Karl Drage's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JUL 02 2010
Here, there, everywhere! Karl's turn to catch-up!

It really does seem like forever since my last blogGAR update, and I guess it has been quite a while; just over seven weeks actually! For that I apologise, but it's not been through a lack of interest; merely a lack of time.

In fact, those ensuing seven weeks have probably accounted for more genuine enjoyment - and decent photo opportunities - from the hobby than I've experienced for a very long time. It's perhaps curious then that I keep hearing and reading comments about how people - and supposedly enthusiastic airshow goers at that - are becoming uninterested in airshows; how all line-ups are the same and how displays are getting further and further away. While there may be some element of truth in both of those statements, there are always subtle nuances between venues - and thus display lines and angles - and, perhaps most crucially in the UK, the weather's seldom the same for two days on the spin.

On the subject of participation lists all being remarkably similar, it is true that certain acts are 'everywhere'; there's a reason for that. It's important that we don't lose sight of the fact that airshows are organised for more than just the enthusiast community, so it's hardly surprising that venues up and down the country all look to book what are considered to be the best acts to attract and entertain their respective audiences.

That said, I do feel there are a number of aircraft present within our shores that do appear all too infrequently, but this is something I plan to discuss in a later entry. If you can think of any specific aircraft that you've enjoyed seeing within the last few years that just doesn't get booked particularly often, for whatever reason, I'd love to hear from you.

Experience has taught me that you should never take things for granted, and while the line-ups of today might not come close to what they were 20 years ago - even five years ago - no amount of whining and complaining is going to change that; the world is a very different place now. Make the most of what you've got while you can because you never know when it won't be there anymore, and all you'll be left with is regrets.

As I'm sure you've read Gareth, Sammy (my son) and I spent an excellent few days in France at the backend of May where the weather was stunning - even if the flying levels didn't always match. Regardless, La Ferté-Alais was something a bit special. With all the heart and charm of Old Warden, the show benefited from great variety, strong military support, and, best of all, a line-up featuring countless aircraft that you simply don't get to see in this country.

The Polikarpov I-16 was a particular favourite of mine, as was the Avenger - the first example I'd seen in the air - and it was great to see the T-6s that had been converted to represent Japanese Zeroes. While they might not have been authentic, they certainly photographed well in the gloriously sunny conditions.

And little did we realise at the time the fate that would befall Christophe Jacquard's magnificent Flugwerk Fw 190 just a couple of weeks later at the big Centenaire de l'Aéronautique navale show at Hyeres, where Marc Mathis was forced to ditch the aircraft into the sea following engine failure. Fortunately Mathis escaped with only minor injuries, and Jacquard has been quoted as saying that the aircraft will be rebuilt.

Make no bones about it La Ferté-Alais is well worth a trip in its own right. The only problem I have is justifying a return visit when the weather simply cannot possibly be as good again!! Maybe some of those who have become disillusioned should considering making the trip - or similar trips - to rekindle their enthusiasm, rather than sitting around moaning and waiting for interesting participation to come to them; it's probably not going to happen!

With our trip to France out of the way, my next outing was not until the 6th of June when, as a guest of 78 Sqn, I attended their Halifax Shadow event in Yorkshire. The weather gods decreed that this was payback time for the excellent conditions experienced two weekends earlier and, standing outside the church in Bubwith, waiting for the scheduled flypast and associated ceremonies, we all but drowned.

It was a truly filthy day, but one that was very humbling to be a part of. No less than seven holders of the Distinguished Flying Cross were present, and we hope to have a guest-written piece from one of the members of 78 Sqn who'd been instrumental in the organisation of the event for you in the near future.

The afternoon was spent at the home of the Real Aeroplane Company at Breighton, where, when the weather finally allowed, a small number of aerial displays were performed by some of the airfield's residents. A lovely little place and one that'd be fantastic on a sunny day, such is the proximity of the runway.

Next on the agenda was Cosford, or, more specifically, RAF Shawbury for Cosford's arrivals. Unlike Gareth, I was only present on the Friday but, having inadvertently gate-crashed a 60 Sqn graduation, I have to say that I think it's a shame that the paired Griffin role demo isn't available to the airshow going public, as it was rather good! It featured a troop insertion, an under-slung load demonstration as well as some smoke and gun fire. Plenty to keep people entertained, and a great way to get youngsters interested in the rotary world.

As I'm sure everyone's fully aware, the weather of Friday didn't quite hold out for the show day on Sunday - although looking at the Birmingham TAFs that morning, it could equally have been a lot worse! To be fair, conditions weren't too bad until the Typhoon and Spitfire duo appeared on the scene, and from then on it deteriorated at a rate of knots - prompting us to bail out shortly after the Harrier got airborne. The organisers really did deserve better, having assembled an extremely impressive line-up, particularly so in the face of staunch criticisms levelled at them over participation in recent years.

Gareth's already given a fairly complete account of our day visiting 673 Sqn at Middle Wallop, so I won't repeat him, but suffice it to say that we were treated to a pretty special day. It was the first opportunity I'd had to shoot the Apache in the dark, and to get to see eight of them being prepared ahead of their night-time sortie was just fantastic; even in silhouette the AH still projects an intensely menacing aura.

While the camp was largely quiet due to various courses being away from the base, our visit also provided the opportunity to wander around the hangars of both 670 and 671 Sqns, as well as shooting the two helicopters that were parked outside. The unquestionable highlight of these was the Bell 212 which looked amazing in its gloss camo and dayglo colours, and, if anything, conditions for shooting it were almost too good - the surface reflecting as it did!

The 673 Sqn article should be going live in next Tuesday's push.

As those of you who've read my Cotswold Air Show review will be aware, Gareth and I ended up being more heavily involved than with any other show to date. We essentially wrote the copy contained within the programme and supplied a significant number of the images too. I think View Creative Ltd, who did the programme design, did an excellent job and, while I might be slightly biased, the finished product really looked the part.

It was also Gareth's debut in the commentary box, sharing it as he did with Trevor Graham and Andy Pawsey, and looking around the various internet forums there appears to be a distinct lack of criticism, which I guess in its own way, is high praise. Well done mate. Rather you than me!!

Sunday at the show almost certainly has to rank as being the most photography-conducive day I've spent at an airshow in the UK since RIAT 2006, with stunning skies almost throughout, allowing nicely lit shots of aircraft that had thus far proven elusive. Similarly, a week later at Biggin Hill, the skies were again largely clear and free of the haze that had blighted my only previous visit in 2008.

We move on to Waddington this weekend and while I'm only able to be there one day, I am rather looking forward to it. It certainly has to go down as being the best Waddington line-up for a good few years, so kudos to the organisers for what they've achieved in these most trying of times.

After Waddington I hope to be able to take in Yeovilton, Duxford's Flying Legends, RIAT and Farnborough, before things calm down a little at the end of July. Let's hope the weather continues to play ball for a good while yet!

By the way, thank you to everyone who responded about the possibility of GAR Photo Days in my last entry. There's definitely enough interest to make it viable, but alas I've just not had the time to advance things thus far, though that is something I hope to rectify in the coming weeks.

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