The traditional starting point of the airshow season over the last few years has been the Abingdon Air & Country Show. From quite humble beginnings, Neil Porter and his team of volunteers have grown this event into one of the most respected events on the Calendar. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of author.
The settled warm April weather predictably broke over Bank Holiday weekend just in time for the first airshows of the season making life just a little harder. Sunday dawned very grey and windy which is never the greatest sign of things to come. Thankfully, the winds did at least mean the cloud did pas over and throughout the day the cloud lifted and things got brighter.
Sadly the wind did affect the popular fly-in that happening at Abingdon with winds just too strong for some of the lighter and less rugged types. The wind at Abingdon caused a whole host of problems for the arriving aircraft with some types performing really rather sporting jinks and turns in the turbulent air. A couple of arrivals made some quite spectacular missed approaches! Even the solid Twin Pioneer of Air Atlantique in the hands of Jon Gowdy and Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson was finding the winds a challenge with some spectacular one-wheel landings only bettered by it's Percival Prentice stablemate. These two aircraft spent the morning offering pleasure flights to paying punters with a flight with Bruce Dickinson surely being a major pull. For those wanting something modern but arguably more adventurous, FlyCB were taking people aloft in their EV-97 Eurostar ultralight aircraft.
For those on the ground there's a whole country show to explore away from the aircraft with arena displays, classic cars and even tank rides. At one point even one of the tent became slight tired of it's moorings and flew off out towards the airfield where thankfully it stopped without causing any injuries or further damage.
The strong winds and predicted worsening in the weather forced a number of interesting types to withdraw from the static displays and fly-in. However a few intrepid people managed to get through to Abingdon. Arriving before the show day were a Bulldog, Jet Provost T3 and a Strikemasters. Joining them were a USAAF marked C-47 Dakota and a very brightly painted yellow Chipmunk wearing some Portuguese markings on the tail. Throughout the show day more aircraft flew in including a more traditionally painted Chipmunk, a CAP 10, various Pipers and Cessnas, an Auster and the Army Air Corps Historic Aircraft Flight's Beaver AL1. Much rarer was the Focke Wulf Fw149 still in it's German military green and dayglo orange.
The RAF too managed to get some locally based aircraft from Benson to join the fly-in. Despite having to pull out of putting on a solo display, 28(AC) Squadron will still be seen around several airshows in the UK with it's Merlin HC3 on static display. At the larger shows the Merlin will be exhibited as part of the RAF "Village." The Merlin made for a very spectacular arrival throwing up heaps of Dust from the off road course adjacent to the east west runway. Joining the Merlin was a much older support helicopter, the Westland Puma HC1 also from RAF Benson. Both helicopters were a welcome addition to the show.
Also on static display were two Grob Vigilant T1 motor gliders used by the Abingdon based 612 Volunteer Glider School. This is the last flying unit left at the famous airfield which is now a satellite training airfield by the helicopters from RAF Benson and the occasional Apache from the Army Air Corps.
The show was opened by Polly Vacher whose flown twice round the world pilot; both the "normal" way round and over the artic and Antarctic. Her flights have all been in aid of Flying Scholarships for the Disabled and such has been the impact of her fund raised and awareness that it generates, other countries have started to set up their own schemes. Her next adventure which starts in the summer will see Polly visit all the UK's airports and airfields with aim of giving someone with a disability a chance of a flight. Polly is a local to Abingdon and flew into the show in her familiar Piper Dakota.
The flying display kicked off with a surprise addition of Rob Davies in his P-51D Mustang in the colours of the 78th Fighter Group and the personal aircraft of Colonel John Landers based at Duxford. As ever, Rob displayed the aircraft beautifully highlighting not on the shape and sound of the Mustang but also the "beautiful" markings it carries.
The Mustang was just one of three warbirds in the flying. Representing the axis was the 108 Groups familiar Bf108 Taifun G-ETME. 2007 sees a new colour scheme on the aircraft representing a Me109 squadron. Many 109 units used 108 as squadron hacks and they were usually marked up in the same scheme as the fighters so it is thought to be authentic.
Peter Teichman's beautiful Spitfire PR11 rounded off the warbirds participants. The ex-OFMC Spitfire is true war veteran having served with the 2nd Tactical Air Force and carried out photo recce missions over such places as the Rhine and Berlin. It's only part of what is an impressive collection of aircraft owned by Peter Teichman which includes a P-51D Mustang, P-40 Kittyhawk and a Hurricane. The latter is currently undergoing restoration to flight.
One of the more surprising acts of the day was given by the Percival Pembroke of Andrew Dixon. The display was kept quite tight a low for some very photogenic shots against the backdrop of the hills to the north and the Didcot Power Station to the south. The Pembroke also gave quite a sporty fighter like approach to land showing off some impressive performance for this old workhorse of the 1960's RAF. Coming from the same era was Delta Jet's stunning Blue Diamonds Hawker Hunter T7 in the capable hands of Andy Cubin. With the sun poking through the clouds the gloss blue colours glinted in the sun making for a fine sight.
Another regular at Abingdon is Denny Dobson and his Extra 300. The strong winds prevented Denny from performing his limbo and ribbon cut but Denny still gave a noisy account of the Extra which was devoid of markings. New sponsorship has been secured from Goodyear but the decals have yet to applied to the aircraft.
The Abingdon organisers were justifiably proud of the support they got from the armed forces. Sadly one of the coups for Abingdon fell foul of illness reducing the Blue Eagles to a solo Gazelle AH1 which was actually quite a fine display, particularly as it was the pilot's first solo display in front of a crowd. Also providing s solo helicopter display were the Royal Navy was a Lynx HAS3. The crew certainly seemed to be having some fun display their aircraft with a great display of the type's agility and handling.
The day's largest contingent however came from the RAF. Joining the Merlin and Puma battlefield helicopters in the static park was the RAF's Chinook HC2 which gave a typically polished display in this relatively large helicopter which included all the favourites from previous years displays such as the 270 degree quickstop, the rolling landing on the back wheels and reverse takeoff.
In fact, in this year of a somewhat depleted portfolio of solo displays, Abingdon boasted all the RAF's solo displays bar the Typhoon (next year maybe?) Kicking things off for the RAF was the Grob Tutor T1 which in the hands of Flt lt Andy Preece again gives a surprisingly aerobatic performance that we would normally expect from a dedicated aerobatic type such as the Extra!
The next step in the RAF training structure is the Shorts Tucano T1 which was display by Flt Lt Bobby Moore. This is displayed by what is now 72(R) squadron which is celebrating it's 90th Anniversary this year. To celebrate this they have a specially marked Tucano with red and blue chevrons on the wings and fuselage. There is another airframe for the Tucano display team with the red, white and blue chevrons for the Royal Air Force.
The final hurdle in RAF fast jet training is the BAE Systems Hawk T1 which is only going to be display by 208(R) Squadron in 2007. The honour of providing the only Hawk display falls on the shoulders of Flt Lt Mike Child who has infact already won an award for display in the Wright Jubilee Aerobatics Trophy while getting his public display approval.
Abingdon was once again was a great varied display and a positive start to the main season airshows. Offering great value and a generally well organised event it's little wonder this show becomes more popular each year. Next year the Abingdon Air and Country will be held on 4th May 2008! See you there!
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