Biggin Hill Festival of Flight

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | 25th September 2017


London Biggin Hill Airport may be a calm general aviation airport today but during the Second World War RAF Biggin Hill was one of the most important fighter bases in South East England. The airfield played a crucial role in the RAF’s plan for protecting our shores during the Battle of Britain. Numerous Squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes were based at RAF Biggin Hill throughout the war and it is thought that these air assets were responsible for well over 1000 downed enemy aircraft. 

2017 sees Biggin Hill celebrate its centenary and what better way to do that than with a special commemorative airshow. The airfield is no stranger to airshows, having been home to the famous Biggin Hill International Air Fair events from the early 1960s, all the way up until the abrupt cancellation of the event in 2010. Airshows returned to Biggin Hill in 2016 with the new-look Festival of Flight but it didn’t quite capture the ‘international’ element of old. That was until this year.

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Flying High

The organisers of the Festival of Flight managed to pull out all the stops this year and book acts not only from the UK but also from two foreign nations; Belgium and the Czech Republic.

The RAF was represented well by the Red Arrows, Typhoon, Chinook, BBMF Spitfire, Tucano and Hawk T2. The Red Arrows were around all weekend, as was the Typhoon, albeit only displaying in the air at Biggin Hill on the Sunday. Despite that, the Typhoon had a number of commitments throughout the Saturday which meant that we got to see it take off and land during the day.

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The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were only able to supply their Griffon-powered Spitfire for the display due to the (at the time) ongoing investigations with the Merlin-powered aircraft. It was great to see that even with the troubles the Flight were facing, they were still able to get an aircraft in the air for the weekend.

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The Hawk T2 from RAF Valley and two Tucanos from RAF Linton-on-Ouse were on static display, joining a rather beautiful de Havilland Dragonfly, Westland Wessex, Bronco and slightly strange-looking Dornier Do-28A-1. The Tucano will be going out of service shortly so it was a treat to see both a normal scheme and the 72 Squadron special scheme together at the same time.

The flying display was bolstered by some fantastic formation flying from the Breitling Wingwalkers, Trig Aerobatic Team and a unique ‘little and large’ display, to name just a few.

The Wingwalkers have become a slightly rare sight in the UK in recent seasons as they’ve chosen to display abroad more often than not, so it was great to see them doing their thing and covering the airfield in their ‘baby oil’ smoke.

The Trig Aerobatic team joined the Stearmans on the bi-plane front and demonstrated once again just why they’re considered by many to be one of the best civilian pairs displays on the UK circuit. Their tight formations and perfectly timed manoeuvres make for an entertaining routine.

While it might be a slightly strange concept, the ‘little and large’ display was actually a very welcome addition to the programme. This act has been around for a couple of years but this was the first time we’d got to see it in person. The display was flown by an Extra 330 and a R/C scale model of the 330, painted in exactly the same scheme. Considering one of these aircraft was being flown from the ground, the timing and positioning of this routine has to be applauded. You’ve never seen spacial awareness quite like it!

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Having the Festival of Flight on the same weekend as the airshow at Eastbourne meant that the two events were able to share acts to a certain extent. This worked to Biggin Hill’s advantage and helped secure the Belgian Air Component F-16 display. The display aircraft sadly had some issues early on the Friday morning and departed back to base to see if the issues could be fixed. The team then returned late in the day on Friday with a standard scheme aircraft in place of the display scheme; this actually worked out well as it is a much rarer sight in the UK than the display jet.

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Forget all of that though because the stars of the show, without a doubt, were the displays from the Czech Air Force. Not only did we get a solo display from the Hind and the Gripen, we also got a combat Search and Rescue (SAR) demonstration from the Hip and Hind.

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The Hind and Gripen were superb but the combat SAR demo was the real gem here. Why? Well this was the first time ever that an in-service Hip had displayed in the UK. Despite the huge number of Hips in service with Forces around the world, the UK has only ever seen manufacturer-demonstrated displays at airshows, so not only was it a major coup for Biggin Hill to get anything from the Czech Air Force, to get the Hip and Hind display was just next level stuff!

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With nearly all the excitement done with, it was left to the home team to close the 2017 show and boy did they do it in style. A trio of Biggin-based warbirds took to the sky and flew some stunning formation flypasts before one of the Spitfires broke away and began to wind up into its own solo routine.

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The next ten minutes were pure heaven as the Spitfire was put through its paces in what can only be described as one of the most breathtaking warbird displays we’ve ever witnessed. The display was flown with so much grace and precision that it felt like it went on forever. The pilot appeared to be having the time of his life and as the sun started to set, it seemed like the perfect way to celebrate 100 years of Biggin Hill.

The Next 100 Years

Biggin Hill is a venue that just oozes history and it’s not too difficult to imagine the organised chaos that would have unfolded as countless fighters took to the air in the 1940s. While the airfield today is just a shadow of its former self, elements of the original RAF installation still exist and access to this is about to be improved with the construction of the new Memorial Museum.

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The 2017 Festival of Flight was a massive success and for the first time a small arrivals day was held on the Friday. Yes it was a fairly quiet day but it gave us the chance to shoot some of arriving aircraft that weren’t flying over the weekend. The organisers also threw in a commemorative baseball cap which was a very pleasant surprise.

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What was quite nice about the event was that it somehow managed to maintain the atmosphere of a smaller show, something along the lines of Abingdon, while attracting some phenomenal international participation.

The big question though is what exactly will next year’s Festival of Flight look like? Will we see further international participation to the same extent we did this year? Perhaps, especially if it’s held over the same weekend as Eastbourne again.

One thing is for sure, we can’t wait to go back for more!

#SupportAirshows

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | August 17th 2017


With no Air Day at RNAS Culdrose this year, it was down to the team at RNAS Yeovilton to showcase the very best of the Fleet Air Arm past, present and future, as well as wow the crowd with an impressive array of international participation.

The RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day has been crowned as one of the best attractions in the south west of England for a number of years now and it’s something that the team are exceptionally proud of, and understandably so. Yeovilton is a fantastic location for a naval airshow, it’s the heart of UK Wildcat operations and home to the Commando Helicopter Force; the group responsible for transporting and supporting the elite Royal Marines Commando unit. Air Day gives the general public a rare opportunity to set foot on to a fully operational front-line airfield.

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A Global Affair

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day has managed to host some exceptional international participants over recent years and this year was no different.

A US Air Force C-17 Globemaster from Joint Air Base Charleston joined was present for the third year running and once again opened up on the Saturday for people to take a look around. However the most exciting thing about this participation was what happened on the arrivals day before the show.

The crew had a slot in the arrivals listing to complete a ‘local sortie’ but it turned out this sortie was something quite special. Rumours were circulating early in the morning that the C-17 was planning a low level run through Wales but no one believed it could actually be true; a C-17 had never been through the mach loop before! An hour after lifting off photos started appearing on social media showing the C-17 land-locked between the hills and when the crew landed back on at RNAS Yeovilton, the crowd clapped in appreciation for what they had just achieved.

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The Royal Danish Air Force F-16, which was making its sole UK appearance this year, flew an incredibly dynamic routine right from the low take off. We’ve seen many an F-16 display over the years but this was in a completely different league; the power and speed at which the entire routine was flown was exceptionally impressive. It’s a huge shame that it won’t be seen again over here this year!

The international theme continued with two displays from the Czech Air Force in the form of the solo Saab Gripen and Aero L-159 ALCA. Both had flown at Air Day previously but this time the ALCA returned with a pairs role demonstration and while not the most interesting routine in the world, it was clear to see how skilled the pilots were with some impressive close-quarter rolling manoeuvres.

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“The routine was laced with noise and speed from the moment it started”

However, when it comes to power and a show of force, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve witnessed the Rafale role demonstration from la Marine Nationale in all its glory. The French Navy fast jet role demonstration has been around for a few years now but it just gets more and more enjoyable each time you see it.

The four-ship with two Super Etendard may not be around anymore but the Rafale pairing is super impressive nonetheless. The routine was laced with noise and speed from the moment it started and both aircraft took to the skies. Fast passes, slow passes, tight turns in formation and solo segments for each aircraft; it really was the gift that kept on giving. The display at Yeovilton has an added bonus as one of the aircraft was the ‘arctic tiger’ schemed air-frame which was painted up for the NATO Tiger Meet earlier in the year.

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Sadly the Danish, Czech and French all flew such stunning displays, the latter especially, that it almost felt like the Royal Air Force Typhoon couldn’t even begin to compete at the same level.

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International visitors were also found in the static park where there was a chance to see Lynx variants from both la Marine Nationale and Danish Naval Air Squadron, an exceptionally rare sight and one that was certainly one of the highlights of the show for us.

Fly Navy

While the foreign participation is always a welcome addition to the flying programme, it’s important to remember that Air Day is the flagship airshow for the Fleet Air Arm and perhaps one of the biggest annual public events for Royal Navy PR and recruitment; inspiring the next generation to join up as soon as they can. With that in mind, it was a massive shame to find that there was a lack of modern Royal Navy aircraft in the air.

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There was of course, as always, the Wildcat Maritime Role Demo which demonstrated the sort of scenarios that Wildcat crews are regularly faced with when deployed around the world. Yeovilton is one of very few places in the UK that allows the use of flares, and this 10 minute routine had plenty of them, even if we very nearly missed capturing them!

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The Merlin HM2 from RNAS Culdrose also put on a superb display which really showed how agile the aircraft can be when required. This is a display that’s sadly seen all too infrequently so it was a pleasure to get to see it again.

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That was pretty much it for the Royal Navy.

For the first time in years the show was without it’s spectacular Commando Assault finale that Air Day has become synonymous with. The ‘Junglie’ Sea King is no more and a much smaller Merlin force is in its place; this meant that there weren’t enough serviceable aircraft available to conduct the war-like scenario in all its glory. The ex-RAF Merlins are currently undergoing conversion to Mk4 standard which will ensure that the medium-lift helicopter is fully marine-capable for all future naval deployments. Having conducted sea trials prior to the show, there was a single Mk4 Merlin on display in it’s new all-grey scheme but this was sadly on static and only really visible to those in the hospitality tents.

There was a similar lack of representation from the historic side of the Fleet Air Arm. The star of the Navy Wings aircraft, the gorgeous de Havilland Sea Vixen, was also unable to take part in the air display due to its unfortunate forced landing earlier in the display season. Recent investigations have shown that the repairs are going to be much more costly and extensive than first thought, with the team predicting that the aircraft will be out of action for at least the next three years. A crying shame indeed but hopefully a project that the aviation community will get fully behind.

Looking to 2018

Given the lack of Royal Navy participation, Air Day 2017 won’t be remembered as a great event for the Force. Having said that, the weak showing from the RN was backed up by some exceptional international visitors.

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RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day had some of the best international displays seen anyway in the UK this year (so far) in the form of the French Rafale pair, Danish F-16 and Patrouille Suisse with their flare-filled finale.

The Commando Assault and its wall of fire was most definitely missed this year so we’ve got everything crossed that it makes a very welcome return in 2018!

#SupportAirshows

Blackbushe 75

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Shuttleworth: Fly Navy

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | June 27th 2017


Fly Navy. Two words synonymous with the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. Two words said with such pride by those involved. Two words that represent the past, present and future of our naval air power. Last year the Shuttleworth Collection and Fly Navy Heritage Trust teamed up to put on a very special show showcasing the Fleet Air Arm through the ages and it was such a massive success that the event was run for a second time.

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The Fly Navy show at Shuttleworth in 2016 was easily one of the most enjoyable shows of the season, not just at Old Warden but across the entire UK display circuit. It just worked so well; aircraft pulled from the pages of a comprehensive Fleet Air Arm encyclopedia, flown by some exceptional pilots. It really was a show that just kept on giving as the day went on.

It should come as no surprise then that when it was announced that the event would be back in 2017, many were keen to attend again. Shuttleworth had a problem though; how do you improve on an almost perfect event? The answer is fairly simple actually, you try to do the same again but even better!

The star attraction of the flying display, following it’s hugely impressive routine last year, was the stunning Sea Vixen. Or at least that was supposed to be the case. After a successful display at the IWM Duxford Air Festival, a hydraulic failure meant that the gear didn’t come down as expected on approach to RNAS Yeovilton and the aircraft was forced to make a controlled landing.

Upon initial inspection and brief reporting across social media, it didn’t look too bad; it looked as though the external fuel tanks had taken much of the impact. However, as investigations have continued, the situation has worsened and it’s now expected that the aircraft will be out of action for at least two years, and will require extensive repair work. Will we see the Sea Vixen back in the air at all? We certainly hope so and wish the team every bit of luck with the restoration.

Stepping Through Time

The air display programme was once again well organised to give spectators the chance to walk through naval aviation history with both the past and present on show.

The Second World War period was well represented with the collection’s beautiful Hawker Sea Hurricane, Westland Lysander and Avro Anson. Each of these three aircraft graced the skies above Old Warden and more importantly, in a way that was much more familiar to those that attend Shuttleworth regularly. Last year was a year of confusion and this led to some uncharacteristically distant displays by the collection aircraft; however we’re happy to report that things seem to be back to normal for the most part and based aircraft are once again making full use of the curved display line.

The WWII era was a vital period of growth and development for the Fleet Air Arm so it’s only right that it was represented so heavily at Fly Navy. Also joining in with the fun was the Hawker biplane trio, Gloster Gladiator, BBMF Spitfire and Hurricane, Consolidated PBY Catalina, TFC’s Grumman Bearcat and Wildcat pair, and a Shuttleworth debut for the recently restored Hawker Fury. It’s always hugely interesting to see how aircraft designs changed and adapted throughout the Second World War; it really was one of the most progressive times for aviation simply due to the demands that were on the industry at the time.

While each of these aircraft performed brilliant routines and demonstrated the naval theme well, there was one display that stood out much more than anything else. Strangely, the display that stood head and shoulders above the rest was one that we’ve all seen countless times before; the gorgeous Catalina. It was flown with such precision and power; the routine hadn’t changed from the last time we saw it but the team on board absolutely nailed every element of the display. It was simply breathtaking at times!

It wasn’t all about fixed wing aircraft of course. Modern day naval aviation was represented by a Merlin Mk2 and Wildcat HMA2 from RNAS Culdrose and RNAS Yeovilton respectively. The Merlin was already in place for the weekend but the Wildcat turned up late morning on the Sunday for everyone to see.

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Representing the more historical side of rotary naval aviation was the North Weald based Bell UH-1H Huey and a very rarely seen Westland Wasp from Thruxton. You can’t help but love the sound of the Huey, but the real treat here was the Wasp! We’d not seen this Wasp display before and it was a perfect display for the closeness of Shuttleworth; and against the treeline just looked fantastic!

Of course, you don’t get fighter pilots without training on something before hand. The Fly Navy show made sure that the training section of the Royal Navy’s past was also on show and heading this up was the Navy Wings Chipmunk T.10 and North American T6; the latter of which was flown by the exceptionally talented and experienced John Beattie. The sound of the T6 is unmistakable and while the display itself was nicely flown, it did feel far too distant at times and in the fading light made photography difficult. On the other hand, the Chipmunk routine was as impressive as ever given its size and speed, and was a delight to see.

There were a number of biplane trainers also in the air, namely the Avro Tutor, de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus Moth and DH.60X Moth, all of which complimented the trainer section very nicely.

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The Problem with a Sequel

You know when you watch a superb Hollywood blockbuster and in that moment, you think it’s the best film you’ve ever seen? Well how often does a sequel come about that you feel as passionately about? The Dark Knight springs to mind, but sadly the second Fly Navy show was more like Jaws 2; not entirely unnecessary but nowhere near as good as the first time out.

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To be fair to Shuttleworth, it wasn’t their fault. The unfortunate mishap with the Sea Vixen meant that the show was without its star item. Many were also looking forward to seeing the Skyraider but sadly that was also unserviceable at the time. With two big acts not appearing, the show had lost a little of its oomph

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One thing worth mentioning was the new food and drink vans that were open during the show. It looks like Shuttleworth has invested a decent amount of money in these new outlets but they just didn’t work smoothly enough and for most of the day, the queues were unacceptably long. During the morning it took over 50 minutes to get a bacon roll and 25 minutes to get a coffee in the afternoon. It may be that the team was still getting used to how these new outlets worked so we can only hope this improves at future shows this summer.

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#SupportAirshows

Abingdon Air and Country Show

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | June 7th 2017


The Abingdon Air and Country Show, for many years, has traditionally been seen as the start of the UK air display season but unusually for 2017 the organisers decided to push the show back in an attempt to attract British military displays. 

This years show at Abingdon saw a number of changes; not only was the show pushed back to mid-May, the showground itself was flipped 180 degrees and taken to the opposite side of the airfield. Why? Simply put, as a result of changes in air display regulations, it was the only option available to the team if they were to carry on with the airshow element this year.

An Impressive Line-Up

There was a lot of focus on the static display at Abingdon this year and it’s easy to understand why. For the first time in a number of years, the static display area was almost completely full up, so much so that it was very difficult to get clear photographs of the individual aircraft.

Almost all of the participating aircraft were on the ground but they were joined by some real gems. Taking centre stage at the very front of the display area was Martin Baker’s Gloster Meteor, WL419; an aircraft rarely seen in public and one that the team somehow managed to keep as a complete surprise right up until a few days before the show! In the digital age, it’s refreshing to see that secrets can still be kept as this booking had been made a number of months prior to the announcement.

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The Meteor was joined by two Tucanos from the Royal Air Force, a second Yak-3 (with one already booked for the flying display), Jet Provost, P-51 Miss Helen and a beautiful de Havilland DH.90 Dragonfly to name just a few.

This really was one of the most varied and exciting static display that we’ve seen at Abingdon in a number of years.

A number of the static aircraft were on site in time for the nightshoot that took place on the Saturday evening and for the very first time, the evening photographic session was run by the newly established Threshold.aero team. To begin with it looked as though the attendees may be slightly disappointed as most of the pilots had disappeared, however over the course of the evening Threshold managed to arrange for most of them to start up at some point. A job well done by those involved.

An Eventful Afternoon

The flying programme at Abingdon tends to start in the early afternoon and this year was no different. As everyone grabbed their seat on the display line ready for the flying to begin, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire was cleared to run in. Always a firm favourite with the public, the Spitfire Mk PRXIX from RAF Coningsby gave a graceful display but was a little distant at times.

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The distance, it is understood, is a direct result of changes to display flying regulations for 2017. It seems that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to display in a way which best shows the aircraft. Instead it’s more a case of displaying the regulations as best as possible. Does the increase in distance decrease from the overall sense of satisfaction? Apparently not. According to an independent review of the 2016 display season for the CAA, ‘statistics showed’ that very few even noticed a difference. We can only assume that they didn’t speak to the vast majority that attended airshows up and down the country throughout the summer!

Following on from the Spitfire was Lauren Richardson. While she arrived in her normal Pitts Special display aircraft, Lauren took a turn in Bob Grimstead’s elegant Fournier RF-4 motor glider.

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It was incredibly refreshing to see an alternative display from Lauren and it just goes to show how talented a pilot she really is; a true inspiration for aspiring young pilots, boys and girls alike.

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Taking to the skies shortly after the motor glider landed was the Twister Aerobatics Team with their two Silence Twister aircraft.

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Shortly after their display had started and after a number of low energy pairs maneuvers, one of the pilots reported a loss of power and made a forced landing at the northern end of the runway. The on-site emergency response team was with the aircraft just moments after it was on the ground and it was impressive to see just how quickly they were on hand to assess the situation and assist the pilot. The incident was handled superbly by all involved and the public were kept up-to-date at all times with relevant information as to what was going on; this included a much-needed announcement for people to stop pushing forward on the crowdline and to keep back behind the original markers.

The displays continued as soon as the required emergency teams were back on standby and incredibly the team were only an hour behind schedule.

Continuing with the flying display, the North Weald based UH-1 helicopter performed a stunning routine which successfully demonstrated the agility of the aircraft. With plenty of slow and high-energy passes, the display gave photographers plenty of chances to capture the infamous helicopter in all its glory.

Unbelievably, when the Great War Display Team arrived into slot, their newest aircraft also suffered a problem with it’s engine just minutes into their routine and safely landed at the far end of the airfield. The display continued, full of pyrotechnics and superb flying, and the aircraft was recovered right at the end of the day.

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The earlier delay meant that the display programme had to be reshuffled and unfortunately a number of aircraft were forced to scrub their displays; this included Peter Davies’ entertaining routine in his Calidus Autogyro and given that he’s based in Blackpool, he had to depart early to get back in time.

The Red Tails P-51 Mustang and Dutch Yak 3-U took to the air one after the other, with the former going out to hold while the Yak belted around the display area. While it was incredibly impressive to see and hear the Yak 3-U being thrown around the sky, it was far too high and far too distant; so much so that at times it may as well have been over another county. Disappointingly, one of the highlights of the flying programme just didn’t reach it’s full potential.

Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated displays of the afternoon was that of the Popham-based Antonov An-2. The aircraft is flown by the An-2 Club and it’s fair to say that the team has had it’s fair share of issues over the last five years.

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Having been grounded for so long and absent from the display circuit for a number of years, it was fantastic to see their efforts pay off in a spectacular, and at times breathtaking routine that really demonstrated just why the An-2 is such a unique aircraft.

The Aces High Douglas DC3 Dakota was the last aircraft to go up before the dark grey rain clouds moved into the vicinity. This Dakota, a veteran of the movie industry, is a popular sight on the UK airshow circuit so it’s no surprise that it’s agile routine went down well with the crowd.

The show closed with displays from Rich Goodwin, the Historic Army Aircraft Flight and the T-28 Trojan but all three displays took place in the rain under extremely dark clouds which sadly made photography almost impossible. It’s a real shame that these displays had to run in such murky conditions.

Sadly moving the show had no impact on RAF participation for the event and both the static Hercules and static Chinook were withdrawn with very little explanation. Considering that Dalton Barracks is used regularly by the RAF for training, it’s difficult to understand why nothing ever shows up. A ‘heavy’ flypast had also been on the list but again this was cancelled days before the event; unbelievably a C-130 Hercules became available mid-afternoon to fly through but due to the Twister incident being attended to, the aircraft wasn’t allowed on to the display line.

Stepping Into the Unknown

On the face of it, you may think that shifting the show to the opposite side of the airfield would be a simple task but that wasn’t the case at all. Physically moving the show meant that there was a new and much bigger showground area, a new display box, new ticketing arrangements, new car parking arrangements and new traffic management.

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While it was still the ‘Abingdon Air and Country Show’, it may as well have been a brand new event, and with every ‘new’ event comes a number of learning curves. Traffic was a big issue both coming into the show in the morning and leaving the show in the evening. Cars were still queuing to get into the showground after midday and there was absolute chaos trying to get out but what actually happened? We spoke to Neil Porter, organiser of the show, to try and get a better understanding.


“We knew in the run-up to the show that we might have some issues seeing as the show was turned around but not quite to the extent that we experienced. The traffic was down to a number of factors; the new showground layout, the marked out lanes being moved about on the day by individuals because cars were being directed to the wrong lanes and problems on the pay gate. As you can hopefully appreciate this caused considerable disruption. We’re aware that some people travelled only two miles in just over an hour! Of course, it depended on what time of day you arrived but that’s the first time in 18 shows that it’s been that bad. 

With regard to the issues leaving, there was supposed to be a volunteer group marshalling within the car parks and help guide cars to the two exits. This is still being investigated but it would appear that those tasked with marshalling didn’t act responsibly and instead of assisting, decided to watch the show! Needless to say changes are being made for 2018.

We can only apologise for the issues that were experienced on the day and we’d like to reassure you that we are already working on plans for next year.”


The proposed changes sadly don’t stop with just traffic management and parking arrangements though. As Neil explains, this may well have been the last year that a traditional airshow takes place at Abingdon.


“We have to be very wary of what money we have in the show accounts, especially given the issues that were experienced on the gate with ticketing this year. At the moment, there will be a show in 2018, however it won’t be in its current form.

We are still looking to have an event at Abingdon for at least the next five to ten years but it’s evident that it cannot continue in its current format. On the Thursday before the show, myself and my FDD John Davis sat down with Group Captain Stradin & S/L Castle from the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) for over two hours discussing the show and associated regulations. What quickly became clear is that things will not ease up in a hurry, if at all. As an example of where things stand at the moment, as part of the regulation changes we had to ask every household within the display box to vacate their premise. As you can probably appreciate, this proved virtually impossible, despite offering free tickets to come to the show and countless advance warning letters.”


It’s entirely possible that the air display element of Abingdon Air and Country show is now a thing of the past and from discussions that have already taken place, it’s likely that the event will become more of a mass fly-in. 2018 will see the RAF celebrate it’s centenary, an anniversary that will be incorporated into countless show’s next year so fingers crossed, Neil and the team can put something together to celebrate in style.

2017 may well be remembered as the final year that an airshow took place at Dalton Barracks.

#SupportAirshows

Dunsfold Wings & Wheels 2016

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | October 13th 2016

Dunsfold aerodrome has a long and rich history when it comes to British aviation. The aerodrome was home to the Canadian Air Force and Royal Air Force throughout the Second World War until it was declared inactive in 1946. Hawker moved on to the site in 1950 and after nearly 50 years of production British Aerospace finally shutdown business in 1999 as part of a cost-cutting restructure. Today, almost twenty years later, Dunsfold Park is a sleepy airfield primarily used by the TV and movie industry for filming large-scale set pieces but once a year a dedicated team opens the doors to the public for the brilliant Wings & Wheels air and motor show.

Wings & Wheels has always taken place over the August bank holiday weekend and has seen it’s fair share of good weather over the years but sadly this year it just wasn’t meant to be. Dark skies, strong winds, low cloud and persistent rain meant that the weekend was spent ducking in and out of shelter. It also meant that decent photography was pretty much non-existent when aircraft were in the sky!

Pre-show Build-up

Dunsfold’s main event traditionally doesn’t start until late morning which gives you plenty of time to take a wander around the site, check out the stalls and photograph the static aircraft that take up residence on the disused taxiway.

Wings & Wheels is very much an event for the whole family so there’s usually something for everyone on the ground; stalls to do a spot of shopping, a small fairground for the kids and if you’re there for the aviation and motoring then there are dedicated areas at each end of the showground.

The aviation static park was shared predominantly by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The RAF brought along their special scheme King Air and a Tucano to represent the training fleet, while the Navy had one of their Hawk T1s and a Merlin Mk2 which was open to the public throughout the day. It’s great to see people interacting with the armed forces and showing such a strong, genuine interest in what they were up to while out on operations.

The Main Event

Wings & Wheels, as the name suggests, is a show split into two main segments; one half for the motoring and one for the aviation. The trouble with this in reality is that both these sections are split in two with the airshow element being interrupted by a duplicate run of cars half way through the day; something that many in attendance seemed to respond a little negatively too.

The motoring element was, as always, fronted by Brooklands and featured an incredibly unique array of cars and bikes. It has to be said that we weren’t there for the motoring aspect but nevertheless it was fantastic to see. Certainly if this is something you’re interested in then you’d love it!

Before the motoring had even kicked off though, Brooklands ran their beautiful VC-10 up and down the runway. Due to the length of the runway, the aircraft can’t get up to any great speed but it was still a delight to see.

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The first and second airshow segments began with a superb display from the large-scale Remote Control ‘Reds Duo’ display team. The R/C team have been on the circuit for a a few years now and have displayed at Dunsfold in the past but the skill of these controllers on the ground never ceases to amaze. The display was accompanied by an upbeat backing track that certainly got the audience in a good mood.

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Dunsfold Aerodrome played a crucial role throughout the Second World War so it’s only right that Wings & Wheels acknowledged this with an extensive line-up of period aircraft.

Peter Teichman was on hand to display not one but two aircraft; his P-51 Mustang and a Hawker Hurricane. Peter’s P-51 had a new paint scheme applied for the 2016 display season but amazingly this was the first time we’d actually seen it in the flesh. The Red Tails ‘Tall In The Saddle’ scheme got a mixed reaction to begin with but we think it looks absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that this was a scheme actually worn by this airframe during the War!

Peter was originally scheduled to display his Hurricane as well but the aircraft has been in maintenance for most of the season so instead of letting the organisers down, he rung a friend and borrowed another Hurricane for the weekend. How many people can call a friend and ask to borrow a Hurricane? Unsurprisingly the Hurricane wasn’t flown with quite as much spirit as we’re used to but I think that’s understandable given that it wasn’t his aircraft.

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The Hurricane and Mustang weren’t the only fighters however, as the Luftwaffe were represented by a beautiful Buchon HA-1112, the result of a short-term agreement between Spain and Germany to build a licensed version of the formidable Messerschmitt Bf-109. Many in the community dislike the Buchon because it’s not a pure WWII variant but there’s no denying it’s a great aircraft to look at; it was flown beautifully in the dull grey skies above Dunsfold.

The fighters were also joined in the air by two bomber aircraft from WWII; B-17 Sally B and the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight B-25. The B-25 has been coming to Dunsfold for a number of years now but incredibly Sally-B had never flown or landed at the airfield before.

Both aircraft went up in less than ideal conditions but put on admirable displays and owned the sky while they were airborne. The bomber displays may not have been as fast paced as the fighter but my word, their sheer size was enough to keep you in awe.

After the accident at Shoreham last year it’s difficult to see how classic jet aircraft will survive in the UK long-term. Interest in flying the types in this country are at an all time low due to public perception and rising costs, with many aircraft having sold to owners abroad in the last few months but there’s still a little hope.

Returning to Dunsfold was Dan Arlett in his beautiful Jet Provost and making their debut appearance was the stunning Vampire pair of the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron.

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Somehow this was the first time we’d seen a Jet Provost all year and that goes some way to explaining how difficult a season it has been for the UK circuit regulars. Jet Provosts, once upon a time, were almost a guaranteed sight at every UK show but that’s not the case anymore. Dan Arlett has become a favourite among the community and displayed the JP with an extreme amount of agility.

The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were represented by the Red Arrows, Typhoon and Black Cats respectively. The Red Arrows are always a big crowd pleaser at family orientated events like this and it was great to see them following the Reds Duo in the display programme. Due to the weather the Typhoon was one of two acts that was massively delayed but eventually found a break in the weather and displayed shortly after many had left the showground.

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Time for Change

While for the most part the action on track and in the air was entertaining for the masses, there’s an awful lot about Wings & Wheels that’s starting to feel a little bit too ‘safe’ year on year.

The duplicate running of the motoring element has been criticised by many on more than one occasion but still it remains the same. This could be fixed so easily by just splitting the running order in half and reducing the gaps, therefore keeping people intrigued with what’s to come instead of people just seeing the second run as a chance to go and grab some lunch. There are some truly unique pieces in the motoring section and they should be given centre-stage.

There are also many elements of the air display that’s starting to feel all too familiar with acts like the Blades, the B-25, Gerald Cooper and the Turbs returning year in year out. While these acts are hugely entertaining to many,  especially the Turb Team, there is a much wider array of display aircraft in this country that haven’t been seen at the show before. Even when it comes to the warbirds, there are countless other privately owned fighters that could be booked instead of sticking with the Hangar 11 collection.

We don’t mean to sound like we’re giving the organisers a hard time; the show was fantastic, despite the weather, but it just feels like Wings & Wheels could do with a fresh lick of paint in places.

Wings & Wheels has brought a close to a long display season in perhaps one of the most difficult years the industry has ever experienced. Fingers crossed that things start to return to normality over the winter and the Dunsfold event comes back with a bang in 2017!