Gareth Stringer's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JUN 30 2010
An eventful few weeks – in more ways than one.

Where to start? My holiday seems like just a distant memory and already we’ve ticked some major shows off the list for another year, one of which saw my ‘commentary’ debut.

First things first though. Our trip to Middle Wallop to visit 673 (Training) Squadron will undoubtedly remain a highlight come the end of 2010. To be given such incredibly close access to the Squadron’s WAH-64Ds was truly a privilege and, as you will see when the feature is published next Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to watch as the Squadron launched a number of Apaches for night flying while we were there. We knew this was part of the plan but that didn’t make it any less exciting I can assure you, and there was certainly something quite menacing about seeing them operating under the cover of darkness. It was great fun photographing them too and, with just one Northolt night-shoot under my belt, still a very fresh experience for me and one which I greatly enjoyed.

We actually conducted our visit to Wallop in two parts, albeit on the same day, as our host for the visit had to disappear to keep a far more important appointment, a check ride in the sim for his conversion course actually, so we found ourselves with a few hours to kill before returning on-base for the night launches. The boss of 673 Major Rich Youngs very kindly called ops for us and, having discovered that Salisbury Plain was closed for an exercise, we headed over to Boscombe Down, more in hope than expectation (despite the glorious weather), for it was getting rather late in the afternoon.

We got lucky however and the first thing we saw on arrival at the approach end was, would you believe it, an Apache! We’d seen the ETPS Bassett depart while driving round from the other end so knew that was out and about and soon captured a returning Alpha Jet which flew a number of circuits. Next to depart was the ASTRA Hawk which we were able to grab on its return and then a couple more Alphas and also a Tutor. A bonus for me, with Karl using his 300mm lens, was that I was able to try, for the first time, his Canon 400m f5.6.

I know it’s a slippery slope this photography business but I have got to get myself one of those at some point! The speed with which the lens focuses was the most noticeable difference although I could immediately see that using a 400mm lens would take some getting used to, especially for aircraft which are relatively close, as they were on the approach at Boscombe. It was actually quite a shock to find them filling the frame! I have a Canon 70-300 IS USM which is a lovely mid-range lens but I was chuckling looking at my pictures the next day as it was a little unusual to find most of my images just full of aircraft – usually I’m groaning as my lens doesn’t offer quite enough reach, especially at airshows, or suffers slightly in poorer conditions! Processing them was interesting though and, as a number of people said to me on Twitter afterwards, using a 400mm forces you to photograph creatively which is no bad thing anyway. All good fun and I look forward to trying it again soon – maybe this weekend for some airshow snappery at Waddington if Karl will let me give it a go!

We also covered the annual airshow at RAF Cosford and as predicted, I spent more time at RAF Shawbury until show day itself. Karl and I were there pretty much all day on the Friday, mainly to meet the Tornado GR.4 role demo team and interview them on arrival from Lossiemouth, although we were lucky enough to stumble across a graduation as we arrived on-base. Seeing two Chinook HC.3s, a Puma and our friends from Team Merlin was a bonus, as was a rather good role demo from two Griffins, complete with ground troops, smoke and under-slung loads – all this before the Tornadoes had even arrived!

I did pop to Cosford on the Saturday morning to catch up with GAR staff member Elliott before heading back to Shawbury, this time with Iain from PlanesTV. Having waited for one of Team Viper to turn up we raced across to see Flt Lt Tom Saunders arrive in the display Hawk and, having interviewed Tom for PTV, awaited the Typhoons from Coningsby. Sure enough, a few minutes later Flt Lt Tim Clement appeared and, after a very eye-catching run and break, touched down safely, followed a few minutes later by Flt Lt Rich Walton who flies the Typhoon with the Spitfire for this year’s special commemorative Battle of Britain pairing.

Once the jets had shut down, TC walked over to say hello and, having given Shawbury’s Station Commander a tour of the aircraft, rejoined us to conduct his interview for PTV. TC is a thoroughly nice chap and it all went very well - hopefully you saw and enjoyed the resulting clip which we published with our Cosford review.

The following weekend’s Cotswold Airshow was never too far from my thoughts at Cosford and, I’ll be completely open and honest, I was quite nervous at the thought of my impending commentary debut. The banter was coming thick and fast and I got some stick from a number of people, notably Pete Wells and Guy Westgate from the Swift Aerobatic Display Team although Flt Lt Leon Creese didn’t hesitate either – thanks chaps! I’m planning to relate my experiences of commentating for the first time in a separate blogGAR update at some point soon so I’ll not say too much here other than it seemed to go very well, I didn’t make any huge cock-ups and have received one or two invites to have another go! I was also lucky enough to receive really positive feedback from some of those who were there and listening, so if you were one of those people I thank you!

Kemble was a long and busy weekend, both professionally and socially, so it was good to get back home on the Sunday evening to prepare for the trip in to hospital which meant I was unable to visit Biggin Hill - a great shame. I had my op last Tuesday afternoon and managed to persuade the nursing staff to let me return home that evening. I only had a keyhole procedure as it turned out and although that went very well I may need more significant surgery in a couple of months, but I’ll worry about that nearer the time!

In the meantime my buddy Gavin Weaver has very kindly offered to drive to Waddington this weekend and I’ll be covering the show on Friday and Saturday with Karl hopefully joining us on the latter day. I make no apologies for being one of Waddo’s biggest defenders and while I do appreciate all the arguments regarding participation, last year in particular, when you’re sending the vast majority of 170,000 people home very happy you can’t be doing too much wrong.

That’s what it’s all about for the RAF shows and in many ways the harsh truth is that the views of the enthusiasts are of little significance for these venues. Having said that, this year’s line-up is looking superb anyway, with a number of very nice display items; despite one or two late cancellations which is always to be expected. Let’s just hope the weather holds as the show was blessed with blue skies last year and anything vaguely similar would be rather nice this weekend!

Finally, for the chance to experience a completely different airshow you might want to visit www.airshowcompetition.com – which you may have heard plugged at Kemble and Biggin Hill by Trevor Graham, airshow commentator extraordinaire and owner of Slipstream Events. It’s a text competition with a very special prize, namely return air fares for two people to New Zealand (from the UK), accommodation and hire car and two gold pass VIP tickets to the superb 'Wings Over Wairarapa Air Display' at Masterton. Not only that – the winner will also be given the chance to fly in a P-51 Mustang at the show! You’ll find all the details and T&Cs at the web address above, and while it costs £3 to enter, let’s face it, if you win it would quite simply be the best three quid you’ve ever spent so why not give it a go – my other half has, but she’ll have to fight me for me the Mustang seat if her name comes out!

I should probably add that neither the competition or Slipstream are in any way officially connected with GAR - I just figured you might like to have a go at entering if you haven't done so already! Good luck.

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2010-07-09 - Christine Winter
Enjoyed reading your article, easy to read and leaves you wanting more. Keep up the good work.

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