Blackbushe Air Day 2016

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.

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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!

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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!

#SupportAirshows

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2016

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | July 22nd 2016

Each summer RNAS Yeovilton, home of the Commando Helicopter Force, hosts the Royal Navy’s flagship show. Air Day has gathered quite a following over the years and is regarded by many as one of the best airshows in the UK due to the explosive set pieces and fine array of international participation.

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day has traditionally been a two-day event with a smaller event on the Friday and the main airshow on the Saturday. This year was no different but the Friday event was re-branded as ‘Arrivals Day’ rather than the historic ‘Photocall’.

Up until 2014 the ‘Photocall’ had allowed spectators to watch the arrivals and display validations from an on-site enclosure and then photograph some of the static exhibits in the early evening with minimal surrounding clutter but due to a regulations change that year, validations were no longer able to take place while paying spectators were present. The 2015 show kept the ‘Photocall’ name and led many to believe that they’d still be able to capture the static exhibits once the arrivals had finished mid-afternoon but this wasn’t the case. Quick changes and a slight lack of communication had caused confusion among spectators and most were left feeling disappointed at the end of the day. It’s good then that the new ‘Arrivals Day’ did exactly what it said on the tin and people were able to witness the arrivals up until late afternoon when the airfield was closed for display validations.

The airfield was opened to the public at just gone 09:00 under gorgeously blue skies and soon people were marching quickly towards the fence to grab their place on the crowd line.

Stars of the Static

After their welcome return to last year’s show, the USAF and their C-17 were invited back to RNAS Yeovilton. The US Air Force Reserve crew of The 315th Airlift Wing flew their C-17 straight in from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina and took up their spot on the Somerset tarmac.

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The C-17 was open to everyone on the Saturday and saw a steady flow of visitors all day long with queues stretching a couple of hundred people at times. While on board we spoke to the crew and they couldn’t believe just how many people were genuinely interested in them; coming to the UK for airshows was apparently something that most servicemen hope to do at least once in their career as the reception and atmosphere is unlike anything in the US.

Several European countries also contributed to Air Day’s static display. Some of the favourites included the Belgian Air Component and Dutch Air Force F-16s, the German Air Force with their aging Transall (a rare sight which gave a phenomenal low flypast on the Friday) and Tornado IDS, and the Polish Navy with a specially marked M-28 Bryza.

The Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet also returned for it’s second appearance at Air Day in as may years. Fingers crossed we may see this in a UK flying display some time in the next couple of years as the aircraft has recently been selected by Qinetiq and Thales as their favoured replacement for the current Alpha Jet and Hawk test beds.

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International Air Displays

Yeovilton once again attracted a number of international participants for the flying display.

Team Orlik, named after the native single-engine turboprop PZL-130 Orlik trainer they fly, represented Poland in the afternoon’s display programme with a well choreographed formation routine.

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The routine consisted of formation flypasts before splitting into two sections, allowing a pairs sequence to take centre stage. While the flying was of a very high quality, the large radius that the team displayed in didn’t really lend itself to the Yeovilton display line and more often than not, the team felt very distant from crowd centre.

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The Royal Jordanian Falcons made their annual trip to Yeovilton to kick-start the UK leg of their European tour. The Falcons have been flying at UK shows for years now and their commitment to our airshow circuit simply has to be applauded. Each display is flown with such precision and prestige but it has to be said that the four-ship Extra 300 L routine is becoming a little stale and is in need of a refresh. While a single display is entertaining, for those of us that have been watching them for many years it’s difficult to see what changes are made (if any) year on year.

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The undeniable international star, and perhaps the star item of the entire show, was the Aéronavale role demonstration. The French Naval Aviation role demo team were invited back for 2016 after their stunning four-ship display last year. Sadly the Super Etendard was retired from service within the last two weeks so the team has been reduced to just a pair of Dassault Rafale M aircraft.

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The Rafale pair took off with full afterburner before carrying out a number of close formation ‘dirty’ passes showing the strengthened undercarriage and arrestor hook. The two aircraft separated for the second half of their routine and roared into life, the sound of reheat reverberated through the crowd and sent shivers down the spine; for several long minutes the Rafales absolutely owned the Somerset sky. The French have proven, more than once, that fast jets can work together to produce a thoroughly captivating role demonstration and to see two aircraft like this tearing up the airfield was a real treat. It’s such a shame that the RAF don’t display their aircraft like this anymore, after all, the Tornado Role Demonstration Team was a massive hit with the public.

Fly Navy

Even with everything else going on around you, it’s hard to forget that this is the Royal Navy’s flagship event and what better place is there to launch a new Navy initiative?

Navy Wings was launched at Air Day and represents the very best of historic naval aviation. The pre-existing structure of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust (FNHT) and Royal Navy Historic Flight (RNHF) was already confusing enough with many not knowing the differences between the two, and while the new venture is a fantastic idea, it does muddy things even further. The Navy Wings Collection (now bear with us) incorporates all aircraft from the FNHT and RNHF plus additional privately owned historic naval aircraft that are now associated with but do not directly benefit from funds raised by the charity. Confused?

Representing Navy Wings was a privately owned Westland Wasp, the RNHF Swordfish and the collection’s flagship de Havilland Sea Vixen.

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The Sea Vixen display is incredible with just the right amount of speed and noise; the routine is so photogenic that it actually feels as though it was choreographed with a photographer in mind.

Due to it’s size and uniqueness (the only flying type in the world), the Sea Vixen really does have the potential to capture the public’s heart like the Vulcan did but this relies heavily on Navy Wings’ marketing team. While VTTS are looking for funding to restore a Canberra to flight, a project that is several years away from completion, you can donate to Navy Wings now and ensure that aircraft like the Sea Vixen are kept in the air for as long as possible.

Over the years Air Day has become synonymous with it’s masterful set pieces; mass helicopter displays with lots of pyrotechnics and this year was no different.

The Lynx HMA.8 is retiring next March so the Maritime Patrol Force role demonstration was one of the final chances for the general public to see the aircraft doing what it was designed to do.

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The display consisted of two Lynx and two Wildcat helicopters, working together to contain a threat at sea. The role demo was dynamic and the fantastic commentary that accompanied the display meant that you were always looking in the right direction when something was happening. The Lynx HMA.8 will be missed by many when it’s gone; no matter how advanced the Wildcat is on the battlefield, it just doesn’t have the charm of it’s predecessor.

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Air Day climaxed and came to a close in the only way it knows how to, with a huge gathering of helicopters! You may think that once you’ve seen one Commando Assault, you’ve seen them all but you couldn’t be more wrong.

Once again the organisers and participants had managed to put a new spin on the Assault’s scenario. Although the fundamentals of the narrative remained the same, the way in which the story played out was slightly different. The display opened with insurgents storming the airfield and taking an innocent party hostage, while the rotary elements (six Merlin, two Wildcat and a single Apache) headed towards the front line to engage the enemy.

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To see this many helicopters in the air at the same time is always an incredibly impressive sight and the organisation that goes on behind the scenes to make sure each wave of aircraft arrives at just the right time has to be admired.

Merlins flew Royal Marine Commandos into the area and they fought valiantly to take back the airfield, fast air was called in to take out fortified enemy positions, and military assets dropped in by further Merlins all while the Apache provided top cover. The Marines played a bigger part than ever in this year’s routine and it saw them coming right up to the crowd line, enabling everyone to see them up close.

With all rotary assets, Marines and support crew all lined up in front of the crowd, there was only one thing left…

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Best of the Rest

Rich Goodwin opened the show in style with a superb display of complex aerobatics in his heavily modified Pitts S2S, nicknamed the ‘Muscle Biplane’. The current routine is fantastic and full of energy but according to the Goodwin it’s still not exciting enough. Next year, if all goes to plan and the team achieve technical sign-off from all relevant authorities, the aircraft will have up to three small but very powerful jet engines attached to it!

The OV-10 and MiG-15 were both flown with much grace but both routines felt too high and too distant for much of the display, especially the MiG-15 due to its smaller size.

The French weren’t the only ones to bring noise to the afternoon’s proceedings as they were joined by the Royal Air Force Typhoon Display Team and Army Air Corps Apache Helicopter Display Team.

The Typhoon has long been a favourite with the public, mainly because it makes so much noise and looks great being thrown about the sky, and it certainly didn’t disappoint at Air Day.

After a thoroughly impressive display season last year, the Apache returned with it’s pyro-heavy role demonstration but the solo display just didn’t feel as dynamic as the two-ship routine we got so used to seeing. It’d be great to see the Apache routine evolve into a British Army role demonstration with ground-based assets such as the Jackal and possibly even the Challenger II getting involved but it’s all very much a pipe dream!

The flying display also saw the Yeovilton debut of the two-ship Gazelle Squadron display team which is still very much in its infancy but one that’s looking to expand to a four-ship routine next year. As well as the Gazelle pair, the Red Arrows also made a very welcome return.

Still the Best in the West

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day was undoubtedly a massive success again this year and it’s easy to understand why. With superb display items on show in the air and crews providing a hands-on, interactive experience throughout the static park, Air Day really was a fantastic day out for the whole family. The explosive set pieces are well worth the entry fee alone and will keep us coming back year after year! The show is not only the flagship airshow of the Royal Navy but it is also one of the best in the south-west.

#SupportAirshows

Shuttleworth Fly Navy Show 2016

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | July 1st 2016

Airshows at Shuttleworth are normally all about the based aircraft and usually only a few external display acts are booked for each show, however that wasn’t the case with the recent Fly Navy event at Old Warden which presented the very best of our naval aviation past.

Since whispers of the Fly Navy show surfaced last year, people were trying to work out exactly what such an event at Old Warden would look like and how well the theme would be used. As the weeks went by and participating acts were confirmed, the Fly Navy display programme quickly became extremely exciting; there’s no doubt about it, the organisers were super keen to take a trip down memory lane and indulge in vintage naval aviation. Fly Navy was tipped by many to be one of the best displays of the year.

All at Sea

As always at Old Warden, the flying display didn’t start until early afternoon which meant that there was plenty of time to check out what was going on around the airfield. The Fly Navy event was partly organised by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust and Royal Navy which meant that it was the perfect opportunity for them to show off some of their latest equipment in the form of a Merlin Mk2, Lynx HMA.8 and the Scan Eagle UAV.

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Due to its close proximity to parked vehicles, the Merlin had to fly in on the Saturday so sadly there was no flying to be seen from the RNAS Culdrose team. It’s easy to see just how valuable a PR tool airshows are to our armed forces, as throughout the day people were queuing up to speak to the crew and learn all about the Merlin.

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The Lynx was a big addition to the show and although it was only scheduled to be on static display, it’s location on the airfield meant that unlike the Merlin, it’d be flying in during the show. The Lynx is becoming a rare sight in public as the force is gradually reduced in size, ready for it’s retirement from service next March, so to see this outside RNAS Yeovilton was a real treat. The Lynx departed mid-afternoon which meant that the it’d be flying in the best light of the day; missing most of the Chipmunk display to capture it was well worth it.

With the current Royal Navy types on the ground, it was time to start the show and what better way to begin the afternoon than with a flypast from two icons of British Naval aviation; the Shuttleworth Sea Hurricane and Fly Navy Heritage Trust Sea Vixen.

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The Sea Vixen (and more than 80 tonnes of spare parts) was acquired by the FNHT back in 2014 when Julian Jones of DS Aviation sold it to the team for the grand total of £1. It’s fair to say that ‘Foxy’, as she is affectionately known as by her loyal fans, has become the crown jewel of the Trust and is loved by enthusiasts all over. The Sea Vixen isn’t usually ready until much later in the year, normally making it’s first display of the year at RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day, so it was a great privilege to see it above Old Warden and making full use of the curved display line. Some in the industry thought that it wouldn’t be possible for another aircraft to capture the public’s imagination like the Vulcan did but Sea Vixen may just be that aircraft. Incredible.

The Hurricane went off to hold and join up with another visiting aircraft; the beautiful Seafire Mk III. The pair flew on to the display line in a very tight formation and gave a number of passes together before breaking off into their own routines.

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The Sea Hurricane is flown during almost every airshow at Old Warden but this was the first time that this Seafire had displayed there. The Sea Hurricane is on home turf at Shuttleworth and knows exactly how to make full use of the unique display line; sadly the same cannot be said for the Seafire. The fighter was flown in an incredibly graceful manner but for most of the display felt too far away and seemed to stick to a straight line. For some reason the display slot was much longer than normal which meant that the Seafire had a lot of time to kill and had we had last years regulations, this wouldn’t have been a problem but at the distance it was flown at, unusually for a warbird it just seemed to go on and on.

Having seen Terry Martin display the Westland Wasp at Abingdon earlier in the year and knowing roughly what the routine consists of, it was exciting to hear that he’d been displaying at Shuttleworth as the display would offer lots of opportunities to capture the helicopter in front of the farmhouse and surrounding trees. This was something that had already been witnessed when it arrived early morning.

Watching the Wasp being thrown around the sky was very enjoyable and Terry has certainly absolutely nailed the routine. This display works exceptionally well in small, tight display areas so was almost a perfect fit for Old Warden and the freshly cut grass certainly added something different to the routine.

With a number of visiting aircraft out of the way, it was now time for more of the home team to join the party and show just what they had to contribute to the Fly Navy theme.

The Avro Anson joined the Dragon Rapide in the air for a number of formation flypasts. Although these two aircraft may not seem like naval types, both served at some point with the Royal Navy; the Rapide’s military variant, the Dominie was used for radio and navigation training. Sadly the Anson still isn’t using the curve to full extent like it used to so those beautiful sweeping passes are still absent from the routine.

A trio of Hawker biplanes took to the sky next; Shuttleworth’s Demon was joined by a Nimrod from The Fighter Collection and one from the Historic Aircraft Collection. The Nimrod was a great asset in the hands of the Navy and saw active service on board carriers with no less than eight different squadrons before it was replaced by the Gloster Gladiator at the start of World War II. The three biplanes were flown with extreme grace around the bend and although there weren’t any classic topside passes, the routine was still incredibly enjoyable to watch.

This was quickly followed by a couple of other formations; the first made up of four trainer aircraft all of which had a link to the Royal Navy and the second consisted of a Cirrus Moth and a French aircraft we’d not seen before, a beautiful Morane-Saulnier MS.317. The MS.317 is a modified version of the MS.315 and was used by the French Navy to train their naval aviators. Both aircraft are of limited power so were able to display fairly well within the current CAA guidelines.

It turned out that the Fly Navy show would actually be full of unique formations that haven’t really been seen anywhere else, they just kept coming!

The FNHT Swordfish and Texan were next to get airborne and were to join the Shuttleworth Gladiator for a number of flypasts. As mentioned earlier, the Gloster Gladiator replaced the de Havilland Nimrod in naval service and is an exceptionally maneuverable biplane for it’s era.

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W5836 is one of two Fairey Swordfish aircraft operated by the Royal Naval Historic Flight (part of the FNHT) and was developed for the Royal Navy for use in the Second World War. The Swordfish was an effective torpedo bomber and played a vital role in the Battle of Taranto, as well as being responsible for inflicting serious damage on the German battleship Bismarck. She is flown with extreme pride by the RNHF and although it isn’t the most dynamic of displays, it’s always a pleasure to watch.

With the day almost over, it was time for The Fighter Collection to put their stamp on the Fly Navy show. The trio of naval warbirds flew in from Duxford and put on one hell of a show but I’m in two minds as to whether their displays were a perfect fit for Shuttleworth or not.

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Old Warden is a phenomenal venue for a number of reasons; displaying aircraft are usually flown tight to the curved display line, flown with grace and agility, and most aircraft give beautiful topside passes.

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The Wildcat, Corsair and Bearcat didn’t really utilise the curve at all. Instead, all three were flown at high speeds and this meant that the associated display distance made the aircraft feel extremely far from the crowd line for 90% of their routines. Now this is going to divide opinion; to see warbirds absolutely tearing up the sky is phenomenal but the displays just didn’t seem to fit with the mantra at Old Warden. Not only this but the displays felt like they hadn’t been tailored to make the most of the current CAA regulations. The noise and sight was fantastic but the overall impression left by The Fighter Collection displays was lacking somewhat.

A Job Well Done

The Fly Navy show may not have been as well attended as the Season Premiere but it was still a resounding success, especially amongst the enthusiast community.

By coming up with a solid theme and completely sticking to it throughout the entire display programme, the Shuttleworth team were able to show that running with a single idea can really work. The structure of the flying programme was almost perfect and with access to the Royal Navy on the ground, it meant that all areas of this show (both in the air and around the airfield) felt like they’d been covered exceptionally well.

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What also made this show a success was the fantastic commentary by Be Dunnell, an expert in his field and a voice that is becoming increasingly familiar at shows up and down the country.

If Shuttleworth can come up with a thematic show of this standard just once a season then they’re on to an absolute winner. Fly Navy was an incredible show from start to finish.

#SupportAirshows

Shuttleworth Season Premiere 2016

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | May 19th 2016

Old Warden Aerodrome in Bedfordshire is home to the spectacular Shuttleworth Collection. The unique collection of vintage cars, bikes and aircraft was started by Richard Ormonde Shuttleworth and was opened to the public in 1963. Since then the Collection has continued to evolve and today hosts a huge number of events over the course of the summer. Shuttleworth’s 2016 airshow season kicked off with the Season Premiere and we were there to check it out.

Shuttleworth’s 2015 season ended with a bang when the final show sold out and we said farewell to the Vulcan once and for all. Keen to kick off this year in equal amounts of style, the team booked a selection of visiting display acts which included the UK debut of the Global Stars Display Team, the recently restored Bristol Blenheim and the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Display Team, The Red Arrows.

The visiting aircraft, added to the exceptional list of based aircraft, helped sell tickets in huge numbers and just days before the show, Shuttleworth announced that the event had sold out. During the week leading up to the show, the weather forecast greatly improved and promised the hottest weekend of the year so far; for once it’d appear that the forecasters were correct!

Shortly after turning off from the final roundabout en-route to the aerodrome, you’re taken through beautiful countryside and as soon as you’re in the village of Shuttleworth, it’s as if you’ve been transported back in time. The Shuttleworth estate is simply stunning and on this occasion, getting into the event itself was a hassle-free experience with friendly staff greeting you every step along the way.

Events at Shuttleworth quite often don’t start until the early afternoon which gives you plenty of time to have a look around the grounds, museum, gift shop and of course all the aviation-related stalls that turn up for the day.

Having arrived early in the morning, there was no trouble getting a seat on the crowd line but those that arrived from 10:30 onwards started to struggle; amazingly people were still arriving as the displays started in the afternoon!

Blue Sky Aplenty

Having spoken to a number of pilots on the ground before the start of the show, it was clear that the new CAA regulations were anything but clear and even after a 60 minute pre-display briefing, there were still a number of different interpretations on the table of what exactly the regulations meant for the afternoon’s display programme. If these new regulations can’t be completely understood by a room full of some of the country’s most experienced display pilots then what exactly are we gaining in terms of safety?

Although a couple of aircraft had been out on test flights earlier in the morning, the displays didn’t officially start until 13:00 when Peter Teichman opened the show in style with a beautifully flown routine in his P-40 Kittyhawk. Peter’s routine was once again further out than what we’re used to but was flown with a little more confidence than the weekend before. Having landed safely, Peter taxied to his parking space but as the P-40 shut down, the aircraft began spewing what looked like fuel from the right side of the engine cowling; needless to say that Peter was kept busy for the remainder of the afternoon trying to fix the issue.

The beginning of the show was very much owned by World War Two era aircraft as the Harvard and Lysander took to the skies one after the other. It was fantastic to see the Harvard again, especially as it was in the hands of John Beatie! The display itself was laced with professionalism and was a great demonstration of just why the Harvard was so successful as an RAF trainer back in the day.

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Likewise the Lysander, which is one of just a handful of airworthy survivors, also put on a brilliant display but it was really noticeable by this point as to how the new CAA regulations were going to affect the rest of the show. The Lysander felt distant thanks to the new increased display distances but as a result of the treeline which runs along the midsection of the runway, it also felt much higher than usual.

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The star booking of the afternoon was scheduled for 15:00 and having only recently returned from Exercise Springhawk, this was to be their first public display of the 2016 season. With Flt Lt Mike Ling (RED 10) encouraging the crowd to look over their shoulders, the Red Arrows returned to Shuttleworth for the first time in 30 years, arriving in style in a brand new formation for 2016 and instantly filled the sky with their signature smoke.

Due to the restricted airspace enforced by nearby London Luton Airport, the Reds were only cleared to conduct a rolling display which meant that even in the glorious cloudless sky, we weren’t going to see the famous smokey heart. This didn’t matter too much though as the diamond nine delivered a near-faultless display and one of the cleanest that’s been seen for a number of years.

Sadly this all came to an abrupt end during the second half of the display when a rogue Gazelle strayed into the Red’s restricted airspace with little regard for what was going on around them. Luton notified the team of the intrusion as it had been picked up by Air Traffic Control and instantly the display was halted; RED 10 was left to explain to the crowd exactly what was going on and why the display couldn’t continue until their airspace was cleared. As the Gazelle headed out, the regrouped team sent a smoke filled message to the helicopter’s crew but sadly by this time it was too late for the display to carry on and instead it was closed with a final break at crowd centre. It was a gutting experience for both those on the ground and in the air. If you know anyone that flies please send them a gentle reminder and ask them to triple check their NOTAMs next time they go flying.

One of the Collection’s latest acquisitions made an appearance in the flying display but sadly it wasn’t a solo performance and as a result didn’t get the chance to shine (no pun intended) on it’s own. The beautiful Ryan ST-A was part of a formation display along with the Collection’s Miles M14A Hawk Trainer 3, Blackburn B2 and DH82a Tiger Moth. This was another display that felt extremely distant and high at times, a display that had it been flown this time last year, would have looked an awful lot different.

Another group of aircraft took off shortly afterwards but this time it was a trio of warbirds; the Gloster Gladiator, Hawker Demon and the Hawker Hurricane that was acquired by the museum towards the end of last year. All three flew in a tight formation before breaking off, each giving a short display of its own. Each aircraft was flown in a truly graceful manner, one that has become synonymous with the team at Shuttleworth but once more each felt just a little too far away. Whereas a sweeping topside pass, something that Shuttleworth has become famous for, would have made the hairs on the back of your arms stand on end last summer, this time it left a lot to be desired.

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A number of displays were affected by the extremely rare on-crowd wind; the Comet was forced to stay on the ground, there was no chance of the Edwardians getting airborne and Peter Davies was forced to fly much of his routine away from the crowd. Peter’s Autogyro display is a fantastic example of how something can be flown extremely well and effectively in a tight area but the wind made the conditions less than ideal to fly in.

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As the afternoon started to draw to a close, there were just a few remaining displays and one of those was the UK debut of the Global Stars Display Team. The Global Stars consist of British aerobatic champions past and present; Mark Jefferies, Tom Cassells, Mike Pickin and Chris Burkett. It has to be said that display teams of this variety aren’t to everyone’s tastes but they were simply in a league of their own and unlike any Extra-based team that’s been seen in this country before. As well as flying a brilliantly choreographed routine, the four aircraft were equipped with a fully synchronised ‘dotty’ smoke system that added a new dynamic to show. It should be interesting to see how this team develops over the coming months.

The heat was starting to dissipate as the show came to an end with a spectacular finale from the Collection-owned Avro Nineteen Anson and visiting Bristol Blenheim.The pair formed up over the lake before running on to the display line for a number of formation passes together.

As the Anson broke off to land, the Blenheim continued into it’s solo routine which was full of sweeping topsides and arching passes. It was easily the most beautiful and awe-inspiring routine I’ve seen the Blenheim team fly to date, especially in the golden light of the early even sun. The sight, the sound, the feeling; it was incredible.

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Not Quite Shuttleworth

Have you ever had one of those dreams where everything feels extremely familiar but you’re incredibly aware that almost everything is out of place? The Season Premiere was a little like that.

The show had all the ingredients to make it an absolute spectacle but the new CAA regulations made sure that everything was off by a noticeable margin.

The increased display distances and height that was required to avoid the treeline as a result (which wouldn’t have even been considered to be a problem this time last year) meant that almost every single display was a little too far away for the ‘Shuttleworth effect’ to be felt. It has to be said once more that none of this is down to the pilots; they’re all extremely skilled in what they do and they’re simply doing their best to follow a new set of rules.

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Old Warden is an exceptionally unique venue; not only does it have two all-grass runways and a collection of fairly slow and rare aircraft, it also has a curved display line which is usually used to great effect by 90% of aircraft that display at Shuttleworth shows; a display line that usually allows for phenomenal topsides that simply take your breath away.

The Shuttleworth Season Premiere proved more than anything else that the latest iteration of the CAA’s CAP403 regulations are incredibly confusing and widely open to interpretation. As if that isn’t enough, it also demonstrated that they simply cannot be applied as a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

If the CAA are under the impression that it’s only those close to the aviation sector that are noticing the changes then they couldn’t be more wrong. We spoke to a number of people throughout the day that regarded themselves as casual airshow goers that only attend a couple of events a year and all commented on how different the show looked and felt compared to previous years.

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There’s absolutely no doubt that the Season Premiere show was a huge financial success, it had a cracking lineup, glorious weather and was a complete sell out but how much longer can shows at Shuttleworth continue to sell out without massive crowd-pullers like the Red Arrows and with such a restrictive set of display regulations in place?

#SupportAirshows

Abingdon Air & Country Show 2016

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | May 12th 2016

The airshow industry has had a pretty miserable time over the last few months as the CAA announced a number of initiatives in the wake of the accident at Shoreham last year. As a massive hike in airshow display fees was announced, the aviation community pulled together in a campaign to fight the rise in fees but sadly it wasn’t all that successful. Even with a number of high profile organisations taking the fight into the public domain and numerous MPs successfully lobbied, the display fees were drastically increased. As if that wasn’t bad enough, just weeks before the display season started revised airshow regulations were published. 

The annual Abingdon Air and Country Show held at Dalton Barracks in Oxfordshire is run by an extremely dedicated team of volunteers that works round the clock to make sure that the show goes on, no matter what. Since 2007 the show has been a major fundraiser for the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust. Over the past nine years more than £60,000 has been donated from the Airshow takings and that’s set to increase again this year.

The 2015 show was plagued by bad weather and last minute cancellations completely outside of Abingdon’s control. Unfortunately for the team it looked like everything was going against them once more when numerous items cancelled within weeks of show day.

One of the most notable absences on the ground was the complete lack of support from the Royal Air Force. RAF Benson have been fantastic supporters of the event in recent years but sadly the Chinook and Puma were withdrawn from the static display with the Joint Helicopter Command citing ‘insurance issues’ as the reason for their no-show.

Abingdon was thrown a massive lifeline however, when the Belgian authorities notified the team of a potential aircraft for the show just weeks prior to the event. A short while later it was confirmed that the Belgian Air Component were sending their all-new NH-90 helicopter for the static display, something that was understandably applauded by the enthusiast community. Bookings like this demonstrate the fantastic reputation that the Abingdon team have built up over the last decade or so.

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Although this booking was a massive win for the team, it also demonstrates the obscurity of red tape within this country’s armed forces. A European nation was willing to send one of their newest military assets over 200 nautical miles to support a small foreign airshow but our own Air Force were unable to provide anything from an RAF base just 10 miles down the road. The mind boggles.

Into The Unknown

As has already been mentioned, new regulations implemented by the CAA mean that a number of things have changed for the 2016 display season. Although Abingdon is now controlled by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA), a number of changes were implemented for the show which involved temporary road closures and increases in display distances for aircraft over a certain weight and speed.

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With an MAA presence on site, Abingdon acted as a live guinea pig for the rest of the display season and there was an awful lot unknown about how the new regulations would affect the show; you could almost feel the tension and apprehension in the air.

At first the increased distances weren’t all that noticeable as the show was opened by the Jump4Heroes parachute display team, however, as the show went on and aircraft began taking to the skies, it was evident that things had most definitely changed.

First up was the beautiful Bristol Blenheim which was lovingly restored at Duxford. It was the aircraft’s first appearance at Abingdon post-restoration and it was a real treat to see. The aircraft lined up on the runway (having landed earlier in the day) and took to the sky having refuelled on the opposite side of the airfield. The Blenheim routine is exceptionally well choreographed and is just right for showing off the classic lines of the airframes. Flying a number of topside passes and figures of eight allowed the crowd to see all angles of the angelic warbird.

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Peter Davies returned to Abingdon for the second year running. Peter made his debut at the show in 2015 and made such an impact on the crowd that he was instantly booked after his display for this year. The Calidus Autogyro may look like a slightly dull aircraft but the routine is anything but! The speed at which the routine is flown allows Peter to really showcase the aircraft and demonstrate its agility; by getting the crowd involved with his ‘no handed’ flypast,this display was certainly well received on the ground.

After a distant and tame, but well flown routine by the Travel Air biplane, it was time for Simon Wilson to take to the skies in his lovely Piston Provost. Aircraft like this are perfect for smaller venues like Abingdon or at least were perfect this time last year. Although the routine was flown exceptionally well, at times it felt like it was just a little too far away.

The same can be said for Lauren Richardson and Peter Teichman in the Pitts Special and P-40 Kittyhawk respectively. Both these aircraft are usually so at home at smaller air shows like Abingdon but due to new regulations, both felt like they were displaying over a neighbouring village. It has to be said that this is absolutely not Lauren or Peter’s fault, it is simply a sign of the times and unfortunately a huge proportion of the ‘wow factor’ has been lost by forcing these aircraft to display beyond the 230m mark.

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Lauren’s routine is technically faultless and what she’s able to do in her Pitts should be applauded. Peter, likewise, is highly respected within the industry and is considered by many to be one of the most talented warbird pilots in the country but because of the speed of his display and the new distance that requires, the impact was almost completely lost; the display seemed so distant that the photography was almost useless. Both the solo Twister aircraft and Auster also seemed far too far away from the crowd.

The MAA were on site all day and this goes to show just how much attention is on the airshow sector at the moment. During the RAF BBMF Spitfire/Hurricane display, the MAA were out on the airfield positioned on the 230m line to ‘observe’ the routine.

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Thankfully though a little faith was restored during the latter part of the show when the Catalina got airborne. Once again the aircraft was flown a little further out than normal but due to it’s size, it wasn’t as noticeable. The Catalina has been on the UK circuit for many years now but it’s always a very welcome addition to any show. The routine was flown in a gentle manner but nevertheless, it was one of the most entertaining display of the day. Well, that was until three vintage helicopters took to the stage anyway.

First up was the Westland Wasp of Wing Commander (retired) Terry Martin. The Wasp is a navalised helicopter which was used extensively in the anti-submarine throughout the 1960s and 1970s and was designed to live on the back of a Frigate. Having seen footage of Terry displaying at Old Sarum last summer, this routine was one certainly high on the bucket list for this year. For an older design of helicopter, the Wasp can sure move and Terry demonstrated its maneuverability perfectly as he put the aircraft through it’s paces in what can only be described as an aerial ballet right in front of the crowd.

This theme continued into the final display of the day with the public airshow debut of the Army Historic Aircraft Flight. The Sioux and Scout are both attack helicopters and played a vital role in the British Army of days gone by. While the Sioux AH1 is a militarised version of the Bell H-13, the Scout is a relative of the Wasp and was a further evolution of the Saunders-Roe P.531 helicopter.

The display consisted of a number of opposition maneuvers, similar to what you might expect to see from the Royal Navy Black Cats (just a lot more gentle), before the two aircraft split off to carry out their own segments of the display. You’d never believe that this was their UK airshow debut because the routine was flown with such confidence, it was fantastic!

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A Sign of Things to Come

Even though Abingdon was once again victim to lots of last minute cancellations, the organisers still went out of their way to make sure that people went home with a smile on their face. Unlike last year, this years show also had fantastic weather and this helped to bring more than 8000 spectators through the gates!

The great thing about the Abingdon show is that it’s not just an airshow and you really are missing out if you don’t take the time to take a proper look around the show ground. With a huge variety of things to see both in the air and on the ground, Abingdon guarantees value for money year on year.

It’s evident from the show that the new regulations are certainly going to affect some acts and locations more than others; while items like the Pitts and P-40 felt unusually out of place, the Wasp, Scout and Sioux made things feel much more familiar. Again, I must stress that this was not the fault of the pilots, they’re simply adhering to the guidelines they’ve been given.

Sadly the increased distances meant that despite having a fantastic lineup of talented display pilots, the crowd were left feeling out of touch with what was going on at times but right now there’s not a lot that can be done about it. As shows collate feedback over the course of the summer, one can only hope that things are reviewed at the end of the season and regulations are changed. While there’s clearly still public interest in aviation and airshows at the moment, how long can this interest remain when things are pushed further and further away from paying spectators.

We’ll no doubt be back at Abingdon Air and Country Show next year, which has already been confirmed as taking place some time in May again.

#SupportAirshows