End of an Era…….Kev Wills reports from the 65th and last ever airshow at RAF Leuchars. Thanks to Andy Aitchison and Darron Hall for additional imagery.
As a veteran of about twenty RAF Leuchars Battle of Britain ‘At Home’ days, it was, personally, a sad moment when Air Officer Scotland, and Station Commander RAF Leuchars, Air Commodore Gerry Mayhew announced at last week’s press preview morning that this year’s 65th Battle of Britain home day would be the last ever airshow at Leuchars, in its current guise.
In many ways, the announcement didn’t really come as a huge surprise, given the ongoing state of transition that the Station finds itself experiencing. The RAF is moving its two frontline Typhoon squadrons north, to RAF Lossiemouth, and the Army is moving in to take their place, but it is still sad to think that the Royal Air Force’s annual September commemoration of the brave participants in the Battle of Britain has now come to an end.
With Nos 1 and 6 Squadron moving to Lossiemouth from spring through to autumn 2014, the Station personnel level at Leuchars will fall well below the number that is required to support such a huge event. Air Commodore Mayhew added that the RAF would continue to support other events in Scotland in the coming years, and this will include offering what support it can to Armed Forces Day 2014, centred as it will be on the nearby city of Stirling, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and participation in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games.
So, on to the show, and RAF Leuchars’ motto, “Attack and Protect”, was chosen as its theme, with the whole event designed to showcase what has been achieved by the RAF at Leuchars during the last century.
It did just that, and a wide variety of ground displays and exhibitions, both informative as well as interactive, were provided to educate and entertain visitors to the show. Similarly the static aircraft and flying displays were gathered together to not only promote the modern day Royal Air Force and its allies, but also to honour and celebrate the history of Leuchars and the Royal Air Force in Scotland.
Traditional airshow crowd favourites such as the Red Arrows and The Blades were joined by other formation acts such as the ever-popular RV8tors and the Wildcats. Echoes of Leuchars’ past were evident in the booking of some of the historic acts such as the Hawker Hunter, painted in the overall black colour scheme famously worn by 111 Squadron’s Black Arrows display team, and the Catalina.
The Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina was employed in a variety of tasks throughout WWII, during which time the Leuchars based 333 (Norwegian) Squadron operated a detachment of the type from the River Tay at Woodhaven, so its attendance was most appropriate.
Other historic types in the flying display included a pair of Gnats, a Strikemaster, T-28 Fennec and a Spitfire Mk XIX. But, for most enthusiasts, the star heritage items belonged to the Swedish Historic Flight. The SHF brought and flew three types at Leuchars; the Vampire, Saab 105 and the striking AJS-37 Viggen.
Another nice sight in the flying display was the formation flypast of Jet Provost Mk5, flown by Dan Arlett, and the Tucano, flown by Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie-Rae, a fitting salute to RAF flight training.
A fabulous flypast by the Red Arrows and four Leuchars-based Typhoon aircraft had got everything under-way and the RAF Typhoon solo display, flown by Flt Lt Jamie Norris from 29(R) Sqn was as dynamic as ever, the aircraft disappearing into spectacular moisture clouds several times as ‘Noz’ put the Typhoon though its paces in the damp air.
2013 of course marks the 70th Anniversary of the Dambusters Raid. Today, 617 Sqn, created to fly the Dambusters mission, “Operation Chastise” in 1943, is based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, So, it was fitting that the flying display included the celebratory flypast of a 617 Squadron Tornado GR4 together with the BBMF Lancaster, to honour the brave crews who trained for and took part in those daring raids over Germany. It is also pleasing to note that 617 Squadron’s heritage will be continued as the Dambusters’ Squadron has been chosen as the first in the RAF to operate the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
But the real coup for the Leuchars’ organisers was the first ever land-away public appearance by the Austrian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon. Joined by one of its C-130K Hercules transport aircraft, two Austrian Typhoons thrilled the Leuchars crowd with a QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) role demonstration.
Like their RAF counterparts at Leuchars, the Typhoons of the Austrian Air Force are maintained at constant readiness at their Zeltweg base, poised to scramble at a moment’s notice should an airborne threat develop in Austrian airspace. At Leuchars, pilots Captain Clemens ‘Elvis’ Jaeger and WO1 Markus ‘Loctite’ Fuetsch demonstrated their ability to intercept, escort and force an intruding aircraft to land; the latter role being simulated by the C-130.
This spectacular and impressive demonstration involved the C-130 flying over the airfield whilst the two Eurofighters executed a maximum performance take off, pulling up vertically and using combat manoeuvres to intercept the C-130 in double quick time. Following the Hercules’ safe forced landing, the Typhoon pair then continued to fly a scenario demonstrating some 1 versus 1 basic combat manoeuvres.
These aggressive manoeuvres caused plenty of vapour to be produced above and around the aircraft, greatly enhancing the spectacle! The Leuchars crowd was also treated to an Austrian Eurofighter solo display, later in the afternoon, so well done to the Austrian Air Force and also to the organisers.
On the ground an impressive array of aircraft was assembled, and further credit most be given to organisers for their efforts in ‘marking up’ several Leuchars based Typhoon aircraft from Nos 1 and 6 Squadrons into the markings of all the other UK based Typhoon Squadrons. An impressive sight and definitely worthy of acknowledgement, especially in this day and age, when doing things for enthusiasts is seemingly sometimes dismissed as being “too much trouble”.
The static display at RAF Leuchars also saw the last ever airshow appearance by the ‘Queen of the Skies’ a VC-10K3, and it’s sad to think that this beautiful aircraft only has a few weeks left in service. In contrast, the RAF’s newest tanker, the KC-30 Voyager was the largest aircraft in the display. Overseas contributions to the static park came from a pair of French Marine Rafales and a pair of Italian Eurofighters, along with examples of F-16 from Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands. The Royal Netherlands Air Force also provided a KDC-10 tanker transport.
As is traditional at Leuchars, the airshow always concludes with the sunset ceremony.
This year’s ceremony was particularly poignant as it was of course going to be the last. Performed in front of the public, and against a backdrop of BBMF Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster, flanked by two based Typhoons, the airshow and sunset ceremony came to an end with a flypast from a Typhoon and Tornado GR4, which, after overflying the parade, turned north, towards the sunset, thereby signifying the end of an era and the RAF’s original move north to Leuchars.
After the show, Squadron Leader Jonathon Greenhowe, Display Director for RAF Leuchars Air Show, told GAR:
“Following the announcement that this year’s Leuchars Air Show would be the last in its current guise, it was important that we gave the Scottish public a show that was worthy of honouring the history of RAF Leuchars and the relationship between the Royal Air Force and the people of Fife. It was also important for us to showcase the modern Royal Air Force and its future commitment to Scotland. I think we successfully achieved that.
“The flying display encompassed all that’s good about the modern day Royal Air Force and also showcased its past. Couple that with some very exciting displays from our overseas allies and friends, and, all in all, I would like to think that all of the visitors to RAF Leuchars will have had a very enjoyable day.
“Early indications are that even though the weather forecast wasn’t great, crowd numbers are well over 40,000, and its pleasing to hear that all our pre-planning paid off, as there were very few traffic or crowd management problems.”
Overall then, the show was a fitting tribute to RAF Leuchars and its personnel, both past and present, and as a salute to the public and spectators who have attended the 65 RAF Leuchars Battle of Britain at home days. The RAF Leuchars Air Show may have gone, but it will never be forgotten.
With thanks to Squadron Leader Jonathon Greenhowe and the rest of the airshow team.