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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

RAF Cosford Airshow

Opening a busy period of military airshows in the UK was the RAF Cosford Airshow. The previous two years have seen Cosford endure some pretty miserable weather, but this year it at least it was kinder for show day itself. The 2012 celebrated two important military aviation centenaries; those of the Royal Flying Corps and the Central Flying School. The show attracted a wonderful array of displays covering almost every facet of aviation in a five hour flying programme.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author. Video Highlights courtesy of Planes TV.

Cosford is one of my favourite display venues; the station retains its classic RAF architecture with iconic grass covered blister hangars and a large grass covered airfield with just a small hard runway. Cosford’s main role is education for a large number of roles and trades within the RAF with a heavy emphasis on engineering. The airfield also houses the RAF Museum which has an amazing collection of test and development aircraft based on site as well as its new Cold War exhibition.

While the airfield maybe too small for normal operational flying, the airfield is busy with the University of Birmingham Air Squadron flying Tutors based here as well as the a Volunteer Gliding School and Wrekin Gliding Club making use of the elegant airfield.

RAF Cosford Airshow traditionally is the first RAF show of the year, and due to the Olympics opens a month of successive large military airshows around the UK. To say Cosford has been unlucky with the weather in past couple of years is perhaps an understatement with both the 2010 and 2011 editions coming to premature ends due to poor conditions. Thankfully 2012 was a different story with just one rogue shower passing over the airfield during show day itself. However the UK’s rather poor summer did affect the show beforehand with many delayed arrivals due to weather.

Cosford’s small airfield does mean that some of the larger faster types cannot operate from the airfield. However that does not stop Cosford from having a large collection of aircraft on the ground. The 100th Anniversary of the Central Flying School was well represented by a large collection of different training types, both modern and historic, gathered around the central portion of the showground. The station’s role in engineering training also means Cosford is home to a large number of ‘retired’ airframes. Few other shows can boast a static display containing Tornado GR1 and Harrier GR3 airframes. But perhaps the most prolific type is the SEPECAT Jaguar. There was an impressive line-up of Jaguar GR3 and T4 on one of the pans each wearing a different schemes. The Jaguars are actually kept in ground running condition to simulate sorties for new engineers and a new addition to the Cosford line-up was a taxi-run by a Jaguar GR3 down Cosford’s runway to open the day! It was great to see and hear an active Jaguar again in public, and certainly something appreciated by classic jet enthusiasts.

Another tradition of Cosford Airshow is a display by large scale radio controlled models. Most impressive this year was a pair of scale F4U Corsairs fitted with model five-cylinder radial engines which flew just like the real thing!

The models were followed by the first appearance of the GliderFX display team with Ian Gallacher flying the Piper Pawnee towing a huge Queen’s Diamond Jubilee printed banner with the words ‘Welcome to RAF Cosford 2012’ attached.

The show proper was opened by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team, something of a Cosford tradition. Despite the cloud-cover the team were able to present their unique stacked spiral display accompanied by a flag jumper. The full range of RAF displays and more was on show in the flying apart from the solo Hawk display which was representing the RAF at a Norwegian show. The Tutor, Tucano, King Air and Typhoon have all been busy on the display circuit since May, but Cosford saw the full public debut of the new 2012 RAF Tornado GR4 Role Demonstration Team complete with pyrotechnics. As in 2011 the team fly a pair of Tornado GR4s but the 2012 display has been developed to show a typical scenario in Helmand Province showing the aircraft providing close air support to ground troops who have come under fire from enemy forces. The display sees much more use of the pyrotechnic support and keeps at least one aircraft close in the crowd all the time! It was nothing short of spectacular.

Joining the regular displays were a role demonstration from a RAF Valley based Westland Sea King HAR3A from 22 Squadron and a very impressive flypast and low overshoot by RAF Brize Norton based VC-10 K3. This was likely to be the last appearance by the type at the Cosford airshow before the types retirement scheduled for 2013.

The static display also contained a variety of RAF types including the Merlin HC3, Griffin HT1 and an Agusta A109E as well as Cosford based Vigilants and a UBAS Tutor.

Perhaps the most emotive display of the afternoon was given by the Red Arrows. The team are always the star item of any flying display, but following the trials of 2011 the team are perhaps even more appreciated by the crowds. Particularly well received with a round of applause was the emotional ‘Memorial Bend’ in which the team fly Pheonix formation with the Red 4 and 5 positions trailing red smoke in memory of Flt Lt Jon Egging and Sean Cunningham who were lost in separate accidents last year.

Both the Army Air Corps and Royal Navy were both represented in the flying too with two very different by potent helicopters. The Attack Helicopter Display Team flew the ever impressive WAH-64D Apache AH1 while the Blacks Cats presented a solo Lynx HMA8 wearing the distinctive special markings of the team.

The only foreign military participation at the show this year was the return of the Belgian Air Component Agusta A109BA display showing off the near aerobatic flying qualities of the type.

Cosford’s flying displays always contain an amazing range of different types. Naturally the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is an important part of the displays and appeared this year with the Lancaster and Spitfire PR XIX. It was also great to see the Royal Navy Historic Flight back at Cosford flying the powerful Sea Fury T20 which was put through an elegant aerobatic routine by Chris Gotke.

Further historic aviation came from the civilian operators. The 100th Anniversary of the Royal Flying Corps was recognised by the display of the Great War Display Team with its replica SE5as, Sopwith Triplane, Fokker Triplane and two Junkers CL1s which all somehow managed to battle their way through the weather to reach Cosford.

There were two Second World War types too which both put on superb displays. Carl Schofield flew a very elegant routine of gentle barrel rolls and sweeping wingovers in Peter Vacher’s Hawker Hurricane I which unusually was the only example of the type at Cosford.

Peter Teichman is a Cosford regular with his Hangar 11 Collection. 2012 saw Peter bring his wonderful P-40M Kittyhawk to Cosford as a late replacement for his Mustang. In many ways the Kittyhawk was a more appropriate aircraft to be displayed at Cosford as the George Lucas film ‘Red Tails’ had just gone on general release before the show. Peter and his P-40 both participated in the filming of Red Tails alongside some of Europe’s P-51D Mustangs and the French B-17 ‘Pink Lady.’

In impressive aspect of Cosford this year was the selection of classic jets all of which had an association with the Central Flying School theme. Neil MacCarthy and Dan Arlett displayed the Jet Provost T3A and Jet Provost T5 together and as solos representing one of the RAF’s most iconic jet trainers of the 1960s.

Much more potent jet trainers came in the form of the Folland Gnat pair flown by Chris Heames and Kev Whyman operating from Shawbury. The Gnat was the first mount of the Red Arrows which it attached to the Central Flying School making the aircraft a very important part of CFS history. The Gnat Display Team always present their aircraft very well to the crowds showing not only great formation skills, but also some of the little aircraft’s impressive performance and roll rate.

But stars of the show for many were the De Havilland Vampire T55 and Gloster Meteor T7 from The Classic Aircraft Trust flown by Jon Corley and Dan Griffiths. The pairing of Vampire and Meteor could not be more appropriate for an RAF show as it not only represented the RAF’s first jet trainers but was also a reminder of one of the RAF’s most famous display teams, the much missed ‘Vintage Pair’ which flew very similar aircraft across Europe.

Alongside all the military aircraft, there were some of the best civilian display teams on the circuit. There were a number of pairs routines. The RV8tors put on an excellent display up until the point the only significant rain shower closed in during their display. Further pairs routines s came from the TRIG Aerobatic Display Team and the SWIP Team – the latter flying its first weekend with new team pilot Jon Gowdy flying alongside Peter Wells. GliderFX also returned to Cosford with locally based pilot and Cosford employee Ian Gallacher flying the ever impressive solo display in the MDM-1 Fox glider ably assisted by Wrekin Gliding Club’s Tug Master Paul Hodnall flying the Piper Pawnee.

Much bigger civilian display teams came in the form of the Aerostars flying a five-ship of Yakovlev Yak-50s and The Blades. The Aerostars are without doubt one of the most impressive teams in the circuit with some very colourful aircraft and a superb noise accompanying their precise formation aerobatics. The Blades closed the flying displays with exceptional display. Even though they are a civilian team, the Blades could not be a more apt display for Cosford comprising of ex-Red Arrows pilots and partnering the Royal Air Forces Association which is one of the beneficiaries of the Cosford show.

The 2012 Cosford Airshow was without doubt one of the best shows at the Shropshire station, not least because the weather behaved itself (just) for once! It was great to see more of Cosford’s RAF residents in action and on static display. The flying display too was first class retaining an excellent mix of displays throughout. We forward to the 2013 show!

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