Karl Drage's 2010 blogGAR Entries

JUL 28 2010
Mid-season Madness!

The weekend just gone was my first free of aviation for eight weeks and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't come out of the Fairford and Farnborough marathon feeling somewhat jaded and aviationed out!

Indeed, come the Tuesday of Farnborough, even the incredible F-22 Raptor display was starting to feel a little mundane - a far cry from the emotions I experienced when seeing the routine for the first time just five days earlier at Fairford. It undoubtedly didn't help that the skies were white, flat and thoroughly uninspiring but proof, in any were needed, that exposure to too much of a good thing very definitely can take the edge off it.

More on Fairford and Farnborough later, but the journey for this entry begins back on the Sunday of the last weekend in June at a gloriously sunny Biggin Hill. While England was getting battered at the hands of the Germans in the World Cup, Biggin was staging one of its best shows in years. Unlike my only previous visit in 2008, the air was much cleaner on this occasion, providing a lovely deep blue backdrop.

The news that was broken right here on GAR by Colin Hitchins that came out of the show wrap-up concerning the future involvement - or more specifically the lack thereof - of current organisers, Air Displays International, has created quite a stir amongst the enthusiast community and I guess only time will tell exactly what the repercussions will be for the show going forward. We just have to hope that the Biggin Hill International Air Fair as we all know it won't become another event consigned to the annals of history.

The following weekend was Waddington International Airshow and I attended on the Saturday. Conditions in general weren't great with plenty of cloud obscuring the sun, but it did have its moments - most notably for the latter segment of the Battle of Britain setpiece, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Spitfire/Typhoon 'duo' and the Czech Gripen.

Gareth and I were lucky enough to be granted southside access, which meant we were able to get a few different shots, but the heat-haze across the airfield was fierce and rendered almost every image I took of aircraft on the runway useless.

Like Biggin, this was arguably Waddington's best line-up for quite some time too with strong international participation in both the static and the flying displays, and it was pleasing to see an increasing level of co-operation between the organisers and their Belgian colleagues who shared a number of items on the day.

My first non-airshow day for some time happened on Thursday of the following week when I decided to pay a visit to Exercise Pashtun Eagle on Salisbury Plain. It was the first time I'd 'done' a FRP (Forward Refuelling Point) and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable days out I've had in an awfully long time.

The exercise is used as the final stage of work-up prior to deployment to Operation HERRICK in Afghanistan.

Hanging around until sunset proved to be an inspired decision too, having looked for a long while like it was going to prove relatively fruitless.

With Elliott and Glenn ensconced inside the airfield at Duxford for Flying Legends 2010, I headed to the other side in search of some different angles. While notices had been erected around the entrances to the fields under the approach advising that the land was out of bounds, the same could not be said of the fields alongside the airfield, but this did not stop a significant number of us from being moved soon after the display started. Curiously, while we were moved, those further along on the mound were not….

The next morning I popped up to Sywell in the hope of capturing some rotary traffic prompted by the British Grand Prix being hosted a mere handful of miles away at Silverstone. What we got fell way below my expectations, however, and just three helicopters dropped by for fuel in the 90 minutes or so that we were present.

RIAT was done on the Friday and Saturday and, while both days were predominantly cloudy, they were generally dry - aside from one deluge quite late in the afternoon on Friday. The best conditions unquestionably coincided with the Raptor's public UK debut on the Saturday and remained until well after the close of play. I seriously doubt I'll ever get better pictures of the F-22 than I managed during those 15 minutes of the Saturday showing….

Another personal highlight was the C-17 which, after a very slow and somewhat questionable start - dispatching four parachutists in each of two passes was hardly awe-inspiring - the subsequent 'display routine' will live long in the memory and made everyone acutely aware of just how much power the aircraft has at its disposal. I suspect the fact that the KC-135 had an issue and hence was delayed (and ultimately scrubbed) worked to our advantage - as nice as it would have been to have seen their refuelling demo - because I'm sure the C-17 wouldn't have been manhandled in quite the same way otherwise.

After taking the Sunday off, Gareth and I moved on to Farnborough for the following two days. It was my first visit since 2006 and only my third ever, and, as such, I'd forgotten just how close to the runway you are! Yes, the displays are high and seemingly distant, but it's almost worth it just for the take-off and landing shots alone!

There's no denying that the static is tight and difficult to photograph - even for those of us armed with a 10mm lens - but it's impossible to deny that there were several real stars on show, most notably the debuts of the Pakistan AF JF-17s (in the west) and the 787 (outside of the US).

Many of the display aircraft had been present at RIAT but there were still a few notable additions, particularly in the 'larger aircraft' bracket. It's always great to see an A380 thrown around the skies and it was no different here. Taking that description to a whole different level though was the Lockheed-Martin demonstrated C-130J which seemed to be treated with utter disdain by its company test pilot crew. I certainly don't ever recall seeing such a jaw dropping demonstration of the type's manoeuvrability. Also worthy of praise was the C-27J Spartan; the side-slipping, final approach of which, with dipped port wing, was particularly eye catching.

Other nice extras included the fully 'tooled-up' BAE Typhoon display, the Lockheed-Martin F-16 demo, the Alenia Aermacchi M346 - resplendent in its new colours, and the Antonov An-158.

Gareth and I had headed northside to interview Flt Lt Tim Clement, 2010 RAF Typhoon Display Pilot, as he returned from his display on Tuesday and that meant that we were treated to a rather unusual perspective of the, in all probability, unique flypast performed by the 787 and Spitfire pair as the former departed back Stateside to continue its test programme.

Walking back to the buses, I couldn't help but feel quite glad that I'd not be returning for another day. Indeed, weather permitting my next outing won't be until this Sunday's Old Warden Military Pageant.

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2010-08-04 - Scott
Nice sum up of the manic nature of July for the aviation enthusiast - glad i'm not the only one that felt a little flat by the end of it all.

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