2005 Edition

 

 

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Icy Blast

International Competition
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Historic Action
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Standing Side by Side
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American Tourists!
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Pot Pourri
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September is a very special month for airshows, as the 15th marks Battle of Britain Day. Today only one show is organised by the RAF to commemorate this important day on the aviation calendar, appropriately at the last fighter station to hold an airshow, RAF Leuchars. Although Scotland maybe a long way from the south east of England which most people associate with the Battle, Scotland was fully involved, mainly from the attacks based from Norway. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from a very cold Leuchars! All photography copyright of Author.

Home Team
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Debut Duo
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Feeling Right at Home in these Conditions
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RAF At Home
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Airshows have been held at Leuchars for 60 years now. That tradition started in 1945 when the RAF held open days at it's airfields on 15th September to celebrate the end of the second world war. Today just RAF Leuchars Airshow remains while the other stations have closed or simply do not have the support or funding to hold such events. Today, like in 1945, the main reason for holding the airshow is to showcase the Royal Air Force and it's equipment. The show in 1945 is also thought to have included participation from the United States Army Air Force and that's a tradition that also remains with a fine collection of equipment from the US and other foreign air forces. Of course the airfield itself has seen many changes in those years. In 1945 the base was under command of Coastal Command and home to maritime patrol Liberators. Over the years Leuchars has seen Royal Navy Phantoms before transferring to Strike Command and becoming the UK premier fighter station. Many of the airshows during the height of the cold war was punctuated by the scrambling of RAF Phantoms or Tornados to meet Soviet intruders over the North Sea. Today, Europe is a much more stable place though the constant threat of a terrorist hijacked airliner hangs over the RAF fighter force so Quick Reaction Alert is still with us.

Back in 1945, there would have been a static exhibition of aircraft with crews talking about their roles to the public and their equipment. That is certainly something that hasn't changed, although the public are allowed to take photographs nowadays, something that was banned in 1945. The RAF naturally supplied the bulk of the static display which once again was spearheaded by an example of the RAF's newest fighter aircraft, Eurofighter Typhoon T1 flanked by two of RAF Leuchars current Tornado F3 fighters. Leuchars will be the second station to re-equip with the Typhoon after Coningsby. A type perhaps making it's last visit to RAF Leuchars was the Canberra PR9 from No 39 sqn (1 PRU) at RAF Marham. The type is slated for retirement in 2006, though it's unique capabilities have lead to a slight extension to July 2006. Almost certainly making it's last appearance at Leuchars was the Royal Navy's Sea Harrier FA2. The show organisers had hoped to be included in the farewell tour of a fourship display from 801 sqn but a detachment to Poland just before the show and a general lack of airframes meant that only a single static example could be spared. Another type making a rare appearance was the Beech King Air 200 of 55(R) sqn. One of a number of training types operation under private finance, the King Air is intended as an interim types, though it is being offered to the RAF as a permanent replacement for the venerable Jetstream which is still operated by the Royal Navy. Sadly, there were not too many of the RAF special schemes at the show and those that did make it to Leuchars seemed to be put in awkward places. The Tiger schemed 230sqn Puma HC1 was well placed, but the 14sqn Tornado GR4 and 111(F) Sqn Tornado F3 were hidden from daylight in the hanger exhibitions with less photogenic examples outside! Will the RAF shows please, please give photographers more space to photograph static aircraft and put the more interesting ones in photogenic areas of the static park! The Army Air Corps also brought a pair of WAH-64D Apache AH1 for their first visit to RAF Leuchars.

As with many airshow statics, historic and civilian types are becoming more common, something which is very welcome in these days of dwindling aircraft numbers and types. Leuchars took the opportunity to tell the story of RAF training from the Tiger Moth to the Hawk outside the o0ld control tower including types such as the Jet Provost T3A, Grob Tutor T1 and Tucano T1. There were also examples of defence contractor aircraft with a SERCO Firefly and FRA Falcon 20 in the static along with Hunters and Strikemasters. The static also included a rare example of a floatplane in the UK with Loch Lomond Seaplanes providing a Cessna Caravan.

Leuchars enjoys perhaps the best United States Air Force participation after RIAT. It's no where near the scale of RIAT but is much better than any other airshow in the country in terms of types present. Again. a AFRC B-52H Stratofortress headed the line which included a KC-135R Stratotanker from Pease Air National Guard Base in North Hampshire. the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath also provided a number of F-15C Eagles and a single F-15E Eagle while completing the line up was a MH-53M Pave Low IV from RAF Mildenhall's 352nd Special operation Group. The US Army was also a welcome participant with a UH-60A Blackhawke from SHAPE. European Air Force participation was a little more limited than past events. By far the largest contingent came from the Luftwaffe. Most welcome of their aircraft was the F-4F(ICE) Phantom II as Leuchars has a long association with the type. It was joined by a C-160D Transall and Tornado. The Royal Netherlands Air Force contributed two twin stick F-16BMs while the French has a Mirage 2000D and Alpha Jet on display aswell. Most exotic of the foreign visitors were the pair of standard camouflaged Alpha Jet As from the Portuguese Air Force which was visiting the UK for the first time in 2005.

The weather as you can see from the photographs was much less than perfect, in fact it was freezing cold!  But in relation to the rest of the country on Saturday 10th September it was very kind. The bad weather across the country on Saturday and in particular on Friday meant there were a few aircraft unable to make it to Leuchars. The Royal Navy Black Cats were forced to overnight in the North East of England. In the clearing weather they were able to take off only fro technical gremlins to force a safe landing on a beach! But it was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight that was most affected. Friday proved to be a complete no goer for the Lancaster while Saturday also saw no let up in between Coningsby and Leuchars meaning for the second year, the BBMF were unable to make the RAF's Battle of Britain airshow! Worse still, the organisers had planned some much of the afternoon flying display around the BBMF's aircraft which would have been flown in some exciting "Now and Then" formations with their modern counterparts to commemorate 60 Years since the end of the second world war. Sadly this was not to be and a hastily rejigged flying programme was organised around what was available to organisers.

RAF In Action

Thankfully the Airfield Attack was better prepared this year despite the weather and certainly contained a lot more action. Again there was a main RAF force of three Tornado F3s from RAF Leuchars supported by 14sqn Tornado GR4s from RAF Marham. Tactical support came from a RAF Chinook from 18sqn at Odiham while a "bandit" was portrayed by a single Hawk from 100sqn.

The loss of the BBMF however, did not mean their were no historic aircraft to commemorate 60 years since VE and VJ days. Rod Dean put on a fine display in Historic Flying's Spitfire FRXVIII. Rod is no stranger to Leuchars as he was based here in his RAF career and nowadays his son follows in his fathers footsteps as part of the RAF Tornado F3 force. The Scandinavian Historic Flight also appeared at Leuchars with two of it's collection. The North American P-51D Mustang and Douglas A-26B Invader represented the US's involvement in victory. The A-26s display was particularly noteworthy with plenty of topsides and steep turns showing off the performance of the large machine. The Cold War wasn't left out either. Caledonian Chipmunks displayed one of their Chipmunk T10 aircraft resplendent in it's original silver and yellow scheme. The aircraft are available for a number of charters and flying lessons. Delta Jets had the only classic jet involvement in this years show with their own display team. Led by Andy Cubin in the Yellowjacks Folland Gnat T1 and two Hunter T7s in the colours of the Black Arrows and Blue Diamonds, they team put on a good display of formations presenting the aircraft in a wide variety of differing angles.

Foreign Military participation in the flying display was much less than in previous years. The only foreign front line fast jet was the Belgian Air Force's F-16AM Fighting Falcon while the French Air Force sent their solo Alpha Jet E complete with "that" music cassette! A brand new display team for 2005 has been the Irish Air Corps Display Team with their brand new Pilatus PC-9M training and close air support aircraft. The PC-9Ms have replaced the Fouga Magister in Irish service which used to form their former display team, the Silver Swallows. There are future plans for the team which may include the adoption of the Swallows name and hopefully smoke systems similar to that used by the Dutch solo PC-7 and Polish Orlik display teams.

It was the RAF who naturally provided the bulk of the flying display in the end with everything from the Grob Tutor T1 right up to the current front line fast jets. However the crowd's favourite was those nine Red Hawks of the Red Arrows even though the were restricted to a flat display. It was good to see both of the RAF's battlefield helicopters, Merlin HC3 and Chinook HC2 taking prominence in the flying display and both were highly impressive performers with perhaps the Merlin winning this time, it just seems a slightly better display over large crowdlines! Sadly, due to the weather, the SAR Sea King demo was unable to make the show.

Typhoon Encore!

Because of the unseasonal weather around the country preventing a number of acts reaching Leuchars, Sqn Ldr Matt Elliot displayed the Typhoon twice. Typhoon is an important aircraft to appear in the Leuchars programme as it's due to replace the Tornado F3s that are based here.

With the show sharing the weekend with a display at Duxford and Southport, it was strange to see a number of the RAF displays tour in and out of Leuchars. This however was not strange during the era of the RAF Open Days in September when a number of acts would tour around each show. First of these was the Hawk T1 from 208(R) Squadron operating from Blackpool while the Tornado GR4 display came to Leuchars following their display at Southport and operating from the airfield. Longest touring item however was the home team! No 56(R) sqn's Tornado F3 based itself at Cambridge Airport for the afternoon at Duxford and duly flew back home in time for the last display of the afternoon! However, show star for the second year, though providing it's first full display at Leuchars was the Typhoon T1 in the hands of Sqn Ldr Matt Elliot who displayed twice due to the loss of the BBMF which was very welcome.

Despite the weather, it was another solid show at RAF Leuchars. It may not be the biggest of the military shows and is often in the shadow of the show at Waddington, but it's certainly a unique event and things like the Airfield Attack make for some great aerial action. It's a real shame that other shows don't seem able to mount such a spectacle which is greatly enjoyed by the airshow crowd. We must also mention airshow commentator Roger Hoefling who once again provided an excellent precise commentary despite a fluid display programme and the very unseasonal conditions!

 copyright Flightline UK 2005