Small is Beautiful!

The Airshow Season Starts here: In praise of the local airshow

Airshows like RIAT, Biggin Hill, Farnborough and Waddington may grab all the headlines, but the many smaller local airshows are just as important to the airshow circuit. Without the commerical nature of the bigger shows, the local events can be a much more enjoyable day out. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All Photography copyright of the Author

One of the great things about the UK airshow circuit is the variety. Not only are we blessed with all manner of different acts, but there is a great selction of shows of all sizes too! Internet Forums and review sites may be full of articles related to the major airshows and the fast jets throughout the summer, but some of the most interesting acts are to be found off the beaten track at some of the immensely enjoyable smaller airshows up and down the country.

Many of the UK's best loved airshows started life as very small events, often held on part of an airfield and in support of a local charity with just a few local display acts. Events like Abingdon, Little Gransden, Sywell and Shoreham have grown up from very modest beginnings with strong core team driving the events. Even though these airshows are very much bigger these day, they always try and maintain the atmosphere of their first few events which is perhaps why they prove to be so popular.

I often find some of the larger event a bit "distant" and lacking in atmosphere. That's hardly suprising when you consider the many, many thousands of spectators that attend and sponsorship that's required to support such events. The smaller events often get you much closer to the aircraft in a much more relaxed atmosphere than some of the biggest events where there always seems a great rush to get in and set up on the crowd line. It's not just the crowds that perfer the these smaller shows, display pilots too often enjoy the shorter crowd lines and relaxed atmosphere just as much.

Budgets are always an important factor for any airshow, more so for smaller events. Many smaller events don't attract such extensive support from military displays which are often much more high profile yet cheaper than their civilian counterparts. For instance, a BBMF Spitfire display can cost anywhere between half to a quarter of the cost of a civilian Spitfire display and the same is broadly true of a RAF fast jet display compared to classic jets. However, that does mean the small show organisers do book acts that many of the other shows overlook. Items like Bob Grimstead's Fournier RF4 display, John Elliot's Autogyro as well as rare warbirds such as Gerry Honey's Stinson L-5 Sentinal and Stearman Display Team feature well at local shows. That said, many of the popular acts seen at the big shows also appear regularly at the smaller venues; displays like the Swift Glider Team as well as Peter Teichman's Hanger 11 Collection always feature in several small, local airshow line-ups. Old Buckenham has even attracted the great Sir Ken Wallis and one of his autogyros for their shows as part of the fly-in.

One of the "hot spots" for small local airshows seems to be East Anglia and southern Lincolnshire. The airshows such as East Kirkby, Old Buckenham, Seething and Rougham all seem to have a particular atmosphere and style to their displays. Perhaps it's the Second World War history of the airfields of this region, particularly the association with USAAF and RAF bombing campaigns. All of these venues are proud of their history. Seething and Rougham both have preserved control towers while East Kirkby has many of it's building preserved along with the awesome Lancaster "June Jane."

The venues too come in all shapes and sizes. London City Airport hosts it's own "Family Fun Day" on a Saturday afternoon when the airport is usually closed while the grounds of Henham Park have to be one of the most unique flying display backdrops with a runway running between some impressive trees!

For the enthusiatic photographer, the smaller venues are often much better than the larger shows where you're often stuck in a sea of people miles away from the aircraft. Most smaller shows have the aircraft parked right up in front of the crowdline. The smaller display lines also mean the aircraft are often kept tight in, often curving their flightpath to show the aircraft off to full effect.

Do not overlook the smaller airshows on the calendar in favour of every large airshow. Not may you be missing out on some of the best airshow action the UK has to offer, but the smaller shows are always great fun!


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