Following a brief spell at Newquay, the Classic Air Force has returned to Coventry Airport this year. To mark its return to Coventry, it held a small airshow in May which despite some gloomy weather proved popular enough for another event to be organised in July, the Baginton Air Pageant. The Pageant was themed around the years immediately following the Second World War with a recreation of typical 1940s Air Race and a few other surprises along the way.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
It has been an “interesting” couple of years for the Classic Air Force which saw them move to the impressive old Nimrod Hangars at Newquay before returning to Coventry and the “Airbase” Hangars early this year. Many of their non-airworthy airframes have stayed at Newquay and will form the nucleus of a new aviation museum elsewhere on the Cornish airfield.
The Classic Air Force has been keen to make as much as possible of their return to Coventry. May saw a small airshow held to celebrate their re-opening and its success persuaded them to repeat the exercise in July with the “Baginton Air Pageant.”
The theme of the show was the period immediately after the end of the Second World War which is perfectly suited to the fleet of aircraft operated by the Classic Air Force. It was an extremely low key event, but that made for a perfectly relaxed afternoon. As well as the aircraft, there were static aero-engine runs from a Alvis Leonides piston engine and live music to add to the entertainment and atmosphere of the event.
Many of the Classic Air Force’s fleet were on show in and around their main hanger. Dominating the hangar is the Douglas DC-3 Dakota destined to join the Indian Air Force Historic Flight wearing its rather exotic camouflage scheme. It was quite sad to see the Scottish Aviation Twin Pioneer looking rather forlorn with its wings missing and paint slightly faded. It was not so long ago this this aircraft was a stalwart of the airshow scene often flying in passengers as well as performing its own displays.
The flying display was as relaxed as the showground fitting in displays around movements both at Coventry and nearby Birmingham Airports. One of the great things about displays hosted by the operators themselves is that any aircraft unserviceability can be more easily covered by other aircraft from their own collection. This was the case with the first two displays as neither the BAC Jet Provost T3 or de Havilland Venom were able to display though they were on show in the main hangar.
John Dodd opened the flying displays with a very punchy routine in the CAF’s BAC Jet Provost T5. John took full advantage of the “Top Hat” of airspace with several vertical figures during his display. Taking the place of the Venom was the de Havilland Vampire T55 flown by Jon Corley who flew a spirited, yet graceful routine in the whispering twin boom jet.
Catching many by surprise, including me, was a flypast from the Rolls Royce Supermarine Spitfire PR XIX. The aircraft was on a transit flight between its home at East Midlands Airport and Kemble.
The pace was then completely changed with the Classic Air Force’s chief engineer, Ben Cox, display his own de Havilland DH87 Hornet Moth. Ben kept his display close in and tight to the public area showing off the pretty lines and slow speed handling of one of de Havilland’s finest products.
One of the main features of the afternoon was the recreation of a typical 1940’s style air race. This featured a number of light and sporting aircraft from the 1930s and 1940s that reside with CAF. Heading the field was Dan Griffiths in the Taylorcraft Auster Autocrat which went first in the handicap system. John Dodd flew CAF’s distinctive de Havilland Canada Chipmunk which wears a racing colour scheme. Bringing up the rear due to their better performance were the Percival Proctor flown by Ben Cox and Sir John Allison’s Miles Gemini piloted by Jon Corley. The aircraft flew a closed course marked by several local landmarks as well as a “chicane” in front of the crowd so the aircraft presented their topside. While it is not the first time such a spectacle has been laid on at a British airshow (both Sywell and Shuttleworth often have similar set-pieces), it was certainly entertaining and an original way to present the aircraft and well executed by pilots and commentator.
An interlude in the flying displays allowed the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s North American P-51D Mustang to depart. Though not part of the flying displays, the aircraft had flown in earlier in the day and was parked up at the centre of the showground for all to see.
Closing the main flying display was perhaps the highlight of the afternoon, if not a highlight of the entire airshow season. The Classic Air Force is the home to both of the UK’s civilian operated Meteor jets, the Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF11 and the Gloster Meteor T7. The latter has recently been fully transferred over to the care of the Classic Air Force by the Meteor Flight. Until recently, Dan Griffiths has been the only pilot with a Display Authorisation on the Meteor. However, thanks to the use of the T7, Jon Corley has been able to work-up to upgrade his DA to include the Meteor. The Baginton Air Pageant was the first chance these two pilots and the aircraft were able to fly together. The pair took off and disappeared for a few minutes while airspace was cleared and for some air-to-air photography. They returned in close formation for a couple of sweeping passes before a head-on break into solo passes. Closing the flying was Dan Griffith flying a scintillating solo display in the Meteor NF11 pulling graceful streamers from the wingtips and he looped and rolled in the blue skies.
With the close of flying, the action was not quite over. The Avro Shakleton MR2 which is co-located with Airbase performed an engine run with its four Rolls Royce Griffons growling away. The Shackleton is a possibly flyer and the preservation team behind it are slowly working towards making the aircraft fully airworthy. In recent months it has started to taxy around Coventry under its own steam. We very much hope they are successful with their project.
The Air Pageant was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in very informal and relaxed surrounding. It was certainly very welcome to visit an event that did not suffer from bad traffic or enormous queues for food and drink. Photographers may have been put off by the high surrounding airport fences but to their credit the organising team had cut little port-holes into the fence allowing for those that wanted taxying shots, Unfortunately, it was probably quieter that the organisers had hoped for but hopefully it will not deter them from hosting more of these fine events in the future.