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2013 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day

Following hot on the heels of the big Royal Air Force show at RAF Waddington, a week later it was the Royal Navy's turn with the RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day. 2013 is a big year for the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm, but for Air Day, the main theme was 'Teamwork' which was highlighted by a number of displays in the air and on the ground. 2013 also saw Yeovilton defy the odds and present a very international line-up of aircraft both in the static and flying displays.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK and James George report. All photography copyright of the Authors or as credited. Video highlights by PlanesTV.com.

Yeovilton is always a dead cert for providing a fantastic airshow; there is always something very special about the way the Royal Navy put their premier air event of the year together which always features amazing role demonstrations and eye-catching formations, plus the odd very unique display. This year promised to be a real classic from an early stage with some excellent participation from home and abroad.

The show had some very early highlights with a number of international fast jet displays. Sadly the much anticipated Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet solo display was withdrawn late on from airshows and the Czech Air Force reorganised their display allocations meaning Yeovilton lost a rare display by the Mil Mi-24 Hind. However there were still plenty of interesting and rare airshow performers.

The static display is always very varied at Yeovilton. The Royal Navy were able to show off their latest helicopter for the first time with examples of the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat HMA2. The Royal Navy also had the Beechcraft Avenger T1 on display for the first time at Yeovilton. The Avenger, based on the King Air 350, has replaced the venerable BAe Jetstream at RNAS Culdrose providing an excellent training platform for future aircrew observers. As always there was a full selection of Royal Navy types on show including various examples of Merlin HM1 & HM2, Lynx HMA8, Sea King HU5 and Sea King HC4 plus the based Grob Tutor T1 of 727NAS. Also getting a public airing were the BAE Systems Sea Harrier F/A2 and Harrier T8s that once operated from the Somerset base.

Yeovilton is also now a home to the Army Air Corps who are building their Wildcat AH1 force at the station. The static park had a major exhibition from the Wildcat Fielding Squadron featuring a pair of the brand new helicopters.

Royal Air Force participation in the Yeovilton static park always seems very low key and this year was no exception with just a Eurofighter Typhoon, Merlin HC3A, Grob Vigilant T1 and the last ever Yeovilton appearance by a VC-10 K3. Very welcome additions to the static park were aircraft from the Empire Test Pilots School at nearby Boscombe Down. The ETPS sent their new BAE Systems Avro RJ100 and their elegant AgustaWestland A109 for the show.

International Military participation was particularly strong this year in the static park. The Belgian Air Force always supports UK airshows very well and they sent the Lockheed C-130H Hercules to Yeovilton for a rare UK outing. A further transport aircraft came from the Czech Air Force with an EADS/CASA CN295M. The German Navy is always a good supporter of the show at Yeovilton and this year added to the collection of Westland Lynx variants a very pretty special schemed Lynx Mk.88. Another European navy participating were the Polish with a very colourful PZL M28-1R Bryza. The Royal Netherlands Air Force completed the international line-up on the ground with a pair of Pilatus PC-7 Turbotrainers in their very distinctive gloss black and yellow colour scheme.

As well as the modern military hardware there is always an interesting selection of historic and civilian aircraft in the static park as well. An unusual participant was the small, but very elegant Eclipse EA500 private jet. There were also a number of classics on show including Chipmunks, a Harvard and various other types. Amongst other highlights were a Hawker Hunter T8 of Hawker Hunter Aviation who provide valuable training to the Royal Navy during naval exercises.

The flying displays at Yeovilton always provide great action from civilian and military operators. The displays opened in very fine style with the RAF Red Arrows flying in the glorious summer weather with their usual panache. The Reds were just one part of the Royal Air Force's participation in the flying display which also saw the Shorts Tucano T1 display albeit operating from Swansea and the ever impressive Boeing Chinook HC2 solo display. However, it was the Typhoon FGR4 from 29(R) Squadron and flown by Flt Lt Jamie Norris that really caught the eye. It was a busy weekend for the Typhoon team who not only were supporting Yeovilton, but also the airshow at Swansea so the Yeovilton crowds got to see and hear the Typhoon more than once during the day!

It was not just military action with some fine flying from civilian and historic items. The RV8tors provided a great demonstration of teamwork with their pair of fast moving Vans RV8s covering the whole crowd-line with ease. Further formation aerobatics came from the Royal Jordanian Falcons, the only overseas team display, making a welcome return to Yeovilton with their precise and graceful display.

A very unusual participant in the flying was the Eastern Airways SAAB 2000. These aircraft are a regular sight at Yeovilton providing AgustaWestland an important shuttle service between the Factory in Yeovil and their Milan base in Italy. Their display was not just a flypast, rather a number of sweeping passes showing the airliner off in a number of configurations including a steep approach.

There is always a great selection of warbirds at any Air Day despite the clash with Flying Legends. Kennet provided a rare solo display by their North American AT-6 Harvard G-KAMY which was a nice late addition to the flying display. There was also a superb duo display from Richard Lake's pair of Supermarine Spitfire XVI and Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon. Appearing towards the end of the main flying display was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with their full complement of Avro Lancaster B1, Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane II.

It was however the wonderful Royal Navy Historic Flight that took centre stage with their Fairey Swordfish and Hawker Sea Fury T20 displaying at their home event early on it the programme. The Swordfish opened the naval flying with a solo display which marked the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. The Sea Fury not only put in a superb solo performance but also flew alongside Kennet Aviation Douglas AD4N Skyraider highlighting the Fleet Air Arm's last piston engined machines that served on the big carriers. The two big Naval fighters were joined by Peter Teichman in his North American P-51D Mustang for a number of formation passes before splitting for solo routines.

Classic jets too played a prominent role in proceedings. The Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 has become a regular at Yeovilton and was once again a popular addition with its new display routine for 2013. Appearing just before the traditional Yeovilton finale were the Red Star Rebels with their pair of Aero L-29 Delphin trainers who attacked the airfield complete with pyrotechnics before performing a number of victory flypasts!

But the star of the classic jets was the De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 making a very welcome return to flying following a mishap last year. The appearance of the Sea Vixen had been in question until the last minute making its first flight since its repairs on the Tuesday prior to the show. While it could not do a full display its dramatic entry into the circuit during the afternoon flying was most welcome and we cannot wait to see a full display later in the year. Well done to all involved in getting the mighty naval fighter back in the air!

International military participation in the flying display was very impressive this year. The Belgian Air Component certainly put in some effort to be at Yeovilton. Joining the many rotary displays was the Agusta A109BA which always grabs your attention with its near aerobatic routine. The A109 made full use of flares too throughout the routine highlighting some steep turns and dives.

Full marks for dedication must go the Major Grat Thys who flew the F-16AM Fighting Falcon later on in the flying. Not only did Grat appear at Yeovilton, but earlier in the day he performed at the Valaciennes air display on the Belgian-French border. His display really is top class too showing off the impressive performance of the F-16 and like the A109, punctuated his superb routine with multiple releases of flares in the deep blue skies.

The Czech Air Force, making their Air Day début, also had two jet displays in the flying displays, The Aero Vodochody L-159A ALCA certainly makes a lot of noise for itself, particularly compared to the L-39 Albatross from which it is developed. The L-159 was also put through a very nice routine showing off its agility and power very well for the crowds.

Star of the international line-up though was the Czech SAAB JAS-39C Gripen which also marked the types first ever visit to Yeovilton too. The Gripen has incredible performance with an amazing punch not only in terms of speed and acceleration, but also agility keeping the display almost entirely within the airfield boundary. Yeovilton also saw the colourful 'Tiger' schemed Gripen take up the display duties with its stunning artwork on the fin and the canards. As the aircraft was carrying flares it had to be parked on the Southside before its display away from the crowds, but it was a nice touch to see it taken over to the crowd side after its display so people could get a close up view.

It was however the Royal Navy's day, and their participation in Air Day was rich and varied. One of the highlights of the day was a formation of the Fairey Swordfish with a pair of AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat HMA2 marking the great development in Royal Navy flying to open the Maritime Lynx Wildcat Force demonstration. This highlighted the varied abilities of the Lynx HMA8s operated by 815 Naval Air Squadron in tackling terrorism and piracy. This year’s demo also featured the Wildcat for the first time marking 815's future equipment. Further lynx action came later in the afternoon from 702 Naval Air Squadron with the solo display from the Black Cats Helicopter Display Team.

Also new to the fleet this year is the AgustaWestland Merlin HM2 which was making its second ever public air display appearance. The Mk.2 is currently only in service with 824NAS, the Merlin Operational Conversion Unit at RNAS Culdrose and is a significant advance over the original version of the Navy's biggest helicopter.

However, it is the Commando Assault Finale for which Yeovilton is most famous for and best shows the Royal Navy's capabilities in the flying display. The finale merged with the Red Star Rebels own display to set up a situation which required not only the efforts of the Commando Helicopter Force, the Royal Marines and also those of the Army Air Corps which contributed a WAH-64D Apache AH1 from Middle Wallop and a pair of the Yeovilton based Wildcat AH1s. Seven Sea King HC4s took the major role which included a spectacular release of flares, troop drops, under-slung load transport, rapid extraction of evidence and hostages. The Helicopters were supported by fixed wing air played by two Hawks from the Naval Standards Fixed Wing unit which is another Yeovilton unit. The Commando Assault is perhaps the finest piece of aerial theatre of any airshow in the UK not only because of the amazing pyrotechnic effects, but also it keeps the action continuous for the crowds who are enthralled from start to finish.

Air Day 2013 was another spectacular event held in near perfect weather. There is certainly no other airshow in the UK that offers so much to do and see, and such great variety in the air and on the ground. The crowds can enjoy some great naval traditions such as the Field Gun Run competition as well see the latest technology in the hangar displays. The variety in the air was really superb with some great formations, unusual displays and stunning demonstrations of the Royal Navy's capabilities. It is not hard to see why the organising team have picked up Gold in the South West Tourism Awards and Bronze at National level!!

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