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Category Archives: Airshows of the Past

Airshows of the Past: RAF Displays 2005-2010

The retirement flypasts by Joint Force Harrier earlier this week marked the end of an era of V/STOL flight in the RAF that has lasted 40 years, and 50 years since the first flight of the revolutionary Hawker P1127. But it was perhaps the most high profile aircraft of a number which have been retired over the last five years that have long been a feature of UK airshows. A look back at the archives over the last five years reveal a number of iconic RAF fast jets and other important combat types  that have disappeared as the RAF modernises. These losses are perhaps inevitable as technology allows the RAF to  replace it’s diverse fleet with fewer types and more unmanned systems, but many are sorely missed by enthusiasts at airshows. Flightline UK takes a look at many types that have appeared at displays in the last five years that won’t be a feature of the 2011 season!

2006 saw the retirement of the RAF’s last few Canberra PR9 aircraft. Like many RAF types the aircraft was active on operations right up to it’s retirement in July 2006. For it’s final few months of operations, the aircraft was presented on the display circuit by 39 Squadron flown by Sqn Ldr Terry Cairns with a very spirited routine at Waddington and RIAT that year.

Next to disappear was the SEPECAT Jaguar GR3 and T4. The aircraft made it’s final year of displays in 2005 in 41 Squadron colours after the disbandment of 16(R) Squadron. The last display was flown by Flt Lt Derek Sington and the display aircraft sported some colourful artwork on the tail continuing a tradition within the Jaguar community that had started with the stunning “Black Cat” flown by 16 Squadron in the early 1990s. The Jaguar eventually retired in 2007 when the final squadron, No 6 Squadron, disbanded at RAF Coningsby in May. Later that year in early July, the Jaguar made it’s final flying display appearance at Waddington show with a QinetiQ operated example managed a few flypasts under the low cloud!

The Nimrod MR2 was always an impressive performer at airshows. It made it’s final appearance as a display item in 2004, but made several static appearances and the odd flypast right up to it’s retirement at the beginning of 2010. These flypasts included an emotional flypast at RAF Leuchars Airshow 2006 in the aftermath of the Nimrod explosion in Afghanistan with the loss of it’s crew in September 2006. It’s replacement, the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled in the Defence Review in October which meant the last maritime patrol Nimrod made it’s final airshow appearance at the Jersey IAD in September 2010! It was a sad end to one of the most famous RAF types of recent times.

The Harrier is the most recent retirement after the announcement in the Defence Review in October 2010. A full feature on the Harrier can be found HERE. The speed of the Harrier drawdown has been unbelievably rapid with the final flights taking place in December 15th 2010. 2010 has seen the Harriers return to the airshow circuit with a role demonstration flown by Flt Lt Steve Kenworthy at a select number of events. The Harrier had previously been on the display circuit up to the end of the 2006 season when the increase in operations in Afghanistan meant the Harrier would not be flown at displays between 2007 and 2009. Before 2007, Harrier displays has been provided by 20(R) Squadron but they were disbanded in early 2010 and the OCU was passed to the IV(R) numberplate for the final year of operations.

The Tornado F3 will disappear from UK skies in March 2011 with the disbandment of 111(F) Squadron at RAF Leuchars and replacement by 6 Squadron’s Typhoon FGR4 aircraft. 2005 marked the final year of the Tornado F3 solo display, but the annual Leuchars Airshow kept the Tornado F3 part of flying displays upto the end of the 2010 display season which also saw an F3 take an integral part in RIAT’s Battle of Britain Anniversary flypast. The Tornado F3 was also an important part of the RAF Role Demonstration Team that made such an impact during the 2007 and 2008 display season and is now sorely missed.

During 2005-2010, the RAF has continued to display the Typhoon, Hawk, Tucano and Tutor (though the Tucano missed the 2009 display season following a training accident.) The Tornado GR4 has also been a constant in the display circuit bar the 2009 season either as a solo display upto 2006, the RAF Role Demo Tean in 2007 and 2008 or in it’s own Role Demo Team in 2010.

The RAF’s contribution to the 2011 display season has yet to be confirmed apart from the Red Arrows, Falcons and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It’s likely the consequences of the Defence Review will have some affect on the RAF’s solo displays and role demo teams as the RAF begins to shrink; full details will be confirmed in the New Year.

Airshows of the Past: Woodchurch Wings and Things

The Woodchurch Wings and Things Airshow may have not been the most well known airshow in the UK, but for those who regularly attended the show it is one of the most sorely missed events.

The venue for Wings and Things was Rob Davies’ private strip just outside the village of Woodchurch. During the second world war, Woodchurch was home to an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) and saw RAF Mustangs and USAAF P-47s use the strip. At one point, a damaged B-24 Liberator successfully forced landed on the strip. Rob Davies strip is based just to the west of the orginal airfield.

As well as a huge fly-in and the display flying, the show also saw an impressive vintage and classic car rally with clubs from all over the UK taking part. There were also some Traction engines and other steam powered machinery on show.

The modern airfield nestled on a slope which made for some spectacular landings from the participating aircraft. The show was very popular for pilots and public alike, and the airfield was often at capacity very quickly. Later events even saw some of the participating aircraft using Headcorn as a base with Woodchurch being so full.

The afternoon flying displays were amazing affairs that could rival any Duxford airshow for quality. Much of the flying had the feel of the old Tiger Club displays with all sorts of aerobatics and barnstorming. The rest saw some of the best “heavy iron” displays the the UK can offer!

The show was often opened with a glider display by local display pilot Alan Garside in a PiK glider. The locally based Turbulent Team were also a fixture on the flying programme making the short hop from Headcorn. The Tiger Club also operate G-ACDC, the oldest airworthy Tiger Moth and that too made appearances at Woodchurch, even with a wingwalking rig!

Powerful aerobatic aircraft were always a stong feature of the flying display. Will Curtis was a strong supporter with regular appearances in his Sukhoi Su-26. Other notable participants were Will’s team mate, Justyn Gorman in the Pitts Special and the Red Bull Matadors. The Utterly Butterly Barnstormers also visited Wings and Things with their powerful Stearman making some low passes in front of the crowd.

However, Woodchurch was always about warbirds and classic jets. Over the years, an amazing variety of historic machinery took part representing aircraft from the first world war right through the Korean War. The Battle of Britain was always a popular theme for this mid-Kent airshow. The Real Aeroplane Company’s Hurricane was a regular participant flown by the late Brian Brown in it’s distinctive night fighter scheme. The enemy of often portrayed by the 108 Group’s Me108 Taifun. Spitfires too were popular with notable appearances by Peter Teichman’s PRXI and Spitfire Ltd’s XVIe.

Naval aviation was never forgotten and Kennet Aviation displayed their Skyraider and the Seafire during their first seasons of display flying. However, it was the Fighter Collection’s Corsair that will be well remembered by the Wings and Wheels crowds. The big heavy fighter operated from the small farm strip in the capable hands of Pete Kynsey. The sight of the large powerful fighter powering down the dust confines of the strip was always impressive as was the aerobatics it performed overhead.

However, it was always the american aircraft that were the stars of the show. Rob Davies and Maurice Hammond always had their impressive aircraft at the show displaying their Harvards and Mustangs to great effect. Sally-B too was a regular and often formed up with the Mustangs saluting the mighty USAAF.

The final items in the flying programme were always the jets. Golden Apple Operations always supported the show with their F-86 Sabre and T-33 Silver Star. The North Weald based jets also put in regular appearance with Mark Grimshaw’s Gnat and Jet Provost being notable attendees.

Sadly however, Woodchurch became a victim of it’s own success. The airfield was well away from main roads down narrow country lanes and the growing popularity of the event often completely clogged these road. The airfield itself was at total capacity both in terms of aircraft and visitors. The ever increasing costs of putting on the event and supplying the health and safety requirements all contributed the events demise. For those that attended the show, it’s sorely missed.

Airshows of the Past : The Shepway Festival Airshow

In the first of a new series of articles, Flightline UK looks back at some of the airshows that have disappeared from the display calendar. We start with a look at one of the most popular and extraordinary seaside airshows; the Shepway Festival Airshow held in Folkestone.

The 1990′s were a golden era for airshows. As today, they were extremely popular and coastal resorts were starting to recognise the value of the airshow to their summer tourist season. 1990 was a particular highpoint with the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain proving a popular theme in the south-east of England, particularly Kent. One town keen to celebrate that anniversary was Folkestone which was at the forefront of the Battle – the Shepway Airshow was born. Shepway is the regional name for the area covering Folkestone, Hythe and Romney Marsh. The air display was incorporated into a three day festival, though the main flying displays also provided the finale on the Sunday.

The first event proved so popular that the show was repeated until 2001 before the show took a years break before the final show in 2003. Each event, which was completely free, attracted massive crowds. The main event was centred on “The Leas.” This was the main promenade area for Folkestone on top of the cliffs – 200ft above sea level!! This gave an unparalleled view of the flying displays which very often arrived from below the crowd. As the show grew, so did the flying displays. Later shows saw a short morning flying display before a lunch break and the main four hour afternoon display. The cliff tops were packed with people and trade stands for about two miles. Classic Cars and the odd static helicopter sat in the shadows of Folkestones cliff top hotels. The airshow commentary was mostly conducted by the legendary Jerry Mead who was always very enthusiastic about the flying. In later years Brendan O’Brien and Peter MacNamara also provided the commentary from the cliff top caravan! The aircraft for the show were based at a number of local airfields. Manston used to host many of the military items while Lydd was the main base for the civilian displays.

From the outset, the Shepway was very much a warbird orientated airshow. The show’s flying displays were directed by Jeanne Frazer who puts together Duxford’s flying displays. Duxford warbirds always featured well in the flying displays with the Fighter Collection’s aircraft taking centred stage. The Spitfires and Hurricanes were always popular, but so were the Grumman “Cats”, P-51s and Harvards as well as the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Army Air Corps Historic Flight and Royal Navy Historic Flight. Classic Jets also featured with Tom Moloney’s Strikemaster and Golden Apple’s pair of T-33 and F-86 being popular participants.

One of the outstanding features of the Shepway airshows were unusual and sometimes large formations. In later years, there were formations putting Tornado F3′s alongside civilian Hurricanes and the Blenheim and there were always interesting warbirds put together. The last show in 2003 had unique formations of Swordfish and Wildcat, and Swordfish and Avenger. The “Shepway Salute” finales were always special – often there were opposing large formations of warbirds lead by the heavies such as the Catalina or B-17G Sally-B.

As with most seaside airshows, Shepway always featured some of the best civilian display acts from Europe. The “Crunchie Flying Circus” and “Utterly Butterly Barnstormers” were regular participants. The shows also featured the likes of Jaques Bothelin’s Patrouille Apache, The Yakovlevs and the Matadors. One of the most unique displays was a hang-gliding display by Judy Leden. Judy was aero-towed in from Lydd Airport by microlight before gliding her way down to the beaches below the cliffs!

Military displays were always popular. The RAF’s solo display teams made regular appearances at the show. Particularly popular were the RAF’s Tornado F3 and Harrier GR7 displays. Not many venues gave crowds the chance to see Harriers hovering at eye level. Amongst the highlights of later shows were appearances by 25(F) Squadron. No 25 Squadron had spent much of it’s career at nearby RAF Hawkinge. The town of Folkestone eventually adopted the Squadron and each year 25(F) would send a quartet of Tornado F3′s for a one-off formation display at the event culminating in a least one of the F3s performing a fast pass and zoom climb.

Sadly, growing expenses saw the end of the flying displays as Shepway District Council could not longer justify the event. It was a truelt unique event and one sadly missed by it’s fans. Today, few airshows have such unique vantage points with perhaps Bournemouth and Dawlish being the exceptions. Continue reading



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