A name that stood out from other airshows on the calendar was "Support Our Paras" held at the picturesque grass airfield at Old Sarum in Wiltshire. This was a charity event held in aid of the central regimental fund of the Parachute Regiment to support the soldiers and families of the paras as they once again deploy to the middle east. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.
The second bank holiday weekend suffered badly from some very unseasonal weather. The morning at Old Sarum was particularly miserable with dark grey clouds. This picture was repeated across the country for much of the morning. By lunch time, the clouds in the west country cleared leaving blues skies with fluffy white clouds. Sadly though, this didn't happen everywhere and left many participants weathered in around the country. The same story probably affected the crowds though it was heartening to see a healthy number of people supporting the event.
The event itself is a welcome addition to the circuit, not least because it was held for such a good cause. Support Our Paras exists to raise money and awareness for the central cahrity of the Parachute Regiment. The purpose of the charity is support those members of the regiment who are injured and to their families. With operations in Iraq and Afganistan proving just as hazardous has ever the funds are always needed and events like this are excellent sources of funds and awareness. With the regiment about to redeploy, the timing of the evemt was very apt.
On the ground there were a number of different events. Perhaps most important to the regiment were a Drumhead Service held in one of the hangers and a march past of the Standards. Also unveiled was a plaque dedicated to the fallen members of allied airbourne forcesw. There were also parades of Aston Martins and Bentleys along the crowd line.
The flying display was opened by the Parachute Regiments own parachute team, The Red Devils. The team jumped from their own Cessna Caravan displaying a short free fall before some formation and solo parachuting skills. The team is manned by 25 serving members of the parachute regiment. Not only are they the official team of the regiment, they are the official team for the British Army. Each member of the team have hgad to of served three years within the regiment and have participated in at least one operational tour in the Falkland Islands, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq or Afganistan.
Sadly the only other army involvement in the flying display was a solo display by the Blue Eagles Westland Lynx AH7. The full team of Blue Eagles was not ready in time for the display though the team did manage a fly-by with one of their Gazelles alongside the Lynx.
The Royal Air Force has very little presence at the event. in fact there was just one aircraft, a Merlin HC3A from RAF Benson. However, there is of course a strong link with the army as it's aircraft like these who take the brunt of combined operations between the current army and air force in Iraq and Afganistan.
The "home" act was Peter Borchert in his Pitts S2B Special. His display was one of classic aerobatics. The Pitts is perhaps one of the most classic display aircraft and looks at home in the airshow enironment. The design is over 50 years old but the same basic principles are still in production today in america with the Pitts XII, a striking version with a large Russian radial engine instead of the usual in-line engine.
In complete contrast to the Pitts were the antics of the Swift Aerobatic Display Team flying the S-1 Swift glider and Extra 300L flown by Guy Westgate and Justyn Gorman. The team proved a popular display act and 2008 looks set to be another busy year for the tea,m This year, Guy and Justyn have really worked at enhancing the display which now includes oppostion rolls on tow and a very steep wingover on tow. Also improved for 2008 is the pyrotechnic smoke used on the Swift's wingtips. The team have spent much of the winter working with a smoke specialist to produce a bespoke visually impressive smoke system to replace the converted lift raft flares used previously. Both aircraft performed superb aerobatic sequences once the glider was released. As many will have read elsewhere, the Extra was involved in an accident in Kent returning from the Southend show - we wish Justyn and his passenger a full and speedy recovery from their injuries.
Historic aircraft were to have featured strongly in the display. The bad weather forced many to pull out of the display. Touring in from nearby Boscombe Down were a pair of RAF SE5a Replicas from the Great War Display Team. The SE5a came into service as an army aircraft towards the end of the First War War before the formation of the Royal Air Force. The Great War Team's examples are 7/8th scale replicas representing both british and american operated aircraft.
On the ground were two Piper Cubs which were the only representatives of army cooperation aircraft from the second world war that made it to the show (as they are based at Old Sarum!) These aircraft carried both UK and US markings from the seond world war representing the air observation post aircraft they played such a vital role during the war in Europe.
Real havey metal came in the form of perhaps the two most famous british fighters of the second world war. Keith Dennison managed to find a way through the clag in Peter Vacher's Hurricane I. But perhaps the star display was put on by a pair of Spitfires. Rob Lamplough's Spitfire VIII was joined by Lee Proudfoot in OFMC's Spitfire XI. The pair put on a really spectacular and graceful pairs formation display before Lee had a small solo slot.
The day was ended by a traditional "Beating the Retreat" parade which brought to close a wonderful event at Old Sarum.
We hope that this event could be repeated next year as Old Sarum is about one of the prettiest venues to hold an airshow in, even if the local pigs decide they'd like to take a closer look at the aircraft.