Elliott Marsh's 2011 blogGAR Entries

NOV 11 2011
blogGAR: Elliott's 2011 End of Airshow Season Wrap-up

Time seems to rocket by nowadays. It felt as though no sooner had the airshow season started, it was drawing to a steady close in September and October. It's a shame, my body was only just starting to get used to the crack of dawn starts, although I don't think my innards will ever be truly prepared to deal with the innumerable gristle burgers forced down my gullet from May to October.

After RIAT, I took a brief break from airshows and aviation - always a wise move at that time of year I feel, as by that stage even the hardiest enthusiast may be starting to wane in their dedication, particularly if you're like me and you practically go to at least one airshow every weekend - and headed to Kent for a couple of weeks to enjoy the peace of the countryside. The only flying I saw while I was down there, besides the usual freighters and lighter types operating from Manston, was provided by Charlie Brown in the Historic Aircraft Collection's Spitfire MkV. Charlie was flying one of the Action Stations' Spitfire air-to-air sorties with a pair of Jet Rangers along the coast from Dover to Deal, and it was a nice, evocative surprise, on my birthday no less, to see BM597 wheeling over the Kent coast.

August saw me get back to London, back to work, and back to airshows as I headed to the sacred turf at Old Warden for the Shuttleworth Collection's August Evening Airshow. The sunset displays are always a delight; the late start is perfect for a morning-hater like me (being able to wake up at almost midday and take a gentle drive up to Bedfordshire without worrying about staking out a space on the crowdline is a major attraction), you occasionally get gorgeous light when the weather plays ball and, if you're really lucky, you'll catch the Edwardians getting an all too rare airing in the calm evening conditions. The August airshow was one such occasion and my word, was it glorious.

The following week saw a very enjoyable day spent at the Rougham Airshow in good company and fine weather, with a standout display from Dan Griffith in the Kent Spitfire stealing the show. It's really quite gutting to think that this may have been the last Rougham Airshow, with there being no events planned for 2012. It's such a good venue for display flying and photography, with a great country fair atmosphere and a nicely varied flying programme. Assuming nothing changes in the meantime, we look to be losing one of the hidden gems of the airshow calendar.

It was then time for the Shoreham Airshow down in Sussex, always a seasonal highlight for me and a show that has established itself as one of the premier events on the British circuit with plentiful warbirds and classic jets topped off by a stunning Battle of Britain set-piece and a show-stealing appearance by the sublime de Havilland Sea Vixen D3. The recent press statement referring to a change of format for the show hopefully aren't cause for concern. With the loss of Biggin Hill, Shoreham was in a good position to move into the 'biggest little show/littlest big show' slot on the calendar which the Air Fair had occupied for decades. The weekend also gave me the chance to dine with good friends in Worthing, followed by a late night in the hotel bar surrounded by display pilots and ground crew. I probably should've called it a night after the seventh pint, given the sheer volume of stairs I had to navigate to get back to my room, but some fool's gotta do it.

The August Bank Holiday double-header of Little Gransden and Dunsfold is always a good value weekend. Gransden was a fun day out with top company, even though I missed the Mustang routine whilst throwing up the contents of 'John's Seafood Bar' behind the portaloos... Whether it was the seafood itself or the dangerous combination of crab sticks, lobster claws, prawns and a hog roast (for afters) in short order that troubled me is still up for debate. Dunsfold may have lacked the Vulcan this year, but it was still a solid show, capped off by some glorious flying from the likes of Jonathan Whaley, Chris Gotke, Stu Goldspink and Alister Kay, amongst others. Throw in the numerous ground attractions and you have a superb day's entertainment.

What can be said about the trip to Hahnweide that hasn't already been written in GAR's three part review of the Oldtimer Fliegertreffen? As an aviation experience, it simply cannot be topped in my view. Over and above the aerial content, we were perfectly looked after by our German hosts. From the efficient and friendly hotel staff providing printed maps showing the route to the airfield, to the immensely hospitable organisers allowing spectators to spend literally all day at Hahnweide and even the free food and drink for press (who were given the freedom to wander around the flightline area on Friday through Sunday), it couldn’t have been a more rewarding weekend.

After Hahnweide, the season came to an end in excellent fashion with two perfect Old Warden events and Duxford's Autumn Airshow. Between them, these airshows offered some of the highlights of the year, including the Miles formation at Old Warden, a tremendous Kittyhawk display by Peter Teichman, Dan Griffith's splendid Meteor T.7 debut and a blinding Skyraider display from Rod Dean. The Saturday before Duxford's Autumn Airshow was a fine day itself, with plenty of activity including storming Sabre and Skyraider solos and a welcome flight from the Aircraft Restoration Company's beautiful Spitfire Mk1, which was flying a brief sortie whereby it snotted a camera crew at the western end of the airfield at very low level. Erotic!

On reflection, 2011 wasn't a bad season. It wasn't a classic by any means and it certainly lacked the big set pieces and emotional undercurrent of 2010's Battle of Britain spectacular, but given the economic climate and the continued downturn of the industry, it's difficult to complain about what we still have. There are some excellent airshows and display acts out there, many of the latter being all too rarely seen, and it should go without saying that we mustn't take any of it for granted, with more shows than ever seemingly under threat. It's also fair to say that events are increasingly 'made' by the company you keep and it's been an absolute pleasure to see so many people out and about during the last year. It wouldn't have been the same without you all!

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