2011 Articles

FEB 15 2011
Airshow Archive Part 3: Intrepid Aviation Airshow 1999

It feels funny, now – reflecting back on an airshow that happened almost 12 years ago! It feels equally strange to consider that the Intrepid Aviation Show at North Weald represented the historic venue’s last full-on air display, after an unbroken run of events from the mid-1980s onwards and, prior to that, a succession of RAF displays. In the Fighter Meet, North Weald had a true gem of a show. From the outset, Fighter Meet’s goal was to showcase the ever-abundant warbird scene within its wider military context. In other words, historic aircraft were always high on the agenda, but mixed alongside fighter types from across the ages. I maybe shouldn’t say too much more - as GAR might well produce a future Fighter Meet-themed piece at some point - but for this GARachive report, I’ll focus on the second of two shows organised by Intrepid Aviation, following the last Fighter Meet in 1997.

In many ways, the team had a tough job on their hands, if they’d wanted to emulate, or even better, the first show in 1998. That had featured a sparkling and extremely varied line-up, topped by an absolute star in the shape of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation’s C-54, ‘Spirit of Freedom’. I genuinely think they equalled it on 16 May 1999, with several first-time showings and an excellent and well-paced flying display. That said, one factor out of Intrepid’s control, the weather, wasn’t on top form. After a gorgeous, cloud-dappled start, the blue sky gradually disappeared from view and was only visible fleetingly for most of the five-hour flying display. Nothing really suffered as a result, although the Red Arrows and the RAF Harrier GR.7 were forced into rolling shows. These two spearheaded the RAF’s contribution to the show, which was substantial and also included a Tornado GR.1, a Tucano and the BBMF, whose Hurricane Mk IIc had just emerged from a major rebuild and proudly flew alongside Spitfire Mk 11a, P7350 and the Lancaster to make the standard three-ship formation.

Warbirds were plentiful and while much of the content was familiar, several aircraft appeared as they’d never done so before. Of particular note was Spitfire Mk XVI, TE184, which wore a short-lived and striking USAAF scheme, apparently for a photo-shoot, while the Old Flying Machine Company’s P-51D and P-40 each featured newly-painted yellow noses. This signified the beginning of a new concept in terms of both warbird sponsorship and formation aerobatics – the Breitling Fighters. What would soon become a four-ship display involving, at various times, the Mustang and the Kittyhawk, plus OFMC’s Me109J, Spitfire Mk IX MH434 and F4U Corsair, was still a month off its airshow debut (that occurred at Biggin Hill over 26-27 June), but we did get a typically lyrical Mark Hanna Mustang solo, while the Kittyhawk featured in the show’s finale. Further fast-paced warbird flying was provided by Paul Morgan’s Sea Fury WH588 - which powered its way through an invigorating solo sequence – and additional naval content was supplied courtesy of Tony-Haig Thomas’ Grumman Avenger and the RNHF’s Swordfish I, W5856.

Naturally, Intrepid Aviation’s own vintage fleet was represented – its gleaming SNJ-7 Texan and Beech Staggerwing sat contentedly in the Warbird Park, from which the majority of participants were launched and recovered, a la Fighter Meet. The historics didn’t have it all their own way, though – both the Soko G-2A Galeb and the Italian Air Force MB.339 were nice surprises! That said, the Galeb’s participation represented a little bit of history in itself – this aircraft had fled Kosovo just before the outbreak of conflict there. I’ve no idea why the MB.339 was present, but little matter – it gave the show a well-received slice of modern-day military participation and an international one, to boot.

Three Hunters took part, of which one was definitely in non-standard colours! This was Miss Demeanour, Jonathon Whaley’s ex Swiss-AF F.58A, which was making a very early public outing and splashed many shades of colour over the mono-tonal sky. ‘Miss D’ is still very much active today, and the same is true of WV372, the Hunter T.7 which, as of 2011, is now part of Team Viper. The extraordinary-looking C-3605 Schlepp, though, had a short-lived airshow career. The Schlepp – also referred to as the ‘Alpine Anteater’ (!) – had been one of 24 converted for use by the Swiss Air Force as target-tugs. These conversions had taken the earlier C-3603 and given it a prominent nose extension to house a new Lycoming engine, along with an additional tail to enhance stability. The end result was an aircraft that, perhaps, couldn’t exactly be regarded as handsome, but did possess a kind of elegance. While several of the type were active on the European airshow circuit from the late 1980s onwards, here – in Clive Davidson’s newly-imported example –was a fully-fledged UK type debut. Its display wasn’t overly-lively – the combination of aircraft and pilot hadn’t, apparently, been cleared for aerobatics – but it was a rare and welcome sight.

The show had a theme of ‘Women in Aviation’ and a world-class aerobatic act should have headlined this. Regrettably, neither Svetlana Kapanina – at that time the reigning Women’s World Aerobatic Champion – nor her Russian compatriot, Nikolay Timofeev, appeared in the end, although billed to do so in the souvenir programme. Happily, the show featured several excellent aerobatic displays including those given by Diana Britten in her Extra 260. I say ‘those’ given – she actually did fly twice, after having to cut short her first display for a reason that I can’t quite remember! (I think her radio failed). The routine itself featured an array of dizzying gyroscopic manoeuvres, delivered with the kind of staccato precision that might be expected of a multiple World Aerobatic Championship entrant. Other female pilots participating in the show included Tracey Martin - whose Bell 47 G-MASH gave an elegant display - while the Utterly Butterly Wingwalkers further strengthened the theme, albeit with a single Stearman rather than the usual pair.

On the aerobatic front, there was much more to enjoy. Gentle, 1930s-era exertions came from the Bucker Jungmann duo, while the incomparable Gennady Elfimov stunned the crowd with his high-energy Yak 52 work-out, opening with a wild and low-level flick roll mere seconds after takeoff.

The final couple of flying displays were both innovative and appropriately nostalgic. Together, Martin Willing’s T-28 Fennec and the French-based Rockwell OV-10 Bronco flew simulated Vietnam-style observation/COIN runs, the Bronco making its mainland UK debut (it had previously been seen at Jersey International Air Display). Hot on their heels, a stream of thrillingly low paired passes were carried out by Stephen Grey and Ray Hanna in The Fighter Collection’s and OFMC’s Kittyhawks, while pyrotechnics exploded below them. Dynamic in itself, this was a self-knowing nod back to the days of Fighter Meet and the legacy of excellence that had been laid down for Intrepid Aviation to pick up.

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2011-02-23 - Gordon Stringer
I would like to echo Dean's comments about North Weald. Over the years they have had some super shows. I particularly recall taking Gareth to one when he was much younger and seeing Flt Lt Fred Grundy bend the Tornado F.3 round the circuit; another time through a mutual friend we got to speak to a chap named Ian "Soapy" Watson, he was a Fleet Air Arm Pilot and demonstrated the Sea Harrier. A terrific display. Happy days !!!

2011-02-22 - Dave Bickley
Only had the pleasure of visiting the 1995 Victory Fighter Meet, but North Wead like perhaps Biggin Hill and Mildenhall will go down in the memory as some of the finest venues ever to hold an air display.

The displays were well balanced, slick and very well organised. Maybe one day we shall see shows return to this north London airfield

2011-02-22 - Dean
Always enjoy reading about North Weald, would love them to hold an air display again but I know it's never gonna happen with Stansted just down the road.
There were two MB339s present at this show, although only one was parked on static while the other was left on the far side for the duration of the show.

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