On the hottest weekend of the year, RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2013 raised the temperature in its own unique and spectacular way. Shaun Schofield reports from the Royal Navy’s showpiece event.
Yeovilton was hot, very hot! With temperatures soaring well into the thirties, frankly, it was almost too hot; the roasting temperatures turning the show into something of an endurance event for even the most hardened airshow goer.
Many of the 35,000 plus strong crowd couldn’t last the duration, with dehydration being a serious factor. Prepared as ever, the Royal Navy had water points situated around the showground to allow people to refill their water bottles, whilst volunteers were on hand at the end of the day, handing out more water to people on their way out. Superb organisation, and very much in keeping with the theme of the show; teamwork.
On the ground, there was plenty on offer for the enthusiast and day tripper alike, with the traditional array of stalls, fairs and ground attractions keeping the largely family-based audience thoroughly entertained throughout the day.
It’s fair to say the static park hasn’t been exactly teeming with aircraft in recent years, but it was a case of quality over quantity. Dominating this time around was the VC10, providing the Yeovilton crowd one final chance to see this classic aircraft before its imminent retirement, and receiving the award for best static in the process. Heavies have been missing from recent Air Days, so it was good to see the VC10 joined by a Belgian C-130H Hercules and Czech CN 295.
Other highlights included the German Navy Lynx, in its attractive new special paint scheme, and a smartly painted M-28 Bryza of the Polish Navy. All good stuff, though if there was one criticism to be made, it would be that the barriers were too close to the aircraft, making life a little tricky for the photographer.
In the air, Yeovilton ticked all the right boxes. The show is one of the few venues in the UK where flares and pyrotechnics are not only allowed, but fully encouraged, with several of the participating aircraft employing them to enhance their displays, none more so than the Commando Assault.
The traditional finale to the show, the assault is a thirty minute spectacular, full of explosions and huge flare releases, demonstrating a typical scenario the crews of the Commando Helicopter Force based at Yeovilton, with support from Joint Helicopter Command, train for. Seven ‘Junglie’ Sea Kings, two Hawks, a pair of Army Air Corps operated Wildcats and a sole Apache filled the skies, whilst the Royal Marines kept the enemy at bay on the ground.
It is this sort of set piece that sets Yeovilton apart from other shows, and they weren’t content with just the assault. The second force based at Yeovilton, the maritime force, wasn’t to be outdone, flying an innovative demonstration of the Lynx and naval Wildcat’s roles in anti-surface warfare.
Making their Air Day debut were the Red Star Rebels, whose airfield attack, full of yet more explosions, paved the way for the Commando Asssault to begin. After beating up the airfield, the two L-29 Delfins flew a quaint pairs routine before landing, their work done.
Despite missing out on a couple of high profile participants, most notably the Swiss F/A-18 Hornet, Yeovilton managed to attract some of the finest displays from across Europe. The headline acts came courtesy of the Czech Republic, which provided L-159 ALCA and Gripen solos, the latter deservedly receiving the award for best fast jet display. Had there been an award for best colour scheme, the Gripen, resplendent in its vivid Tiger scheme, would surely have taken that too.
Both jets made clever use of flares in their routines, a trait shared by the two Belgian solos on show. The ever-popular F-16 tore across the sky in a reworked routine for 2013 that shows off the Viper’s excellent handling qualities, particular at slower speeds. It was its counterpart that perhaps provided the surprise display of the day.
The A109BA is no stranger to UK shows, having regularly performed its nimble routine in recent years. However, having not displayed at Yeovilton before, UK audiences had yet to be treated to the display enhanced by flares, the aircraft spewing flares for fun, turning a fine display into a spectacular one. Certainly, the A109 was good value for the award of best helicopter display.
The A109 shared the award with the RAF Chinook display, which was thrown around in a typically carefree manner that never fails to impress the audience. In fact, helicopters featured heavily throughout the display, with the Navy getting in on the act with the Black Cats Lynx and Merlin solos. The latter was particularly impressive, the aircraft being flung around the sky with plenty of gusto.
Also getting in on the act was the Army with its Lynx AH7. With time running out for the Lynx in AAC service, it seems this year’s routine is more aggressive than ever, with a plethora of loops, rolls and, of course, the famous back flips. A hugely impressive succession of manoeuvres, it will certainly be a sad day when such a superb display becomes a thing of the past. The Lynx will pave the way for the Wildcat in the AAC, and this was represented in the flying display by an old and new formation of the two types ahead of the Lynx solo.
The junior service was not to be outdone either, with the RAF offering a full complement of displays in addition to the Chinook. The honour of opening the show was given to the Red Arrows, who were warmly received by the enthusiastic audience with plenty of cheering and applause, with a similar reaction welcoming the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Solo action was provided by Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae in the Tucano, looking more than appropriate in its desert scheme given the temperatures, whilst Flt Lt Jamie Norris turned the noise of up to 11 in the Typhoon.
Another unique old and new formation took place when the Swordfish of the Royal Navy Historic Flight joined up with a pair of Wildcats, honouring eighty years of naval air power. Earlier in the show, the ‘Stringbag’ had performed a solo display, her first of the season. Warbirds featured prominently in the display, with another first as the RNHF Sea Fury T20, Kennet Aviation’s Skyraider and Peter Teichman’s Mustang Jumpin Jacques teamed up for a series of formation flypasts before breaking into their own solo routines.
Lt Cdr Chris Gotke really has nailed his routine in the Sea Fury, powering his way through the sky with consummate ease, and it’s great to see the Skyraider back in the air at a show, in the capable hands of Dave Mackay, having had a troublesome 2012. Most impressive of all was Peter Teichman, who flew a typically graceful, flowing display, bringing the Mustang down very low. Spectacular stuff!
John Beattie, a stalwart of Yeovilton Air Day from his time on the RNHF, flew an elegant display in Kennet’s T-6 Texan, whilst the classic dogfight double of Spitfire XVI and Me 109, or at least a Buchon, flew a fantastic tailchase, in between solos. It’s perhaps easy for warbirds to become a little lost at larger venues such as Yeovilton, but Cliff Spink and Dave Ratcliffe made the most of the airspace available to them to great effect.
A clear favourite at ‘Yeovs’ is the Vulcan, if the enthused crowd rushing forward for her display is anything to go by. The famous howl was in full effect during take-off as she departed for Goodwood before returning later for her display. The routine is coming in for quite a bit of criticism in some corners of the Internet, and whilst I admit it’s a tad sedate, the take-off and spiral climb provide the blast of noise to keep the majority of punters happy.
Making a brief but no less welcome appearance was DS Aviation’s stunning Sea Vixen. Sadly, time was against the operators to work up a display in time for Yeovilton, but the crowd was treated to a glimpse of Foxy Lady as she arrived with a run and break before taking her place in the static display.
Further evidence of the team work theme came courtesy of two aerobatic teams on show. The RV8tors are having a busy season and brought their precise pairs routine to Yeovilton for the first time. More regular visitors are the Royal Jordanian Falcons, who unfortunately had to perform a curtailed routine due to the solo aircraft going unserviceable. The aircraft suffered a cracked windscreen at Waddington due to the heat!
The final act came right out of the left field, with Eastern Airways providing a rather smart SAAB 2000. It’s unusual to see propliners perform at an airshow, and whilst it’s fair to say the display didn’t set the world alight, it’s always enjoyable to see a large aircraft flown in less than typical fashion.
There’s no doubt about it, the Royal Navy certainly knows how to put on a show! Show stopping set pieces, pyrotechnics, fast jets, classics, RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2013 had everything you could wish for from an airshow. A clear success, this year’s event will be a tough one to top!