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The Royal Navy hold two annual air shows a year. We've been reviewed Yeovilton for a number of years but have never had the chance to visit the Air Day at Culdrose due to commitments elsewhere. A change to date for an important anniversary however changed that Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of author.

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RNAS Culdrose is one of the busiest military airfields in Europe and is heavily involved in training, the front and search and rescue. It is home to a diverse range of types. At the fore front is the Merlin HM1 which equips 700M NAS, 814NAS, 820NAS and 829NAS. Also based at Culdrose are the Sea King ASaC7s of 849 NAS, 854 NAS and 857NAS. Joining them are 771 NAS who are perhaps the most prolific of all the squadrons based here. They fly the brightly paint Sea King HU5 search and rescue helicopters which are often seen around the coast of Cornwall and television news.

As well as  the rotary squadrons, Culdrose is home to 750 NAS and their fleet of Jetstream observer training aircraft and liaison duties. Also based here is the FRADU and it's small fleet of Hawks used for all sorts of different training roles.


The summer holiday months are a busy time on the airshow calendar as airshows start to pop up at several different times of the week. One of these is the RNAS Culdrose Air Day which traditionally takes advantage of the school summer holidays to host it's show mid week on a Wednesday. Traditionally the show is held in July but 2007 saw the 60th Anniversary of the base so the date was moved to the 1st August to better reflect the anniversary.

Culdrose, like Yeovilton, is different to the shows run by the RAF in many ways, not least the relaxed atmosphere is it held in. Whereas shows such as Waddington may well feature an array of fast paced military and civilian action, Culdrose's display was much more varied and arguably more enjoyable for it. Culdrose benefits from a truly stunning backdrop. The rolling hills of Cornwall make for a beautiful background and the surround coastline is stunning. It's no surprise fo find a lot of Culdrose's audience are actually holiday makers visiting the base during their summer break. Culdrose geographical position can also be it's own worst enemy. Past shows have been badly affected by the Atlantic weather with fog and low cloud causing shows organisers a headache.

This year however, it was absolutely stunning airshow weather which is surprising considering what the rest of the summer has been like. The show opened with a look at some of the Royal Navy's assets, and Culdrose's own unit in particular. Storming into the arena were the Royal Marine Commando's fast roping from one of Yeovilton's Sea King HC4s helicopters. Next came another Sea King in the form of the Sea King ASaC7 airborne surveillance and control version. This in fact was a rare chance to see one of these helicopters perform a solo display which is not often repeated away from Culdrose. Also putting on a rare flying appearance over home was the Sea King HU5 search and rescue helicopter.

Other Culdrose residents in the flying included the Merlin HM1. The Merlin is very much at the forefront of the Navy's future and much of the development and training for the type is conducted at Culdrose by four squadrons

The Navy clearly puts a lot of effort into it's two Air Days. While Yeovilton has the highly impressive "Commando Assault" Culdrose puts on a massed fly-by of types based at Culdrose and elsewhere. This involved four Merlin HM1, four Jetstream T2, a Sea King HC4, Sea King ASaC7 , Sea King HU5, Lynx HAS3s, FRADU Hawks and FR Aviation Falcon 20s as well as Kennet Aviation's Wasp HAS1. The elements of the formation then broke down into their individual displays. The FR Aviation Falcon 20 and FRADU Hawks have recently had a lot of success in display awards for the big military airshows. Other award winners from the Royal Navy ranks are the Black Cats who were down from RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset with their striking specially marked machine. The ground displays also repeated the aerial content together with some of the Sea Harrier FA2 and Harrier T8 aircraft from the based ground and flightdeck handling school.

With the 60th Anniversary of RNAS Culdrose being the central theme of the event there were a number of historic aircraft associated with the base. Culdrose has always been involved with the training of RN pilots and  one of the first acts was a delightful aerobatics display by a Tiger Moth in post war Royal Navy markings. It was followed by the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Chipmunk again performing some classic aerobatics. More potent types operated from Culdrose included the Seafire XVII and Corsair both of which flew in the hands of John Beattie and Brian Smith. A late addition to the flying displays was Air Atlantique's wonderful Avro Anson T21, a type of which was used by the navy for a number of roles during and after the second world war. Also making a welcome appearance was the Hawker Hunter FGA9 from Exeter which put on a classic hunter display with plenty of topside passes and the "Blue Note."

Much earlier naval aviation was represented by the Great War Display Team with their Sopwith Triplane, Sopwith Pup and Fokker DR1 replicas. With sound and smoke effects they always put on a good display of classic dogfighting.

In the air the Royal Air Force was quite poorly represented. The star of their line up was the Chinook HC2 from 18(B) squadron which got a timely bath in Culdroses de-salting sprayer! Also flying was the Tucano T1 flown by Flt Lt Bobby Moore through a typically precise routine. On the ground, star of the RAF line up was the Typhoon F2 of 11 (F) Squadron which departed after the flying display had finished. Other participants included the Dominie T1 and King Air 200 multi engined and navigation trainers from RAF Cranwell, Puma HC1 from RAF Benson and a Tornado GR4 from RAF Marham.

The Army Air Corp had both the Blue Eagles and the Historic Aircraft Flight  in the display. The latter is getting back towards full strength and put on a rather pleasing mixed display. A further aircraft from the UK armed forces was the Slingsby Firefly of the Defence Elementary Flying Training School based at RAF Barkston Heath and flown by Alan Wade

Unlike some of the RAF shows this year, the Navy once again manage to attract a decent contingent of aircraft from European air arms. The French Navy once again put in a good showing with examples of the Atlantique 2, Super Frelon and Lynx in the static park. The German Navy also made up for some absences earlier in the year with an example of a Sea King Mk41 and a Lynx.

Making a welcome appearance was the Irish Air Corps EC135 utility helicopter. The Irish certainly are very proud of their new machinery as this helicopter has been to a number of the large airshows throughout the summer. The Belgian Air Component was also represented by a sole SF260 Warrior basic trainer.

The Netherlands Navy had a SH-14D Lynx in the static while in their air the Air Force displayed the F-16AM Fighting Falcon which incidentally was the only real fast jet action in the flying display. The F-16 had to operate from nearby RAF St Mawgan as Culdrose's runway is just a little too short for comfort for dutch operations. Once again we were treated a noisy display highlighted by a liberal use of flares.

Flying was closed by the only totally civilian act in the display, the Yakovlevs with their four ship of Yaks from Compton Abbas. The deep blue evening skies just highlighted the silver machines as they close the flying display.

While RNAS Culdrose Air Day may well be slightly smaller than the more illustrious military airshows, it certainly provides a widely varied and enjoyable days flying and value for money. The mid summer holiday crowd certainly enjoyed the flying even though they were missing their favourite, the Red Arrows. The beautiful Cornish countryside makes an excellent backdrop for the flying and the idea display line (ie. East - West) makes it's a good airshow for photography if it's sunny so should be of interest to the enthusiasts too.

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