RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2009


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Big anniversaries celebrated by the armed forces seem to be cursed in the UK. Last year the RAF's 90th Anniversary at RAF Fairford very nearly succumbed to the weather before the cancellation of RIAT itself and this year, low cloud and winds very nearly wiped out the "Fly Navy 100" celebrations at RNAS Yeovilton. It wasa frustrating day for all involved but nevertheless, the Royal Navy did take centre stage and presented some exciting displays alongside some quailty acts from the UK, Europe and beyond. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. Photography copyright of the Author or as stated.

Yeovilton 2008 was badly hit by weather with rain and heavy winds lashing the display. 2009 was defiantly drier, but persistent low cloud from a warm front played havoc with the displays. Almost every display these days will have three different formats, a full show, a rolling or mid show and finally a flat/poor weather show. Sadly, the low cloud at Yeovilton proved too low even for many items' flat displays which were forced to stay on the ground. There was further disappointment for many in the afternoon as the Vulcan, now withy it's paperwork sorted, first went tech before finally being beaten by the weather.

Fly Navy 100 Flypast

Opening the events was a slightly truncated version of the Fly Navy 100 flypast. The low cloud base meant the fast jet formations of Hawks, Falcons, Harriers and the Sea Vixen could not join with the helicopters and lighter aircraft for this impressive celebration of naval air power.

Despite all the disappointment that the weather brought, in many ways it was still the best line up seen at Yeovilton for many years. The static was much larger than previous years with much more involvement from overseas air arms wishing to participate in the Fly Navy 100 celebrations. Star items amongst the static were the pair of  EAV-8B Harrier II+ from the Spanish Navy. The Spanish have promised to send their Harriers on many previous occasions but 2009 was the first time they've made it.

The French Navy also put in an impressive line up of types for the static displays too. There was a welcome return by one of the Aeronavale's Dassault Rafale M multi-role fighters. Alongside it was a newly re-engined E-2D Hawkeye and a Westland Lynx HAS4 both of which are rare participants at airshows. The Portuguese Navy also sent one of their Lynx Mk95 helicopters for another rare UK appearance and sporting some impressive nose art with a Star Wars theme. During the show, a Falcon 10MER also appeared ferrying in some VIPs.

Largest aircraft on show was the German Navy's Dassault Atlantic ELINT. These particular aircraft are now very rare visitors to UK airshows as the Maritime patrol variants have all been replaced by ex-Dutch Navy P-3C Orions. However, in the electronic warfare and surveillance role, the venerable Atlantic soldiers on, at least for time being. The appearance by the Atlantic at Yeovilton and later at Culdrose could well be the last ever visits by one to the UK.

There was also the first appearance for many years in the static by Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcons. Not content with sending the usual pair, four turned up for the static displays alongside a further pair for the flying displays. Sadly, the weather didn't allow the Dutch F-16 Demo Team to display which was a great shame.

As ever with Yeovilton's static displays, there is always a theme to part of the line up. This year, the show celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the Sea King entering UK service. Yeovilton has examples of the Sea King HAS2, HC4, HAS6, HAR3 and 3A on display from current service as well as historic collections. Star of the line up however was the solo 2009 airshow appearance of QinetiQ's Sea King Mk4X from Boscombe Down. This unique aircraft has been used for all manner of trials and is a very rare airshow participant

The Royal Navy had a very impressive line up including examples of the Harrier GR9, Tutor, ,Sea King, Merlin and Lynx on static display. There were also historic aircraft on display including a rare pair of warbirds from Remko Sijben, a T-6 Texan and Fairchild 24R-46A. There were also examples of Jet Provost, Chipmunk and Bulldog on display.

As mentioned above, the flying display was heavily affected by the weather, but it did start on time with a slight truncated version of the Fly Navy 100 flypast. The flypast has been seen at many venues throughout the year including Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey (home of the first Royal Naval Air Station), Greenwich and Yeovilton. It will go on to be seen at Fairford and Culdrose before it's last appearance over the skies of Liverpool in October.

Commando Assault

The 2009 Commando Assault took on particular significance with the increased hostilities in Afghanistan. Involving aircraft and marines that have recently returned from theatre, it is one of the highlights of the display calendar and is a poignant reminder of the on going operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.


Many of the planned displays looked back at the Fleet Air Arms history. Sadly, the Royal Navy Historic Flight was unable to take part with their fleet all grounded awaiting various bit of work but nevertheless, there was a good selection. The Historic Aircraft Collection's Hawker Nimrod II finally made it down to Yeovilton for the flying display and braved the mark to give a great display.

Representing the peak of piston power in Royal Navy service were Kennet Aviation's Supermarine Seafire XVII and Douglas Skyraider. The Seafire managed to get a full display in under the clag, but the Skyraider was beaten by the low clouds during it's display slot. However it did managed a spirited aerobatic departure on it's way to Flying Legends at Duxford in company with the Seafire. Kennet also displayed their Wasp helicopter, one of the Royal Navy's most successful aircraft having seen sterling service during the Falklands campaign.

However, star of the historic displays was the mighty Sea Vixen flown by Lt Cdr Matt Whitfield. The low cloud and somewhat damp conditions gave an extra edge to the Vixen's display with all manner of flash condensation appearing over the aircraft during the high speed passes.

Current Royal Navy air power was also displayed in strength. As ever the home team, the Black Cats put on an impressive displays. Just an impressive was the solo display by the Merlin HM1 which flew a very tight display for such a large helicopter. The Cobham Formation was one of the casualties of the low cloud but they did managed to get into the air and perform a run in and break over the airfield. The finale to the day was the traditional "Martime Display" and the "Commando Assault." The Martime display saw yeovilton based Lynx helicopters showing off a number of their maritime roles including anti-shipping and boarding. The Commando Assault is itself a highlight of the airshow calendar. Sadly the fixed wing participants (Harrier GR9 and Hunter F58s) could not take part due to low cloud but the "Junglies" still put on a stunning show supported by the Royal Marines as well as some ground based assets! It was a timely reminder that UK forces are still on operations around the world and that the Marines and Royal Navy are providing many of the vital personnel and aircraft.

The international participation stretched into the flying displays. The Royal Jordanian Falcons finally managed to get into the air after having to miss out at last year's Air Day due to the high winds. However, the low cloud did force the team into a rare flat display. Yeovilton also welcomed Il Frecce Tricolori but they were unable to display due to the cloud.

Also thwarted by the cloud were the Red Arrows who arrived from the temporary weekend roost at Filton and were just able to get a couple of flypasts in under the cloud. Low clouds also prevented displays by the other RAF aircraft in the display, namely the Typhoon and Chinook. The Blue Eagles managed to fit a solo display by the menacing WAH-64D Apache AH1 in under the cloud.

There were further solo fast jet displays from the continent. The Belgian Air Force presented it's F-16AM Fighting Falcon in a new display scheme under the low cloud and highlighted by the use of "smokewinders." However, star of the show was the UK debut of the French Air Force Rafale B solo. Since it's debut at La Ferte Alais they display has won many plaudits and although the weather prevented a full display, the brief glimpse at Yeovilton was very noisy and spectacular.

Yeovilton 2009 looked poised to be the airshow of the year, but was cruelly ruined by the inclement weather. However, what did take place in very difficult circumstances was truly exceptional and perhaps fittingly allowed the Royal Navy itself to take centre stage with the iconic "Commando Assault" and "Maritime Displays."

Sea King 40th
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Fly Navy - The Past
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Fly Navy - Today
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