2009 has been Flightline UK’s biggest season to date with not only UK shows but visits to events in the United Arab Emirates, The Netherlands and Sweden. It has been a very mixed season with some outstanding highlights as well as a few disappointments. The weather, in general, was kind to airshows with only very few “washouts” and certainly much improved on the very difficult conditions experienced in 2007 and 2008.
The season got under-way very early in 2009 with the Al Ain Aerobatics Show held at the end of January. Al Ain was certainly a unique experience and it was simply such a pleasure to leave a cold icy UK behind for the warmth of the UAE and an airshow. With very few “home” acts, Al Ain imports some of the best acts in the world. 2009 saw teams from the UK, Italy, Sweden, Hungary, the USA, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Russia. For those looking for a military show, Al Ain would have been disappointing despite advertising major participation from the UAE Air Force as well as several other air arms in the region including Russian Su-30s! However, it really was a spectacular show with displays from the Royal Saudi Air Force “Saudi Hawks”, Italy’s “Pioneer Team” and Sweden’s “Scandinavian Airshow” Team – the latter with the extraordinary Pitts Python and “Catwalk” displays. Will Curtis also made a “comeback” in Al Ain and was reunited with his Sukhoi Su-26M2. Al Ain also hosted Aero GP which seemed a little too disjointed (and maybe a little scripted?) for my own personal taste!
The return to UK was quite a shock having left Dubai in 30C and arriving back to a snowy -2C at Heathrow. However, there was no break! A week later, there was a hugely enjoyable Twilight Burner Extravaganza at Bruntingthorpe followed by small flying display at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey, the Cradle of UK aviation! A month later, we were at RAF Northolt for a new type of event – a night-time phtoocall. Phil Dawe and No 32 Squadron at RAF Northolt have been busy all year putting on Night Photocalls as well as their traditional June event and they are all excellent opportunities to capture something different.
2009 saw significant change to the Royal Air Force displays. Over the winter it was announced that the popular RAF Role Demonstration would not be returning for the 2009 display season leaving just the solo Typhoon and Hawk displays as representatives of RAF fast jets on the display circuit. An accident during display practice at RAF Linton-on-Ouse also left the RAF without it’s Tucano solo for the 2009 but thankfully Flt Lt Mike Rutland has made a full recovery.
In the UK, the season got under-way in May and saw events at Abingdon, Kemble, Duxford and Southend. All were blessed with relatively good weather, though it was a little windy at Duxford. Abingdon had a particularly strong year with good support from the RAF and excellent displays from the Swift Team and John Dodd in the DC3. At the end of May came a second international trip for the Volkel in de Wolken (Volkel in the Clouds) show in the Netherlands. It’s a fair sized airshow but takes place away from Volkel AFB over farmer’s fields! Even so, the local F-16 squadrons at Volkel put on a noisy highlight with a fiveship of F-16s performing some formation passes and low overshoots! It’s a shame the same can’t be repeated in the UK when airshows are being held close to RAF bases!
June was another very good month starting off with fine displays at Old Warden, Margate and RAF Cosford. The latter saw the 2009 début of the Avro Vulcan bringing chaos to the roads outside Cosford by mid morning with people eager to enjoy the good weather and the return of the big delta. Kemble also provided an exciting day out with an amazing collection of classic jets. Highlights were again the Vulcan and Lt Cdr Matt Whitfield’s punchy account of the Sea Vixen. The month was closed with the Biggin Hill International Air Fair which is always a season highlight but perhaps more so this year with the stunning flypasts by a Virgin Atlantic 747-400 and the Red Arrows.
July was perhaps much more a mixed bag. London City must be one of the best kept secrets of the UK calendar and Waddington was another solid showing despite the Vulcan’s Permit-to-fly debacle. Weather badly affected the Yeovilton International Air Day but that didn’t stop the French Air Force Rafale B making a stunning debut nor the impressive “Fly Navy 100″ celebrations. Though I didn’t attend Flying Legends for the first time this year, it was another vintage show despite the lack of TFC aircraft in the flying display Christophe Jaquard’s stunning Flug Werk FW190 was very much the star. One event however that failed to deliver was “Dover 2009 – Bleriot: The Celebration.” Through a catalogue of errors, the event in Dover were a shambles despite the best efforts of the those flying and those trying to organise the flying. The event was woefully under publicised and having one free event on the shoreline and another “pay” event up above the town just confused the public. The losses eventually led to the event organisers and promoters going bust before the air display acts and management could be paid.
July is also time for the Royal International Air Tattoo. A successful event was dearly needed after the cancellation of the 2008 show. 2009 saw the new ticketing scheme in full effect and it has to be said despite the sell out the traffic did keep flowing (just.) Though it did rain (a lot) the show survived thanks new schemes to preserve the car parks. However, without the Fly Navy 100 portion of the 8 hour flying display, RIAT 2009 was a pretty average edition as far as exotic aircraft and flying displays go. Among the highlights were the stunning Royal New Zealand Air Force 757 display and that Vulcan take-off on the Sunday. 2010 will hopefully be much better if plans come to fruition.
August is my personal favourite month of the year for airshows, and 2009 proved to be particularly special. First came the change to join the Swift Team in the back of a Chipmunk tow-plane for the first weekend of the month and the delightful show at East Kirkby. Despite a very threatening weather forecast the show went ahead as planned. It was show packed with variety with everything from Justin Needham’s O-1 Bird Dog right through the awesome RAF Chinook display.
The real highlight of the year though was Flygfesten in Sweden. Held at a the small Dala Jarna airfield, right in the heart of Sweden, this show really is a hidden gem. The friendly atmosphere and perfect flying display just made this weekend such a joy. Sweden and Scandinavia are home to such a diverse range of displays and these were boosted by some Europe’s finest military and civilian acts. The Swedish classic jets like the J29 Tunnan and J32B Lansen are obvious highlights for the British enthusiast, but so were Michael Carlson’s antics in the Piper L4 Cub and Jurgis Kairys’ impossible aerobatics in a Sukhoi Su-26.
However, it’s the South Coast of England that’s the place to be come mid August. Eastbourne kicked things off with a brilliant return to form after the difficulties of 2008. Highlight of the four days had to be the formation of John Romain’s Spitfire IXT and the Dutch Air Force golden F-16. A week later saw two other major shows on the coast. First off was Bournemouth Air Festival and what a year for that show. Good weather brought out over 1.2million people over the four days and it enjoyed strong support from the RAF, Royal Navy, OFMC Fighter Pair, Vulcan and a myriad of civilian display teams. The same weekend also saw Shoreham’s 20th Anniversary Airshow. It, as always, was a top notch weekend at the Sussex Airport with the Spitfire Scramble and the début of the Vulcan being the outstanding moments.
Sadly, August also saw tragedy with the loss of American competition Vicki Cruse at the World Aerobatic Championships at Silverstone. The loss was marked by the American team on the last day of WAC which also saw the closing ceremony and airshow. Closing the month was the ever popular Dunsfold Wings and Wheels. It’s fair to say Dunsfold had reached it’s capacity as a single day airshow this year with packed car parks and even more packed local roads. Despite this and the weather it was another great show and will return as a two day event in 2010.
The closing month and half of the season during September and October was perhaps a little more low key. Seething was a nice little surprise while Duxford’s September show was good, but not a truely memorable event. Kemble’s Battle of Britain Airshow is definitely one to watch in the future and Southport was another enjoyable event. However, it wasn’t an airshow as such which captured my imagination the most. The Goodwood Revival was quite simply a total assault on the senses with some spectacular flying alongside some classic motor-racing and a totally unique atmosphere. The Revival was particularly noteworthy for a combined display by the OFMC, TFC and HAC that was reminiscent of the Breitling Fighters Team and final public appearance of the Vickers Vimy replica . The latter’s sunset display on the Sunday was a spectacular farewell to a truly historic aircraft in it’s own right.
The Old Warden and Duxford Autumn shows brought 2009 to a positive end during early October. While 2009 may not have been the most spectacular display season, it was one of the most successful which huge crowds enjoying shows up and down the UK in relatively good weather. Much of the off-season news has been regarding the future of Vulcan XH558 whose financial struggles would rival any soap opera. While airshows could quite easily survive without the Vulcan, it would be a great shame if the mighty delta didn’t fly again in 2010. Elsewhere, there should be plenty of new displays in 2010 as well as some exciting débutantes from overseas if plans come together.
Most of all, I would like to thank everybody that’s helped make 2009 such a fun and exciting year and wish everybody a very happy and prosperous new year!