RAF Odiham Families Day 2009


Rotors Turning
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Fixed Wing
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The Home Team
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Each year, a number of the RAF's stations hold a "Families Day." Many include a small flying displays as part of the day. One of the largest takes place at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, home to the RAF's Chinook Force as well as an Army Air Corps squadron, No 657 sqn, flying the Lynx AH7. Several of the UK's top display acts took part alongside the RAF displays and the home team. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK and Simon Fenwick report from Odiham. Photography copyright of the Authors.

RAF Odiham has always been an important base for the RAF. During the war on terrorism, it has become even more so as the Chinook is essential to operations supporting NATO troops in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, Three squadrons of Chinook are based at Odiham - No's 7, 18(B) and 27 Squadron. On top of commitments in Afghanistan, Odiham maintains a Chinook on short notice standby 365 days a year, 24 hours a day in case of national emergencies. Odiham's personnel also support deployments in the Falklands and other parts of the world. As well as it's military role, Odiham currently acts as a base for the Surrey Police EC135 support helicopter.

Like many stations, Odiham has a full community program to support those who work at the station and their families. The families days provides a chance for the station to say thank you to the families for the support they give by providing an entertaining, memorable day out as well as giving the families in insight into the station's role and activities. The morning sees the Chinooks and Lynx AH7 helicopters busy giving families a unique insight with flights around the local area. On the ground, there were a number of different activities and exhibits including a classic car meet as well as a large collection of static aircraft.

Amongst the visitors was another type from the RAF's Support Helicopter Force, the Puma HC1. While it doesn't have the lift capacity of the larger Chinook, the Puma still gives sterling service supporting UK forces around the globe. As such, they are rare visitors to UK events so are always a welcome sight. Alongside the Puma was the original support helicopter, the UH-1H Iroquois or "Huey." G-UHIH is operated by huey.co.uk and is sometimes seen on static display at various events. The Army Air Corps also sent a Gazelle AH1 and a WAH-64D Apache AH1 up from nearby Middle Wallop. In complete contrast to purposeful military machinery was the Empire Test Pilots School's rather attractively painted Agusta A109 Power. The RAF's only fixed wing aircraft on static display were a Tornado GR4 and a 76(R) Squadron Tucano T1 (see side box)

"Queenie's Return"

One of the aircraft joining Odiham Families Day was a 76(R) Squadron Tucano from Linton-on-Ouse with an interesting story behind it's attendance. Simon Fenwick takes up the story...

During WWII 76 Sqn operated the Handley Page Halifax bomber on missions over Germany and France. On one of those missions, Halifax MP-Q (Queenie) was running low on fuel and dropped into the airfield at Odiham. On 22nd July 2009, 76 Sqn Tucano ZF264 'MP-Q' from RAF Linton-on Ouse, dropped in to RAF Odiham to be greeted by the two remaining crew members from that original flight, pilot Walter MacFarlane and Charlie Gallagher who was the bomb aimer. The photographs here show Walter and Charlie along with their families and Martin Wintermeyer from the current 76 Sqn, together with of course the current holder of the name 'Queenie'.

There were also a number of interesting visitors from civilian operators. Hampshire Police's BN2T Islander joined the static park alongside the Surrey Police EC135. There was also a float-equipped Cessna 182. Historic types were also popular with a varied collection of types. One unusual addition was an OV-10 Bronco wearing it's Luftwaffe markings. This is one of a pair of aircraft that have been based at Duxford. It hopefully will not be long before this aircraft is seen in flying displays.. There were appearances by the 108 groups Messerschmitt Me108, Aces High's C-47 Dakota and a pair of Jet Provosts.

The flying display part of the families day took place throughout the afternoon. Strong winds across much of the country forced a number of displays to withdraw from the event leaving some large gaps. However, the display still contained a strong line up that many airshows would be envious of. 

The flying display was opened by a single flypast from a 99 Sqn C-17A Globemaster III from RAF Brize Norton. Like the Chinook force, ongoing operations keep these mighty airlifters busy and away from many airshows. They are however an impressive sight in the air.

The Red Arrows were one of the first acts. The clouds just allowed the team to give their full display. As usual their performace was a stunning mix of formation and synchronised aerobatics. Their final run-in and break was a little different from the norm with aircraft peeling away from "Big Vixen" formation into left and right circuits! There was further Hawk action from the RAF's Hawk solo display pilot, Flt Lt Matt Barker.

The "Home Team" put on an exciting demonstration of some of their roles in operations. A pair of Chinook HC2 and a 657 squadron Lynx AH7 flew in the demo supported by ground troops.  No's 657 (AAC) Squadron and 7 (RAF) together form the Joint Special Forces Air Wing along with 651 Squadron based at Middle Wallop on the Islander AL1. The Chinook's first dropped off some troops in Land Rovers before further troops were "fast-roped" in by the Lynx AH7. The Chinooks then brought in further supplies in under-slung loads while the Lynx provided an escort and cover. The sequence finished with a formation hover from the three helicopters. On top of the role demo, the Chinook was also put through it's display routine by Flt Lt Russ Norman and crew. The Chinook is the star of the show wherever it's appears. It's not often you see something so large and purposeful put on such a balletic performance.

Another star of the show was the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon flown by Ralph Aarts. The F-16 Demo Team were in the UK for a mini tour of airshows that had started at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day and continued at the Royal International Air Tattoo. After Odiham Families Day the team went on to display at Lowestoft and Sunderland before heading back home.

Another display and paint scheme that really caught the eye was that of the Fiat G46-3B. This Italian military training aircraft was developed shortly after the second world war, but is very reminiscent of the Fiat fighters used in the North African campaign. The display was an excellent routine of aerobatics and close passes that showed off the aircraft to great effect.

Further aerobatics were provided by The Blades. Flying four Extra 300LP aerobatic aircraft, the team is exclusively made up of former Red Arrows and as such, the team are always very keen to support military related events whenever they can. A completely different style of aerobatics was performed by the Swift Aerobatic Display Team. New team pilot Paul Barker took up the tow duties in the Piper Pawnee while Guy Westgate flew his usual amazing mix of aerobatics on and off the tow in the S-1 Swift. Peter Wells also displayed his latest Twister for the first time. G-RIOT is the first Twister to be equipped with a UL260i engine which gives the aircraft fully inverted capabilities.

There were also a number of displays from classic jets. Golden Apple's F-86A Sabre gave it's usual graceful display flown by Mark Linney. This particular Sabre is the only airworthy A-model anywhere in the world and is the oldest jet currently flying in the UK. The Sabre has proved a particularly popular display in 2009 displaying at a number of big venues such as Biggin Hill, Kemble and Duxford. A further classic jet display was flown by Neil MacCarthy. Neil has long been a participant at airshows and families days in his Jet Provost T3 as a static display item. In 2009, he's started to fly displays in his jet making his debut at the Abingdon Air and Country Show in May. Since then he's gone on to perform at a number of other venues and is a very welcome addition too.

However, the best was saved for last. Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 closed the days flying making a particularly dramatic entrance from behind Odiham's hangers. Based at RAF Brize Norton, the Vulcan has enjoyed a successful summer of displays. RAF Families Days have featured well in the Vulcan's calendar as the RAF has been a strong supporter of the project allowing the aircraft to use Brize Norton as a base as well as other airfields during the early test flights.

The RAF Odiham Families Day provides a superb chance for familiest o see the inner workings of the RAF base where their loved ones are stationed, particularly at a time when so many personnel from RAF Odiham are away from home. Odiham has built up it's families days over the years to become one of the biggest and most successful. Long may they continue!

Thanks to The Swift Aerobatic Display Team for making this report possible

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