RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2008


On the deck
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Civlian Flying
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The RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day is the biggest of the Royal Navy's annual airshows. This year saw the event clash with the biggest of the RAF organised shows at Waddington but that didn't stop Yeovilton pulling together an interesting and varied lineup of aircraft. In the end however, the biggest problem turned out to be the weather. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from a blustery Yeovilton. All photography copyright of the Author.

The weather forecasts for the 5th July over south west england were truly appalling with very high winds forecast all day and an advancing band of rain. Early visitors to the show enjoyed a sunny start, albeit with the strong winds, but conditions slowly worsened throughout the day. Further complicating the story for organisers was the "clash" with the Waddington show which meant the loss of a number of regular participants as well as trying to fit in some touring acts going between Yeovilton, Waddington and the London City show.

Each Yeovilton Air Day is given a theme and this year's theme was "Maritime Air" highlight the navy's long association with flying from the first airships to the Harrier GR9s currently deployed in Afganistan. Sadly neither airships or Royal Navy Harriers were on show, the latter due to operational constraints. However, a pair of Royal Air Force Harrier GR7/9 aircraft were on static display. The weather too had played havoc with the static display. The planned fly-in of vintage aircraft was acrubbed due to the high winds at Yeovilton and a number of other airfields across the UK. However, the Royal Navy was out in force with a full selection of types it currently operates as well as some from it historic including the Westland Wessex. As usual there were plenty of examples of the Sea King HC4 and Westland Lynx on display with one of the example from HMS Endurance part of an impressive Antartic exhibtion.

Kennet Aviation's tie with the Royal Navy Historic Flight brought the added bonus of a fair sized chuck of their fleet to the static park with their ex-OFMC Havard joined by the Chipmunk and Provost. Also from private hands were examples of the Westland Scout, Westland Gazelle and the Hunter Flying Club's Hunter FGA9 and a Beech 18 support aircraft.

The Army Air Corps made a small appearance with a single Westland Gazelle from Middle Wallop while the RAF's own participation was surprising considering thr clash with Waddington with the aforementioned Harriers joined by a pair of Tornado GR4s, Squirrel HT1 and Griffin HT1. FR Aviation had an impressive display of their equipment centred around one of their Falcan 20 aircraft and a RN operated Hawk T1. The only international participation at the whole event were the French Navy Super Frelon and Lynx helcopters found in the static park.

As is tradition at the Yeovilton Air Day, the flying display was split in to two halves. With the worsening weather conditions as much of the flying display was to be squeezed into the available flying time as possible. The show was opened in a particularly noisey fashion by the only modern fast jet participant, the RAF's Typhoon F2 flown by Flt Lt Charlie Matthews arriving direct from RAF Waddington. Charlie managed to get a full display with the typhoon showing the moisture in the air to good effect with huge flash condensation clouds forming over the jets wings. However, things were not all well with the Typhoon itself and Charlie had to catch a lift with the Black Cats who were transiting back up to RAF Waddington after their own display a short while after the Typhoon has landed.

The Typhoon wasn't the only RAF aircraft that appeared during the the afternoon. Yeovilton remains a fully operational base and has many assets deployed overseas and it's often the RAF that are called in to support their operations. Towards the end of the first half of the flying programme a C-17A Globemaster III from 99 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton landed to drop off a Sea King HC4 that had been in operations in Afganistan. Later in the afternoon the C-17 made a typically dramatic departure back in it's base in Oxfordshire.

The solo army representation in the flying was the Royal Artillary Parachute Display Team who jumped from a Lynx from yeovilton before departing off to another display in Wales.

The VAAC Harrier

Star of the show for many was the VAAC Harrier from nearby Boscombe Down. VAAC stands for Vectored-thrust Aircraft Advanced flight Control system and has been instrumental in the deign of the avionics for the F-35B Lightning II VSTOL fighter destined to enter service with the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and US Marine Corps.  Essentially the rear cockpit of the Harrier is fitted with an advanced fly by wire system. The new  computerised system simplfies the vertical flight stage for the pilot which will lead to fewer training and combat accidents with the F-35B. The front cockpit however remains a stock cockpit from this sirst generation harrier.

With the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in full swing this particular aircraft has been particularly busy so the fact it performed in the air display represents a major coup for Yeovilton

The second display in complete contrast to the noise of the Typhoon was the Swift Aerobatic Display Team with their new combination of Piper PA25 Pawnee, Silence Twister and S-1 Swift glider. After some formation passes with all three aircraft that saw the Twister rolling around the Glider and the famous roll on tow both the Twister and Swift went on perform solo displays - not easy in such light aircraft. The Swift were not the only "civilian" displays to battle through the weather to display. Lt Andy Durston flew his first public display in his Yakovlev Yak-52 in the afternoon which was most impressive given the conditions. However, the prize for "just getting there" has to go to Team Guinot wingwalkers and pilots for battleing through the weather from their base at Rendcomb in Gloucestershire to open the second half of the flying with a typically spirited routine.

Historic aviation is always high on the agenda at Yeovilton but sadly the strong winds meant many of the planned displays couldn't take place. Worst hit were the Royal Navy Historic Flight who couldn't get into the air at all at their home event. The newly restored Swordfish and Sea Hawk were restricted to taxy demonstrations up the main runway. Also not flying was Kennet Aviation's Skyraider which couldn't get into Yeovilton.

One of the first historic aircraft to display during the day was a Hunter GA11 from the Hunter Flying Club. The GA11 has become something of a rarity on the display circuit as many of these former FRADU aircraft have fallen out of airworthiness. Continuing the classic jet theme was the North American F-86A Sabre from the Gloden Apple Trust which put on a beautful smooth display despite the conditions.

Another North American product which made it into the air at Yeovilton was Peter Teichman's P-51D Mustang. Peter had based himself at Bristol Airport for the day as he was also due to display at Woodspring Model airshow on the way to Yeovilton which meant he didn't take off in such a strong crosswind as he experienced trying to land at Yeovilton!

De Havilland "twin-boomers" were well represented in the flying. The Vampire Preservation Group's Vampire T11 was the earlist of the marks to display. This particularl aircraft was infact the first ex-military jet to be placed on to the civilian register aftre it was made airworthy by the Solway Aviation Society. The later development of the twin boom fighter, the De Havilland Venom FB50 was also in the air under the control of RNHF manager John Beattie. This particular aircraft is in RAF colours but is infact an ex-Swiss Air Force machine.

But it was the ultimate development of the "twin-boomers" than proved to be one of the show stars - the De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 XP924. It was longer than a year since this aircraft had appeared at an airshow, and then it was in the colours of Red Bull who sponsored it at the time. Yeovilton was the first time that the aircraft had carried out a public display in it''s authentic 899 NAS colours.

The other star of the flying was also a "classic jet," though one that is still used to this day to develop the latest military aircraft. The VAAC Harrier from nearby Boscombe Down made a rare public appearance and an even rarer flying display. This colourful aircraft made perhaps one of the last ever public displays of the original British development of the Harrier in the UK.

Foxy's Back

The second major star of the flying was De Havilland Aviation's Sea Vixen XP924 making her airshow  debut in 899 NAS markings.  The Sea Vixen was flown by Brian Grant who has been flying the Sea Vixen on the circuit for many of the aircraft appearances in civilian hands. He is due to retire towards the end of the 2008 season.

The navy's rotary past was marked by a display from Kennet Aviation's Westland Wasp which arrived flanking the navy's newest helicopter, the Westland Merlin HM1 from RNAS Culdrose.  Also from Culdrose were the Hawks from FRADU that displayed with the two Falcon 20s from FR Aviation as part of the Cobham formation. Despite the loss of two Hawks from previous years displays this display is still an interesting and unusal item for airshows because it mixes what are essentially business jets with fast jets.

Also displaying from the current Royal Navy were the pair of Lynx HAS3/HMA8 from the Black Cats Helicopter Display Team. As mentioned earlier the Black Cats had a busy weekend displaying at RAF Waddington as well as Yeovilton. The Black Cats hail from 702 NAS based at RNAS Yeovilton and take their name from the squadron badge (a black lynx cat) and a old naval term "Black catting" which describes a form of "one-up-man-ship."

The finale of the day was brought forward but quite way, mainly thanks to the cancellations and the thoughtful organisation that meant any gaps were minimised in the flying programme. It came just in time as the backdrop to the demonstration was a slowly advanced bank of rain which slowly started to obscure the Somerset countryside. As in previous years, the finale started with some maritime scenarios of boarding rogue ships and anti submarine with Lynx and Merlin helicopters warfare before moving on the main land-based assault with the Royal Marines Lynx AH7, Royal Air Force Chinook HC2 and Royal Navy Sea King HC4 helicopters together with a solitary Hawk. The assault finale finished as the deluge of rain hit Yeovilton and sent the crowd running to their cars!

As ever, Yeovilton put on a fine display despite loosing several items including a USAF B-52 flypast and a display by the Royal Jordanian Falcons. All of the participating pilots put on a sterling effort to get a flying display going despite the best attempts of the poor weather that seems to a have been a feature of Summer 2008. The Yeovilton Air Day returns on 11th July 2009 for a very special celebration of 100 years of Naval Aviation - FLY NAVY 100!

In all weathert!
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In the air
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Durston's debut
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