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Tornado Alley.

International Friendly
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Classic Jets
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Civilian Support
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Sunset Ceremony
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Away from the world of RIAT, there's been something lacking at military airshows for the last few years. With ever shrinking defence budgets, participation has wayned and we haven't seen many shows do that much different. Leuchars 2006 saw a reversal of the trend. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK heads north of the border for the annual airshow. All Photography copyright Paul Johnson/Flightline UK.

Army and Navy
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Nimrod Tribute
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Home Team
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Defence Contractors
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Nostagia
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Display No.4000!!!!

The Red Arrows display at Leuchars was a very special occasion for the team as it marked their 4000th display. Red 10, Flt lt Andy Robins said "It is a huge honour to be part of The Red Arrows during the Teams 4000th Display, a moment which will go down in the Reds history. This will definitely be something to look back on when The Red Arrows are performing their 5000th Display!"

The military airshow scene in the UK has been dominated by RIAT for a long time now. Even with the quite disappointing affair in 2002, RIAT has maintained it's dominance and we don't see that changing - it is after all so much more than a normal airshow. However it has been the case that this dominance combined with the drawdown of much of the usual participating nations's air arms has seen the other UK military shows suffer as air arms are not able to commit to so many airshows. The shrinking UK air arms too are no longer able to support airshows anything like they used to. True, Yeovilton is an exception having been able to keep the Commado Assault and it's massed displays of air power, but such things have been absent from public RAF airshows for quite a while now. However, we are pleased to report that in 2006, RAF Leuchars managed to put on a truly memorable event with plenty that simply wouldn't be seen anywhere else.

The RAF did not perhaps support the event so well as a whole with several types missing completely. However, there was still a good mix of types from the inventory on static shows as well as the full compliment of display aircraft in the show, bar the Merlin HC3 and C-130J both of which were cancelled for operation reasons. RAF displays are always very pleasing to the eye but Flt Lt Chris Knight did an absolutely superb job of shoeing off the tiny little Grob Tutor T1 basic trainer to the crowd.  With the introduction of the Typhoon F2/T1A so important to Leuchars, it was good to see the type displayed twice with a 3sqn example well placed in the static display with other RAF types. One type that made a very late addition to the flying display was a Nimrod MR2 from RAF Kinloss. Just a week before a 120sqn Nimrod was lost in a tragic accident while on operations over Afghanistan. The flypast was made to thank the public, particularly the people of Scotland for the support they have shown to the Nimrod force and was flown by personnel from 120sqn and captained by Grp Cpt Chris Birks, station commander of RAF Kinloss.

Leuchars' Own - The Attack!

The last two editions of the Leuchars airshow have seen a "tactical demonstration" form the centrepiece of the airshow. This year saw four Tornado GR4s from RAF Lossiemouth join four Tornado F3s from Leuchars and a Chinook HC2 to mount an attack on the airfield. Two of the F3s played the enemy and were suppressed by the other F3s in a dramatic dogfight before an attack by the GR4s and Troop extraction from the Chinook. What was particularly significant about the F3s involvement was a demonstration of strafing. The F3 is currently under evaluation for a role in Forward Air Control and precision gunnery attacks.

Leuchars' Own - The Diamond!

Perhaps one of the best airshow moments of the year. This wasn't only a great bit of formation flying but was also captivating to watch as the nine Tornado F3s and one whip F3 roared into the air streaming in succession. The formation was put together to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of 43(F) and 56(R) Squadrons. While the aircraft represented all three Leuchars squadron (hence including 111(F)sqn), the crews came exclusively from the two anniversary squadrons.

As well as the usual solo displays, it was a particular highlight to see aircraft from RAF Leuchars take such a significant role in the flying display, particularly as the Tornado F3 has been absent from the display circuit this year. Leuchars F3's were involved in a anniversary flypast and the airfield attack, as well as the sunset ceremony at the end of the day which saw last years F3 display crew, Sqn Ldr Dicko Moyes and Flt Lt Gaz Littlechild reunited to end the display with some noise. it was certainly something welcomed by the enthusiast as well as the general public. Also on show in the static park was the dramatic special scheme worn to celebrate 56sqn's 90th Anniversary which has seldom been seen in public this year. Another rare display was that given by a 22sqn Westland Sea King HAR3A. While it may not excite many, displays by these very important RAF aircraft are rarely seen and welcome at any show where they appear.

The RAF's past was also well represented, something that should always be important at a military airshow. Thanks to the good weather, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight finally made it to Leuchars with all four types, though sadly the Spitfire went unserviceable prior to it's display. That left the Dakota to perform as a solo while Hurricane and Lancaster performed a duo display. The BBMF's involvement as ever is particularly significant at Leuchars as this is the last RAF airshow to be held to commemorate the Battle of Britain. Thankfully another Spitfire was on hand to mark the 70th Anniversary of the type. Rod Dean flew a typically polished routine in the Aircraft Restoration Company's Mk. XVIII. Naval heritage was represented by the Sea Fury of the Royal Navy Historic Flight. Later RAF history was also well represented. Caledonian Chipmunks put two De Havilland Chipmunk T10s in the air for a well thought out duo display of this important type - a type that all to often is forgotten these days. The team also had an extremely rare Nord 1101/Messerchmitt Me208 on static display. Later RAF hardware was represented by a pleasing trio of classic jets. Air Atlantique brought out the AW Meteor NF11 and Vampire T55 pair for a rare outing. The Hunter Flying Club also sent a Hunter T8b, a type flown by both 43(F) and 111(F) sqns. As always, there were examples of the Jet Provost and Strikemaster on static display.

One of the outstanding things about Leuchars this year was the size and diversity of the International contingent. One thing that separates Leuchars from it's other RAF and Royal Navy equivalents is the support from the United States Air Force. Maybe it's the great welcome, the Scottish hospitality but Leuchars always manages to secure a few types from the continental USA. Heading the line up as it has done for the last few years was the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress from the Air Force Reserve Command at Barksdale AFB. Joining it were a New Hampshire ANG KC-135R Stratotanker and a AFRC KC-10A Extender. They were joined by the usual F-15C Eagles and F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath.

Battle of Britain Ally Returns

We make no apologies for featuring the Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum so prominently. As well as being one of the most appropriate participant at Leuchars, it was perhaps one of the highlights if the UK 2006 season. While it was perhaps not the most dramatic of Mig displays we've ever seen; no tailslides for instance. Capt Artut Kalko flew two powerful displays during the afternoon showing off the lines of this former Cold War warrior.

A highlight in the static park was a Hellenic Air Force Mirage 2000BG, the first aircraft from Greece to visit RAF Leuchars for the show. It was joined in the static by a collection of F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcon from the Danish and Norwegian Air Forces. The Luftwaffe made a strong contribution with a C-160D, Tornado ECR and a very welcome appearance by a F-4F Phantom II which is becoming increasingly rare. In the air, there no doubt it was aircraft from the former warsaw pact and former battle of britain allies that were the highlight. The Czech Air Force sent it's Mi-24V Hind solo display that was seen at RIAT along with it's support Mi-17 Hip that was on static. However, display star was the MiG-29 Fulcrum from the Polish Air Force. Despite not performing some of the tailslides and cobras that mark russian type displays, the MiG certainly gave the more regular fast jet displays from the Belgian and Dutch Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcons.

Other international rotary action came courtesy of a Belgian Agusta A109 antitank helicopter, itself perhaps making it's flying display debut in the UK at Leuchars. Other international helicopters in the static park included a pair of Eurocopter Squirrel anti tank helicopters from the Danish Army. The Danish in fact were pretty good supporter of this years show sending their Baby Blues Display Team of four SAAB T17 Supporters. The team come from the RDAF Flying School based at Karup Air Base. Despite being quite underpowered the team put on an enjoyable performance of aerobatics and tailchasing. We hope it's not their last trip to this side of the North Sea. Sadly, in the weeks running up to the show we lost the Irish Air Corps team of Pilatus PC-9M aircraft, but they did send a single example for static display.

This was a truly excellent military show, the best for many years not only at Leuchars, but in the UK as a whole. It clearly shows that trying things away from traditional solo displays works well in the airshow arena. We hope that in Leuchars absence in 2007 due to runway resurfacing that the remaining RAF shows in particular try to take Leuchars cue. There was only really one negative on the whole day; that being the traffic arrangements for getting with several people reporting it took an overly long time to get moving. All being well, the RAF Leuchars airshow will return in 2008.

 copyright Flightline UK