Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | August 11th 2016
Blackbushe Airport started life as RAF Hartford Bridge in the early 1940s and was home to Spitfires and Mosquitoes throughout the latter part of the Second World War. With the end of the war, the Station was decommissioned in 1946 and was deemed to be surplus to requirement. The airfield was reopened just a year later as Blackbushe Airport and has since developed into an incredibly popular airfield among the general aviation community.
Rumblings of an aviation event at Blackbushe this year first started a number of months ago but at the time it wasn’t really clear exactly what sort of form the event would take. Once the CAA had announced it’s regulation changes earlier in the year, it quickly became apparent that the event wouldn’t be a traditional airshow but more of an airport open day. As details started to surface, Blackbushe Air Day began to take shape and promised the chance to get up close to aviation, while at the same time supporting the incredible Aerobility charity.
The Start of Something New
It’d been a long time since Blackbushe had hosted anything on this sort of scale so it wasn’t too clear what we could expect to see. With heavy financial backing and event sponsorship from AirBP, the organisers were able to secure some interesting aircraft for the static area.
For those that know Blackbushe Airport, it’s probably easy to understand why many didn’t quite know what to expect until they showed up on the day. The design of the airfield and positioning of based aircraft doesn’t exactly lend itself to public access but somehow the organisers really managed to make the most of it and setup a static aircraft area to the left of the Bushe Cafe, just beyond the metal fencing.
During the build up to Air Day, organisers had talked about allowing people to get up close to the aircraft on display and they were certainly right. Aircraft were well positioned across the display area and most importantly, there were absolutely no barriers in places; people really were allowed to get ridiculously close to the aircraft on show. Some will no doubt moan that this made photography very difficult but it also really helped with being able to capture the fantastic atmosphere.
A number of based aircraft were on show, like John Russell’s beautiful Cessna 182 Amphibian, which is one of only a handful of the type in the UK. John was on the ground all day talking to people about his aircraft its capabilities. Keep your eyes peeled because this aircraft will shortly be appearing in the new Swallows and Amazons movie, due for release later this month.
A number of Yak aircraft were on the ground showing off that classic Russian design that so many in the aviation community have come to love. Joining the olive green and two camouflage aircraft in the static park was the Aerobility Yak-52, the flagship aircraft of the charity which offers flights to those who are helped by the charity.
While the Bronco welcomed people into the static area, the Shuttleworth-base Avro Anson took centre stage. The Anson was just one of a number of aircraft that were only at Blackbushe for a short period of time and while this might seem like a bad thing, it meant that everyone got to see aircraft starting up just a short distance from where they were standing. It’s worth pointing out that the marshals did an exceptional job of keeping everything under control throughout the day, especially when they were moving out to the runway from the static park.
The real stars of the show, for us at least, were the Curtis P-40 Kittyhawk, Hawker Hurricane and Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship. Both the P-40 and Mystery Ship landed early in the day which meant that most didn’t get to see them arrive unless they were already in the queue. The Hurricane, however, arrived much later in the day and whilst the area was cleared by the Air Cadets, you were still able to get very close to it as it came in to park.
While there were plenty of aircraft to see and a number of pilots to speak to, there was also a fantastic selection of things to do outside the static area. A number of aviation-themed stalls joined local businesses and lined up along the fence of the car park area which gave parents a chance to browse while their children played on the very reasonably priced bouncy castle and toy planes.
The catering for the event was provided mainly by the on-site cafe which ran an additional barbecue out the back but this in itself proved to be a problem quite early on. By midday the cafe was already running out of food and orders were getting confused both inside and out; external catering will need to be considered next year if the event goes ahead. The Hogs Back Brewery also brought their mobile bar along to Air Day and with it, a superb selection of drinks including their delicious Hazy Hog cider!
Roll on 2017
It’s fair to say that the inaugural Blackbushe Air Day was a huge success as it managed to raise over £15,000 for charity. By 11am the event had already attracted more interest than the organisers were expecting but this created a lovely buzz around the airfield.
It’s worth mentioning as well that entry to the event was just £5 per person and for what was on offer, it was an absolute bargain. This did have another side to it though as there were people manning the entrance to the static park also collecting money for the charity but the nature of these collections seemed to disgruntle some to a degree. A number of people were overheard throughout the day discussing the nature of the bucket shaking and how they were ‘jokingly’ making some of them feel bad for not having any change to put in the buckets; it almost felt like looking around the static aircraft came at an additional price on top of the entrance fee that people had already paid. While it was all for an exceptionally good cause, the collections could have been spread around the site a little more. Again though, much like the catering mentioned earlier, this is something that can very easily be rectified.
Some have questioned whether an air display would be possible next year but to be honest, we’re not sure it needs it. If the show can retain the small-scale feel, expand the static park a little and perhaps develop more of a ‘country show’ style, Blackbushe Air Day could easily be around for many years to come.
A huge well done to everyone involved, you’ve done yourselves proud!