2012 UK Airshows

JUL 03 2012
Airshows >> UK: Waddington International Airshow 2012 - Review

To even the most discernible member of the UK’s airshow-going community, the prospect of the last few days of June and the first two weeks of July this year must surely have raised excitement levels somewhat. For the line-ups assembled at RAF Waddington and RAF Fairford, in particular, have to rank as some of the most impressive of recent times, with star items aplenty and a number of first-time visiting nations on the billing.

For Waddington’s traditional two-day show, the undoubted highlight of the flying display simply had to be the European debut of the Republic of Korea Air Force’s Black Eagles, flying eight indigenous KAI T-50B “Golden Eagle” aircraft. Not hugely dissimilar to Alenia Aermacchi’s M346 in profile view, the T-50 is a good looking jet, particularly so in the black, white and gold colours adopted by the Black Eagles.

And, while Waddington had the honour of presenting the team, and indeed the nation’s air force, to the public first, much of the credit for enticing the Black Eagles into embarking on a UK-tour - taking in Waddington and Fairford, while a solo aircraft will be demonstrated by KAI at the trade-based Farnborough International Airshow - has to go to the personnel of the Royal International Air Tattoo, who have been courting the Korean Air Force for a significant number of years now.

The fact that the Koreans were here at all is hugely impressive. The logistical task of getting the nine aircraft (eight plus spare) to the UK has to be considered pretty momentous in its own right. Broken down and transported to Manchester International Airport as air freight aboard Korean Airlines Cargo 747-400s, the component parts were then roaded to RAF Leeming for reassembly and test flying. Clearly this is not something you undertake lightly, and that level of commitment is hugely warming to see. I think it’s fair to say that their efforts were greatly appreciated by the attending Waddington crowd, who, almost to a man seemed extremely impressed by the team’s display routine.

Lasting some 35 minutes – a lengthy slot by anyone’s standards (though 38 were actually programmed as it had been hoped that the slot would include a flypast with the Red Arrows; unfortunately approval was not received in time) – the routine featured all of the elements one might expect from any of the teams we’re more accustomed to seeing; large formations, smaller formations, opposition elements and solo, complete with smoke at appropriate times. To their great credit, the routine would definitely be described as more 'European' than anything else, with formation changes taking place directly in front of the crowd, rather than away from prying eyes, as the American teams tend to favour.

To all parties involved in bringing the team to the UK, I commend and thank you for your efforts!

Another team making its Waddington debut, having first appeared in the UK at Fairford in 2011, was the Saudi Hawks. A paperwork issue meant that they were forced to display as a five-ship rather than with the six aircraft that had displayed previously at last year’s RIAT and last weekend’s RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day and, I think it’s fair to say, this did not help the fluency of their routine here.

One thing that the Waddington International Airshow has come in for some criticism of in recent years is the number of civilian acts featuring in the flying display, but the same could not be said in 2012, with The Blades being the only civilian aircraft in the programme at all – albeit as an ever-impressive addition. Part of the reason for this may be that Waddington has been unlucky with clashes with other major European shows in recent years, and, following the downgrading of BA702 Avord’s 100th anniversary airshow in France to a much lower key ‘Portes Ouvertes’, the same could not be said this time around.

Whatever the reason, it was great to see airshow stalwarts like the Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolori, the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 and Swiss Air Force F-18 (as well as the lesser-spotted Super Puma display) appearing on the billing, alongside great Waddington supporters such as the Belgium Air Force, which this year supplied its Red Devils display team, the Czech Air Force, which, with no Gripen display this year, brought the L159 ALCA, the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s ever popular Boeing 757, the Polish Air Force’s Team Orlik and a flypast by a United States Air Force RC-135 ‘Rivet Joint’ (unusually, the only USAF asset taking part in this year’s show), a type set to join the Royal Air Force fleet in the coming years.

It was especially nice to see the Austrian Air Force represented in the programme by the tiger-schemed Saab 105OE, an aircraft that the impressive new commentary team of Ben Dunnell and Major George Bacon pointed out will be undergoing a life extension programme to keep it in service until at least 2020. Despite already serving for more than four decades, the type continues to perform admirably in a variety of roles, and my only disappointment with the routine was that it didn’t feature a single topside pass on Sunday - possibly in part due to the cloud base which meant the pilot found himself switching between his full and rolling displays. But still, given the stunning colours adorning the topsides of this particular aircraft, its absence seemed almost criminal.

Make no bones about it, Waddington International Airshow 2012 certainly lived up to its name. Of course, being “The RAF’s Premier Aviation Spectacular”, home grown involvement was also particularly strong, with the full complement of Royal Air Force display assets on show over the course of the weekend. Typhoon, King Air, Tutor, Hawk, Tucano, Red Arrows, The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Falcons, Tornado GR.4 Role Demo, and Chinook all performed, while a Sea King, also due to appear, was unfortunately forced to cancel on Friday.

A couple of Waddington’s own assets also participated and are unlikely to be seen elsewhere during 2012 – namely the Sentinel, which was involved in the Station Flypast along with an E-3D Sentry, with the latter performing a few additional manoeuvres and its own solo demo too.

It’s been said before, but this year’s GR.4 Role Demo really does seem to have a bit more punch to it than previous years, but if you asked me to put my finger on why, I’m not sure that I could, exactly! Whatever the reason, you only have to look at the way the crowds are drawn out to witness it, to know it’s a massive winner with the public. It was also nice, and particularly poignant at this time, to note that Sunday’s performance, at least, was dedicated to Bomber Command.

Completing the flying display programme were the Army Air Corps Lynx AH.7, provided by 671 Sqn at Middle Wallop, and the Royal Navy’s ‘Black Cats’. The AH.7 makes a welcome return to the circuit in 2012, sharing the AAC’s engagement duties with the Apache, and it’s a pleasure to see the trademark back flip – made possible thanks to the AAC version’s rigid rotor-head – on show once more.

The award for the best display went to the Black Eagles, with the Swiss F-18 Hornet, piloted by Hauptmann Ralph 'Deasy' Knittel coming second and the RAF Chinook in third.

If you talk to members of the enthusiast community about Waddington airshows, most will tell you that their biggest gripe is with the way the static park is laid out and, unfortunately, once again the same will be said of this year. While I can understand that the public and photographers might be coming at this from different angles - the public wanting to get 'up close' and the photographers wanting clear shots - on a personal level, it is slightly disappointing that a happier balance cannot be achieved.

For many, I guess the biggest case in point will be with the positioning of the Royal Australian Air Force 737 AEW&C ‘Wedgetail’ from No 2 Squadron, based at RAAF Williamtown. This was a UK-debut for the type in RAAF service, yet even those with as little as 16mm lenses on full-frame cameras were unable to capture unobstructed images of the aircraft, seemingly needlessly hemmed in as it was alongside one of two resident E-3Ds on Alpha ramp.

With my photographer's hat on, I was left pondering whether the dividing barrier between it and the aircraft it was parked next to was REALLY necessary? Personally, I couldn’t see how it was, but, speaking after the event to Paul Sall, the Airshow Director, it became clear that this was not down to the organisers, rather Boeing and the RAAF, who specifically requested that no-one had access to it.

We all know the stats about what percentage of the attending public is made up by the enthusiast community (the general consensus seems to be that it’s circa 15% at most), but even one more metre ‘breathing space’ all around the aircraft would have made a huge difference to them. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about that was that there was a fairly sizeable gap to the left of the first E-3D, where the Royal Netherlands Air Force KDC-10 had been planned to park (due to other commitments this aircraft was never actually on the ground at Waddington, but did perform a flypast on the Saturday), that, with hindsight, could have been utilised to spread things out a little.

The Wedgetail had been at Eielson AFB, Alaska, taking part in the latest edition of Red Flag Alaska. 2 Sqn's Commanding Officer told GAR that coming to Waddington had been hugely beneficial, pointing out that while they might have the latest platform, it's squadrons like Waddington's resident No.8 Sqn that have the experience. The Australians' return home will take a full week to complete!

Layout aside, what was present in the static park was again varied and featured a strong international flavour. Among the numerous highlights were the German Air Force F-4F Phantom, complete with special marks and “45 Jahre in Schortens” titles (albeit rather difficult to shoot), the gorgeous Algerian Air Force C-130H (which thankfully was positioned very nicely), a tiger-schemed Czech Air Force Gripen, a second Saab 105 from the Austrian Air Force (rather tucked away between the Czech Gripen and C-295M), the very smart Swedish Air Force Saab 340AEW Argus, Norwegian Air Force Falcon 20 and Polish and Czech Air Force CASA C-295Ms. It was also nice that one of the Saudi Hawks was present on the northside, while the supporting sand-camouflaged Hercules was also parked in the general vicinity of the static park but had its cockpit covered for the duration of Sunday from what I saw, sadly.

Domestic stars included a number of aircraft that had been brought together to mark the 100th anniversary of the Central Flying School (CFS), namely the 100 Sqn 95th anniversary Hawk, the IV(AC) Sqn Hawk T.2, Red Arrows’ Hawk – not something you see on static especially often, the Classic Aircraft Trust’s Meteor T.7 as well as three Jet Provosts, a Gnat, a Hunter, Chipmunk and Grob Tutor.

Other static aircraft of particular note included the 3(F) Sqn 100th anniversary Typhoon (though I must admit, this was not something that I managed to find), a seldom-seen Army Air Corps' Bell 212 and the civilian owned UH-1 and OH-6 Cayuse.

The last-named 'Vietnam pair' won the Concours d’Elegance for their presentation in the static park with the University Air Squadron Tutor taking second spot and the Hunter Flight Academy’s Hunter T.7A, G-FFOX / WV318, taking third - despite the loss of the 'Jubilee tail' prior to the show.

Unlike RNAS Yeovilton's International Air Day a week earlier, Waddington fared much better in terms of cancellations, though there were still a few. Clearly the most high profile, and therefore disappointing, of these was the withdrawal of the Qatari Emiri Air Force's C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules, both of which were planned to be on static. It had been hoped that a USAF B-52 would perform a flyby as well, and, without its engine woes, Vulcan XH558 would have participated in the flying too.

As mentioned earlier, I could only be present on the Sunday – by far the worst of the two show days for photography, despite the Saturday featuring at least one almighty downpour. After a beautiful, cloudless start to Sunday, the cloud was already bubbling up by the time the display started in earnest, and, once Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran had completed his display in the 6 Sqn Typhoon, the breaks had already been filled in by solid overcast. Aside from two periods of further deterioration, where the clouds conspired to release some moisture from their grasp, that was how it stayed until virtually the end of the display. Typically, within five minutes of the Czech Air Force ALCA closing the show, the clouds parted and provided some lovely conditions for a post-display wander around the static park.

Attending airshows in this country can certainly be trying at times and the precision and regularity with which the clouds know when to part at the end of proceedings only heightens that further. Later starts with flying into the evening, anyone?!

Away from Waddington, our thoughts on Sunday were with the family, friends and colleagues of Trevor Roche, who lost his life at Old Warden during the morning when the Shuttleworth Collection’s DH53 Humming Bird that he was piloting experienced difficulties and suffered a landing accident ahead of the afternoon’s show. Another reminder of the inherent risks that those flying for our pleasure expose themselves to each time they climb into the cockpit.

Back in Lincolnshire, the members of the Waddington International Airshow team have every right to feel incredibly proud of the show they put on in 2012. The flying featured a fantastic mix of fast jets, rotary assets, large aircraft and display teams from the far reaches of the globe, and the line-up, both in the air and on the ground, certainly entitled it to ‘classic’ status - even if Sunday’s weather did its best to detract from that. What happens next year will make for fascinating viewing. All I hope is that just a tiny bit more attention is paid to the way the static is laid out, particularly with regard to the 'star items'. Please! Maybe a 'Celebrity Row' could be the way forward?

Over to Airshow Director, Paul Sall to sum up how he thought the show had gone: "I am delighted with the outcome of this weekend’s proceedings. With the weather holding off (in the main), the 125,000 visitors were treated to a flying display that was as international as one could hope for and a plethora of exciting and engaging ground exhibits. I am confident the visitors went away not only having had a great day out, a day that not only had something for all members of the family, but also allowed our visitors to gain a better/increased understanding of the RAF, its personnel and equipment."

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2012-07-03 - Alan Longstaff
Great report,of an excellent show Karl. I was really impressed with the content of the displays,especially the Koreans and the Dutch F16 display. The only minor moan from me was that the statics looked a little light on content,but maybe this was because the area available is huge,so what was there was spread out? Although I didn't get chance to see the 8Sqd pan at all. Overall an excellent few days and I would like to pass on my thanks to everyone involved with the event. Here's to 2013!

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