Kraguj

Next up was The Red Arrows and their seven BAe Hawk T.1As from RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. After taking off in groups of three they formed into ‘Battle’ formation and flew into their display. The team went through a variety of formation passes amongst the dark clouds which made the red and blue smoke stand out brilliantly as the sun started to break through the clouds. The jets flew some spectacular routines in the sky as the clouds cleared. This was only the second time I have seen the team this year, the last time being at Folkestone in which they performed a lacklustre performance. But the team has defiantly come through despite being two jets shorts and I’ll be looking forward to seeing them fly again.

The Red Arrows

The first of the many rotary displays of the day was one the very few appearances of the Army Air Corps Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7. This seldom seen helicopter brilliantly demonstrated its manoeuvrability as well as its aerobatic ability. This type of helicopter is a multi-purpose military helicopter, with this particular type being used for attacking ground based targets. Whilst still being used in modern combat scenarios, it has now been replaced by the Agusta-Westland WAH-64 Apache AH Mk. 1 in its former role as the primary attack helicopter of the Army Air Corps. This particular helicopter hails from 671 Squadron of 7 (Training) Regiment based at Middle Wallop in Hampshire. This display resulted in the pilot being presented the award for the Best Rotary Display at the end of the show.

Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7

The only civilian display team in the display program was up next in the form of the two Silence SA1100 Twisters of the Twister Aerobatics Team with uncanny resemblances to the famous Spitfire. The team kicked of their routine with some immaculate formation loops, rolls and formations which have clearly improved from last year’s display sequences. They then split up to perform individual aerobatic manoeuvres at either end of the display line whilst also performing crossovers at crowd centre. The display (though quiet) was a great aerobatic interlude in the display programme and was defiantly appreciated by the crowds.

Twister Aerobatics Team

The second and last Royal Air Force trainer of the day flew in for its display shortly after the Twisters had touched down to land. The Shorts Tucano T.1 gives the Royal Air Force flight trainees basic flight training experience and advancing their skills they developed in the Grob G-115E Tutor T.1 as well as preparing them for the thrill of fast jet flying in the BAe Hawk T.1. This aircraft from the Central Flying School at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire flew a spectacular display with plenty of topside passes for the budding photographers (yay!) which stood out brilliantly against the grey and cloudy sky.

Shorts Tucano T.1

For Air Day 2012, it was a poignant year but not just because of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands Campaign but also because it was the 70th anniversary of the Channel Dash which was codenamed Operation Cerberus by the Germans. The Channel Dash was a naval engagement in which German ships along with escorts ran a British blockade and managed to sail from Brent in Brittany to their home bases in Germany via the English Channel. One of the British responses was to send six Fleet Air Arm Fairey Swordfish torpedo biplanes from Manston but all were destroyed as a result. To commemorate the bravery of the Swordfish crews the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish Mk. II flew a single formation flypast with four Westland Lynx HMA.8s from 815 NAS Squadron based here at RNAS Yeovilton. The Swordfish departed from the group and performed a particularly spirited display and is always a fantastic sight at any airshow. The Swordfish also performed its traditional airshow display closer with its crew flying the flag of the Royal Navy. The four-ship of helicopters returned to perform a role demonstration. This particular performance changed my opinion on helicopter displays due to the amount of different manoeuvres as well as the added pyrotechnics. The helicopters were Westland Lynx HMA.8s with a DSA, a DSP and two SRU variants. The first role demonstration was how to deal with an aircraft flying in restricted airspace. A Grob G-115E Tutor T.1 played the role of the intruding aircraft whilst the Lynx helicopters used messages to alert the aircraft that they are in restricted airspace and that they must move out immediately. The Lynx then flies with the aircraft to ensure they exit the area. The other demonstration these mighty helicopters demonstrated was their work with anti-piracy with a land rover towing a speedboat on a trailer representing the pirates taking a hostage. The Lynx’s used a variety of real-life techniques to thwart the ‘pirates’ attempt to escape with their hostage including the use of machine guns alongside Sea Dart and Sea Skua Missiles. Once the pirates were vanquished and the hostage was rescued, the four helicopters grouped together for single formation flypast to conclude a fantastic role demonstration.

The next items to perform went through multiple changes leading up to the show. Starting as a Mustang, Sea Fury & Skyraider formation and then turning to a Kittyhawk, Sea Fury & Skyraider formation when the Mustang experienced technical problems. Due to the Skyraider being reduced to static display we were left with the dynamic combination of the Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk Mk. III from the Hanger 11 collection and the Hawker Sea Fury T.20 from the Royal Navy Historic Flight. After performing a large amount of formation passes they split up to perform their own solo routines. First up was the Kittyhawk which has recently been painted for the film ‘Red Tails’ including the nose art “Clawin’ Kitty”. This particular aircraft is operated by the Hanger 11 collection based in North Weald in Essex. This classic American fighter performed a flawless routine with a surprising amount of topside passes along with some spectacular aerobatic manoeuvres. Once the Kittyhawk had landed, the Sea Fury stormed in for its routine. This Sea Fury is operated by the Royal Navy Historic Flight at RNAS Yeovilton along with the Swordfish which we saw display earlier. The Sea Fury flew along the display line fast and low with quite a lot of topside passes. This display was on par with the Kittyhawk before it and was one of the major highlights of the show due it being one of the major naval aircraft components at the display.

Up to display next was one of the display items brought in to replace the Avro Vulcan B.2. This particular item was the Hawker Hunter T.7A which was sporting a new patriotic union jack scheme which was inspired by the Queens Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and the 100th Anniversary of the Central Flying School. This particular aircraft in operated by the Hunter Flight Academy where people can learn how to fly ex-military jets. The Hunter flew a varied routine with a mix of high speed passes and looping aerobatic manoeuvres. It was great to see a jet we seldom see anymore performing among other aircraft despite the fact that the Royal Air Force operate so many different variants of this aircraft.

Hawker Hunter T.7A

There was more Lynx action next in the form of a duo Westland Lynx HMA.8s. This item was of course the Royal Navy’s helicopter display team, The Black Cats. They team approached at crowd centre with one helicopter behind the other and dividing before reforming to demonstrate the stability of the Lynx with several close formations. The team then split again to either end of the crowd line and performed close passes as well as individual manoeuvres with both horizontal and vertical turns. The display was spectacular and further demonstrated the brilliance and versatility of the Westland Lynx.

The Black Cats

More explosive action came from the Royal Air Force with two Panavia Tornado GR.4s performing a role demonstration. The two jets hail from XV(R) Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray. They made multiple passes individually with several crossovers using different configurations of their swing-wings which are used to alter the aircraft’s performance. There were also plenty of explosions in the display and I really enjoyed this particular performance despite the explosion shockwaves disorientating me.

Panavia Tornado GR.4

The remaining Vulcan replacements took to the air to perform their displays. All three of these aircraft were from the Classic Air Force as well as being classic jets that were once used in the Royal Air Force. These jets were of course the Gloster Meteor T.7, De Havilland DH.115 Vampire T.55 and the De Havilland DH.112 Venom FB.52. The Meteor and Vampire flew several passes in formation with the Venom trailing behind. The first to display was the De Havilland DH.112 Venom FB.52 which is the direct descendant of the Vampire and shares many design features such as the twin-boom design. The Venom itself has thinner and more swept back wings than the Vampire as well as possessing a more powerful engine. The display was clean and precise with the pilot giving us plenty of opportunities to see the interesting shape of this aircraft. The next to perform was the De Havilland DH.115 Vampire T.55 which had a heavy influence on the design of the Venom which we just saw performing. The display was nearly exactly the same as the Venoms performance but allowed the audience to see the subtle differences between this older aircraft with its replacement counterpart. The final jet of this classic trio to display was the Gloster Meteor T.7. This particular jet has only recently been restored after spending years at the gate of RAF Woodvale in Southport and made its first public performance at the Duxford Autumn Airshow last year. This display was the best classic jet display I had ever seen with plenty of low topside passes.

The next display was particularly special. It was announced quite late and I thought it may have been a misprint. The aircraft has not been seen flying at an airshow in the UK since one performed at the Farnborough Airshow 22 Years ago. From one end of the aerodrome the giant imposing shape of the Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan approached and began its display. This aircraft is operated by Ruslan International who are heavy air cargo charter specialists. The Ruslan display was short but surprisingly included a near top side pass as well as waving its wings on its final flypast. This is probably a display we won’t see again for a long time and I am glad I could witness it.

Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan

Whilst the next display aircraft were preparing to take off, we were treated to a flypast by an Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat which is an improved version of the Super Lynx. This helicopter will serve in the Battlefield Utility, Search and Rescue as well as Anti-Surface Warfare roles. It has been ordered by the British Army and the Royal Navy and should be entering service in the Army by 2014 and in the Navy by 2015.

Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat

The only overseas military participants took to the sky and began their display routines. This was the Air Day debut of The Saudi Hawks consisting of six BAe Hawk T.65s which are the export versions of the BAe Hawk T.1 to the Royal Saudi Air Force. Their display routine is very similar to The Red Arrows especially in terms of the formation passes. After performing several formation passes, they split into three groups. The first being a solo aerobatic aircraft, the second being two jets performing crossover manoeuvres and the final three jets performed group aerobatics. The display was definitely not as dynamic and entertaining as The Red Arrows but was entertaining none the less.

The Saudi Hawks

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was due to appear next. Unfortunately, the Avro Lancaster B.I was caught in bad weather and couldn’t get to RNAS Yeovilton whilst the Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC was unable to perform due to being unserviceable on the day. This meant we were left with a solo display by the Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXE. The display, although lacking the formation element with the Hurricane and Lancaster, was particularly spirited and was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience which started to thin out after this performance.

Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXE

The final classic jet to display was Kennet Aviation’s BAC Jet Provost T.5A which continued the trend of the variety of training aircraft we have seen at this show including the Hawk, Kraguj, Yak, Tucano, Tutor, Sea Fury, Hunter, Vampire and Meteor. This jet had a very distinctive colour scheme of red and dark blue which made it very beautiful and stunning site in the sky as it performed its routine.

BAC Jet Provost T.5A

Once the Jet Provost had landed the aerobatic marvels of Gerald Cooper who holds many British National Aerobatic titles and has been repeatedly been ranked in the top ten contenders in the World Championships. He is defiantly one of the pilots to look out for in future airshows and championships. He performed a flawless and absolutely crazy routine in his fantastically painted XtremeAir Sbach XA41 (a.k.a. Sbach 300) which is one of best aerobatic aircraft in the world. There was constant action in the routine with plenty of flicks, loops, rolls and seemingly impossible turns. This was a truly fantastic display which the audience enjoyed immensely and resulted in Gerald being awarded for the Best Fixed-Wing Display at the end of the show.

XtremeAir XA41

Now it was nearing the end of RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2012. But there was one more display to be seen. The finale for the show was the Commando Assault involving several different rotary and fixed-wing aircraft to demonstrate what the Royal Navy has to do in combat scenarios. Several aircraft from Yeovilton took part including seven Westland Sea King HC Mk. 4s which was reduced to six when one of them developed problems after taking off. This variant of the Sea King is specially designed for commando assault and utility transport for the Royal Navy. Two BAe Hawk T.1As from both the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy took off to also take part in the finale. Two more helicopters also took part in the finale including a Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7 from the Royal Marines and a Agusta-Westland WAH-64 Apache AH Mk. 1 which is operated by 663 Squadron of 3 Regiment at Wattisham. The scenario begins with enemy soldiers attacking the control tower with machine guns and smoke grenades. The Lynx and some of the Sea Kings drops in some advanced troops to contain the situation. The Apache gives covering fire whilst the Sea Kings drop in more troops to assist those already on the field. An anti-air missile is fired so the Sea Kings deploy their decoy flares whilst other Sea Kings bring in heavy equipment to help the troops. The Hawks bring down a rain of fire and explosions upon the enemy whilst the Lynx prevents them from escaping. The Enemy has been neutralised and the Apache and Hawks make a final strike to completely eliminate the threats of the enemy whilst the Sea Kings pick up all their ground troopers. The last explosion signals the end of the demonstration. This performance was the perfect end to a Royal Navy event as it truly showed us what they are capable of as well as what aircraft operate out of RNAS Yeovilton. This set piece was also relevant to the Falklands Campaign theme as one of the Westland Sea King HC Mk.4s was used in the Falklands War and is a true Falklands Veteran.

Despite the mixed weather conditions and the many unfortunate cancellations, RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2012 was a roaring success with many varied air displays including a total of sixteen hawks including The Red Arrows and The Saudi Hawks as well as displays from a multitude of modern helicopters. I do feel that the show did lose momentum after the Panavia Tornado GR.4s displayed as most of the jets were one after the other. In spite of this, there were many major highlights that I particularly enjoyed. In particular, the displays by the classic jets from the Classic Air Force were spectacular and nostalgic as they are not seen as much as they used to and I also thought the display by the Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk Mk. III and Hawker Sea Fury T.20 was spectacular. All in all, I look forward to returning to Yeovilton in the future.

For more photos from this show check out the entire RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2012 album on Flickr

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