After a busy year of airshows and events, the off-season provides an opportunity to reflect on the season’s highlights. Shaun Schofield does just that with his top thirteen images of 2013.
I always find it difficult to whittle down a season into so few images, especially when there have been so many memorable moments. At first, it seems obvious what the highlights have been, but as soon as I start sifting through my albums, thirteen soon becomes thirty! After a spot of culling though, I finally settled on a selection I can safely say were my top images of the year. So, in reverse order…
In at thirteen is a trio of Typhoons at Yeovilton, caught during Monday’s departure day. In truth, it’s not a particularly spectacular shot (the horrendous heat haze made sure of that!), but from the moment I took it, I just loved it, and as a Yeovilton regular, any jet action these days is more than welcome. On a broader note, this year’s Typhoon display has been the best from the RAF I can remember, undoubtedly a highlight at every show it has appeared.
My next entry was nearly a year in the making. After a failed attempt to catch a U-2 in October of last year, my luck changed for the better in August, when a planned trip to Brize Norton coincided with a U-2 changeover at Fairford the same day. Although the conditions weren’t the best with the fog and wind direction doing their best to conspire against me, I was finally able to catch my first airborne Dragon. Good things do come to those who wait.
I mentioned how good the Typhoon display has been this year, but it was at its most exciting at Dawlish. Flt Lt Jamie Norris really had his aircraft singing as he threw the jet around the bay, in (untypically for Dawlish!) glorious sunshine, and the unique viewing position from the hill gave the display a completely different perspective, with seemingly added impetus. Such an exhilarating display in arguably the UK’s finest airshow location ticks all the right boxes.
Into the top ten with an entry from my final show of the year. It seemed the weather gods saved the best for last, with Old Warden bathing in glorious sunshine for the Shuttleworth Autumn Flying Day. It’s always a joy shooting in such stunning conditions, and in truth I could have chosen any one of a number of shots from the show for this spot, but in the end, I had to elect for the Bristol M.1C. Performing late in the day in the best of the light. This was my first chance to see the pretty little aircraft fly, encapsulating everything that is great about Old Warden.
A serious change of pace at nine, with the obligatory Lightning afterburner shot that typifies any visit to a Cold War Jets Open Day. Bruntingthorpe really is a special place, and always seems to offer something new, even as a seasoned visitor. My visit in August was no different, presenting my first opportunity to see both Lightnings run together, the noise of which was quite frankly nothing short of epic – my ears are still ringing!
It’s difficult to call number eight a highlight, given the nature of its inclusion. It’s always sad to see the retirement of a type, especially one that has the grace and character of the VC10. September saw the ‘Queen of the Skies’ bow out of RAF service, and it would have been rude not to visit Brize to witness the final operational sortie by the last two aircraft. Although not the greatest shot technically, I think this image sums up everything one needs to know about this noisy, smoky, beautiful old aircraft. She will be missed.
I’m a huge fan of up afterburner shots, and my pick of this year’s bunch comes in at seven courtesy of the Czech Gripen caught launching into its fine routine at Waddington. Truth be told, I’m rather a fan of the jet too, and the Czechs certainly displayed it with plenty of gusto at both Waddington and Yeovilton, whilst the Swedes and Hungarians performed different, but no less enjoyable routines at RIAT. Indeed, the former was as good a Swedish display as I can remember.
In at six, another offering from Dawlish courtesy of my favourite act of the show. Jon Corley flew a magnificent, photogenic debut display in the Classic Air Force’s Stunning Meteor T7. It was tempting to opt for the perfectly lit topside pass, but ultimately that would be a predictable choice that could have been taken anywhere. I much prefer the unique background and added dynamism of my chosen shot; there’s simply no mistaking where it was taken.
Probably the most poignant moment of the year comes in at five. Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the US 8th Air Force’s arrival in the UK, The Eagle Squadron display at Duxford’s Spring Airshow presented the pinnacle of warbird formation flying and displaying. With four master airmen at the controls of a Hurricane, Spitfire, Mustang and Thunderbolt, the distinctive shapes and sounds of four of the most iconic aircraft of World War Two graced the skies over Cambridgeshire, echoing those that flew 70 years before them, many of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice. Without doubt, a routine that will go down as one of the finest moments of any airshow season.
Number four is a slightly different take on an old favourite. I’m a massive fan of the Rafale, and the Armée de l’Air display is just about the pinnacle of fast jet displaying. Making supreme use of the jet’s outstanding manoeuvrability, the whole routine appears to be flown at a million miles an hour, which is fantastic, until one realises it’s all over too quickly! A visual demonstration of just how aggressive the display is was evident on a very hot Sunday afternoon at Fairford, where the Rafale extracted impossible amounts of vapour from the dry air. Splufftastic!
When it was announced, there was little doubt my number three would make it onto this list. It was an incredible achievement by Waddington to secure participation by the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight, and whilst the Sk60 and J29 were great to see in their own particular way, the Viggen was always going to steal the show, and it did just that. An aircraft that exudes character and sheer presence, it had been 14 years since I last saw this mighty jet, and I had forgotten what a thunderous noise it makes as it powers its way through the clear blue skies. Awesome doesn’t begin to describe it.
I’ve always considered the Mirage F.1 to be unquestionably the best looking jet ever built, so it’s always been a disappointment to have not shot one since I took up photography; until RIAT, that is. For me the pair were the stars of the static display and there was a great feeling of excitement as they, including the stunning special scheme, arrived on the Thursday, not only giving me my first glimpse of this fine jet through the viewfinder, but also the shot I had always been after – the head on. They looked so good taxying past the Eastern P&V into the static park, in spite of yet more ferocious heat haze; a very significant box ticked.
My favourite shot of the year was set in stone the moment I took it. Yeovilton is my local show and will always be special to me, especially when it produces moments such as this. The Commando Assault is always a spectacular finale, but the classic image of multiple helicopters in front of an explosive background has always eluded me. Even with an element of planning, I couldn’t have hoped for better luck with the framing of the image; it was simply perfect, and I finally nailed the shot I’ve always been after. Comfortably my number one shot of the year.
2013 has been a fine year indeed. Here’s hoping for more of the same from next season.