Biggin Hill International Air Fair 2009


Smoke on Go!
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UK Armed Forces
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The 47th Edition of the Biggin Hill International Air Fair once again fell on one of the hottest weekends of the year. The Air Fair is the longest running privately organised airshow in the UK and remains one of the the finest in the world attracting a wide variety of aircraft from the UK and beyond. The Air Fair actually started as a "Travel Fair" promoting the fledgling air travel market in 1963 but soon developed into a full airshow. Throughout the history of the Air Fair, it has brought some unique displays and sights. 2009 was no different with the return of the Vulcan after a 17 year absence as well as a special celebration of Virgin Atlantic's 25th Anniversary. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. Photography copyright of the Author or as stated.

The Heat in on!

It's often easy to forget that many, many people are need behind the scenes at an airshow. THey range from the display crews, ground crews, flying display directors,  flying control committee, police, fire crews, ambulence staff  to people directing traffic and taking money at the gates.

Biggin Hill seems to have the most amazingly luck with the weather in recent years. While much of the South East corner of the UK was battered by heavy thunderstorms (which even caused flash flooding in parts of London just a few miles to the north), Biggin escaped with only the odd spit of rain and some very dramatic cloudscapes to watch the flying displays against! On the ground, there were the usual fun fairs, stalls and static aircraft which included a number of types from the Royal Air Force, Army as well as rare appearances by a Formula 1 Management BAE 146 and a Westland Wessex which is being retored to flight.

Biggin Hill's display line-up was as varied as ever, though during the week leading up to the show as well as during the show itself it changed significantly due to operational reasons and unservicability. Hardest hit was a "Fly Navy 100" theme with all of the Royal Navy Historic Flight's aircraft currently out of action as well as a number of private items also going "tech." However, replacement items were able to be brought in including the dramatic Sea Vixen FAW2 flown by Lt Com Matt Whitfield. It was joined by two very different pistion engined fighters. The Hawker Nimrod was a naval development of the famous Fury fighter and retains the graceful lines of it's air Force cousin. In the hands of the Historic Aircraft Collection's Howard Cook, the Nimrod is a spritely performer. A far larger aircraft is the Douglas AD-1 Skyraider from Kennet Aviation and flown by John Beattie. Though this particular example wear the colours of a US Navy unit during the Vietnam war, the Skyraider played an important part in the Cold War flying as a carrier bourne airbourne early warning aircraft prior to the introduction of the Fairey Gannet.

Piston engined warbirds always play an important part of any Biggin Hill Air Fair. The show was opened by Carolyn Grace in her Spitfire IXT with her display set to the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue by William Walton. Further Spitfire action came from John Romain in ARCo's dutch marked Spitfire IXT fending off Cliff "Herr" Spink in the Me109J Buchon from Spitfire Ltd in an emotive dogfight and tailchase. The RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also flew a Spitfire Vb alongside one of their Hurricane IIc aircraft. Saturday saw a display by the Lancaster but sadly it was unable to take part in Sunday's show due to engine problems.

Peter Teichman flew his P-40M Kittyhawk which is still wearing the "Tuskagee Airmen" colours from filming a new George Lucas film depicting the story of the famous afro-american squadron.

Zoom Zoom!

John Taylor flew the Ulimate High Extra 300L in an exciting solo aerobatic routine. The Extra is sponsored by Mazda as part of the campaign to riase awareness of the World Aerobatics Championships being held in at Silverstone during the last week in August. John's display combined standard unlimited aerobatics with some freestyle aerobatics which will all be seen at Silverstone as well as a closing ceremony and airshow on the final day. More information can be found at

Saturday's show was closed by the pair of OFMC fighters, P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie and Spitfire IX MH434 flown by Paul Bonhomme and Nigel Lamb repeated their rousing 2008 award winning display. The finale was the traditional Spitfire solo by Nigel which was perhaps the most iconic display of afternoon. Sadly, again to technical troubles this could be repeated on Sunday due to a brake fault on the Mustang leaving Nigel Lamb to close Biggin 2009 alone in the Spitfire.

The Great War Display Team displayed nine of their aircraft to recreate the massive dogfights of the first world war. So good was their display that they picked up the award for the best team display of 2009 on the Saturday night.

It was pleasing to see so many classic jets in the display. Jonathon Whalley managed to get to Biggin in time to display on the Sunday in his Hunter F58a Miss Demeanour. The Hunter was unservicable on Saturday, but engineers literally drove the length of the country to get the Hunter going again in time for Sunday's display.

A late addition to the flying display was Golen Apple's beautiful F-86A Sabre flown by Mark Linney. In possibly it's final UK display season, the Sabre puts on a graceful display highlighted by it's trail of brown smoke from the GE J-47 jet engine.

There were also two teams of classic jets at the Air Fair. The Folland Gnat pair gave a typically polished routine of the diminutive trainer while Team Viper performed for the second time at a UK show. Team Viper consists of four BAC Strikemaster jets wearing the liveries of different operators of the type. The pilots, led by Chris Heames, come from a variety of backgrounds.

However, star of the classic jet line-up was once again the Vulcan B2, though it was only present on the Saturday as technical problems kept the big jet on the ground for Sunday. It was 17 years since the Vulcan had last visited Biggin Hill in 1992. On that occasion under the ownership of the RAF, the Vulcan famously lifted a large section of tarmac as it took off from the runway. In civilian hands however, the runway at Biggin is a little too short so the Vulcan toured in from it's summer base at RAF Brize Norton.

Still Red Hot!!!

Moment of the weekend, perhaps the entire airshow season, was the arrival of a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 leading the Red Arrows  to celebrate the Airline's 25th Anniversary.

Along with all the military history, Biggin Hill once again presented the pick of the civilian display teams. Team Guinot gave their usual excellent display of barnstorming and wingwalking. The Swift Aerobatic Display Team returned to Biggin Hill with their new combination display for the first time. It was a busy weekend for the team who were also performing at the celebration of 100 years of soaring at Southdown Gliding Club on the Saturday Evening as well as two other venues in East Anglia on Sunday.

Paul Bonhomme also displayed alongside Steve Jones in the Matadors display. The duo have more time to display this year as there are less Red Bull Air Races which is great news for UK airshows as the Matadors are surely the best in the business when it comes to aerobatics displays!

Modern military aviation is always a feature of Biggin Hill events. Providing some international flavour to the weekend were a French Air Force Alpha Jet E in the static display and a United States Air Force KC-135R Stratotanker in the flying displays.

The British armed forces were represented by aircraft from the Army Air Corps and the Royal Air Force. In the air, the Blue Eagles gave their unusual combined display by the Westland Lynx AH7 and WAH-64D Apache AH1. The Royal Air Force had it's full complement of solo displays - Tutor T1, Hawk T1, King Air B200, Chinook HC2 and the Typhoon T1A. The Typhoon, flown by Flt Lt Scott Loughran, went on to take the award for the best solo display. However it was the Hawk that many will remember on the Sunday. Flt Lt Matt Barker handled a tyre burst very calmly on landing but it did leave the Hawk stranded at the far end of Biggin's runway which did cause a small disruption to the flying displays and put some pressure on timings.

However, it was the Red Arrows that were stars of the show. Not only did they appear on both days of the Air Fair following a years absence last year but they provided one of the those special moments that the Air Fair has become famous for. To celebrate Virgin Atlantic's 25th Anniversary they formed up with one of the airlines Boeing 747-400 aircraft out over the north sea before tracking into Biggin Hill. Following a couple of passes the formation broke with the Red Arrows landing before the 747 performed a missed approach giving a spectators a seriously close look at the giant airliner.

Despite a number of no shows due to operational reasons and unservicability, Biggin Hill was varied and entertaining show with some memorable displays, not least the Virgin Atlantic 25th Anniversary flypasts. With such displays, Biggin remains at the pinnacle of the prvately organised shows and long may it continue to do so!

International Fayre
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Spick and Span!
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Classic Jets
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Time Flies
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Spitfire Finale
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