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We are often told that traditional airshows are declining and on the way out and that the public are demanding more sophisticated entertainment at the aviation events they attended. While there is always likely to be place for the well run traditional airshows, it does appear apparent that airshows will need to do something different in the future to keep interest up. Leading the way in many respects is the Fly to the Past event held at Blenheim Palace just outside Oxford. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of author.

Natural Flight
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World War One
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World War Two
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Commercial Flight
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Hover Flight
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Jet Flight
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Aerobatic Flight
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The venue for "Fly to the Past" couldn't have been any different. The rolling slopes of the Blenheim Palace Estate make a welcome change from the airfield ands seaside venues we are used to. The showground at Blenheim is dominated by a large stage and arena with big bands concerts, classic cars and war time set pieces and displays. The showground was also full of travelling acts such as "Haurel and Lardy" and a singing, weeping Robot! The show crowd itself was very different to those you'll see at Biggin Hill etc. One of the factors may have been the price. This show cost £40 a ticket putting it well above events such as RIAT, Duxford and Farnborough for costs, particularly taking into account the length of the flying display so we have to ask "Was it worth it?"

Brave New World?

What made the air display at Blenheim so different had a lot to do with the presentation of the event. At the centre of the show ground was a Big screen and a really quite impressive sound system. As the aircraft display appropriate music was played and cameras positioned around the site captured all the action, even when it was out of view.. The images on the screen were even mixed with images of aviation history. Commentary was provided by Sean Maffett who enthusiams for this style of show shone through his commentary on proceedings.

The display itself really was set around the story of flight in one way or another. The show started with a look at man's inspiration; birds. This was performed by the incredible Christian Moullec with his microlight leading four cranes around the skies above Blenheim. This is always quite a sight and even more so at Blenheim as some of the cranes didn't really seem that interested in following him which meant Christian kept having to circle to collect them up! Moving on, the first full display of the day was the Swift Aerobatic Display Team of Guy Westgate in the S-1 Swift glider and Jon Gowdy is the Extra 300L tow aircraft. They performed their usual antics on tow before Guy split from Jon to perform some unlimited aerobatics in the Swift. Guy ended his display by landing on the fields in front on Blenheim Palace. Later in the day, the "Natural Flight" tableux was complete by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team.Their display was sadly marred when one of the team struck a spectactor as the team landed. Paramedics were quickly on the scene.

The story moved on into the dark years of World War One with the Great War Display Team who once again filled the skies with replicas of those fragile combat aircraft that fought above the trenches. The team have been one of your scribe's favourite displays of the year as they quite literally fill the skies with aircraft and replicate a dogfight so well.

The show then skipped quite a bit of history to it's World War Two theme with a number of warbird displays. First to display were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with their full complement of Spitfire IIa, Hurricane IIc and Lancaster B1 arriving over the Palace. It was very pleasing to see the Old Flying Machine Company's P-51D Mustang joined by Spitfire IX MH434 for what must have been it's first public display of the year as part of an exciting duo display. Also displaying was Peter Teichman's P-40M Kittyhawk and the 108 Group's Messerschmitt Me108 which attacked the estate with all sorts of explosions and bangs before being seen off by the P-40. The ultimate piston fighter development was represented by the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Fury FB11. Sadly, the display was way off the line and the calls to stop were hampered by radio problems.

Ending the first half of the display were The Blades and their four Extra EA300LP. Their display remains as precise as ever with action in front of the crowd at all times with a display that highlights their Red Arrows heritage.

After the break, it's was time for displays from the post war era. Helicopters have become very much part of modern life in and out of military life. Military rotary history was represented by perhaps one of the most famous helicopters of all times, the Bell UH-1H Iroquois of MSS Holdings. Performing to "Ride of the Valkyries," it put on a fine show over the leafy woods around the lakes.  Dennis Kenyon provided a complete contrast in the rotary world with his display in a Schweizer 300C helicopter using the topography of site to full effect with his tight turns and vertical turns as well as his trademark pirouettes on one skid on the grass.

Large piston powered airliners are always a spectacular addition to any programme and they don't come much more spectacular than Air Atlantique's DC-6C G-APSA which made some sweeping passes and tight turns during it's display which was it's first of the season. We hope that plenty of other organisers see the attraction of this big airliners.

The last piece of the story is of course "Jet Flight." The earliest jet on display was the De Havilland Vampire T55 flown by Jon Gowdy from Air Atlantique who had earlier flown the Extra two aircraft fro the Swift glider - busy chap! Later development of the jet fighter led to aircraft like the beautiful Hawker Hunter and it was display in it's T7 guise by Delta Jet's chief pilot, Andy Cubin. The show finale was the Eurofighter Typhoon F2 displayed by Flt Lt Jim Walls. The sight of this big jet being display over such a different and tight display.

Full marks must go to the team led by former Red Arrows leader, Tim Miller that put such a brilliant flying display together. It was one of the most varied of the season cover all facets of aviation in a spectacular setting. Sadly a number of displays, notably the military ones, did infringe the display lines on several occasions and overfly the palace which was a very big "No-no" and this maybe something to look at for future events. Overall, it was a quality day out if a little on the pricey side. Hopefully the show will return next year.

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