The Abingdon Air and Country Show is one of the traditional opening airshows of the display season. Neil Porter and his volunteer team have built the event up into one of the major aviation events of the year. Being so early in the display season it is also a chance to see many of the 2015 display routines in public for the first time so interest in the event comes from far and wide.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author. Video footage by PlanesTV.com.
Abingdon Airfield has seen some great airshows over its history. The Abingdon Air and Country Show team more than maintains that history with the aviation activities during their annual event. Being held on what is now the traditional opening weekend for the UK display season adds a great deal of interest as the event often sees the first public performances of the year for many of the civilian and military acts.
The event however is far more than just an aviation event. Originally titled “Abingdon Fayre” the event has grown out of a small country show held on the airfield and it is great to see that tradition continue with a superb classic car rally plus a Williams F1 Show Car, steam engines and various local traders filling the showground. A central arena hosts various parades and displays throughout the day and there is also some great live music.
Making a welcome return this year was a fire-power demonstration by a Russian T-55 Tank just prior to the main flying display. It certainly woke the crowd up as the T-55 fired off a couple of blank rounds against an armoured personnel carrier with tons of smoke and flame!
Aviation though really has been become the heart of the event with the event planning a large fly-in of assorted civilian and historic types. Sadly, this year the early May weather proved to be quite a limiting factor on the aviation activities. The show day dawned to a large area of heavy rain and low cloud enveloping much of Southern England as a cold front travelled northwards. Though Abingdon was in much drier conditions by mid-morning, the damage was done and many of the fly-in visitors were forced to abandon their transits to the event.
Dominating the static displays was a AgustaWestland Merlin HC3A from No 28 Squadron based at nearby RAF Benson. It was the last chance to see the Merlin at Abingdon in Royal Air Force service as the type is currently being transferred to the Royal; Navy for the Commando Helicopter Force. The Merlin brought with it some British Army Gurkhas who were raising much needed funds for the relief efforts in the wake of the massive Nepalese Earthquake.
Keeping with the military rotary theme, there were a number of historic helicopters on display too. It was great to see the Army Historic Aircraft Flight back out and about with their Westland Scout AH1. It has been many years since the flight has participated in an event as they fell foul of modern military aviation regulations. The flight recently transferred its fleet to civilian registrations and they are slowly being brought back to operations. It was joined by Terry Martin’s Westland Wasp HAS1, the naval variant of the popular Westland built helicopter. The Gazelle Squadron were also back this year with three different aircraft representing three different variants. They brought a Royal Marines marked Gazelle AH1, a Royal Air Force Gazelle HT3 and a Gazelle HCC4. The Squadron is building up an impressive fleet of ex-military Gazelles and it is hoped they will mount a flying display act before too long.
Also taking part were a Taylorcraft Auster AOP6, Taylorcraft Auster Tugmaster, Kitfox, Tecnam and a pair of Yakovlev Yak-52s.
The flying display was the typical Abingdon mix of old and new, civilian and military. Aircraft serviceability prior to event led to many last minute changes, but all looked good on paper for a varied afternoon flying display. Sadly though as with the fly in, the weather played the major role in shaping what actually displayed over Abingdon. Many couldn’t make the transit with the likes of the Royal Navy Sea King HU5 fogged in at Culdrose and the Yak-3 unable to leave Duxford.
Opening the flying were the RV8tors, a last minute addition to the flying. Alister Kay and Andy Hill present a very sharp and fast paced display of close formation and synchronised aerobatics in their homebuilt Vans RV-8s and it was a great way to open the show. in what were short lived blue skies.
Later in the day, there was completely different aerobatic pairing in the form of the Twister Aerobatics Team. The team has new line-up for 2015 with leader Peter Wells joined by Chris Burkett from G-Force Aerobatics and with it comes a refined display sequence and new wing-tip smoke. Compared to the fast RV8s, the team’s Silence Twisters are much quieter and present a much more balletic display of flowing aerobatics. Like many items, their display was made all the more difficult by a squally shower passing over the airfield during their display slot.
One of the star acts of the afternoon however was Peter Troy-Davies flying the Rotorsport Calidus Autogyro. Peter keeps the display close to the crowd whilst showing off the incredible agility and flexibility of the Autogyro with the added benefit of display smoke. It is certainly a fun display and one that perfectly suited Abingdon relatively small display line and the crowd definitely agreed!
Sadly for the other civilian aerobatic act, Lauren Richardson and her Pitts S-1S Special, the weather really closed in when she was due to display leaving her grounded! However she did put in a very spirited departure in the evening sunshine.
Lieutenant Commander Chris Gotke displayed Kennet Aviation’s North American T-6 Texan later on in the afternoon. Despite some threatening skies, Chris gave a wonderful display of aerobatics in the famous Second World War Trainer. The threatening skies and cool damp weather were perhaps very appropriate for Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina which appeared towards the end of the flying display having been on static display for much of the day.
Many of the displays reflected historic training types from the Cold War Era. Rod Dean returned in the Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1. Rod’s experience of display many different types shines through in his smooth presentation of the Bulldog which was made even more impressive at Abingdon as Rod contended with the first sharp shower of the afternoon arriving shortly after he started his display!
Continuing the theme were the Gnat Display Team flying a pair of Folland Gnat T1s. Like Rod they also flew during some persistent rain during their routine and the crowd really appreciated their efforts in making it to Abingdon though perhaps the end of their sequence was a little too exciting for the spectators that were not ducking under their umbrellas!
However the star classic jet of the afternoon was the Classic Air Force’s Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF11. A late addition, Jon Corley gave a lovely sequence of passes in near perfect sunshine showing off the classic lines of the early jet night fighter.
After many years supporting the show on static display, it was most welcome to see the Bronco Demo Team finally take part in the flying display. The team’s OV-10B Bronco has received a make-over during the off-season and now appears with Royal Bavarian Air Force titles under the cockpit and the Bavarian Flag adorns the aircraft target-pod under the fuselage. Tony de Bruyn always puts on a great demonstration of the Bronco highlighting the agility and short field capabilities of the machine and is supported by a very friendly and passionate support crew. Joining the Bronco was one of Tony’s Shorts SC7 Skyvans which was put to good use at the show as the jump platform for the Renegades Parachute Display Team who got very lucky with the weather finding a break in the clouds for their display
However the stars of the afternoon were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Credit must go to the flight who made the extra effort to make it to Abingdon though all the bad weather and also to nearby Brize Norton for accommodating them at short notice. Though the flight were without their Avro Lancaster which was unserviceable, they did manage to get the rest of the fleet through despite strong headwinds. The Douglas Dakota III appeared as a solo display while the Hawker Hurricane IIc and Supermarine Spitfire XVI closed the display having waited out the showers at RAF Brize Norton.
However it was the “Synchro Pair“ of the Supermarine Spitfire XVI and Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 that gave Abingdon it’s absolute highlight. Leading the pair for 2015 is Flt Lt Anthony Parkinson in the Spitfire with Flt Lt Ben Westoby-Brooks in the specially marked Typhoon from No 29 Squadron. The Typhoon wears the Battle of Britain era camouflage makings of a No 249 Squadron Hawker Hurricane and specially the aircraft of Wing Commander Eric James Brindley Nicolson. Nicolson was Fighter Command’s only Victoria Cross recipient during the Battle earning the award for staying on in the cockpit of his burning aircraft which had been hit by a Bf110 and downing a further German aircraft. The display was incredibly well flown with the pair matching each other in formation and in opposition before a finale victory roll from the Spitfire and the Typhoon pointing vertically into the grey sky in full reheat. We cannot wait to catch the pair again later in the year.
Despite all the difficulties thrown Abingdon’s way, it was a great start to the display season thanks to the sterling efforts of the organisers and the pilots who made it through the inclement weather to provide such a good display in what were extremely testing circumstances. It was also good to see such a good number of people were not put off by the weather forecasts and attended the show particularly as the event supports the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust – hopefully a sizable donation will be heading their way!