With summer weather putting in a seemingly rare appearance, an unprecedented number of visitors descended onto RAF Cosford for the first of the RAF’s three airshows in 2013. Shaun Schofield reports.
Good weather always brings in a healthy number of punters to an airshow, and with a favourable forecast, RAF Cosford was packed to the rafters with a crowd reaching close to a monstrous 60,000. That’s an awful lot of people to fit onto a relatively small base, which inevitably created traffic chaos on the roads leading into the airfield. Nevertheless, persistence paid off for most, who were able to enjoy a terrific show.
In 2012, a change of tact saw the show make better use of the assets unique to RAF Cosford, namely the aircraft operated by the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering (DCAE). This involved displaying a number of the resident Jaguars, both in static and hangar displays, with the headline act provided by a live taxy. The feedback from this was extremely positive, and the organisers built upon this in 2013, pulling out virtually every available Jaguar airframe on site and displaying them in all manner of configurations, allowing visitors to get up close and personal to the jets (you can’t get much closer than sitting in the cockpit!) to provide an insight into the role of the DCAE and the type of work it undertakes.
Once again, the highlight was provided by live taxying, this time by a pair, with the honours given to two of the more colourful Cosford residents, namely XX725, sporting its Gulf War desert pink scheme applied during the type’s withdrawal from service, and XX119, the famous ‘Spotty Jag’. Of course, there is more to the DCAE than Jaguars, and this was evident courtesy of a superb display with a resident Harrier GR.3 in a classic Cold War hide, synonymous with the type’s operational role in Germany.
A great deal of planning had gone into arranging and acquiring all the necessary ground equipment and other paraphernalia, with the results speaking for themselves; a thoroughly inventive display, the sort of which isn’t really seen enough at airshows. Further innovation was apparent with a mock Afghan Village, where an RAF Merlin HC.3 was displayed alongside vehicles and equipment used by the armed forces in Afghanistan. The organisers deserve plenty of credit for arranging the static with such originality.
One of the show’s themes was the 75th anniversary of RAF Cosford itself. This too was well represented on the ground by the number of training aircraft that have, one way or another, been connected to the base during that time. Chipmunks and Bulldogs aplenty were joined by modern RAF contemporaries such as the Tutor (albeit currently grounded), King Air and Tucano, as well as the sole international participant, in the form of a Dutch PC-7. This theme continued in the air with the opening act of the show when, after performing individual routines, the Chipmunk and Bulldog joined up for a series of formation flypasts.
Naturally, a good chunk of the participation came from the RAF, with every available display item on show, many of which were giving their maiden public displays of the season. Leading the way as ever were the Red Arrows, back to their illustrious best this year with a full contingent of nine aircraft, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, with Spitfire XIX ‘The Last’ and Hurricane IIc LF363 joining the Lancaster. The Flight’s Dakota III also performed a solo display later in the show, giving the Cosford crowd a fairly rare opportunity to enjoy all of the flight’s display types in one day. Completing the trio of RAF display teams were the RAF Falcons parachute team, who jumped in to the show from their smart Cessna Caravan jumpship.
It was a busy weekend for Flt Lt Jamie Norris who, after making his UK public display début the day before at Throckmorton, and who would go on to perform just up the road Welshpool, injected some real noise and energy into the Cosford display. This year’s routine is certainly up there with the best RAF Typhoon displays in recent years, featuring an interesting balance of manoeuvres.
A healthy dose of tight afterburning turns and loops, squeezing out what little moisture there was in the air to create some stunning vapour effects, are interspersed by slower manoeuvres – the dirty pass is a particularly welcome addition – which shows off the Typhoon’s full performance envelope.
In a year where RAF jet participation has been hit by the loss of a number of items, the Typhoon will surely be the stand-out item at many an airshow.
Another public débutante at Cosford was Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae in the Tucano T.1. Having received his PDA during the week leading up to the show, Andrew flew the aircraft in an extremely polished fashion, showing of the stunning special desert camouflage to great effect, even if the sun deserted it at times.
There was also plenty of RAF rotary action to enjoy, firstly courtesy of 22(R) Squadron, who made an all too rare appearance with one of its Sea King HAR.3s, performing a classic search and rescue demonstration. With retirement just around the corner, any opportunity to see this classic aircraft display should not be taken for granted; they’ll be sorely missed once they are gone.
Further rotary action was provided by another team making its season début, this time with the ever impressive Chinook HC.2. Led by Flt Lt Paul Farmer, the crew threw the aircraft around in typically flamboyant fashion, including the gut wrenching nose down quick-stops and roller-coaster manoeuvres, whilst the Chinook’s party piece, the reverse take off, makes a welcome return to the routine.
In addition to its solo display, the Chinook also took part in a role demonstration unique to Cosford. Teaming up with the AAC Apache AH.1 and the RAF Regiment, a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) scenario was played out. After a short fire-fight with the enemy, a friendly soldier was wounded, requiring immediate extraction. It was the job of the Chinook to perform the extraction, whilst the Apache hovered menacingly above, providing top cover whilst the Chinook was at its most vulnerable.
Although short, it provided an excellent insight into one of the roles so successfully undertaken by the armed forces on operations in Afghanistan. The demonstration reached a slightly delayed conclusion with a simulated para drop from a Hercules C.5. These days, airshow appearances by a Hercules are ultra-rare, so its inclusion represented something of a coup for the organisers, who demonstrated yet more imagination with this excellent display.
Having played its part in the MERT demo, the stage was set for the Apache to perform its first public solo display of the season. Although not as dynamic as its Dutch counterpart, the aircraft is nevertheless flown with plenty of gusto, performing a series of tight wing overs and turns, before giving the audience a closer look, menacingly pirouetting along the crowdline, the gunner, in this instance none other the Captain Harry Wales, training the cannon on the crowd.
Far more dynamic is the Apache’s AAC counterpart, the Lynx AH.7, which flew its stunning routine of loops, rolls and backflips, manoeuvres that are more akin to some of the aerobatic types on show rather than a helicopter! The Lynx is another type whose days are numbered with the work up of its replacement, the Wildact AH.1, in full swing. That means of course that such a fine display, flown this year by Captains Alex Cramphorn and Eddie Brown, will soon be a thing of the past, so it’s very much a case of catch it while you can.
The sole contribution from the Royal Navy came courtesy of the Historic Flight and its Sea Fury T.20, in the very capable hands of Lt Cdr Chris Gotke, the new Commander of the RNHF. ‘Goaty’ really gets the Sea Fury singing, showing off the aircraft’s supreme performance, particularly in the vertical with some powerful climbs. Man and machine in perfect harmony.
The same could be said of Peter Teichman, who flew a wonderfully flowing, graceful display in his unique Spitfire PR.XI, representing another of the show’s themes, celebrating the 75th anniversary of R.J. Mitchell’s legendary design. Further warbird action came courtesy of another grand old lady of the skies, B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B. It’s always a pleasure to enjoy her displaying, particularly away from Duxford, and in this 70th anniversary year of the 8th Air Force arriving in the UK, her displays have added poignancy in remembering the US airmen lost; her raison d’etre.
Complementing the warbirds were a trio of classic jets. A late replacement for the Breitling Wingwalkers was Dan Arlett in Jeff Bell’s Jet Provost T.5. Dan received plenty of praise following his display at Abingdon, and it was easy to see why, with a textbook aerobatic demonstration of the type, flying smooth, graceful figures. Even more graceful is Golden Apple’s immaculate F-86A Sabre, a popular addition at any show. Mark Linney is a master at the controls, showing off the jet to full effect with a series of topside passes and sweeping turns. Classic jet displaying at its consummate best.
Of course, there is one classic jet that grabs the public’s attention like no other. In her first full weekend of displays, Avro Vulcan XH558 arrived at Cosford with a couple of friends on her wingtips. The RV8tors, flown by Alister Kay and Andy Hill, had joined up with ‘558 for a series of unique formation passes. After separating, Kev Rumens led the Vulcan into her routine, consisting of gentle turns punctuated by bursts of noise as she climbed into repositioning wing-overs, some of which went well over the 90° mark. After an impressively tight spiral climb out, the display concluded with a missed approach, providing the crowd with one last blast of Olympus power. Her popularity is obvious, given the mass exodus of people once she had made way for the RV8tors to perform their display proper.
Flying a pin-point precise, albeit curtailed routine (due to a lack of time), the RV8tors have established themselves as an excellent display act, and were one of a healthy number of civilian acts on show at Cosford. Flying six Yak-50s were the Aerostars team, a fine display that features some tight formation flying and seemingly effortless aerobatics. Further team aerobatics were provided by The Blades. Given the honours of closing the show, their display features all the innovation and panache one would expect from a team of ex-Red Arrows pilots, with some familiar manoeuvres thrown in.
Brendan O’Brien brought his unique brand of flying to the table with his Flying Circus. After several attempts, Brendan successfully landed his modified Cub on top of the trailer, his makeshift landing strip. One of the best and perhaps surprise performers of the day was Rich Goodwin in his modified Pitts S2S. The results of the modifications are obvious, with Rich putting on a rip-roaring routine, full of flicks and rolls, topped off by hanging on the prop. Aerobatics of the highest order. Look out for an interview exclusive with Richard – coming soon to GAR!
The organisers of the RAF Cosford Air Show can, and should, feel hugely satisfied with their achievements. The balance was spot on, with innovative ground displays and a varied flying display full of star items, all combining to produce what is likely to be one of the finest one day shows this year- the record crowds providing evidence of that.
Fingers crossed the show will continue to build upon this success and produce another gem in 2014.