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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day

The RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2012 celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War. In 1982 the station’s personnel and aircraft were fully engaged in Operation Corporate, the mission to retake the islands. 2012 sees Yeovilton once again readying itself for a major operation, this time to support the security of the London Olympic Games. That operation meant the Air Day moved itself forward into the display calendar to late June.

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

The Yeovilton International Air Day is always one of my personal highlights of the display calendar as it always provides a very varied flying display with items that just don’t appear anywhere else. The station also always manages to always put on a great show whatever the circumstances as it did in 2008 and 2009 when the weather was far from perfect. The 2012 Air Day promised once again to be a superb event with some very unique displays.

However, the lead-up to the show this year was perhaps the toughest the organisers have faced for some time. Yeovilton is heavily involved in the Olympic Games security operation and that support meant the show was forced to move it date earlier in the year to the end of June. With the UK’s other big military and trade shows also being forced to change dates because of various knock-on effects of the games, some European shows also changed their dates and that meant Yeovilton unfortunately clashed with the big Belgian military airshow at Florennes. This made attracting overseas military participation very difficult. Further difficulties came from the unfortunate incidents that beset the Sea Vixen and Vulcan sometime prior to Air Day. The planned debut by the Red Star Rebels team also dropped off the plot at the last minute as they were not signed off by the CAA.

Perhaps the cruellest blow for Air Day came just days before the event from France. 2011 saw a superb dramatic role demo from the French Navy with a Super Etendard and a Rafale M. for 2012 the French Navy had planned to send a Rafale M pair and a NH90 Caimen for the flying display but these were withdrawn at the last minute. The French did however attend the show with static displays from a Falcon 10MER and single Rafale M. The latter did make rather a dramatic entrance during arrivals performing a tight 360 turn in full afterburner and a number quick rolls before landing!

Other international participants also included a German Navy Lynx Mk88, Polish Navy PZL M-28 Bryza and a rare public appearance from a USAFE HH-60G Pavehawk from RAF Lakenheath. The Royal Air Force also sent a single Tornado GR4 from 12(B) Squadron and a Merlin HC3A for the static display. The Royal Navy had a good showing in the static display with numerous examples of the Westland Lynx HMA8, Grob Tutor T1 plus examples of the HC4, HU5 and ASaC7 Sea Kings. There were also examples of the future Royal Navy on show with Lockheed Martin’s Merlin HM2 demonstrator and the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat on show around the airfield.

The main theme for Air Day was the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War, a conflict in which Yeovilton was heavily involved in terms of personnel and aircraft. The theme was marked in the static display by a collection of equipment from both sides. The Fleet Air Arm Museum’s UH-1H Iroquios was brought out for the occasion along with a pair of Sea Harrier FA2s, Westland Wessex, Wasp and the HMS Endurance Lynx HAS3.

Adding to a varied static display were a number of civilian operated aircraft which included Kennet Aviation’s Douglas Skyraider, Neil McCarthy’s Jet Provost T3A, North American Harvard and other numerous types.

The flying display also reflected the varied collection of aircraft in the static display with an equally eclectic range of flying displays. The Royal Air Force opened the flying display with one of the first public appearances of the specially marked Hawk T1 flown by Flt Lt Phil Bird. The T1 is bowing out of solo RAF flying displays at the end of the season and 208R have produced a suitably spectacular display scheme for the jet this year with a very patriotic look which suits the display well and stood out well from some very threatening dark clouds. The Hawk was just part of the RAF participation. Further solo display action came from the equally patriotic Tucano T1 flown by Flt Lt Jon Bond while the Red Arrows also made a welcome return to Somerset with their ‘Magnificent Seven!’

The star turn of the Royal Air Force’s contribution however was the Tornado GR4 role demonstration. XV Squadron have certainly developed the demo with action coming think and fast complete with some spectacular pyrotechnic effects.

The British Army was also represented in the main flying displays with solo Westland Lynx AH7 from Middle Wallop providing a stunning display of rotary-aerobatics.

The only foreign military display in the flying display was the Royal Saudi Air Force’s Saudi Hawks display team marking the countries first visit to Air Day. The team are returning to the UK for a short goodwill tour of our major military shows which started at Yeovilton and will also include Waddington and Fairford. The team eventually arrived on the Friday before due to poor weather across Europe. The team have certainly refined their display since last year with some impressive formations and opposition passes. The team were supported by two C-130H Hercules, this time wearing the sand camouflage of the Saudi Air Force one of which was on static display throughout the weekend. One of the team’s spare Hawk T65 aircraft was also positioned into the static park.

There was a very select collection of civilian display items in the flying display. The first to appear was a new display act comprising of a Yakovlev Yak-52 and a SOKO J-20 Krajug – a very unusual combination of East European types. After some close formation passes the team split into some solo flying with the more familiar Yakovlev Yak-52 flying solo aerobatics above the SOKO. The SOKO is itself a very unusual aircraft which was developed for Counter Insurgency work for the Former Yugoslav Air Force and it also has impressive Short Take Off and Landing abilities which were shown off during its solo flying.

More familiar civilian displays came from the colourful SWIP Team of Silence Twisters flown by Pete Wells and Guy Westgate who performed their new formation and synchronised aerobatics routine during the morning display. Solo unlimited aerobatics came from UK Aerobatic champion Gerald Cooper in the extraordinary Xtreme Air Sbach XA41 which is capable of impossible direction changes, flicks and tumbles more akin to model aircraft. For such a superb display, Gerald picked up the award for best flying display!

As ever, there was an impressive array of historic flying display. Peter Teichman attended Yeovilton with his Curtis P-40M Kittyhawk. Yeovilton are always keen on unusual formation and Peter was joined in the sky by the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Sea Fury T20 flown by Chris Gotke for a unique piston powered formation.

The Sea Fury was not the only contribution by the RNHF. The Fairey Swordfish is always a highlight of Air Day and 2012 is a particularly poignant year for the type with the 70th Anniversary of Channel Dash by the German battlecrusier Prince Eugen and other ships. Swordfish from Manston were tasked with attacking the ship but it proved to be a suicide mission with all the aircraft lost. To mark the anniversary the Swordfish led four Westland Lynx HMA8 from 815 Naval Air Squadron for a very welcome formation pass in front of the crowd. The Royal Air Force was also represented by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which was reduced to just to the Spitfire IX by weather elsewhere in the country and an unserviceable Hurricane.

The Air Day flying display also boasted a fine selection of classic jets. Late additions to the flying programme were a trio of aircraft from The Classic Aircraft Trust with the Meteor T7 leading a tail-chase which also included the de Havilland Venom FB50 and de Havilland Vempire T55. The inclusion of the Meteor in particular was one of the outstanding highlights of the show. The Jet trainer theme was continued by Kennet Aviation’s Jet Provost T5 flown by John Beattie. The aircraft is often seen in the Yeovilton circuit as it is used to keep RNHF pilots current to fly the Sea Hawk when it is airworthy.

Another welcome late addition to the flying display was the Hunter Flying Academy’s Hawker Hunter T7 G-FFOX. The former Delta Jets machine is sporting some special Diamond Jubilee markings for the 2012 season and was flown in fine style over Yeovilton by Chris Heames.

Another outstanding moment of Air Day 2012, if not in the history of Air Day was the inclusion in the flying display by a giant Antonov An-124 Condor Airlifter from Ruslan International. It was the first time the An-124 had participated in a UK flying display since it first appeared at the Farnborough Airshow 22 years ago. The aircraft was on a flight positioning to RAF Brize Norton and did not just perform a flypast by also a series of turns in front of the crowd which was an awesome sight.

The Royal Navy, and in particular Yeovilton based aircraft provided some of the most spectacular action. The Black Cats Helicopter Display Team was the most familiar of the home team displays with their synchronised flying display with two Lynx HMA8 from 702NAS.

Further Lynx action came from 815NAS’s role demonstration which is always a highlight of Air Day. Later in 2012, crews from 815 will be heavily involved in the Olympic security operation and their display this year showed off some of roles they will be completing around Olympic venues. These included the interception of a stray light aircraft which was played by another Royal Navy asset, a Grob Tutor T1 from 727NAS also based at Yeovilton. Another role for the Lynx will be the security of the River Thames and they displayed their ability to eliminate a terrorist using a boat (complete with Sea Dart missiles) through side mounted machine guns and Sea Skua missiles as well as their search and rescue role.

As is tradition at Yeovilton, the Commando Helicopter Force provided the finale to Air Day with the ‘Commando Assault.’ This year the finale involved eight Westland Sea King HC4 (though one went unserviceable soon after take-off and was forced to return) as well as a 847NAS Westland Lynx AH7 supported by an Army Air Corps WAH-64D Apache AH1. The scenario this year was slightly different to previous years with an enemy force attacking a friendly territory and taking hostages. The helicopters inserted troops by fast-roping and also brought in under-slung loads with fire-support from the Apache and fast jets represented by Yeovilton based Hawk T1s. As always, the finale was supported by the most spectacular pyrotechnic effects and even included flare releases from two of the Sea Kings! Of all airshow set pieces, Yeovilton’s finale remains the very best anywhere in Europe.

In many ways, the International Air Day 2012 represented all that is great about the Royal Navy and the UK Armef Forces. Despite more than its fair share of setbacks, cancellations and difficulties with weather, Yeovilton produced a great day of the finest quality entertainment with plenty of excitement and surprises. We cannot wait for Air Day 2013 – Fly Navy!

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