Airshow Season 2012 Review

Another year and another fantastic airshow season in which I have been able to attend nine different events all across the country including my first trips to the RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day and the Royal International Air Tattoo as well as the first time I would attend a show for the whole weekend which I did at Airbourne and Duxford’s September airshow. I have comprised a brief summary of the events I attended with several major highlights included.

The first show of the year for me was the Duxford Jubilee Airshow in May which was not just celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee but also aircraft with connections to the Royal Family. The show also featured one of the first displays by the Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 making a welcome return to the airshow circuit after being absent last year. Prince Andrew’s aviation history was well represented by the Royal Navy’s Westland Lynx HMA.8DSP which gave a stunning demonstration of its capabilities. Moving back in time to the Jubilee celebrations of King George V where a large flypast by the Royal Air Force from Mildenhall to Duxford was displayed. The Fighter Collection’s Hawker Nimrod I and the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Nimrod II and Hawker Hurricane XIIA performed a formation flypast and synchronised display to commemorate this fantastic event in the history of British Aviation. The Belgian Air Component also made a big contribution to the show with their fantastic Lockheed-Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon solo display which commemorated the friendship between the Royal Familys in both the UK and Belgium. More helicopter action was present at the show with a Search and Rescue demonstration by the Royal Air Force’s Westland Sea King HAR Mk. 3A which is a type currently flown by Prince William. One of the major themed highlights of the show was the tribute to the King’s Flight which consisted of a formation of aircraft with major royal connections. The formation was led by David and Mark Miller’s De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide representing the type that founded the King’s Flight. Alongside the Rapide was a pair of De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk Mk. 22s which was used to teach several Royal Family members to fly, with one the Chipmunks being the actual aircraft that Prince Charles was taught in and still wears the colours of the Queen’s Flight with an extra red beacon on the top of the canopy. The formation was complete with the Classic Air Force’s Avro Anson T.21 which represented the wartime examples charged with transporting VIPs. The final major highlight of the show was the mainland debut of the French Air Force’s Patrouille Cartouche Dore with their three Socata TB-30 Epsilons in a striking blue, gold and white colour scheme. The team flew without any smoke generators and despite this flew a very graceful and elegant display over the skies of Duxford.

The next show I attended was the return of an event that hasn’t been seen since 2003. This was the Folkestone Jubilee Airshow which was also celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and drew a wide selection of some old favourites from civilian operators and the Royal Air Force. The most notable appearance was by The Red Arrows who were back on the airshow scene with seven BAe Hawk T.1As which was due to the tragic events from last year. This was the team’s first display of 2012 but was unfortunately cut short due to a technical fault. It was nonetheless great to see them back displaying at airshows. We were also treated to a series of historic displays including the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury T.20 as well as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s trio of famous warbirds including a spectacular display from their Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXE. The Royal Air Force made up a large proportion of the display sequence such as the Beechcraft B200 King Air and the highly patriotically coloured Shorts Tucano T.1 which both performed some highly skilled and immaculate displays. But it was the Royal Air Force’s multirole frontline fighter, the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 that stole the show with a fast and furious performance. To commemorate the Jubilee as well as close the show, a special formation consisting of the three Stampe SV.4Cs of the Tiger Cub and the four Druine D.31 Turbulents of The Tiger Club Turbulent Team. This collection of aircraft formed up as the Shepway Salute which closed show in the past and was highly appropriate as both teams at performed some entertaining displays earlier in the day.

I have very mixed feelings when attending my first RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day due to the fact that many of the international participants cancelled as well as some classic jets which couldn’t make it due to technical issues. Despite these setbacks, the show had a wide variety of displays including a wide variety of helicopters. The first of these was the seldom seen Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7 from the Army Air Corps with its impressive and unique aerobatic capabilities which resulted in the pilot being presented the shows Best Rotary Display award. The show was celebrating two themes, the first being the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands Campaign as well as the 70th Anniversary of the Channel Dash. The Channel Dash was commemorated with a formation flypast featuring the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish Mk. II and a fourship of Westland Lynx HMA.8s with the Swordfish departing the formation to perform a spirited solo display. Shortly after the helicopters returned to perform role demonstration with aspects such as anti-piracy and airspace invasion as well as showing of the capabilities that will be useful when Yeovilton’s Lynx force is tasked with airspace security during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Due to the aforementioned cancellations, several classic jets were acquired to replace them. The first of these was a stunning solo display by the Hunter Flight Academy’s Hawker Hunter T.7A. The Classic Air Force also supplied some excellent additions including the De Havilland DH.112 Venom FB.50, De Havilland DH.115 Vampire T.55 and the Gloster Meteor T.7 which all performed a brief tail chase before performing individual routines with the Meteor being a particular highlight. A rare treat was in store for us with a brilliant but brief appearance by an Antonov An-124-100 Ruslan which is operated by Ruslan International and was a great addition as one hasn’t performed at a British airshow for some time. The only international participation was the Royal Saudi Air Force’s aerobatic team, The Saudi Hawks with their six BAe Hawk T.65As who performed a tight and entertaining display despite not being as dynamic as The Red Arrows. The finale for any show at Yeovilton is the Commando Assault Finale which always features many military personnel as well as aircraft from the Army Air Corps, Royal Marines and the Royal Navy. The Army Air Corps Agusta-Westland WAH-64D Apache AH Mk. 1 provide fire support whilst the Royal Marines Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7 assisted the troops with cover fire and transport. A pair of BAe Hawk T.1As from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force provided direct strikes against the enemy. The main bulk of the assault was made by a large collection of Royal Navy Westland Sea King HC Mk. 4s with one of them being an actual Falklands War veteran.

I also made a return to the Duxford Flying Legends show where The Fighter Collection managed to organise a spectacular show which featured over fifty individual aircraft. The show is always opened by the Spitfire scramble, but this year the display was kicked off by a trio of Supermarine Spitfires featuring a Mk. I and a pair of Mk. IAs which paid tribute to Howard Pardue who was killed in his Bearcat. This particular routine was a very fitting tribute to someone who was a regular flyer at Flying Legends and will be greatly missed by many. The show also saw the return of the Flying Bull’s Lockheed P-38L Lightning which made its debut display here at Legends last year and was back with a much tighter and stunning routine than before. The Fighter Collection also displayed their Goodyear FG-1D Corsair which was returning to the skies after three years absence where it performed a great display alongside The Fighter Collection’s Grumman F8F-2P Bearcat. The real star of the show however was another classic American warbird operated by The Fighter Collection in the form of the large and powerful Republic P-47G Thunderbolt “Snafu” which was making its UK airshow debut after a lengthy restoration. This beautifully restored fighter performed its display alongside the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” and the pair concluded their routine by flying in formation for a final pass which was very reminiscent of the Great Warbirds Air Display at West Malling where Sally B would fly with her “Little Friends”. Another naval fighter that featured in the flying display was the Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 which performed a stunning aerobatic routine which was further enhanced with the smoke generators fitted to the wingtips which released rings of smoke that floated through the sky during the display. A rare sight at the show was a pair of amphibious aircraft and joining the Duxford based Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A was Tom Schrade’s Sikorsky S-38B Replica which was making its UK airshow debut. Every Legends show is closed by The Balbo Formation which involves getting as many of the shows participants in the air as possible where they form into a mass formation of classic aircraft. Once again the Bearcat took to the air as The Joker to entertain the crowds while the formation forms up in the distance. When the formation finally approached with a total of twenty one aircraft the sight and sound was unbelievable and if you haven’t witness it yet, then get down to the next Flying Legends.

This airshow season was also my first visit to the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford which is billed as the ‘world’s greatest airshow’ and definitely lived up to its reputation. Each year, this show celebrates two different themes. The operational theme was SkyLift which was well represented with a variety of heavy-lift and transport types. The public theme was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which was commemorated by a special flypast. The show also had several debut aircraft, the first of which was the Russian Yakovlev Yak 130 ‘Mitten’ from the Irkut Corporation which flew a fantastic routine and clearly demonstrated its capabilities. Another jet that originated from Russia was the Mikoyan MiG-29A ‘Fulcrum’ which is operated by the Polish Air Force and performed one the best displays of the show and even scooping an award at the end of the event. Commemorating the Diamond Jubilee was going to be a formation of twenty seven BAe Hawk T.1s and BAe Hawk T.2s, unfortunately I attended the day with the worse weather conditions so we were treated to a formation of just nine BAe Hawk T.2s which somewhat lacked the impact that was seen on the Jubilee flypasts. The show was also fortunate to have several display teams making their debuts including Al Fursan with their seven Aermacchi MB-339NATs from the United Arab Emirates Air Force who were making their UK debut which was a highly entertaining display which incorporated a very creative use of their smoke systems. The SkyLift theme was represented with a variety of aircraft types, but the most significant displays was the flypast consisting of six different tanker and transporter types, many of which are currently operated by the Royal Air Force. The flypast consisted of a Vickers VC-10 C.1K, a Lockheed Martin Hercules C.4, a Lockheed TriStar KC.1, a Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and an Airbus A330 Voyager KC.2 all from the Royal Air Force and based at Brize Norton. The formation was concluded with a few flypasts from an Airbus A400M Atlas which was named shortly before the show. Sticking with the operational theme, the United States Marine Corps displayed one of their Bell-Boeing MV-22B Ospreys which hasn’t been seen at Fairford for over six years and was really entertaining and unusual display and I was fortunate enough to see a pair of them do a practice display before the show started. The second display team making its debut had already performed with distinction at Waddington and who were presented with two awards after the show. These were The Black Eagles from the Republic of Korea Air Force with eight KAI T-50B Golden Eagles which is a type that has never been seen in the UK before. Their display was simply breathtaking and could not be compared with some of the other display teams as there was always part of the team performing a routine with hardly any gaps in the routine.

One of my regular haunts of the airshow season is Airbourne which is held at Eastbourne along the seafront. The event attracts many visitors over the four days and in 2012 attracted a record breaking number of people despite the lack of international participation as well as The Red Arrows not being present. The show was actually celebrating its 20th anniversary and attracted a wide array of UK based aircraft. Classic jets often feature heavily in the show with this show being no exception which featured a particular entertaining display by Jet Aerobatic’s BAC Jet Provost T.5 which stood out fantastically in the bright sky across the sea. Civilian aerobatics are also a major part of the show and this year’s featured the return of both The Blades aerobatic team who performed an immaculate performance in their fourship of Extra EA-300LPs as well as the pair of Boeing-Stearman Kaydet biplanes of the Breitling Wingwalkers who also displayed a thoroughly entertaining routine with plenty of smoke and manoeuvres by the girls on the wings. The star of the show was obviously the Avro Vulcan B.2 which only flew on the Saturday, but demonstrated the pure power and presence this Cold War bomber possesses with the ‘Vulcan Howl’ being prevalent throughout the display. The only foreign participants were the French Patrouille Reva formally The Space Knights who performed a graceful and elegant routine with their pair of Rutan Vari-Ezs and a solo Rutan Long-Ez. The Royal Air Force once again had probably the heaviest involvement with the show and had several major standout displays. The first of these was the ever popular Boeing Chinook HC.2 with its surprising capabilities which look impossible for such a large and heavy aircraft, let alone a helicopter. The only fast jets of the show also performed a stunning routine despite the absence of pyrotechnics, the Panavia Tornado GR.4 role demonstration team sped low and fast over the sea and were defiantly a major highlight to great show.

I was also fortunate enough to attend the entire weekend at the main show at Duxford in September which had no particular themes but hosted a wide variety of different aircraft with several unique items for each day. One of the highlights of Saturday’s show was the appearance of the Avro Vulcan B.2 which gave a great performance but unfortunately lacked the power and presence that has been witnessed at other shows. Unique formations were also heavily present at the show. Both days saw a trio of big biplanes flying together including Dan and Mark Miller’s De Havilland DH.89A Dragon Rapide, the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish Mk. II and the An-2 Club’s Antonov An-2TP ‘Colt’. The trio performed several circuits in loose formation before each performed their own solo routines. Sunday’s show also had a formation that paid tribute to the Royal Norwegian Air Force which featured a De Havilland DH.100 Vampire FB.52 and a De Havilland DH.115 Vampire T.55 from the Royal Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron which were flanked by a pair of Norwegian Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcons, one of which was the specially painted display aircraft. Once the formation had split at crowd centre, the pair of Vampires reformed and flew a brief but very graceful display. Probably the highlight routine of whole weekend was the World War One scenario which only occurred on Saturday due to strong winds on Sunday. The routine featured one of the very few displays by the Vintage Aviator Ltd’s Albatros D.VA and RAF R.E.8 replicas which were also joined by the Great War Displays Team’s familiar Fokker Dr.1 and Nieuport 17 replicas. This stunning fourship performed a variety of manoeuvres and unique pairings which may unfortunately never be witnessed again as the Vintage Aviator Ltd’s aircraft are due to reside at the RAF Museum in Hendon. There was also some stunning aerobatic aircraft displaying at the show, with most outstanding being the six Yakovlev Yak 50s that form The Aerostars which performed stunning displays on both days despite one aircraft having a broken smoke generator and in my opinion was comparable to some of the military jet team displays I have witnessed. The show also boasted a stunning World War Two scenario which was divided into four different display elements. The first section feature a pair of Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchons which rather than playing the enemy aircraft, performed a synchronized aerobatic routine which showed this aircraft in a new light. Next up was a traditional tail chase routine featuring the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I and the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane Mk. XIIA. This was swiftly followed by more a trio of Supermarine Spitfires including the Historic Aircraft Collection’s LF. VB, the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Mk. IXT and Richard Lake’s LF. XVIE who all performed a stunning formation routine as well as concluding with a wonderful tail chase sequence. This display segment was concluded with a spirited solo routine from the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I which closed Saturday’s show when the Canadair CT-133AUP Silver Star Mk. 3 did not end up displaying. The honour for closing Sunday’s show and entire weekend was given to the Royal Air Force’s aerobatic team, The Red Arrows. With their current formation of seven BAe Hawk T.1As they gave a stunning routine in skies over Duxford despite being two jets short and proved that they can still entertain the crowds in spite the setbacks.

I also returned to another one of my favourite events, the Shuttleworth Autumn Airshow which feature a wide variety of vintage types with many being owned and operated by the Shuttleworth Collection. This year’s show was celebrating a cold war jet reunion and featured a variety of former Royal Air Force trainers. The show kicked off the theme nicely with the arrival of the pair of Folland Gnat T.1s from The Gnat Display Team who performed a tight routine which kept the two small jets close to the crowd. There were also some old favourites displaying at the show, including the Hawker Demon I and Hawker Hind who performed a typically stunning display. BAe Systems De Havilland DH.60X Hermes Moth also made an appearance in flying programme and was actually Richard Shuttleworth’s first aircraft and performed a delightful but brief routine with the Shuttleworth based Comper C.L.A.7 Swift. The cold war jet reunion carried on in style with an absolutely stunning display by the Classic Air Force’s De Havilland DH.115 Vampire T.55 which performed a low and graceful display with plenty of topside passes. The Classic Air Force’s BAC Jet Provost T.3A also made an appearance and even flew in formation with the Shuttleworth Collection’s own Percival P.56 Provost T.1 before each split up to perform their own solo routines. The final classic jet to display at the show was the Hunter Flight Academy’s Hawker Hunter T.7A which closed the main section of the show with a stunning routine with plenty of twists and turns. We were very fortunate that the weather was both calm and clear and meant that we would get to see all five of the Edwardian aircraft display. The most notable of these aircraft at the show was the Blackburn Monoplane Type D which opened this segment of flying and could not have been more appropriate as not only is this the oldest flying British aircraft but this type was celebrating its centenary.

The final show that I attended was also the last show of the season and I was once again at the Imperial War Museum for the Duxford Autumn Airshow. For once this show had absolutely no international participation and several key Duxford favourites including the North American F-86A Sabre and the Supermarine Spitfire LF. IXB were unable to display due to technical problems. This shows theme was celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Merlin-powered Mustang and was well represented with the two Duxford based examples taking part in the flying displays. The show also had some aircraft displays which we would be bidding farewell too. The first of these was the last time that The Black Cats helicopter display team would be performing as pair of Westland Lynx HMA.8s due to the Royal Navy replacing the Lynx fleet with the Agusta-Westland AW159 Wildcat HMA.2. The pair flew a wonderfully entertaining display and it was a real shame that they will only display as a solo in the future. More farewells were in order for the next items but this time from the Royal Air Force. Firstly the Shorts Tucano T.1 display pilot will be replaced next year as well as the specially painted aircraft which is probably the best paint scheme that this aircraft has ever had. Secondly the BAe Hawk T.1A solo display would be performing its very last display ever as this type is being replaced by the BAe Hawk T.2. The pair of advanced trainers flew a single flypast together before splitting up to perform their own individual and final routines. Warbirds formed the main part of the display and one of the visiting aircraft was the heavy and powerful Douglas AD-4NA Skyraider which is operated by Kennet Aviation and performed an excellent display that clearly showed how powerful this aircraft is. The Fighter Collection also provided a stunning display with their Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk IIA and Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk Mk. II who performed a brilliantly synchronized aerobatic routine with plenty of low passes. Duxford’s most famous flying resident, Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” also took part in the flying programme with its typically outstanding display. The Duxford based North American P-51 Mustangs were the real stars of the show. The Fighter Collection’s “Miss Velma” and the Old Flying Machine Company’s “Ferocious Frankie” performed a spectacular routine together in the evening sky and was brilliant tribute to this famous American fighter. The finale to the show saw “Ferocious Frankie” flying another routine alongside Jonathan Whaley’s Hawker Hunter F.58A “Miss Demeanour” before both aircraft separated to allow the Hunter to close the show in spectacular style which even include the stunning noise that is the “Blue Note” which can only be made by fighter variant Hunters.

The airshow season in 2012 has far surpassed my expectations and I have high hopes for the season in 2013.

For more photos from the 2012 season you can check out the albums on Flickr

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