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2010 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2010

Programme CoverFollowing hot on the heels of the RAF's premier airshow at Waddington was the Royal Navy's biggest airshow of the year - RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day. The previous two shows at Yeovilton have been badly affected by weather, but despite this Yeovilton has attracted large crowds.

The 2010 Air Day celebrated the 70th Anniversary of RNAS Yeovilton, one of the busiest military airfields in the UK. The past 70 years have seen personnel and aircraft heavily involved in military operations around the world and Yeovilton hoped to reflect this in its flying and static displays. The weather was surprisingly good exceeding the expectations of the weather forecasters and those attending who witness perhaps one of the most varied and entertaining flying displays in the UK.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from "onboard" HMS Heron. All photography copyright of the Author. Video highlights courtesy of Planes TV.

2008 and 2009 gave Yeovilton a slightly unfair reputation for weather affected air displays. There's no doubt if it had not been for the weather, 2009 would have been one of the best airshows of the year, perhaps the last 10 years! Of course, the weather did intervene but as with everything, the Royal Navy pushed on to produce an entertaining day!

Thankfully, 2010 was different. Much brighter conditions bathed this picturesque part of Somerset though there was an early threat of high winds. Thankfully, the winds were lighter than the worst case scenario forecast which meant a full day of entertainment. The theme of Air Day 2010 was the 70th Anniversary of RNAS Yeovilton or HMS Heron. The station was commission on the 18th June 1940 and became home to No 1 Naval Air Fighter School and 794 Naval Air Squadron with a mix of Blockburn Roc and Fairey Swordfish aircraft. Today Yeovilton is home to 4400 personnel, both uniformed and civilian. They support Royal Navy operations around the globe including the Commando Helicopter Force in Afghanistan and the Anti-Drug operations in the Caribbean and Atlantic to name but a few.

The static display line up was somewhat smaller this year, and slightly let down by the cancellation of the heavies such as the NATO E-3 and the RAF VC10. Much of the static reflected Yeovilton's history with the Fleet Air Museum's Sea Vixen FAW1 joined by many other historic aircraft.

Another type on static that reflected Yeovilton's history was a rare airshow appearance by a Luftwaffe F-4F Phantom II. The aircraft made a lively appearance during arrivals making several missed approaches before finally landing much to enjoyment of those setting up the show and watch arrivals from outside. Also making a a noisy arrival were the Naval Strike Wing Harrier GR9 and T12s. The GR9 destined for a static took a bow for all those in air traffic before taking its place in the static park.

The Phantom was just part of an impressive international line-up in the air and on the ground. The Phantom was joined by fellow countrymen from Germany in a German Navy Lynx Mk88. The French Navy made their only UK appearance of 2010 at Yeovilton this year with a very late arriving (Saturday morning) Rafale M and a Falcon 10MER. The Polish Navy made a welcome appearance with their PZL M28-1R Bryza maritime patrol aircraft. The Royal Netherlands Air Force also contributed a pair of F-16AM Fighting Falcons for the static park winning the award for the best static display for efforts in manning the aircraft all day to meet the crowds.

While the static park reflected the full range of Royal Navy aircraft in service, it was disappointing to see so little of the Royal Air Force on display. The only RAF helicopter in the static was a Sea King HAR3A parked alongside its naval counterpart in the SAR role, the Sea King HU5 from 771 NAS at RNAS Culdrose.

A major coup for Yeovilton was the first UK public appearance by the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat. The aircraft is being tested at nearby Yeovil Aerodrome and participated on static display next to the hospitality area which was a little unfortunate as many of the crowd would have missed one of the future shapes of the Royal Navy. Unusually, the aircraft was fitted with delicate testing equipment to measure the airflow over the fuselage. In the hangers, there was a mock-up of another possible future Royal Navy aircraft, the AgustaWestland AW101 ASaC which has been designed to replace the ageing Sea King ASaC aircraft.

With no display from the Cobham Falcon 20 aircraft in 2010, there was a solitary example on display in the static park as part of the NATO display. Saturday morning also saw an influx of vintage types for the traditional fly-in that opens Air Day.

In 2009, the "Fly Navy 100" anniversary meant that the Yeovilton flying display dropped the traditional lunch break to fit everything in. It was good to see that 2010 remained just as popular with a full six hour flying display. The weather improved throughout the day with the early morning cloud soon giving way to bright sunny weather with a fairly brisk breeze.

The flying display did feature some important types from Yeovilton's 70 years. Sadly, many of the aircraft from the Royal Navy Historic Flight are still ready for displays, but the beautiful Hawker Sea Hawk FGA6 did put on a superb display alongside Kennet Aviation's Supermarine Seafire XVII which proudly wears the "VL" code denoting it was an aircraft based at Yeovilton.

One of the stars of the show would have been the Shuttleworth Collection's Sea Hurricane Ib but sadly, the aircraft was unserviceable for the event. It was replaced in the flying programme by Peter Teichman's Hurricane IIb to represent the Hurricane's service at Yeovilton. As well as his usual graceful solo display, Peter formed up with the Seafire for some formation passes before the Seafire departed for duties are Duxford's Flying Legends Airshow.

Classic Jet wise, Yeovilton struggled a little this year. The De Havilland Sea Vixen has been unavailable for air displays in 2010 which has been very disappointing, particularly for Yeovilton. However, there was one "twin boomer" that did make it into the display in the form of Air Atlantique's beautiful De Havilland Venom FB50. Again, this land based aircraft was representing it's naval counterpart, the Sea Venom, which served on the Royal Navy's mighty cold war aircraft carriers in the 1960's. A surprising absentee from the flying display line up was the Hawker Hunter which was a regular sight at Yeovilton as part of FRADU before the unit converted on the Hawk and moved to RNAS Culdrose.

However, it was another "classic jet" that put in a star performance at this year's Air Day. Avro Vulcan XH558 was due to make it's Yeovilton flying display debut last year, but the awful weather and then a technical fault prevented the mighty delta from flying. However, the near perfect conditions meant there was no excuse and the Vulcan finally flew at Yeovilton. Following the display, the aircraft was parked on the northside of the airfield allowing the crowd close inspection of the aircraft.

On top of the military displays, there were a few airshow favourites intermingled with the heavy metal. The Breitling Wingwalkers are always a crowd favourite and provided some welcome "showbiz" to the flying display. In complete contrast was the display given by the Swift Aerobatic Display Team with thier stunning mix of powered and unpowered aerobatics. The Twister from Team Swift was also joined by another later in the afternoon for the Twister Duo display which is brand new this year highlighting the impressive qualities of this homebuilt aircraft.

The flying display this year featured a number of international acts. Headlined them were the Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Team) from the Spanish Air Force. The team won the award for best overall flying display at Yeovilton which was their only UK appearance of the year.

Another international display team at Yeovilton were the Royal Jordanian Falcons. The team has put up with the brunt of the poor weather at the previous Yeovilton Air Days, not flying at all in 2008 and just being able to put on a flat display in 2009. 2010 saw the team display in much kinder weather with the team showing off their full routine under the blue Somerset skies.

As in 2009, there were plenty of international fast et displays. The French Air Force Alpha Jet E continued its impressive tour of major UK airshows with a stop at Yeovilton. The elegant little jet puts in a very unusual performance with some interesting aerobatic figures for a jet. We were particularly impressed by the rolling turn and the hesitation rolls included within the demonstration.

As well as the Alpha Jet, there were three separate displays from F-16AM Fighting Falcons from Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. This may sound a little repetitive, but actually was very intriguing to watch as each display was very different. Opening the flying display was "Mitch" Beulen from 349 Squadron of the Belgian Air Component. The Belgian display aircraft has received a stunning paint scheme for the 2010 season which really makes the aircraft stand out. There was a nice surprise in his display too with some flares being fired off at various points during his display - a sign of things to come!

The next F-16 to fly was the was Royal Netherland Air Force display aircraft in its stunning orange paint scheme. Captain Tobais "Hitec" Schutte from 323 Squadron enjoyed somewhat brighter conditions than his Belgian counterpart with clear blue skies. Again, "Hitec" made good use of flares during his routine keeping his jet close in to the crowd as much as possible.

A real treat however was a rare display from a Danish F-16 Fighting Falcon. While the Belgian and Dutch displays are regulars at a number of UK airshows, a Danish F-16 has not displayed at a UK airshow for quite a while. Unlike the other F-16 display aircraft, the Danish F-16 wore it's standard grey camouflage scheme except for a very patriotic tail. The Danish routine was very different too making full use of the F-16's powerful engine and afterburner and liberal use of flares as well. The display also included a spectacular zoom climb which not only produced plenty of vapour but also showed off just how much an F-16's wings can flex!

The Royal Air Force involvement in the flying was slightly disappointing considering the scale of the show. Naturally, the stars of the crowd were the Red Arrows who are quite simply stunning every time you see them. But there were only two solo displays. The Tucano T1 displayed, but not with the specially marked aircraft; both the display aircraft and the spare were in the standard gloss back scheme. The 4(R) Squadron Harrier GR9 role demo also made a welcome appearance alongside it's naval counterparts that appeared later in the day.

However, it was the modern day Royal Navy that was the real star of the day. First of the displays by the current "fleet" was that given by a pair of Jetstream T2 aircraft from 750 NAS at RNAS Culdrose. The Jetstream will soon be replaced by the Beechcraft King Air in its training role so the pairs demonstration was a very welcome addition to the flying display. Another Culdrose resident performing at Yeovilton was the Merlin HM1 from 824NAS which gave a display of it's various capabilities before departing home to Cornwall.

However, it was the home team at Yeovilton that provided the ultimate spectacle. The Black Cats clearly revelled in displaying at their home base and their collegues over at 815NAS put on a superb "Maritime" display highlighting a many roles the navy Lynx can perform. The most spectacular part of the Maritime display saw one Lynx fire a stunning salvo of flares while climbing away from the airfield! Never forget, one anyone else can do, the Navy does better!!

Air Day culminated in the spectacular "Commando Assault" finale which this year involved the Royal Marines, Sea King HC4s from Commando Helicopter Force, Lynx HMA8 from 815NAS, Lync AH7 from 847NAS, Hawks from Naval Flying Standards Wing and Harrier GR9s from the Naval Strike Wing. The "Commando Assault" is always exciting and entertaining to watch and is perhaps one of the most spectacular sights on the airshow circuit. The choreography of the aircraft and marines, plus awesome pyrotechnics make this an un-missable part of Air Day. The finale of the assault was particularly explosive with a wall of fire chasing the overflying Hawks and Harriers.

With the weather on side again, Yeovilton was back to its very best. The crowd numbers of just under 30,000 were perhaps disappointing (no Vulcan effect?) but understandable after two years of poor weather. Despite that, it was a hugely succesful event presenting the Royal Navy at it's very best. Make sure you do not miss Air Day 2011 on the 9th July 2011.

We must thank Ralph Patel from AHA Events Ltd and the personnel of HMS Heron for their hospitality over the Air Day weekend

What did you think of the show? Which displays did you enjoy? What didn't you enjoy? Let us know on our Facebook page!



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