On the whole, 2012 really was a year to remember in so many ways. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and London Olympic and Paralympic Games really made for a very special year in the UK bringing an amazing feel good factor across the country. Airshow wise, it was such a memorable season with all the major shows of the year pulling in some unique and enjoyable highlights. Sadly however, the season did not pass without tragedy; the former Shuttleworth Collection Chief Pilot Trevor Roche was killed in an accident just prior to the Collection’s July Military Pageant airshow. Also towards the end of the year both Peter Eager and Don Bean, the organisers of the Shoreham Airshow, passed away following illness.
For Flightline UK, Airshows started early with a trip to the Bahrain International Airshow. Bahrain is the Middle East’s latest major trade airshow and is organized by Farnborough International Airshow. Bahrain was one of the Middle East states to see unrest during the Arab spring, but things were peaceful throughout the show period with just a few peaceful bonfire protests around the area of Sakhir. The airshow was instantly recognizable as a Farnborough run event, but is a very unique event. It is a much smaller and exclusive event with just 40 chalets for companies to use. The trade event had no exhibition halls like Farnborough but did feature an impressive static display of military and civilian types. In the air the line-up was spectacular; there were plenty of local participants with a superb opening formation of Gulf Air Airbus A330 and Bahrain Air Force F-16s and F-5Es. Near neighbors the United Arab Emirates provided solo flying displays by the F-16E Desert Falcon and Mirage 2000-9 as well as the international debut of Al Fursan. However the stars for me were the Russian Knights making their first display outside of Russia for many years. The sights and sounds of four Sukhoi Su-27s starting up and taxying out for their display is one of my abiding memories of 2012.
It was not until May that airshows finally got underway in the UK with Abingdon providing the usual starting point. However it was the events held later in the month marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that truly stood out. First there was the remarkable flypasts over Windsor Castle by the UK Armed Services, particularly the ’60’ formation from the Tucanos of RAF Linton-on-Ouse and the ‘ E II R’ formation from RAF and Royal Navy Hawks.
However it was the Duxford Jubilee Airshow that proved to be an early highlight of the airshow calendar with a début performance on the UK mainland by the French Air Force Cartouche Doree and a first public display of the year for the Belgian Air Component F-16AM Fighting Falcon demo flown by ‘Grat’ Thys. Also helping Duxford’s Jubilee celebrations was some glorious weather which also helped Southend Air Festival which was held on the same weekend and despite the lack of Red Arrows, the show feature a very solid line-up of favourites.
The excellent weather continued for another week for the return of a favourite airshow of mine, Folkestone. The show offers some of the most unique vantage points of any show in the UK with The Leas standing 200ft above the sea. It was good to see a successful return for the show and the best news it will be back again in 2013.
However the good weather wasn’t to last – June signaled the start of some of some of the wettest summer weather for some years. Yet despite that, Cosford and Yeovilton seemed to escape lightly with overcast skies. Cosford presented a wonderful cross section of British jets which included a rare flypast by a RAF VC-10 which is in the last few months of its service career. Yeovilton too was an excellent event featuring the Saudi Hawks with their only full UK display of their short tour, the first flying display from an Antonov An-124 since the early 1990’s and some fantastic set pieces highlight the Fleet Air Arm’s role in the Olympics and overseas operations.
July is always is busy month, but in a Farnborough year is even more so. Both Waddington and the Royal International Air Tattoo provided classic military airshows. Waddington enjoyed some of its best international participation for many years with Il Frecce Tricolori, Dutch F-16 solo, Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet and Super Puma display and the Polish Air Force Team Orlik joining the RAF displays. The RAF also went the extra mile too with the first ever flying display by a Waddington based E-3D Sentry AEW1.
RIAT too was on top form with the first western appearance by a Japanese KC-767, the UK debut of the UAEAF National Aerobatic Team Al Fursan, USMC MV-22B Ospreys in the flying and static displays and the Polish Air Force MiG-29 solo display amongst the many highlights. However the abiding memory of both shows was the appearance of the RoKAF Black Eagles which provided such an impressive display of their flying skills and the KAI T-50B Golden Eagle.
The second half of July was dominated by Farnborough. In terms of aircraft participation it perhaps was not the best ever Farnborough though there were still some exceptional highlights including a flying display by the Boeing 787 (the first time in many years a Boeing airliner had appeared in the flying display) and a superb trio of AgustaWestland helicopters. The RoKAF Black Eagles also provided a solo display of the T-50B Golden Eagle throughout the week. Despite somewhat drier conditions, Farnborough was a victim of a wet summer with its usual main car parks too soft to use leaving only some of the events more far flung car parks in operation and some very busy and chaotic times at the shows Park and Ride terminals.
Flightline UK’s July closed with a trip to the Sunderland International Airshow. For the second year the show enjoyed some excellent weather and this year the RAF returned in force. From the opening Friday evening ‘Launch Party’ right though the weekend the event enjoyed massive crowds enjoying the RAF’s best flying displays as well as a select few civilian displays.
Following a short break, our coverage of the UK airshow circuit continued with out first visit to Old Warden and the Shuttleworth Collection of the year. 2012 proved to be a difficult year for the Collection with a number of shows cancelled by the effects of poor weather as well as the tragic loss of Trevor Roche. However the latter stages of the season saw some real highs for the collection. The August Military Pageant saw aircraft like the Catalina, Spitfire PRXI and Olympia 2B glider visit the collection. Later Flightline UK visited the last two shows of the season – namely the superb Uncovered and Autumn Air Displays. The Uncovered display was memorable for a superb aerial gathering of World War One types including the RAF Museums Albatros DVa and RAF RE8 and the Collection’s own Bristol F2b Fighter and RAF SE5a. The Autumn Air Display stood out for the sheer quality of its flying display which included a number of classic jets celebrating the career of Aviation trustee Tony Haig-Thomas to end their season on a real high.
August also saw the Sywell Airshow, one of my favourite shows of the year – some great weather and a very original flying display made for a very enjoyable afternoon. As well as some of the best popular acts, the show also featured perhaps the biggest set piece display of World War One replicas which included Matthew Boddington’s wonderful BE2 and a gaggle of Fokker Triplanes! There was also some great combinations of 1930’s aircraft with Dragon Rapides and an air race of popular touring types. The highlight of the afternoon wasa superb display by the Red Arrows in brilliant clear blue skies.
Dunsfold continued its great tradition at Wings and Wheels with displays from the Tornado Role Demo team, Red Arrows, Vulcan, Meteor and Hunter amongst others. The show also included one of the stars of the Olympic Opening Ceremony with Gary Connery performing a spectacular wingsuit jump into the show.
Closing off the Summer holidays were Bournemouth and Shoreham. Bournemouth presented four days of top quality entertainment by day and by night. The Night Air displays are always a highlight of the year and the main daytime displays saw considerable support from the Royal Air Force, Army and Royal Navy. Sadly Shoreham was hit by some particularly frustrating poor weather which brought low cloud throughout the weekend and some persistent drizzle for the early part of Sunday’s display. However few who saw the Vulcan displays will ever quite forget them – particularly on Sunday with the formation with the Blades and the somewhat closer pass than usual!
Fortunately, a week later very warm and sunny weather returned in time for the main Duxford Airshow of the year. The show also saw appearances from the RAF Museums Albatros and RE8, but also saw some impressive participation from Norway with a T-33 Silver Star, the pair of Vampires and a pair of F-16AM Fighting Falcons appearing over the weekend. Duxford also provided the finale to the year a month later with its Autumn Airshow. While this years Autumn Airshow did not bring international participation or significant debut appearances, the show did provide a thrilling end to the season with some great flying displays.
However the UK shows do not complete the story of 2012 with Flightline UK visiting a number of European events. First of the year was a blisteringly hot Volkel in de Wolken in May. While Volkel is well known as a very large airbase which is home to two squadrons of F-16s, the airshow actually takes place over fields next to the main town. The line-up is always very different to the airshows held in the UK with a number of civilian items. Amongst the highlights was a PZL-106 Kruk crop-sprayer wearing the markings of the former East Germany which gave a great account of itself.
In August Flightline UK headed north to Sweden for Dala-Järna’s Flygfesten. This event is a wonderful mix of airshow by day and music festival by night. The Swedish airshow scene is one full of variety with a growing collection of warbirds and classic jets. This year saw a SAAB AJ37 Viggen return to the skies and it was joined at Flygfesten by the SAAB J35 Draken, J32 Lansen and the modern JAS39C Gripen.
The Viggen was also a highlight of Flightline UK’s next european show at wonderful little Sanicole. The only civilian organised show in Belgium is one of Europe’s biggest airshows yet is held at a small airfield. It sees great support from military and civilian acts from across Europe and beyond. This year the Viggen appeared alongside the J29 Tunnan and SAAB 105 from Sweden, the Canadian Skyhawks Parachute Team as well as Belgian, UK and Dutch display acts. Sanicole also hosts a Sunset Show which is about the only in Europe to see twilight fast jet displays alongside some of the specialised civilian displays teams who perform ‘pyro’ displays.
The final European trip of the year took Flightline UK to Malta for the first time. 2012 was a big year for the small Island nation too as it was celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the awarding of the George Cross to the Island following the months of hardship and the resilience the Islanders had shown during the Axis siege. The Royal Air Force always plays a hige part in the Malta International Airshow and 2012 was no exception. However the highlights were two debutantes from the East; the Qatari Emiri Air Force sent a very new and clean C-130J Hercules II for the static line-up. In complete contrast, the Free Libyan Air Force sent a very well used Boeing CH-47C Chinook. The Free Libyans first appeared at Malta in 2011 with the appearance of one of the two Mirage F1 fighters that had defected during the Arab Spring. During the show a ceremony was held to mark the application of Free Libyan colours to the aircraft. It had been hoped the Mirages would return, but sadly they cancelled a few weeks before the show and we all thought that was that! However Friday morning saw a surprise appearance by the Chinook! For Saturday’s display, the Chinook appeared on the static display, but Sunday saw the aircraft take to the air in a revised programme following the last minute cancellation of the Red Arrows.
Malta was also memorable as the Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire IX MH434 was flown out to Malta for the George Cross celebrations. A Spitfire had last flown over Malta in 2005 during the Merlins over Malta project bu the Spitfire is such an icon for the Maltese that MH434’s visit was headline news throughout its stay on the Island. The Friday before the show saw Paul Bonhomme fly an emotive display in the Spitfire over Grand Harbour while the finale to the show weekend saw the Spitfire join up with an Air Malta Airbus A320 – two of the most outstanding highlights of the 2012 airshow season!
2012 was an outstanding year and events will have to work hard to better it in 2013. There is good news that there are some significant new events planned at Manston and Durham Tees Valley Airports. It promises to be an interesting year with the 95th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force, 70th Anniversary of the Dambusters Raid and the last planned display season for the Avro Vulcan. However everybody will be hoping for some much kinder drier weather in the next twelve months!