2012 UK Airshows

SEP 07 2012
Airshows >> UK: Little Gransden Families Air and Vintage Vehicle Show - Review

The Little Gransden Families Day Out Air and Vintage Vehicle Show (to give it its full title) is one of the smaller events on the UK airshow calendar, but it has a certain charm which you don’t get at the bigger events. The spectator area may be very compact (a necessity given the small size of the airfield), but this arguably only adds to the intimate atmosphere and many participants take advantage of the sharply curved, unusual L-shaped crowdline, presenting their displays with plenty of topside passes as they bank around the corner.

As well as the opportunity to get close to the performers, admire the vintage cars, or watch the hordes of visiting aircraft arrive, it also boasts a lengthy and varied flying display which is easily a match for many of the bigger events. This year saw a healthy mix of aerobatic types, vintage civilian and military aircraft and a small, but welcome, input from the military, with participation ranging from the likes of the BE2C to the Avro Vulcan.

For the uninitiated, there is also the amusing commentary courtesy of the highly-knowledgeable Ken Ellis, former editor of Flypast magazine, to set them straight on all matters aeronautical. All proceeds raised from the event go to charity, the chief beneficiary being the BBC's Children in Need appeal, and a familiar looking teddy bear could be found wandering amongst the crowd.

The event draws on its connections with the World War II airfield at Gransden Lodge, situated only a stone’s throw away. Gransden Lodge was home to several RAF squadrons during the war, as well as 405 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force, operating the Avro Lancaster. 405 Squadron is still active and currently flies the CP-140 Aurora from Greenwood in Nova Scotia, whilst Gransden Lodge also remains active and is home to the Cambridge Gliding Centre.

Having these connections helps the show attract some interesting performers, notably the RAF's BBMF with its Lancaster and fighters. Poignantly, the Lancaster display is timed to coincide with a short memorial service for the aircrew who paid the ultimate price during the conflict raging 70 years ago. Last year a Canadian Aurora put in a welcome, and rare, appearance but that was not to be repeated this year. However, other four engined aircraft were available, as we shall see!

This year’s display was opened by the gliderFX Team, towing a banner commemorating 20 years of the event. This was followed by a few passes from Mark Hooton in the de Havilland Vampire T.11, with Mark utilising the Little Gransden bend to good effect, and then the SWIP Team of Guy Westgate and Pete Wells in their Silence Twisters, who performed with their usual grace.

The next performers were a little different, with a short segment dedicated to army co-operation aircraft. First up was the Bell 47 that had previously been owned and displayed by Tracy Martin. Sadly Tracy passed away recently so the display was flown as a tribute to her.

To continue with the theme, the Bell was followed by Justin Needham in his Cessna Bird Dog, accompanied by the sole Auster AOP.11. A second, rarely seen Bird Dog could be found in the visiting aircraft park, adorned in a very fetching US Marines camouflage scheme. Finishing the segment off was Peter Holloway in his Fieseler Storch, who gave his usual demonstration of low speed flight with this remarkable aircraft.

The tempo then changed with the incredible aerobatics of Mark Jefferies in his Abarth sponsored Extra 300SC. His departure technique is somewhat unique in that he gets airborne and immediately rolls into what can probably best be described as a low-speed knife edge pass, virtually hanging off the prop – it has to be seen to be believed!

Once Mark had finished tearing up the sky, the pace was slowed by a well-known formation team, the Red Sparrows! Modelled on another, even better-known formation team, the Red Sparrows gently flew around in formation in their three Chipmunks, before making way for the Trig Team of Richard Grace and Dave Puleston to carry on where Mark left off, tearing the sky up with their Pitts Specials!

The tempo quickened again with Radial Revelations’ growling T-28 Fennec in the hands of Martin Willing, a staunch supporter of the Little Gransden shows, before that gave way to four large piston engines in the shape of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster, which appeared without its expected Spitfire escort - the only cancellation on the day.

Seeing the Lancaster banking gently around the corner at Little Gransden is always a sight to behold and the memories it evokes, given the area’s association with the type, always ensure that emotions are running high. Then it was Peter Teichman’s turn; this year he brought along his P-40N Kittyhawk “Clawin’ Kitty” and flew his routine before heading off to Dunsfold to take part in the show there.

The growling returned with BAE Systems' Avro 19 from Old Warden, followed by a further contribution from the RAF in the shape of Flt Lt Jon Bond in the Jubilee-schemed Short Tucano T.1.

B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally B” followed, the second of the day’s heavy bomber contingent, flying perhaps the most impressive routine of all as the crew brought the B-17 close to the crowd for each pass as she flew around the corner, presenting that much-coveted topside angle. She was followed by another experienced lady when Diana Britten got airborne in her CAP232 for some more aerobatics, with her take off being a little more sedate than that of Mark Jefferies!

Little Gransden is also home to a number of unusual aircraft, in particular a pair of Spartan Executives owned by Nigel Pickard. Remarkably, of the 34 that were built, more than 20 still survive, most of which are airworthy, although these two are the only ones outside the USA. They took to the air with Nigel’s Boeing Stearman and were joined by the Golden Apple Stearman, which flew in from Duxford.

Sticking with the American theme the next performers were a pair of Little Gransden regulars, the Hardwick Warbirds P-51D Mustangs, with “Marinell” flown by Maurice Hammond and “Janie” flown by Dave Evans.

After completing their display they departed, but were called back to deal with a rogue aircraft, an Me 108, that appeared to be attacking the airfield! Fortunately the rogue aircraft (being completely outgunned in every way imaginable) was quickly disposed of, allowing the show to continue!

Next it was time for another Stearman with Mike Dentith supplying the flying for Caf Hutchinson's wing-walking display debut. This was followed by the gliderFX team with their MDM-1 Fox glider, which finished its display by landing downwind and parking neatly by its tug and trailer at the eastern threshold.

Following the Fox was Matthew Boddington in his BE2C replica, without an opponent, as the Fokker DR1 refused to start! The final item from the RAF was the 45(R) Squadron King Air flown by Flt Lts Ian Birchall and Marcus Eyers, followed by more aerobatics from Chris Burkett in his Extra 300.

Then it was time for the eagerly awaited highlight - a Little Gransden debut for the VTTS Avro Vulcan. Whilst Martin Withers only flew two passes, the oohs and arghs from the audience showed it was much appreciated. It also seemed to trigger a mass exodus from the car parks, which would suggest many people turned up just to see it.

After the excitement of the Vulcan, the tempo changed again with Captain Neville’s Flying Circus, led by Dennis Neville, which saw a pair of Chipmunks, three Tiger Moths (okay, so one was a Thruxton Jackaroo and one a Queen Bee!) and an Emeraude indulge in some barnstorming. First up was an attempt at throwing balls into a goal, followed by balloon bursting and then ribbon cutting (actually it was a toilet roll, but ribbon sounds a lot more glamorous!)

The next item featured more of Peter Holloway’s collection at Old Warden, in the shape of the Miles Falcon flown by Rob Millinship and the Miles Hawk Trainer flown by “Dodge” Bailey - both of whom are Shuttleworth regulars. Finishing off this year’s display line-up was a pair of Yaks, with Nigel Willson in his Yak 52 and Rob Davies in his Yak C11. After a few pairs passes they split with Nigel performing an aerobatic routine before Rob brought proceedings to a close with plenty of grunt and speed.

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