2011 UK Airshows

JUL 13 2011
Airshows >> UK: RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2011 - Review

OK, the title of 'airshow of the year' is probably up for debate. After all, it doesn't really matter how many fast jets you line up, for some people events held at the likes of Old Warden or Duxford will always be a season high point, and if variety is indeed the spice of life then we are certainly blessed with plenty of it across the UK airshow calendar.

For those of us who like a bit of everything, however, the 2011 Yeovilton Air Day is most definitely going to be hard to beat. Fast jets (some uncommon visitors to the UK at that), solo displays, role demonstrations, pyrotechnics, helicopters, trainers, warbirds, aerobatic teams and barnstorming - Yeovilton's six hour flying display had it all.

In one sense it was a slightly strange show, for the static, in terms of visitors, was pretty sparse; as sparse as I can remember actually and in complete contrast with the aircraft which took part in the flying display. But if your show is going to commemorate the 40th anniversary of one particular type then you need to make sure you do it justice, and Air Day did exactly that for the versatile Lynx.

The 'Lynx Park' had service examples from the UK armed forces, France, Germany, QINETIQ's raspberry ripple schemed cab from Boscombe Down, museum pieces, record breakers and even the specially painted Mk.3, sporting a snazzy blue outfit as a reminder of the scheme worn by the type in its earlier Mk.2 guise. The Lynx, which will soon be the subject of a separate feature here on GAR to mark the anniversary, also took centre stage for the flying programme as we will see a little later.

They were joined on static by just a handful of visitors, although there were a couple of tasty ones, notably an Air Day regular in the shape of a GAF F-4F Phantom which looked as if she had only just been rolled out from the paintshop, Polish Navy M28 Bryza, French Aeronavale Falcon 10, a King Air from RAF Cranwell, Hawk T.1 from RNAS Culdrose, Jet Provost T.5 and a host of general aviation types including a rather nice Edgley Optica and a Cri Cri.

Other rotary assets made up the numbers with Sea Kings, RN Merlin and RAF Chinook among them, while some of the FAA Museum pieces were also on show including an attractive line-up of three Harriers.

With a host of ground attractions, classic cars and such like there was, all in all, plenty to see and do and with the majority of the flying display items also parked on the public side of the airfield there was still more than enough heavy metal to keep the very healthy crowd (official sources state circa 30,000) happy, despite the relatively small amount of fixed wing aircraft on static display, in a military sense at least.

Where to start with the flying display when there are so many fantastic items to talk about? Well, let's start at the beginning as the Lynx was, quite rightly, given the opportunity to open proceedings with a nine-ship balbo no less which included the blue legacy-schemed Mk.3 and complete with AW159 Wildcat following closely behind.

This aircraft, which will eventually replace the Lynx and was visiting from the nearby Westland HQ at Yeovil, then went on to perform an impressive solo display before landing back on adjacent to the VIP tent at the far end of the showground. Lynx past, present and future then all represented, and the show was off to a great start.

That wasn't the end of the Lynx effect (there, I've said it now!), however, for we would later be treated to a maritime demo by four more examples complete with mock pirates (not Johnny Depp thankfully), pyrotechnics and flares. There was a fully aerobatic display, and I assume a one-off for Air Day, by an AAC Lynx AH.7 and of course the Royal Navy's Black Cats display team which displayed using both of its specially painted Mk.8s.

A number of Lynx also took their place in the traditional Air Day Commando Assault finale, all of which, in conjunction with the ground displays, made for a comprehensive and impressive 40th birthday party, a cake and candles the only thing missing I reckon.

In terms of solo fast jets I have to start with the Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum. A huge coup for the show, the MiG was a fabulously impressive performer, especially as the display was only validated on Saturday morning after poor weather foiled attempts to do this the day before. As noisy, smokey and manoeuvrable as ever, the Fulcrum lit up the Somerset skies and set off most of the car alarms as well - brilliant and well done Yeovilton for getting the aircraft over.

The MiG was joined in the flypro by Mitch Beulen in the Belgian Air Force F-16 and he gave a very good account of himself with a lively routine which made liberal use of flares and felt a little bit shorter than last year's display, which, to my mind anyway, was two or three minutes too long, especially when flares weren't being used. Flt Lt Jules Fleming certainly wasn't overawed by all the afterburning behemoths on view and is undoubtedly one of this year's most consistent performers, earning herself a stirring round of applause from what was a very appreciative audience throughout.

The last of the solo fast jets was of course the de Havilland Sea Vixen, now displayed in the obviously capable hands of Simon Hargreaves. Apart from the obvious fact that we don't get to see her anywhere near as often as we'd like to, there's not too much to say that hasn't been said before - she's big, noisy, extremely impressive and, for a Royal Navy station like Yeovilton, a must have.

She also played her part in one of Yeovilton Air Day 2011's most significant moments - two flypasts in formation with Vulcan B.2 XH558. Something which hadn't taken place for many years, if indeed at all, it reduced the crowd to near silence and the second pass in particular was fantastic, especially as the show's commentator, who barely stopped for breath all day, finally managed to keep schtum and let Sean Maffett deal with the moment appropriately ie. by saying very little!

The Vulcan meanwhile is rapidly moving in to the realms of consistent and regular performer. That's not to say that she isn't still a big draw, the crowds were easily four or five deep at the barriers which surrounded her on three sides when she taxied in to the static at the conclusion of Martin Wither's display and everyone burst into a huge spontaneous round of applause; I'm just getting quite used to her simply being at shows and doing her thing to great acclaim.

While Martin flying an excellent display wasn't especially newsworthy, alongside him for the first time for a public performance was Bill Ramsey and the joy on his face was clear to see when he stepped off the bottom rung of the ladder. He said, jokingly perhaps, that he has already signed more autographs than he did during two years as Tutor display pilot and the crowds were certainly keeping him busy at Yeovilton.

Worth noting that PlanesTV installed a mini cam in 558's bomb bay for the first time which provided a wonderful wide angle perspective of the show and, although it's not hugely evident on the footage, Sean Maffett was encouraging the whole crowd to wave as the doors swung open and most of them close to me seemed to do so. Perhaps a Mexican Wave would work better next time in terms of visual impact though!

On to role demonstrations then and, in addition to the aforementioned maritime demo featuring the Lynx, a number of other routines concentrated on showing more of the operational side of modern military aviation. The quite spectacular duo of Dassault Rafale and Super Etendard courtesy of the French Aeronavale, reduced this season from a pair of each type - presumably for cost / availability reasons - certainly put on an excellent show with their mock airfield attack.

Arriving on Friday straight into a practice display, the Rafale in particular was most definitely nudging the sound barrier with a couple of passes, one in particular where the jet was taking its own cloud along with it for the ride and emitted a couple of distinct pops as it went silently past, albeit closely followed by a wall of noise!

The Super E looked pretty sprightly for an old girl too and, while the attack profiles were thrilling, the formation passes were also nicely done as were the approaches in carrier configuration. Another highlight and another well done to the Air Day team.

Not to be outdone, the RAF's Tornado GR.4s also put on an excellent demonstration complete with pyrotechnics and greatly assisted by knowledgeable and relevant commentary courtesy of XV(R) Squadron's Flt Lt Rory McLaren who I recall meeting at Kemble a couple of years back. If anything, that was the only thing missing from the French Marine demo and some background information on exactly what was happening would have topped it off nicely, but c'est la vie I suppose!

The biggest demo of course was the Commando Assault, standard fare to close Air Day each year and, although it seemed almost identical to last year's, was still most enjoyable.

The Commando Helicopter Force's 'Junglie' Sea King Mk.4 and Mk.4+s led the way with Royal Marine Commandos on the ground, plenty of explosions, back up from the Lynx Force, close air support from two NFSF(FW) (Naval Flying Standards Flight (Fixed Wing)) Hawk T.1s and naturally a successful outcome for the good guys. It is all very well conceived and was superbly executed.

Sticking with the home team and we get to the Royal Navy Historic Flight. It was utterly brilliant to see the Fairey Swordfish, of huge historical significance for the RN of course, flying in the show, and she was joined by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke in the Sea Fury, another pilot who is demonstrating a great ability to fly consistently excellent displays. We can but hope that Air Day 2012 brings even more RNHF aircraft to the fore and, all being well, that will certainly be the case.

The Dutch Apache also made its 2011 UK debut and, as we said in our Waddington Review, is very different to the Army Air Corps (AAC) routine, not even really comparable I would say. The Dutch crew of Maj Roland "Wally" Blankenspoor and Cpt Paul "Wokkel" Webbink display their AH-64D more like a fast jet than a rotary asset and, while the loops and rolls are spectacular, especially with inclusion of flares, there are naturally more gaps between passes while the crew repositions. It makes for great viewing though and was most enjoyable, however, and the 'Hawk' scheme looks fantastic - much better than last year's effort I think.

Finally I really must mention the Antonov An-2 from Popham. A late addition to the flying display, it is always an absolute delight to see her in the air and, while the wind wasn't quite strong enough to get her down to zero ground speed, she did fly a beautifully slow approach and short landing. Brilliant stuff and I wish more organisers would book her for she's an impressive beast with a really good bunch of people behind her.

With the addition of Brendan O'Brien's Flying Circus (complete with a quite amusing new commentary routine!), GliderFX, Flt Lts Dan Hayes and Leon Creese in the Tucano and King Air respectively, Peter Teichmann in the P-51, Red Arrows and Royal Jordanian Falcons, the 2011 RNAS Yeovilton Air Day flying programme truly catered for everyone.

In summary then, a most excellent show which will be right up there when I look back on the 2011 airshow season. It is not as simple as comparing events and saying that this show could learn from that show and such like, there are only so many assets to go around and it's quite nice for different events to each have an exclusive or two in the flying programme just as Air Day managed to.

More than that though, Yeovilton demonstrated that you don't necessarily need a huge amount of visiting aircraft on static display to make a great event. A smattering of visitors, good usage of based assets and a number of 'live' particpants crowd side equals a winning formula in my mind. Many congratulations then to the Air Day team and everyone involved with the show - let's finish with the highlights courtesy of our friends at PlanesTV - enjoy!

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2011-08-14 - S Burden
An excellent article and airshow. Compliments are passed to RNAS Yeovilton for the groundstaff and fliers. First class PR as always. One special mention for the crew of the Merlin from Culdrose. 'Spotty' extends his thanks for the photographs taken. Very much appreciated. Stan B

2011-07-21 - Geoff
I concur that it was a very good show with an excellent and varied flying display. For me the Lynx theme made the show special with a great mix of retired and current Lynx - pride of place being the fabulously restored record breaking G-LYNX. In the current climate where getting aircraft to attend shows is very difficult, both the organisers and base should be congratulated on laying on an excellent show.

2011-07-14 - Rich Hale
Great review of an outstanding and thoroughgly enjoyable airshow. It really was a fabulous (but busy/tiring) weekend with Yeovilton and Legends.

As you say, a real contender for best of the year! Roll on Air Day 2012.



2011-07-13 - Gareth Stringer
Thanks for the comments all.

Anon - reading it back now I certainly didn't mean to come across as harsh and possibly may have accentuated the negative without mentioning enough (any!) of the positive. Much of what John said was spot on and he came across very clearly - I just felt there was too much of it and he was frequently drowned out by the fast jets in particular. My preference, and that's all it is, is for the aircraft to do most of the talking. Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated.

2011-07-13 - Ian Sloan
Good stuff GAR,

Just to elaborate on the historics side of life, you mentioned that we hope to have more aircraft flying next year (Swordfish pair / Fury pair... I can dream!!) but more importantly the show next year has changed dates so that it is declutched from the Legends show at Duxford - that will avoid the 'rush' to get the old girls on and out the way and across country. Big plans... Huge..! 23rd Jun 2012...

2011-07-13 - anon
Great article Gareth, always nice to read a good summary from an expert eye, although I feel I should make special mention of the commentator as I think you were a little harsh on him.

He had knowledge, passion and an understanding of who makes up 95% of an air show audience. A major component of any air show is the ability for the audience to be engaged with the flying. I think John Nolan did an amazing job receiving great comments (I Know for a fact) from the organisers.

2011-07-13 - Ian B Waudby
I couldn't get to Yeovilton but this ( and Planes TV's DVD ) is the next best thing.


2011-07-13 - Grahame Foskew
Thanks for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed our An2 display.

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