UK Airshows

JUN 27 2012
Airshows > UK >> Review - RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day 2012

Some are saying that England was unlucky to lose its EURO 2012 quarter final against Italy on Sunday night, but that one doesn’t hold up in my opinion - the Italian team deserved to win and earned any luck that came its way. If you want to see really bad luck, then look no further than Yeovilton Air Day.

An enforced change of date brought Air Day 2012 in line with Florennes, Belgium’s main military airshow, yet, despite this, the team at Yeovilton managed to line-up a stellar list of display items for the show and was very close to securing a number of others as well.

There’s little to be gained from discussing the latter, but the cancellations were undoubtedly disappointing and almost any show would have been hurting had it lost the likes of two Aéronavale Rafales (the show did get one for the static) and the NH90 Caiman’s UK debut from its flying display line-up.

Add Sea Vixen, Vulcan, Red Star Rebels and Skyraider to that list and you’re taking a real blow, especially when some of the planned additions / replacements oh so nearly came off for the hardworking Air Day team.

Let’s not overplay things, however, for Yeovilton still delivered a full flying programme with some very real highlights for the thousands who attended on the day. There were some pauses, for departures, and one or two items did seem to have been allocated rather long slots, but this was not a show that was decimated by cancellations, more one that was pretty good, when it could have been stunning.

Par for the course this year, the weather didn’t really help either. The forecast wasn’t great, but the reality was that it could have been far worse, and, while Friday evening, especially for the late Commando Assault practice, and Saturday morning were absolutely stunning, the cloud rolled-in for the show and never really dissipated, making for a rather grey, though occasionally bright, afternoon.

For me, the highlights were fairly obvious. We’ll come on to Air Day’s traditional set-pieces later, so I’ll start by mentioning the biggest item seen at the show, or indeed any UK show in 2012, the An-124. A real coup for Air Day, the mighty Ruslan was only confirmed in the final run-up to the event and put on a relatively short, though impressively spirited, display, even managing what almost amounted to a topside pass to finish!

Another first for Air Day, and for the UK this year, was the Saudi Hawks. Flying what is essentially a six-ship version of a display very much styled on that of the Red Arrows, the Saudis are very competent, if less dynamic than their UK counterparts, with noticeably longer gaps between manoeuvres. It is always encouraging to see foreign display teams venture to new venues in this country, however, and the team is certainly very friendly and more than happy to engage with the crowds as much as possible. For what it’s worth, I think their green Hawks look pretty smart too!

The Classic Aircraft Trust bought no less than three jets to the show, as a group replacement for some of those who cancelled, and once again I find myself having to mention Dan Griffith in the Meteor T.7. The Vampire (John Dodd) and Venom (John Beattie) were nice to see, but Mr Griffith really is a cut-above at the moment, and I think this is something that his fellow display pilots recognise too.

His Meteor routine is smooth and graceful, yet impactful and exciting, and he always demonstrates what is a beautiful and historically important aircraft, in exactly the right way. It’s hard to find fault in all honesty, and whether you are a dedicated photographer or more casual observer, what’s not to like about a Dan Griffith display? TCAT didn’t dominate the classic jet stakes entirely either with Chris Heames putting on a beautiful show in the Hunter Flight Academy’s T.7, complete with her Jubilee inspired tail, while John Beattie also displayed the Jet Provost T.5.

Gerald Cooper was also in incredible form in the XtremeAir Sbach 300. His is a display which seems to defy the normal conventions of flight and I am sure he left many at Yeovilton shaking their heads and wondering exactly how he managed to do it. Small aircraft, like the Sbach, can sometimes get lost at large venues such as Yeovilton, but such is the relentless energy of Gerald’s display that this was never an issue, and he deserves all the plaudits that come his way.

As does Lt Cdr Chris Gotke, who once again displayed the Sea Fury to great effect. For me, Chris is another of the airshow scene’s stand-out performers at this moment in time, and the eye-catching way in which he showcases the aircraft is a credit not just to him but also to the Royal Navy Historic Flight, which also displayed the Swordfish. A good day for the home team I would say.

The Royal Air Force arrived en masse with Hawk, Tucano, BBMF Spitfire and Red Arrows all putting in excellent performances, though, as at RAF Cosford, XV(R) Squadron’s Tornado GR.4 role demo was an undoubted highlight for me. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what they’ve done differently this year, but the demo seems to flow more smoothly and is certainly louder and more impactful than in previous years. The bar has been well and truly raised.

Perhaps some of the passes aren’t quite as ‘realistic’ from a weapons delivery perspective, or it could be that some of the slower sections have been removed completely, but the sight and sound of two GR.4s essentially giving the airfield ‘what for’, complete with pyrotechnics, and in an operational context, is surely what these demos are all about. It will do the Royal Air Force no harm at all in terms of engagement, and I for one can’t wait to see it again at RAF Waddington, in all honesty!

Those of you who attend Waddington this weekend will also get to see the Army Air Corps’ Lynx solo display and this is another one not to be missed. A true return to the Lynx solos of old, the AH.7 is put through its full aerobatic paces by Capt Phil Goodier, complete with backflips, rolls and the wonderful hesitation pedal turn. It’s a welcome return to the display circuit and complements the Apache demo, with which it shares 2012 display duties, very well.

Not to be outdone, Lts Dave Fleming and Ian Brannighan of the Royal Navy’s Black Cats put on a fine show in their two Lynx helicopters. That the team is one of our most consistent performers is without doubt, and it was interesting to see the precision of the Black Cats’ formation display, alongside the controlled aggression of the AAC solo.

We saw a lot more of the RN’s Lynx Force too, including the first of the traditional Air Day set pieces; that of the Maritime Lynx display, this year featuring four examples of the helicopter and a joker in the pack – a Grob Tutor.

You don’t often get to see rotary and fixed wing aircraft displaying together in this way, and the use of the Tutor, as a rogue intruder, was inspired, with the aircraft getting well and truly seen off by the rotary element, naturally! It was an excellent demonstration of the helo’s versatility and a sequence which even included a wonderful flypast in formation with the RNHF Swordfish – fantastic.

Air Day wouldn’t be Air Day without the Commando Assault of course, and this year, as ever, the show closed with more helicopters, fast jets, ground troops and pyrotechnics than you could shake a stick at. Lynx, Junglie Sea Kings, AAC Apache, and a pair of Hawks all took part in a sequence which never gets boring, no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

It is something that Yeovilton does very well, no question, and I can think of no better way to demonstrate such a broad range of equipment and capability.

Just a note on the way in which the 30th anniversary of the Falklands Campaign was marked. The loss of the Vulcan, and an obvious lack of Sea Harriers and Harriers, meant that this was always going to be a tall order from a flying perspective. But I must say that it was marked very well both on the ground, in the static displays, with aircraft from the brilliant FAA Museum, and with some super features in the souvenir programme. The ‘then and now’ pieces were especially well done and make for an excellent read.

In 1982, all of RNAS Yeovilton’s squadrons were brought to immediate readiness following the Argentine invasion, and it was fitting that the show should mark the anniversary, regardless of how much relevant flying could be allocated to it.

Once the day was done, the Air Day awards were announced and were allocated as follows: Best Fixed Wing Display - Sbach 300 (Gerald Cooper), Best Rotary Display - AAC Lynx, Best Static Display - HH60 Pave Hawk, Honourable Mentions - Saudi Hawks / Red Arrows & Merlin HC3 / Rafale.

Gerald Cooper's citation said: "The Flying Control Committee (FCC) of the 2012 RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day was very pleased to award the prize for the best Fixed-Wing Flying Display to Gerald Cooper for his stunning, dynamic display in the Sbach300. His routine was admired for the way that it appeared to defy all the laws of physics and aerodynamics, and the way it made the FCC squirm uncomfortably at the thought of the amount of positive and negative G being experienced in the cockpit. Furthermore, it was the only display of the day that received a spontaneous standing ovation from the crowd! Very many thanks to Gerald for such a wonderful spectacle and we would love him to return to next years Air Day on 13 July 2013."

Lt Cdr Phil Thornton RN, said of Air Day 2012:

"We were always going to be up against it with the airshow in Florennes, but if you look at the line-up there were some real gems and a fantastic variety of displays to please everyone. Despite the poor weather and the cancellations, the public attendance figures were similar to last year so there are lots of positives to take away as we look forward to Air Day 2013 on Sat 13 July."

I would imagine that Yeovilton’s organisers are indeed already looking ahead to 2013 and, hopefully, a far smoother run-up to Air Day. You cannot deny that the 2012 event was hit hard by cancellations, the change of date and a big dose of sheer bad luck.

But, having said all that, the show still provided an excellent day’s flying with heaps to see and do on the ground, and attracted a large, enthusiastic and appreciative crowd.

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2012-06-27 - Paul Fiddian
Thanks for a very balanced and lively review of the show. Photography's not bad either!!

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