2012 Articles

AUG 25 2012
Airshows >> UK: Sywell Airshow 2012 - Review

It’s fair to say that the Sywell Jubilee Airshow was one of the most eagerly anticipated aviation events in August. A scorching forecast combined with a most impressive and varied line up of participants ensured that this delightful venue was blessed with a capacity crowd.

With the main flying display on Sunday, Saturday was a more leisurely affair with a Jubilee Fly-in attracting a number of vintage machines. In particular, the de Havilland Moth Club had been invited to attend, following the unfortunate cancellation of their event at Belvoir Castle that weekend.

A gaggle of Chipmunks, Tiger Moths and other classics descended upon Sywell’s turf, joined by other delights such as the Me108 (or Nord 1002 for the purists among you). Pride of place amongst the assembled aircraft was a magnificent Percival Proctor. Decked out in an eye catching RAF camouflage scheme, this deservedly won the trophy for the best participant.

Of course, many of the display aircraft arrived throughout the day, meaning the airfield was a hive of activity up until the evening when the Grace Spitfire broke to land against a striking sunset.

Men with beards had converged on Sywell from across the UK and it was fantastic to kick back at the airfield bar until dusk, enjoying drinks and great company. A fantastic prelude to the next day’s action.

It is always encouraging to see the public support the smaller events, especially when there is such a good cause as the backbone; in this case the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance. As usual, their Agusta A109 flew into Sywell during the morning, where it was greeted by the thronging masses. Sywell had clearly got it right!

As a newcomer to the show, I was impressed by the delightful layout, with the aircraft parked into the crowd, allowing for some interesting photographic opportunities. The relatively short crowdline allows pilots to show the top surfaces of their mounts on numerous occasions. In fact, the closeness of the display lines means the show is very reminiscent of Old Warden.

The organising committee, headed by Matthew Boddington, always work hard to produce a fluid flying programme full of aerial contrasts. It’s fair to say that they excelled themselves in 2012.

The headline act was undoubtedly the Red Arrows who dominated much of the pre-show marketing. This was the first time the Reds have performed a proper display at the “new” Sywell shows. Blessed with some of the best lighting conditions of the day, the team were able to perform their full height show, which was lapped up in spades by the huge crowd.

There was more than a feeling of national pride, no doubt boosted by the UK’s incredible achievements in the Olympics. Also heartwarming was the strong reaction to the memorial pass dedicated to Flight Lieutenants Jon Egging and Sean Cunningham, who tragically lost their lives last year.

For many enthusiasts, the star performer of the day was the inimitable Dan Griffith in the Classic Aircraft Trust’s Gloster Meteor T7. This aircraft has been extremely popular this year and it’s clear that Dan has perfected his routine now he is more comfortable exploiting the performance envelope of this sensational machine. I’m eagerly anticipating the day we see both the T7 and its stablemate NF11 in the air simultaneously.

A true Sywell staple is the massed World War One dogfight, this year totaling eight aircraft. Three Fokker DR.1s, pairs of Se5As and Junkers CL1s, and “The Biggles Biplane” Be2C flew in a giant, swirling cavalcade. This incredibly well choreographed sequence kept the action in front of the crowd at all times. Period music and speeches also added to the atmosphere.

One feature I like about shows like Sywell is that they include a selection of lesser seen gems which are often overlooked by the larger events.

A case in point was the 1930’s “air race” which featured an eclectic selection of British machinery from the sublime Miles Whitney Straight to the quirky Aeronca 100. In between were the Comper Swift, stately Miles Messenger and gentlemanly Leopard Moth. The Whitney Straight pretty much wiped the floor with its competitors with multiple lapping. This was an imaginative way of demonstrating these aircraft whilst also creating a true spectacle for the audience.

Re-enacting the heady days of Barnstorming was Captain Neville’s Flying Circus, flying their ever entertaining routine of limbo dancing, balloon bursting and some football related antics involving some goal posts and goalkeeper that made the England squad look like a well oiled machine! Guesting in a Tiger Moth was “Sky Boss” Matthew Boddingtion, earlier to be seen at the controls of the Be2C.

It wouldn’t be a Sywell Airshow without Aerosuperbatics. The iconic Breitling Wingwalkers are one of the hardest working acts on the circuit and are always a hit with the families. Two beautiful Boeing Stearman, a pair of glamourous ladies on each wing and lots of noise; what’s not to love?!

Representing allied and axis training machines “between the wars” were Richie Piper in his beautiful Ryan PT-22 Recruit and a paired routine from Bückers Bestmann and Jungmeister. Flying a similar routine to what we saw at Abingdon in May, several formation passes were followed by individual displays.

Will Greenwood had no US convoy to attack this time (See GAR’s Headcorn Review for more details!) and instead concentrated on showing the Bestmann’s tight flying qualities to the crowd. Alex Smee then wrung out the Jungmeister in lively fashion, culminating in a very precise slow roll along the crowdline.

Not to be outdone, 1930s air travel was represented by duo displays from a Fox Moth and Dragon, and a pair of Rapides courtesy of Mark and David Miller and the Classic Aircraft Trust.

Warbird-wise, the organisers hit a true home run this year with a tantalising selection of historic combatants assembled. Not quite Second World War era but always superb to see was the Historic Aircraft Collection’s divine Hawker Nimrod. Dave Harvey put the fighter through an elegant routine – I’ve never heard the Kestrel as harmonious.

On the fighter front, there were two magnificent Spitfire routines from Carolyn Grace in her T.9 and Peter Teichman in his PR.XI. I can’t recall a finer (or lower) Spitfire routine from “PT” – stunning stuff. He truly used the terrain to magnificent effect, greatly enhacing his display.

Hardwick Warbirds’ P-51D Mustangs Marinell and Janie flew as a duo in the hands of owner Maurice Hammond and Dave Evans, before splitting for solo performances. Dave Evans, in particular, gave a storming account of Janie with the famous Mustang whine in evidence.

The organisers really scored with the Second World War “heavies” this year. Leading the pack was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster, whose arrival prompted a spontaneous round of applause. The BBMF are always an evocative sight, but their recent public appearances at the Royal Wedding and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee have almost certainly heightened their popularity with the general public.

Regular sights in UK skies they may be, but one possibly cannot be moved by the haunting cacophony of four Rolls Royce Merlins reverbrating around the Northamptonshire sky.

B-17 Flying Fortress “Sally B” also flew in from her home at Duxford during the afternoon. Pilot Peter Kuypers showed the aircraft off to excellent effect in a stunningly close display.

Another Duxford resident, Plane Sailing’s PBY-5A Catalina, also joined in the fun. This aircraft was making a welcome return to Sywell, having last appeared here in 2006.

Completing the quartet was Aces High’s C-47 Dakota. The aeroplane had suffered from some technical gremlins in the morning, but sterling work from its ground crew ensured it was able to take its rightful place in the flying. Andrew Dixon (often to be seen at the controls of “Sally B”) gracefully arched this machine around the skies to much acclaim.

At the other end of the aviation spectrum, some of the UK’s best civilian performers were on hand. Truly unique is local aviator Martin Lovell, gyrating around the grass runway in his Hughes 500C helicopter. Martin’s routine includes moving an errant cone which he cleverly picks up with his skid. The resultant applause says it all. This is one act which surely has to be seen more widely.

On home turf, and given the honour of opening the display, The Blades were exceptional. A high-octane cocktail of precision formation and unlimited aerobatics, they have to be simply one of the circuit’s most consistently good performers.

The TRIG and SWIP Teams were both on fine form. Richard Grace and Dave Puleston certainly give the classic Pitts teams of old a run for their money with some spirited aerobatics. Peter Wells and Guy Westgate’s display in their Silence Twisters is most impressive and was an appropriate way to round off the show in glorious sunshine.

I have to mention commentator Ken Ellis. He gave a very relaxed and lively narration that perfectly fitted the event. He also exhibited that vital quality in knowing when to let the aircraft do the talking. Ken is one of the most passionate advocates of historic aviation in this country.

His commentary certainly reflected that, whether waxing lyrical about Maurice Hammond’s “flutes” (The Mustangs!) or setting the stage perfectly for the Lancaster by reminding the crowd of the recent unveiling of the Bomber Command memorial in London.

2010’s show had suffered from some large queues in the public car parks to get out. Thankfully these had been resolved this year and a much smoother traffic plan had been devised. Driving out just before 7pm was a breeze and allowed us a chance to reflect on what had been an exceptional day as we drove home through the beautiful Northamptonshire countryside.

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