Gareth Stringer's 2010 blogGAR Entries

MAR 03 2010
A few musings on the weather, the Vulcan and RAF airshow participants.

A quick update ahead of what are looking like busy weeks for GAR which will undoubtedly result in many words being written for the site and much scowling at dull pictures, usually accompanied by my colleagues delving in to their archives for something with blue skies.

I say that for good reason. As Karl mentioned in his most recent blogGAR update we havenít exactly been blessed with photogenic weather for our recent visits, a trend which continued with our day at Coningsby a couple of weeks back. With the promise of almost unlimited access to the 29(R) Sqn flightline and even a trip to the runway caravan the only thing which could really spoil our day was poor weather and well, guess what?

As Karl and I drove in convoy from our hotel for our planned start at 07.30 the fog was appalling and it didnít get any better until lunchtime. As I said in the piece on Tuesday, it was so bad that most of the morning flying programme was scrapped completely and therefore we were unable to fulfil our scheduled appointment at the end of the runway. For various reasons it proved impossible to have a second go in the afternoon and anyway, the weather remained overcast and underwhelming all day. Just to top it off it started snowing almost as soon as we left and I drove back to the Midlands in some of the worst snow Iíve seen. You know itís coming down heavily when you canít see the lanes on a busy motorway!

Naturally Karl is blaming me completely. Heís had a couple of trips without me in 2010, one to North Weald and one to Heathrow, and both were blessed with clear blue skies. Apparently it has something to do with me checking the weather forecast and while Iím resolutely denying any responsibility for the prevailing meteorological conditions I am praying for better weather over the next few weeks. Itís no fun trying to take great pictures in awful weather Ė even I know that!

Weíll be getting some more insight in to the world of pilot training in the RAF over the coming weeks and it will be fascinating, having covered 208 Sqn and also two OCUs, to take a look at the earlier stages of flight training Ė which gives some clue as to where weíre going! In case you hadnít guessed then our first visit, this week actually, is to RAF Linton on Ouse. Here weíll be talking Tucano, advanced flight training and also display flying, while another confirmed visit will take us back to the beginning as it were and Elementary Flight Training at RAF Cranwell.

Itís intriguing to take an inside look in to this world and we are fortunate that we have been afforded such superb access on all of our visits so far. We always tell our hosts that we would like as rounded a view as possible, for it is important to try and see things from as many perspectives as we can. Itís not just about the aircraft, which is what I think many people naturally assume; itís also about the people and the training and the way of life. These are the kinds of areas we like to include in our features in an attempt to properly communicate the insight we have been given to you the reader.

Iíve been following one or two threads recently where some enthusiasts seem to be suggesting that the 22 Group (training) aircraft are of little PR value to the RAF. Personally I donít think anything could be further from the truth and if people wanted to actually find out for themselves, instead of making statements with little factual basis, they would discover how wrong they are. Speak to any of the display aircrew from recent years, be it Hawk, Tucano, Tutor or King Air and theyíll tell you about the hugely significant feedback and attention they receive from the general public. And before anyone says anything, it is important to distinguish the general public from the aviation enthusiast, some of whom post so Ďknowinglyí about the airshow scene. Our future pilots (as the careers stickers say!) love to see the aircraft listed above and to meet the crews and talk about the RAF, especially when these are the aircraft they will have to fly if they are to get anywhere near the operational types! I do sometimes wonder whether some enthusiasts would do well to drag themselves away from the crowdline and actually go and see whatís happening at the airshow theyíre attending. They might even learn something.

Speaking of airshows, the biggest news last week was that the Vulcan had received a donation of more than £400,000 from an anonymous donor; a donation which should at least secure the aircraftís short term future. I was quite critical of the Vulcanís displays last year and the poor way in which the financial and communications aspects of this project have been run are plain for everyone to see.

Iíve never denied her worth as an addition to any display schedule though but presumably the people behind the aircraft must surely now realise that she cannot survive for ever on the basis of donations from the general public or indeed last minute benefactors. It will be interesting to see how many shows actually book the aircraft this season, assuming her maintenance work is completed successfully, and whether an earlier and perhaps more innovative fundraising campaign can help secure the aircraftís long term future. Time will tell.

In the meantime, it is already looking like we are set for an exciting airshow season, regardless of the part XH558 ends up playing. Commemorations to mark the Battle of Britain's 70th anniversary are progressing well for many events and it could be a bumper year for foreign visitors if all goes well. Fingers crossed!

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2010-03-03 - Dave Walton
Good comment re the training aircraft on the display circuit, they are a vital part of the UK military presence at airshows and can also get to the smaller events that may not be lucky enough to see the Reds or Typhoon. It is also these display pilots, managers and spare pilots who are out on airfields and seafronts meeting with the general public - the 90% who are not aircraft enthusiasts, and for whom seeing a Hawk, Tucano or Tutor could be their only contact with the RAF.

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