2011 UK Airshows

MAY 11 2011
Airshows >> UK: Abingdon Air & Country Show 2011 - Review

Well, Neil Porter and his team pulled it off! Not only did Abingdon deliver excellent weather with largely blue skies and plenty of warm sunshine, albeit with a brisk breeze, but the flying display ran pretty much on rails and concluded with a 2011 season debut for Vulcan XH558.

The forecast in the week running up to the show looked awful in the main and the last thing anyone wanted, or indeed anyone on the Abingdon team deserved, was another show spoiled by poor conditions. Remember last year and the Defence Estates’ debacle which robbed Abingdon of any on-site fixed wing participants? Well, a compromise had been reached this year to allow prop aircraft to use the runway and to see this compromise itself compromised by similar weather to that which added an additional blow to the 2010 event would have been hugely unfortunate.

As it was, a broad variety of aircraft made it in to Abingdon, despite the windy conditions, both to participate in the flying display or make up a static presence for the crowds to peruse alongside the many ground attractions. And a real crowd there was too, and this was perhaps, for me anyway, my first real evidence of the ‘Vulcan Effect’ in action. It’s undoubtedly more obvious at a smaller show where a significant increase in numbers is far more evident and, at the time of writing, it does seem as if the presence of XH558 could have increased the attendance figure by about a 1/3; hugely significant for a show of Abingdon’s size.

The static display then consisted of numerous visiting aircraft, Abingdon regulars in the shape of a Puma and Merlin from RAF Benson and Tony de Bruyn’s stunning OV-10 Bronco (more of which later). Also on show was the Shorts Skyvan which was utilised for the Tigers' parachute jump and also air to air filming with the Vulcan, this taking place immediately after it had closed the show and begun its transit back to new home Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport.

The four hour flying display contained a number of highlights, notably the T-28 Fennec with Martin Willing at the helm and Neil McCarthy in freshly repainted Jet Provost T.3 XM479. Martin’s Fennec routine was spectacular to say the least and based around a series of passes which undoubtedly kept the photographers happy and showed off the T-28’s raw grunt and aggressive lines to great effect.

Neil meanwhile was blessed with a slot which coincided with clear blue skies and he took full advantage, displaying the JP3 with aplomb and giving everyone a clear sight of her new paint scheme from every angle. He even performed one pass with the canopy open and what looked like an enthusiastic fist pump to the crowd – look out Flapjack, you’ve got competition!

Dan Griffith’s Jungmeister display was another standout aerobatic performance with some brilliantly flown flicks thrown in for good measure, and it only took a glance along the comparatively short Abingdon crowdline to see that he had the crowd’s full attention as he put the biplane through its paces in a routine more akin to a modern day competition aircraft.

Three of the Royal Air Force’s 22 Group solo display pilots made their debuts at Abingdon and I’d say that they can all feel pretty chuffed with their day’s work. The show saw not only the start of a long and busy season for each of them but also the culmination of a lot of hard work over the past few months and it will have been gratifying for them to hear that they all received so much positive feedback.

Flt Lt Shaun Kimberley's Tutor solo was very crisply flown as was Flt Lt Dan Hayes' routine in the Tucano, although Dan will no doubt have been disappointed to leave his very lovely looking silver display aircraft back at RAF Linton-on-Ouse with a minor technical problem. Sharp eyed onlookers will have noticed that his matching silver ‘bone-dome’ was serviceable however and did take part in the display!

Sadly this year’s display schemed Hawk display had yet to emerge from the RAF Valley paint shop in time for Abingdon and of all the Light Blue solos it is this display which seems to have courted most controversy over the past few years. Flt Lt Jules Fleming’s display seems to have gone down very well at Abingdon, even with some of the hardened enthusiasts I was with at the show, although a tiny minority of people continue to criticise with seemingly little regard for the actual display rules and regulations. Jules’ display flows well from start to finish, includes more than enough opportunities for the topside obsessed snapper and plenty of wow factor for those members of the general public who will perhaps only visit one show per season.

Another debutant came in the shape of the SWIP Team, formerly of course The Twister Duo. A new season, new sponsor and new colours for Pete Wells and Guy Westgate and, while Pete told me that they have actually changed very little of last year’s routine, it seemed a little tidier, much tighter and definitely benefited from the two Silence Twister’s colourful new paint job. Incidentally, look out for any twilight performances which will come complete with pyros and LED lighting!

Guy also performed with GliderFX at Abingdon, a rebrand for The Swift Aerobatic Display Team. Featuring the Pawnee tug (which also conducted two banner tows at the show) and its new two seat Fox glider, the Team remains a crowd favourite and Guy’s ability in the glider is always a sight to behold.

And so to Vulcan XH558. Let’s put all the financial concerns to one side for a moment and just concentrate on what occurred at the show. Firstly, and as I mentioned previously, there can be little doubt that a good number of those in attendance were there to see her. That doesn’t mean that they were there ONLY to see her, but the aircraft’s appeal was, to me anyway, blatantly apparent. And, with Abingdon commentator Sean Maffett receiving regular updates on her journey to the show from on-board AEO Phil Davies, the crowd’s expectation level built as she got closer and closer.

When she was first sighted in the distance there was a visible surge towards the front of the crowd line and her first pass saw her curve in from over the main car park for a lovely topside run – a great start. The rest was impressive too, especially the missed approach which for me is an essential part of the routine. I remain ambivalent about one or two moments and still question why a couple of full power climbs are used for repositioning rather than being carried out in front of the crowd where everyone could appreciate them. Surely no one would mind a slightly longer gap between passes as a result?

As she roared away for the last time there was an entirely spontaneous burst of lengthy applause from the crowd which, unless I missed one earlier, was the first of the day. It was certainly the biggest anyway and that, for the official flying programme at least, was that.

We could see that there were some traffic issues for people leaving the show which is always regrettable although I’m quite sure a combination of the large crowd and of course Abingdon’s rural location were to blame rather than any mismanagement of the situation. When overflow car parks are being used at a venue accessible from just two country lanes I think you can expect a relatively slow getaway regardless of the traffic plan – especially when pretty much everyone has stayed right to the end.

It wasn’t actually quite the end however, and I hope some of you stuck in the traffic were treated to the sight of the RAF’s Merlin lifting for the short journey back to Benson and performing a lovely flypast before doing so. Sadly the Puma, a less regular airshow attendee, elected to head straight off in to the distance which was a shame.

The departure of the Bronco, which was making the journey back to nearby Weston-on-the-Green more than made up for it however. Tony kept the aircraft very low on take off, and I mean very low, for almost the full length of the runway (with smoke on incidentally) before pulling up steeply in to a wingover and back down for a beautiful pass down the runway. Thrilling stuff and a moment which I am quite sure will have added to the number of people wishing for a few more regular opportunities to see the aircraft on the display circuit.

Neil Porter deserves huge credit for once again overcoming the odds to put on such a wonderful event and this time, unlike in 2010, he got what he deserved – good weather and most importantly an excellent crowd which should mean a healthy donation to the Abingdon Air and Country Show’s benefactors, the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance.

He also booked the Vulcan of course and while that gamble paid off in spades as she closed the show in style, in truth XH558 was just one of a number of highlights which made for a great day out and, for me, a most enjoyable start to the season. Let’s hope it continues in the same vein!

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2011-05-13 - Gary Loveday
Great report on a great weekend.
I noted that there was also applause for a couple of other acts including the Glider FX team.
As lead aircraft marshaller it is always a pleasure to help out at "Abbo" and Neil once again gave us a great weekend. Here's to 2012

2011-05-11 - Paul Varcoe
Lovely article. Agree with all your highlights too. The Fennec's was a superb display - simplicity is sometimes best. Really enjoyed the Vulcan, and I thought the Hawk display was great!

Caught the Merlin while I waited, but left before the Bronco departure. Looking forward to seeing this elsewhere in the year. Congratulations to the Abingdon team on a great opening to the airshow season!

2011-05-11 - Neil Porter
Thanks Gareth for the cracking article as always - you know from an organiser's point of view i've gotta think of something to beat the Vulcan in 2012!! No pressure for me then.....! The Event Org!

2011-05-11 - Andy Matheson
This article sums the day up perfectly. Guy Westgate never fails to impress, I'm sure he'll pull a loop one day on finals. They were all great to see, but the Delta Lady stole the show with her mix of feline grace and raw brutal power. Well done Neil and the gang, same again next year please.

2011-05-11 - Neil McCarthy
Well done to all the team - it was great to be back.

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