May does seem a very long time ago now, 2011 was a very long season. Sadly, 2011 will be remembered more for the tragic events that befell the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team in late August and early November. The loss of both Flt Lt Jon Egging and Flt Lt Sean Cunningham were keenly felt across the airshow fraternity. It was amazing and heart-warming to see the public reaction, particularly at Bournemouth where floral tributes where left both at the airport and at the town hall and there were long queues to sign Books of Condolence.
In many ways, 2011 had already been a difficult season. Airshows hit the headlines in July again for the wrong reasons following the dramatic collision between P-51D Mustang Big Beautuful Doll and the AJBS Skyraider at the end of Duxford’s Flying Legends. However, Rob Davies’ amazing act of abandoning the stricken Mustang must go down as one of the most incredible escapes to captured in superb detail in film and still photographs.
The UK airshow season got underway at the beginning of May at Old Warden. Even though the skies were clear it was very windy which forced a small rethink on the running order but the show did manage to show off the collection’s newly restored Polikarpov Po-2 which has been subject of a long restoration.
The Po-2 was just one of a number of new aircraft to UK skies. Flying Legends is always a place to see some fantastic debut appearances. The Red Bull operated P-38 Lightning and F-4U Corsair both made their long awaiting first appearances in the UK during the show which also included some stunning warbirds from across Europe.
Despite the global military cutbacks, RIAT still attracted a number of highlights, not least the UK debut of the Turkish Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon solo display. The ‘Solo Turk’s” display may have been very good, but did it really deserve flying display awards over the quite fantastic displays from Mitch Buelen in the Belgian F-16?
RIAT also welcomed back the Ukrainian Air Force with static displays from a giant Ilyushin Il-76 Transport and a Sukhoi Su-27UB Flanker. Both were stunning additions to a very spread out static display, but will probably be remembered more for their slightly over spectacular departures – the Il-76 first cycling his landing gear slightly too early shredding tyres on the runway and the Su-27 performing a low roll shortly after takeoff!
RIAT may have suffered more than most with smaller military showing in 2011, but if affected shows up and down the country. The RAF’s involvement in Libya meant that RAF Coningsby was unable to support the Typhoon display and threatened the increased involvement in air displays by XV Squadron’s role demonstration team. The latter eventually was confirmed available for displays representing the RAF’s front line at almost all of the major UK airshows and some further afield.
Despite the cutbacks however, Waddington and RIAT both welcomed different national display teams who were touring Europe. Waddington welcomed the United States Air Force Thunderbirds with their fleet of pristine F-16s who put on powerful and thunderous displays throughout Europe during the early Summer. RIAT saw the UK debut of the Royal Saudi Air Force’s display team, the Saudi Hawks who were making their first appearances in Europe since their formation. Sadly, RIAT’s poor weather meant the team only appeared once over the weekend for their long awaited debut. USAF also contributed their A-10C Thunderbolt II solo display to RIAT which was particularly unlucky to not win a display award. Other stand out displays were the looping Italian Air Force C-27J Spartan, an impressive flypast celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Air Cadets as well as rare static display appearances from a RAF C-17A Globemaster and the newest aircraft in the RAF inventory, the Airbus A330MRTT Voyager KC1. RIAT also provided the only oppotunity in the UK to see a Eurofighter Typhoon display with an example from BAE Systems. However, for me the stand out display at RIAT was that provided by one of the show’s sponsors, Breitling. To see the four Boeing Stearman of the Breitling Wingwalkers and the seven L-39C Albatros jets of the Breitling Jet Team perform together was perhaps one of the most unique sights at any airshow this year, anywhere in the world.
One military airshow that did buck the trend was Yeovilton. The main theme of the show was the 40th anniversary of the Westland Lynx, and this was celebrated in style with not only a massed formation and the role demos, but also the public flying display debut of the AgustaWestland Wildcat which is the latest development of the Lynx airframe and will shortly enter service with the Army Air Corps and Royal Navy. However, it was the visitors that really made the show. The static display saw a rare appearance by a German F-4F Phantom II and an impressive collection of historic Lynx airframes. In the air though there were some really impressive fast jet displays. The Belgian F-16 maybe a regular visitor the UK but is always a highlight and it was joined by Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum and a quite superb role demonstration by a French Navy Super Etendard and Rafale M. The icing on the cake was a very special flypast by the Vulcan and Sea Vixen! For me and many others, Yeovilton was show of the year!
The effect of military operations did not only affect big military airshows. One of the biggest annual events is the Sunderland International Airshow. Despite a very early announcement on it’s 2011 dates, the RAF still managed to book it’s annual block leave over that shows weekend due to various different events in August. Full credit must go to Flying Display Director Ian Sheeley and Sunderland Council for producing such an enjoyable event despite only having the Tutor T1, RAF Falcons and Royal Navy Black Cats available from the military which are such an important part of seaside airshows.
Sunderland is one of a number of seaside airshows which are becoming some of the most innovative airshows in the country. Both Sunderland and Bournemouth have led the way with their evening displays. Both venues featured the SWIP Team with their wingtip pyrotechinics for the ‘Launch Party’ at Sunderland and the impressive ‘Night Air’ as part of the Bournemouth Air Festival. Bournemouth went one better inviting two further displays, O’Brien’s Flying Circus and GliderFX, to provide further pyrotechnic displays and the Tigers Parachute Display Team jumping with glowing jumpsuits. Both shows will hopefully feature evening events again in 2012 with further developed concepts.
The imagination at Bournemouth was not just restricted to the night shows – there were some superb formation flypasts feature the De Havilland Sea Vixen and Hawker Hunter Miss Demeanour and the RV8tors joining up with a Spitfire TIX to promote a fly2help competition. Such flypasts were not just restricted to Bournemouth either. Other standout flypasts were the P-40/F16 and Spitfire/F16 flypasts at Eastbourne. But perhaps the most enjoyable of the year was the pair of Hawker Hunter Miss Demeanour and Royal Navy Historic Flight operated Hawker Sea Fury T20 at Dunsfold. Jonathon Whaley and Chris Gotke’s formation passes were superbly presented were very well received – let’s hope something similar can be repeated before too long.
Seaside Airshows once again proved highly popular events. Southend and Margate survived the typical british summer grey skies in the early part of the season. 2011 was a significant year for Margate which changed venue from Palm Bay to the seafront in the main town area which in our eyes was a great move with the break water providing a superb ventage point to watch the flying displays from. Both Eastbourne and Bournemouth also saw their opening days wiped out by the weather which actually caused significant flood damage in Bournemouth town centre. The same weather at Bournemouth also affected the popular Dawlish Airshow. However when the sun shone, the seaside venues come in to their own. Southport enjoyed a particularly good airshows set against the extensive sands and bright blue skies.
2011 also saw the 60th anniversary of the Hawker Hunter. The Cotswold Airshow at Kemble, RIAT and Dunsfold all held special displays by Team Viper taking centre stage. Kemble and RIAT saw some exciting visiting Hunters from overseas with the pair of Dutch Hunters at Kemble and the Swiss Tiger Hunter T68 at RIAT. Sadly though these rare visiting Hunters were under-used and only seen as part of the mass formation flypasts.
Both Duxford and Old Warden enjoyed successful seasons hosting some of the best airshows of the Summer. Duxford 2011 was particularly fine with three very varied flying displays. Of particular note were the September and October shows with the visiting USAF F-15E Strike Demo team making their own weather systems in September and the debut of the Meteor Flight’s stunning Gloster Meteor T7 at the season ending Autumn show.
Some of the UK’s more traditional airshows enjoyed mixed fortunes. Cosford was a near wash-out but did at least put on a credible show whereas Shoreham enjoyed much better weather than 2010 though more than it’s fair share of bad luck with classic jet serviceability and the unfortunate knock-on events from the Red Arrows accident at Bournemouth. Shoreham was just one of three shows that booked the Sea Vixen at late notice to cover the loss of the Vulcan and other jets to technical problems and it was undoubtely a highlight of those events; hopefully it will be more widely seen in 2012. Dunsfold too returned with another enjoyable Wings and Wheels which is always a great family day out mixing flying and mooring displays on the main runway at the secretive Surrey airfield. Some of the UK’s smaller shows also enjoyed mixed fortunes; a great discovery for me this year was the airshow at Baxterley which must be one of the most compact airshow venues there is. Sadly though it seems as though there will be no more airshows at Rougham after the death of Sir John Agnew which is a sad loss to the airshow circuit. Seething Charity Air Day though will return in 2012 and was in fine form this year with superb displays by Kennet’s Skyraider and the Harwick Warbirds Mustang Duo and Harvard.
2011 was definatly a mixed year with some great high points during a season where the weather was mostly kind. It was actually a very sigificant year for UK airshows seeing the formation of the British Air Display Association (BADA). The association hit the ground running being at the forefront of negotiations of 2012 Olympic airspace. The Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority recently unveiled revised plans for the airspace which are now much kinder to affected airshows such as Dunsfold, Duxford and Farnborough. And 2012 is already looking very promising – several new events will be taking place, not least major seaside airshows at Portsmouth, Rye and Folkestone. May 2012 can’t some fast enough!