The 2013 airshow season was certainly a varied one in many different ways. One major plus over 2012 was prolonged periods of good weather that stretched across much of the display season. For many events like Cosford and Yeovilton it has been a long time since they enjoyed such wonderful weather. The weather also brought out the crowds with many events recording record attendances which are so important to securing the future of events though it also brought some traffic problems too!
However, before the season has really begun there were some disappointments. Southend Borough Council finally had to throw in the towel after it could no longer justify supporting the popular seafront airshow with its budget being squeezed more than ever. Financial pressures also led to the cancellation of the returning Folkestone Airshow despite such a successful return in 2012. There is however hope on the horizon for both venues with plans for new events in 2014.
The financial squeeze also had its effect on military participation. By March 2013, the RAF only planned to support three solo displays on top of the Red Arrows, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team (The Chinook displays are tasked by Joint Helicopter Command). These were the Typhoon, Tucano and Tutor. The latter two were however grounded for much of the normal work up period following accidents in the New Year. In the Tucano’s case, this meant missing all of May and early June while the team caught up with their work up. The Tutor Team had an even worse time of it. The fleet had to be modified with new propellers and while they returned to flight at the same time at the Tucano, on-going issues with the modifications kept delaying the team until it was too late to re-join the display circuit. We hope the Tutor is back on the circuit next as while it may lack the noise of the RAF’s jets, it does represent the aircraft Air Cadets and University Air Squadron member will fly plus it can land and operate from many of the smaller venues allowing RAF crew members to meet the public.
In the UK, air displays got off to an unusually early start with an extended season of events at the Shuttleworth Collection which was marking 50 years since it became a public attraction. While the Collection did not suffer the wash-outs it had done in 2012, the weather only really came good for a wonderful finale at their Autumn Air Display. They did however have a great season with the return of the Avro 504K and the Bristol M1C plus some wonderful visiting displays such as ARCo’s Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon and Graham Peacock’s Hawker Hunter T7 amongst others.
Duxford too enjoyed the good weather early in the year and kicked off its season with perhaps one of the most memorable shows in recent history marking the contribution of American airmen in the Second World War through the Eagle Squadrons and in particular, the USAAF 8th Air Force. The event saw the formation of the “Eagle Squadron” which comprised of the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Hurricane X, Spitfire The One’s Spitfire Ia, The Fighter Collection’s Curtiss P-47G Thunderbolt “SNAFU” and from the US, Comanche Warbirds’s North American P-51C Mustang “Princess Elizabeth.” Flown by Paul Bonhomme, Steve Hinton, Dan Freidkin and Ed Shipley the four-ship appeared alongside B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B as well a unique item. However, it was the finale formation that really stole the show which saw the four warbirds tucked in tightly behind the nine Red Hawks T1s of the Red Arrows in clear blue skies!
Early June saw a very unique event at North Weald where Peter Teichman hosted a public unveiling for his P-40M Kittyhawk in its new colours of ‘Lulu Belle.’ It was a great chance to see the wonderful work Peter and his team do in preserving his collection of fighter aircraft.
The RAF Cosford weekend also saw superb weather. On the way up to Cosford I visited the Throckmorton Airshow which presented a wide range of displays including the RAF Typhoon FGR4 flown by Flt Lt Jamie Norris which was a spectacular addition to a small charity airshow.
Cosford itself shone in the brilliant weather. While it presented it usual mix of military and civilian shows, there were some unusual highlights. A C-130J Hercules C5 from RAF Brize Norton gave a flypast marking a very rare public appearance in 2013 and the Vulcan arrived in formation with the RV8tors display team. The show also featured a royal display crew with Prince Harry taking the front seat for the Army Air Corps Apache display. However, for many the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) role demonstration featuring the RAF Chinook and AAC Apache was the highlight of the show. With an emotive narration from Sean Maffett plus members of the armed forces involved with or having been saved by a MERT it was aerial theatre at itsvery best highlighting the superb work of the UK Armed Forces.
June also saw Manston return as an airshow venue hosting the South East Airshow. Despite a very unique flying display, the show sadly will be best remembered for chaotic traffic management in and around the car parks which caused massive queues around the airfield. It was a shame, but with lessons learnt we hope the show can return in 2014. (Manston recently changed ownership and at the time of writing the show was still to be confirmed)
July, as always, is a very busy month of big airshows. It kicked off with the RAF Waddington International Airshow which also enjoyed another weekend of outstanding weather. Waddington hosted the first official RAF Dambusters 70th flypast with the BBMF Lancaster B1 joined by a current 617 squadron Tornado GR4 for an emotive flypast over Bomber Country. Waddington also enjoyed a good international line-up with the Patrouille de France, F-16 solo displays from Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey plus a Czech contingent including the JAS-39C Gripen and L-159A ALCA. However, the stars of the flying display were the three jets from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight; the SAAB Sk60, SAAB J29F Tunnan and AJS37 Viggen. All three were making their debut at an English airshow and looked superb in their natural metal finish against the deep blue skies.
Just a week later, the Royal Navy held its biggest show of the year at Yeovilton on what was probably the hottest day of the year. The Czechs returned with the Gripen and ALCA as did the Belgians with the F-16. However, Yeovilton was perhaps more notable for the display début of in-service Army Air Corps and Royal Navy AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcats. The Wildcats featured throughout the day in various flypasts and role demonstrations including the spectacular Commando Assault finale. The show also saw the return of the Sea Vixen to the circuit when it arrived during the show to take its place in the static display. Like Yeovilton, Flying Legends at Duxford enjoyed good weather too with its usual mix of rare warbirds from across Europe. The Bremont Horsemen also returned to fly a wonderful three-ship routine in early Spitfires rather than their traditional Mustangs.
The Royal International Air Tattoo this year also benefited from good weather. It was a mixed year for the team at Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises. Of all airshows, they were the ones that suffered the most from defence cuts. The lack of any USAF involvement was particularly noticeable and created a big hole in the usual RIAT experience! Having said that, it was good to see so many “heavies” from European air forces and in particular the Royal Air Force which did mask the lack of USAF KC-135s, B-52s and C-130s to a certain extent. However, in general the static display was much smaller than usual and there was a noticeable lack of visiting fast jets in particular. However, there was an impressive show of Typhoons from the RAF and Italian Air Force with examples from every frontline unit in the RAF plus 29[R] squadron plus two squadron examples from the Italians. The French also sent two Dassault Mirage F1s for their last every RIAT appearance before retirement. Despite the lack of US involvement, participation did come from across the Atlantic with the Brazilian R-99 which was parked up next to an example from the Hellenic Air Force and an Estonian Air Force An-2. Also on the static display was Mid Air’s BAC Canberra PR9. Seven years since the aircraft last appeared at RIAT in a farewell flying display, it was back following considerable restoration work at Kemble. The aircraft only flew for the first time in civilian hands on the Friday of RIAT and appeared over the airfield late in the afternoon to take its place and the centre of showground.
The flying display however was very good with everything you’d expect from RIAT. If there was any disappointment it was the display by three Eurocopter helicopters that really failed to engage with the full crowd line. However there were plenty of unique acts: The Estonians also took part in the flying display with a L-39C Albratros. Further East European hardware came from the Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum. Western fast jets were well represented with the French Rafale, RAF and Italian AF RSV Typhoons, Swedish and Hungarian Gripens plus F-16s from Belgium and the Netherlands. Special flypasts too were high on the agenda; the Dutch F-16 and AH-64D linked up to celebrate 100 Years of Dutch military aviation and the Red Arrows flew two very spectacular formations with the new British Airways A380 and the Airbus Military A400M Atlas.
The end of July saw the Sunderland International Airshow celebrate its 25th show which kicked off with an awesome sunset show starring the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Red Arrows, the RAF Typhoon and closing with a pyrotechnic display by the SWIP Team. The main weekend show also saw the return of international military participants with the flare-spouting Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apache lighting up the sky and a very nice warbird scenario featuring Plane Sailing’s Catalina, ARCo’s Buchon, Hangar 11’s P-40M Kittyhawk and Hardwick Warbirds P-51D Mustang.
August is of course holiday season and sees a number of seaside airshows. Eastbourne was back and also saw the UK launch Disney’s Planes animation. For the occasion the Matadors Aerobatic Team went through a temporary make over with their aircraft wearing the colours of Team Dusty and Team Ripslinger. Eastbourne was also notable for the inclusion of the French pair of Dassault Flamants making their UK display debut. They were certainly a great addition and I hope it is not long before we see them again.
Dunsfold Wings and Wheels is always a highlight of the season. Sadly the good weather didn’t last and it was a near wash-out on the opening day. However day two could not have been more different with some great late summer weather and a full flying display. Mixed formations seem to be something of a Dunsfold forte and this year was no different with the Hangar 11 Hurricane being joined by the RNHF’s Sea Fury T20 plus another incredible formation which saw the RNHF’s Swordfish leading the two Boeing Stearmans of the Breitling Wingwalkers and RNHF Sea Fury.
The last weekend in September saw both the Bournemouth Air Festival and the RAFA Shoreham Airshow. Bournemouth goes from strength to strength and thoroughly deserves to be recognised as one of the best aviation events of the years. The appeal of the event stretches beyond just the main flying displays with military displays on the ground plus evening concerts on the beach. The ‘Night Air’ flying displays too are worthy of mention combining warbirds and the very best evening display acts with music generating a unique atmosphere all of their own.
RAFA Shoreham Airshow was also back to its very best following a difficult few months. It provided some of the best warbird flying displays of the year with its own take on the USAAF 8th Air Force celebrations involving the B-17G Sally-B, the Dutch B-25N Mitchell plus the Hangar 11 P-51D and Aces High C-47. There was also a fine aerobatic duo from John Romain and Cliff Spink in a pair of Buchons which opened the now traditional “Scramble.” It was a show packed with variety too with the likes of Justyn Gorman, Lauren Richardson, the RV8tors and the Matadors providing aerobatic thrills and jet action from the RAF Typhoon, F-86A Sabre and the Hunter T7 flown by Chris Heames.
September really saw the weather start to turn more autumnal. The Imperial War Museum’s September show saw a real mix of conditions over the two days but nevertheless produced some interesting moments including the UK display debut of a Boeing 747-8F and a double header of national displays team with the Patrouille de France and Red Arrows. The same weekend RAF Leuchars held its final airshow before the base is handed over to the army. Leuchars pulled some interesting highlights. The AJS37 Viggen returned alongside the SwAFHF’s Hunter and the Austrian Air Force made a rare overseas appearance with its Typhoon and C-130K role demonstration.
As is tradition, the UK airshow season came to a close with the two Autumn events at Old Warden and Duxford in October. The Duxford Autumn Air Show celebrated 40 years of Imperial War Museum airshows. It one point it looked like they’d be no flying at all on the day with autumn storm brushing its way down the east coast during the morning. It did however clear allowing Duxford to close the year in some style. It was also a notable show for goodbyes with Martin Willing retiring from displaying his T-28S Fennec and perhaps Jonathon Whaley’s farewell UK display in his Hunter Miss Demeanour.
The 2013 display season saw many highlights and some really great flying at events up and down the country despite all the problems of defence cuts and the financial squeeze. 2014 promises to be a very special year for airshows too with not only the centenary commemorations for the start of the First World War, but also the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and Operation Market Garden plus the 50th display season for the RAF Red Arrows. The latter will see a big celebration event at the Royal International Air Tattoo and we hope that such a prestigious anniversary for the team will bring some very special moments to the event!