Gareth Stringer reports from what may well have been the hottest UK airshow of the year, in more ways than one.
It’s Monday morning and I’m still feeling the effects of four days in the Lincolnshire sunshine – it’s not very often you get to say that! The clouds broke on Thursday afternoon, soon after I arrived with my GAR colleague Gordon Jones and, until a few rogue examples drifted in on Sunday, we basked in unbroken sunshine for the whole shooting match.
Not only that, it was hot, very hot actually, with lots of red faces on show over the weekend. If you weren’t properly prepared you were going to burn very quickly, and I am sure there are more than a few people from among the 148,000 capacity crowd still feeling a little sore after visiting the show.
Thankfully it was all worth it as somehow, after the huge high of last year with the ROKAF Black Eagles et al, the airshow team at RAF Waddington managed to deliver another excellent line-up which has clearly left many who attended already looking ahead to returning on 5 and 6 July 2014. The event would leave a huge gap in the calendar if for any reason it didn’t happen, for the show once again managed to succeed on many levels.
Primarily of course the event is about engagement for the Royal Air Force, that is the event’s main raison d’etre, and you only had to spend a short time taking a look round to see how it goes it about achieving that. There was a huge amount taking place on the ground, most significant of which was the RAF On-Air presentations which took place throughout each day of the show.
With the RAF Presentation Team and BBC Radio Lincs looking after the hosting of each segment, at times there was barely room to move in the main exhibition hangar, notably when the Red Arrows and Dambusters veteran George ‘Johnny’ Johnson were taking part, with an estimated 600 / 700 people on hand, and I am sure everyone involved will be delighted with how successful ‘On-Air’ once again proved to be.
In the air, the Royal Air Force provided its full selection of solos for 2013, with Flt Lt Jamie Norris in the Typhoon and the Chinook solo (for which Flt Lt Paul Farmer and his colleagues deservedly won the Boeing Trophy for best flying display) literally bringing the crowds to a standstill. Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae’s desert-schemed Tucano got a lot of attention and looked fantastic in the sunshine, while the flypasts of Red Arrows and Sentinel (the V(AC) Squadron special), and BBMF Lancaster and Tornado GR4 were excellent additions and were a rarity for everyone, enthusiast or not.
It should also be noted that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s engineers deserve huge credit as they did brilliantly well to fix a hydraulic issue with the Lancaster to get her airborne for the weekend.
It would have been nice to see some additional RAF types in the static park, especially in the service’s 95th birthday year with, for example, neither Tucano nor Hawk T2 represented, but the addition of a VC10 was superb, so it is perhaps a little harsh to quibble too much, especially as that example will, all things being equal, soon be retired to the RAF Museum at Cosford.
There were some real gems in among the static, in a year when getting foreign aircraft in to fulfil that role is by no means easy. Both the Czech L-159 ALCA and Saab Gripen were of the special-tail variety, as was a Belgium Air Force F-16, while the Algeria Air Force Hercules returned once again and the Polish Navy brought a M28B Bryza that, shock horror, was in a different colour scheme to the usual visiting examples. Make sure you check out the gallery below to see more of the 160 aircraft that were at Waddington over airshow weekend.
The second of the 617 Sqn Dambusters special Tornado GR4s was also on display and, as ever, the E3 Sentry walk-through was hugely popular in what was a very busy show-ground throughout. Whether people like it or not, ‘sideshows’, traders and non-aviation attractions are all part of the day out for a majority of those attending shows like these, and without them we probably wouldn’t get a show at all. It still amazes me though how many people pay next to no attention to much of the flying display – with just a handful of acts guaranteed to turn the majority of heads!
As for the rest of the flying display, well, where to begin? A trawl through the RAF Waddington International Airshow Twitter and Facebook feeds doesn’t really indicate a clear-cut winner in the ‘favourite’ stakes, with many of the participants getting a mention, so let’s have a look at the contenders….
SoloTurk was brilliant, there’s little doubt about it, and Captain S Yalın Ahbab really did fly his F-16 with flair, aggression and invention. Watching him practise on Thursday, I was impressed with the creativity behind the display and also the clever way he utilised his smoke-winders during vertical and rolling manoeuvres.
It was excellent stuff and an interesting contrast to both the Belgium Air Force demo, with Cpt Avi Renaud “Grat” Thys at the helm, and Captain Stefan “Stitch” Hutten’s display for the Royal Netherlands Air Force – both of which were very polished too, I thought.
Everyone will have their own favourite Viper I’m sure, but I suppose we should really just be thankful for the chance to enjoy all three at one show, and that’s credit to the team at Waddo.
A huge highlight for many was the inclusion of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight and AJS 37 Viggen ‘Gustav 52’ made for a wonderful sight, and noise, as her Volvo RM8B engine propelled her, roaring and crackling, during a fine display. Both the J 29F Tunnan and SK 60E looked fantastic too, with the former in particular generating a lot of interest – they really don’t make them like that any more!
Again, and at risk of repeating myself, huge credit is due to the team at ‘Waddo’ for getting these aircraft over – it was the kind of booking that really plays to the enthusiast community and backs-up what Airshow Director Paul Sall told me when we spoke on Thursday – they do listen and they do try to keep everyone happy.
The Czech Air Force contingent will also be happy, I suspect, with both the L-159 ALCA and Saab JAS 39C Gripen more than holding their own. The ALCA was punchy, with a lot of ‘oomph’ for a relatively small jet, while the Gripen, flown by Martin ‘Jet Lee’ Spacek, whom we interviewed for a forthcoming feature, put on a sparkling performance and by Sunday night was already looking forward to RNAS Yeovilton Air Day and this, our “typical English weather”!
Saturday’s show was closed by the Patrouille de France and I thought they were magnificent. I’ve not really seen them enough in recent years to conclude that this marked a ‘return to form’ – but that’s what lots of people were remarking. Their support arrived in the form of a C-130 Hercules incidentally, and Armée de l’Air examples of those aren’t to be sniffed at either!
The UK’s other armed forces weren’t forgotten either and both the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps were represented in the flying programme. The Royal Navy’s Merlin HM2 and solo Black Cats’ Lynx Mk8 were in attendance and both put on excellent demonstrations, with the Merlin in particular impressing with a winching / SAR demo, especially as the show lost the RAF’s own Sea King search and rescue demo from the flying programme.
The AAC’s Attack Helicopter Display Team was certainly glad of less windy conditions than those they endured last time out, at Manston, and there is little doubt that SSgt Jamie Boakes’ and Capt Phil Wilson’s routine really does impress. I joined the team air-side on both days and will be writing a blog on that fantastic experience very soon.
Civilian participants also played an important part this year, perhaps more so than in previous seasons, but these were far from filler and included an excellent aerobatic demonstration from Mikaël Brageot in the Breitling Extreme Sbach 300. Biggest of all these items was of course was Avro Vulcan XH558, always a Waddington favourite, and while her displays continue to divide opinion among regular airshow-goers, she didn’t seem to disappoint the majority this time round, with Bill Ramsey making his public début on Saturday and Kev Rumens taking control on Sunday.
Both pilots flew a ‘new’, slightly adjusted routine, and most of the crowd seemingly lapped it up; that was certainly what I saw when I was in amongst them for Saturday’s performance anyway. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that for many of those in attendance at an airshow, it will be the only time they see any of the participants in any given year, so everything is fresh and exciting. A general point that relates to every display, not just XH558.
She was joined in the programme by some of the other more regular UK participants such as the Gnat Display Team (with two aircraft), Breitling Wingwalkers, Hawker Hunter (both the latter were on Sunday only), Royal Jordanian Falcons and The Blades, all of which did an excellent job I thought. A special note for Rod Dean though who still managed to impress in the Bulldog, which, considering the size of the venue, can not have been an easy task!
So, all in all then a pretty epic weekend and a show that, digging out a cliché, really did have something for everyone. Very well done to Paul Sall, Charles Skiera, Roger Steele, Simon Radley and Katerina Greenlaw.
See you next year – advance tickets go on sale in November!
Gallery – RAF Waddington International Airshow 2013