Biggin Hill International Air Fair 2008


Army Wings
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Heavy Iron
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Civilian Colour
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Spitfire Finale
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The Biggin Hill International Air Fair is one of the longest running air displays in the world and is undoubtely one of the most famous. Biggin Hill itself is a very famous airfield thanks to the part it played in the Battle of Britain and the history of the Royal Air Force. Today, despite not being a base for the RAF, Biggin Hill still plays host to the RAF each summer for the Air Fair and is one of the main shows for RAF involvement in the UK. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

The sun finally came out for the Biggin Hill International Air Fair with warm weather for the whole weekend. Biggin Hill remains one of the most important shows in the UK despite several factors that run against it. Perhaps the most noticable one is that the airspace is so restricted. Biggin is home to a main navigational beacon for aircraft flying into and out of London Heathrow airport to the west of London and London Gatwick is only a few miles to the south west. These factors mean at best displays enjoy about 2,000ft above the airfield, and if Heathrow are on easterly that can drop to just 1,600ft above sea level as happened on Sunday this year. This means you're only ever likely to see flat or rolling shows from the fast jets and the big display teams.Despite this the organisers always manage to put of a fine show with plenty of variation and 2008 would prove to be no different.

Over the two days, 120,000 people attended the show, a new record for Biggin Hill. However, as with Fairford last year, the difference in the forecast between Saturday and Sunday played  a big part in crowd numbers over each day. While around 50,000 managed to attend on Saturday, over 70,000 attended on the Sunday before the airfield reached capacity! Reports on traffic unsurprisingly were of long delays during Sunday trying to get in before those without advance tickets had to be turned away. Equally, there were some reports of delays getting out again.

The increase in popularity of the Air Fair is as much to do with the way Biggin Hill is sponsored and marketed. The show enjoys a high level of sponsorship from media outlets such as the History Channel (who are the title sponsors), News Shopper (a local newspaper group and LBC Radio. The latter in particular advertised the show to the city of London with a series of broadcasts and competions. Without that sponsorship, we simply wouldn't have such a succesful airshow.

Spice of Life

Amking their UK Display Debut at Biggin Hill were the Sarangs Helicopter Display Team from the Indian Air Force. They fly the HAL Dhruv which waqs designed and built in India as a modern utility helicopter. It is used by the Indian Armed Forces in a variety of roles and has also found some civilian customers. The Sarangs are in Europe of much of the season as part of a sales tour for HAL and Indian aerospace companies. They will display at Waddington, Fairford and Farnborough.

With so much of the show devoted to the modern Royal Air Force displays, it was appropriate that two of the current RAF solo displays opened the show. Flt Lt Andy Preece opened the display in the diminutive Grob Tutor T1 putting on a fine display of solo aerobatics. He was followed by Flt Lt Stew Campbell in the Tucano T1 showing the progression a pilot would make from the Tutor in what is a completely new look display for the Tucano. On top of the two trainers, all of the rest of the RAF's solo and team displays were on display minus the Red Arrows who are currently on tour in North America. The Falcons Parachute Display Team were once again using the Chinook HC2 as thier "jump-ship" for Biggin as a C-130 was not available for the display. In fact the Chinook HC2 display team won the prize for outstanding contribution to the event with thier busy schedule of dropping the Falcons, performing their own solo display and taking part in the role demonstration. The King Air B200 and Hawk T1 also displayed over the two days. Also displaying was the Typhoon F2/T1A in the hands of Flt Lt Charlie Matthews. The Typhoon is clearly showing much more of it's abilities this year with a tight and noisey display.

On top of the solo displays, the RAF also brought it's Role Demonstration to Biggin once again. Saturday's demo went ahead without the E-3D which was grounded with technical problems. However, thanks to the dedication of the crews at Waddington it was made airworthy for Sundays show which was the first time the full demo had been seen in public with all the participants! Full marks have to go to the Role Demo Team for improving opn last years already exciting display and to the air and ground crews, including the troops who make the whole thing possible.

The Army Air Corps Blue Eagles presented the Westland Lynx AH7 and WAH-64D Apache AH1 for the first time at Biggin. The Apache's display makes use of the some of the pyrotechnics from the RAF's role demo to show off some of the capabilities of the Apache. The Royal Navy too showed off it's prowess with Helicopters with the Black Cats. Naval heritage came in the form of a solo display by the Sea Hawk FGA6.

The oldest aircraft in the display was without doubt Michael Carlson's wonderful Bleriot XI (actually a Swedish built licenced copy - the Thulin A). The aircraft is one of two owned by Carlson who must be one of the most experience Bleriot pilot in the world today. The Bleriots now have a slightly more powerful engines than they did originally allowing them put on a fine show for such slow and delicate aircraft.

In a year which sees the 90th anniversary of the RAF, there were really very few aircraft from that history with perhaps the second world war perhaps best represented. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight lead the warbird contingent with their Spitfire IIa, Hurricane IIc and Lancaster. A Spitfire PR19 from the flight also night stopped at Biggin. The award for the best team display went to the Old Flying Machine pair of Spitfire IX and P-51D Mustang flown by Nigel Lamb and Paul Bonhomme who put put a superb show of formation flying. Also display a P-51D was Peter Teichman who flew alongside the Duke of Brabant's B-25 Mitchell as part of a homage to North American. Completing the homage was Golden Apple's beautiful F-86A Sabre. Further classic jet interest was provided by a pleasing duo of Meteor NF11 and Hunter T7A from Air Atlantique and Delta Jets respectively.

Civilian displays are always a major feature of the Biggin Hill. Headlining them were the Breitling Jet Team from France who were standing in for the Red Arrows with their new seven ship of L-39C Albatross. They had a busy three days at the show. As well as flying two displays over the weekend they also flew a competition winner on a formation flight around east London and Essex on the press day prior to the show - Lucky Chap. The Blades also put on their amazing show of formation and aerobatic flying in perfect conditions.

Summer Lightning

Undoubtely the highlight of the show was RAF's Role Demonstration. The demo builds on last years display and is certainly a much more dynamic and enthralling demonstration of what the RAF really does. Based on a hostage rescue scenario, "Operation Summer Lightning" involves RAF Chinook, E-3D Sentry, 2 x Tornado F3, 2 x Tornado GR4 and the Army Air Corps Apache AH1 in support. The role of the enermy is once again played by the Hawk T1s of No 100 sqn.

Team Guinot added some barnstorming fun to proceedings, certainly to head commentator Brendan O'Brien whose commentary certainly showed his enthusiasm for their display! The team's promotional trailer was certainly a welcome addition on Sunday handing out free suncream! The Swift Aerobatic Display Team also returned to Biggin Hill albeit with the RAFGSA Pawnee in place of the Extra 300. The slower Pawnee allows Guy Westgate in the S-1 Swift much more time in front of the crowd and Guy managed five consecutive rolls while on tow on the Saturday before climbing to height for his solo show.

Biggin Hill has always been famous for display big airliners Sadly, due to Oasis Airlines going under, there were no current large airliners in the display. However there was the absolutely stunning DC-6 Cloudmaster from the Air Atlantique Classic Flight. The DC-6 puts on a superb display of tight turns and wingovers howing off the full profile of the aircraft.

Foreign military participation was once again on the agenda for Biggin Hill. Making their UK debut were the Sarang Helicopter Display Team from the Indian Air Force. While their display may not be as dynamic as that given by the Black Cats or Blue Eagles, they are a welcome and colourful addition to the display circuit this year.

Perhaps the overall show star, and winner of the best solo display, was the Mirage 2000B/C solo from the French Air Force. The confines of the Biggin Hill airspace highlighted the aging jets agility and it's noisey display was well received. We hope that the French Air Force will send more fast jet displays to Biggin Hill at future Air Fairs.

Further foreign military participation was found in the static park where a solitary F-16BM Fighting Falcon from the Royal Danish Air Force was positioned.

The displays on both days were closed by the traditional Spitfire solo, this time the Spitfire being ARCo's Spitfire XVIII flown by John Romain. John flew the Kent Spitfire in the same slot winning the solo prize and his display was as good as ever providing a piognant finale to show with the sun beginning to set.

As ever Biggin Hill provided one of the most varied air displays you ever see at a UK show. Not many boast a line including early edwardian aircraft, aerobatic gliders, warbirds, airliners and jets such as the Mirage or Typhoon in such a tight programme. The show also has a unique atmosphere of fun which many fail to capture. Here's to another succesful Biggin Hill and we look forward to next year's installment.

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Senior Service
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Classic Jets
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Continental Power
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Return of the RAF
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