After having a year off in 2012, as a result of taxiway resurfacing work and Olympic commitments, RNAS Culdrose Air Day was back on the airshow calendar in 2013. Chris Wood headed back to Culdrose to report for GAR, with additional photography by Shaun Schofield.
Culdrose Air Day is notorious for being plagued by the weather, and this year was no exception. After two weeks of glorious sunshine, Wednesday, 24 July dawned with a southerly wind bringing moisture, and hence low cloud, off the sea. Typically the day before had some sun, as did the day after!
The other issue for Culdrose is that, being less than 20 miles east of Lands End, it’s a long way from anywhere else, so enticing aircraft to West Cornwall can be challenging. However, holding the show just a few days after RIAT provides the opportunity for participants from that show to stay in the UK a little longer, and Culdrose was able to attract the German Navy Sea King Mk 41 from MFG 5 at Nordholz and the trio of Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apaches from 301 Squadron at Glize-Rijen, that had all been at Fairford.
The static display contained a few gems, the star item undoubtedly being an NH90-NFH from 860 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Navy based at De Kooy. Another new aircraft on show was a Wildcat HMA1 from 700W NAS at RNAS Yeovilton, whilst representing something old was a former 771 NAS Wessex HU5. Another Wessex could be found in a hangar winching people up and down, a perennial Culdrose favourite.
Spread around the site were a mix of aircraft, ranging from a number of Sea Harrier FA2s operated by the School of Flight Deck Operations (SFDO) at Culdrose, a solitary Hawk T2 from IV(R) Squadron at RAF Valley, a selection of current military helicopters and a few other powered aircraft as well as the gliders of the HMS Seahawk Gliding Club.
Additionally during the day a handful of RAF aircraft arrived to bolster the numbers on show, including a 6 Squadron Typhoon FGR4 from RAF Leuchars, a Tornado GR4 flown by a crew from 9 Squadron and a 22 Squadron Sea King HAR3 from RMB Chivenor.
Also representing Aerobility was Guy Westgate in his MDM-1 Fox glider, who opened the flying display with his usual impressive aerobatic routine, which is all the more impressive when you consider that he’s flying a glider!
Guy was followed by the traditional Culdrose Balbo, which consisted of a trio of Sea Kings with an 849 NAS ASaC7 leading two 771 NAS HAR5s, a trio of Merlins, two HM1s and a HM1, and a fourship of Hawk T1s from the newly reformed 736 NAS. (736 was last operational in 1972 when it was the Buccaneer training squadron).
The flying display lasted for around four and half hours and consisted of a good mix of performers which, perhaps not surprisingly, included a variety of helicopters, as well as a fair number of warbirds and a few favourites in the shape of the Breitling Wingwalkers and the Blades, all of whom managed to display despite the best efforts of the Cornish weather.
The warbird contingent started off with Peter Teichman in his P-51D “Jumpin’-Jacques” and also included the Kennet Aviation Skyraider flown with gusto by John Beattie, whilst Plane Sailing’s Catalina provided a more sedate offering in the hands of John Warman and Simon “Spiney” Norman.
The RNHF was on hand with Simon Wilson flying the Swordfish II and Chris Gotke in the Sea Fury T20.
Starting the rotary contributions was the Dutch Apache and its display featured a number of flare drops, something not seen at RIAT, as well as its trademark aerobatics – always an impressive sight.
The Royal Navy provided a Lynx HMA8 from 702 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton and the home team was represented by a Merlin HM2 from 824 NAS, the Merlin training squadron, which was thrown about the sky in a style which seemed inappropriate for its size!
Two aircraft in the display fell into the helicopter and warbird categories, namely Phil Connolly’s gorgeous UH-1H painted in the colours of the 129th Air Assault Helicopter Company and Terry Martin’s former Royal New Zealand Navy (and Kennet Aviation) Westland Wasp HAS1, masquerading as a Royal Navy example. This provided John Beattie’s second opportunity to get airborne.
The highlight of the show should have been the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows which were scheduled to arrive and land before displaying. However, the weather resulted in a change of plan with them landing at Newquay instead. They subsequently arrived overhead Culdrose on time but were unable to find sufficient gaps in the cloud to allow them to display, so after twenty minutes of trying they admitted defeat and departed.
They were followed by the recently repaired DS Aviation Sea Vixen FAW2 in the hands of Matt Whitfield who, much to the Navy’s delight, proceeded to tear the place up and was duly awarded the best display trophy, although whether that was for the display or for getting one over on the junior service wasn’t clear! (The trophy for the best static display went to the Dutch Apache team).
The other jet warbird in the display was the Classic Air Forces lovely Meteor T.7 in the reliable hands of Dan Griffith, who put on his usual polished display.
Closing the show was a role demo by the home team that featured a pirate hunting Sea King ASaC7 from 849 NAS. Having detected some pirates (being towed down the runway in a RIB!), a Merlin from 820 NAS was called in to deal with them, and whilst a few pyros were triggered when the Merlin’s door gunner ‘fired’ a warning shot across the pirates’ bow, the suggestion that their boat would be scuttled sadly didn’t produce a wall of fire!
Whilst Culdrose Air Day isn’t as big or diverse as the Royal Navy’s other show at Yeovilton, it still manages to attract a few items of interest. It also gives the local community a chance to see what the Royal Navy is doing in their back yard, and provides a day out with a difference for the thousands of tourists who flock to Cornwall every summer.