Last year a dedicated team got together to organise Blackbushe Air Day; a fairly small event that saw the public welcomed to Blackbushe Airport with a small fly-in, to get a feel for what the airfield was all about. The event was a success and almost as soon as it had finished, rumours started to circulate that Blackbushe wanted to hold an airshow in 2017 to celebrate 75 years of the airfield.
Blackbushe Airport is steeped in history and has seen its fair share of action over the last 75 years. The airfield was home to Spitfires and Mosquitoes as RAF Hartfordbridge during the Second World War, transformed into an operating hub for multiple cargo carriers and charter companies throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and then when it was purchased by British Car Auctions it became an airport for private, business and executive flights.
The Air Day last year was a big success and it proved an event of that size could quite easily be held at the airport. As with any new event, it had its flaws but there was nothing that couldn’t be easily fixed and it certainly gave those involved the appetite required to organise something bigger and better.
That was the plan anyway.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
From the very moment that the rumour was confirmed and a dedicated thread was started on the UK Airshow Review forum, people began to question how an airshow could actually take place at Blackbushe. Those that know the airport well (and the surrounding areas) all knew just how difficult it would be to get a display area cleared by the CAA but time after time when the question was asked, it was completely avoided or confirmed by volunteers involved that an air display was still being planned.
An official website soon went live with a list of anticipated participants but it was never clear as to whether these participants were going to be in the flying display or just the static display; in fact it wasn’t even really clear whether this list was simply a wish list or a confirmed participation list. It was mentioned that the person in charge of the website and social media wasn’t all that ‘tech-savvy’ but in a day and age where people heavily rely on information published online, this was a constant frustration for those trying to work out whether to attend or not.
The uncertainty surrounding the fully-fledged airshow at Blackbushe continued right up until the Wednesday before the show when it was finally announced that the participation list had been confirmed and plans for a four hour flying display had been approved. Well, that was until the following day when it was then announced that the flying display programme had been cancelled and that instead, the day would see a series of flypasts over the designated four hour period.
Why was there such a massive change at short notice? It’s not too clear but there were plenty of rumours flying around, some regarding the CAA and some the organising team. It would be unfair for us to properly comment on this without knowing the facts so we’ve asked the team to comment and will update this article as soon as we hear from them.
As you would expect, this sudden (and dare we say it, expected) U-turn meant that people were frustrated and understandably so. The event’s legitimacy had been questioned since the very beginning but continually advertised and sold as an airshow throughout with a fairly premium ticket price. To be fair to the team, the change in plan was advertised well on social media and the description on the website quickly changed.
However when it actually came to the day, there was pretty much no mention of it across the PA system at all. It was as if it was always supposed to be a fly-in. It soon became apparent that not everyone was aware of what was going on when people around us started asking questions as to why they weren’t actually seeing any displays.
While this may all sound a bit ‘doom and gloom’, there were some very interesting participants that turned up on the Saturday including a stunning privately-owned Beech 18 Expeditor 3TM, one of two UK airworthy Antonov An-2s and the ‘City of Exeter’ Spitfire.
As previously mentioned most aircraft on the ground participated in the flying element of the day but the highlight for many was the flypast by the Red Arrows. Blackbushe managed to secure the flypast as the Reds were returning to Farnborough Airport where they had been based for the week for their displays at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Sadly the announcement to ‘look out’ for the Reds came over the PA system just seconds before they streamed overhead and all too quickly they were in the distance on the turn into Farnborough.
While there wasn’t a great deal to get excited about in the air, there was plenty to see and do on the ground. One of the highlights on the ground was the area setup by British Airways. The stand was run by a team of volunteers that came from all areas of the airline including engineers and cabin crew, and they really did seem to be enjoying themselves throughout the day. The team had laid on model making, colouring-in, a pretend flight deck (complete with pretend passport and boarding pass) and even the opportunity to do ‘the one thing you’ve always wanted to do but the one thing you never want to do’; that is, inflate a life-vest!
The other massive highlight on the ground was the incredible History Hub, a special building that had been erected to showcase photography and memorabilia from 75 years of continuous operations at Blackbushe. It was so good that it almost felt like it should have been two, maybe even three times the size; it really was exceptional.
Aviation Highlights (@AvHighlights) July 01, 2017
The Royal Logistics Corps should also be applauded for the amount of stuff that they brought over to put on display; plenty of ‘heavy’ equipment that’s rarely seen in public.
A Muted Celebration
Sadly the grand plans for an celebratory airshow at Blackbushe never quite came to fruition and the weekend turned into nothing more than a glorified fly-in. While there were some interesting aircraft on show, the afternoon’s flying left a lot to be desired and sadly left many feeling slightly disgruntled.
This was only made worse on the Saturday afternoon when two buses full of people were left for a long period of time sitting on the taxiway (in the heat) waiting to get to the car park. Somehow the Catalina had been allowed to re-position prior to startup, right into a place that would affect the route to the car park. It turned out to be much, much quicker to walk around the airfield instead.
The biggest question that remains in the back of our head? Just how aware were the team that an airshow was never really going to happen? Was it known for some time or was it really as cutthroat as it seemed? We certainly hope it’s the latter but the lack of clarity throughout the build up doesn’t help our confidence.