As the 2014 airshow season nears at a pace, Greg Marsh takes one final look at an enjoyable 2013. Images are as credited.
Yep, I’ve finally blogged! I’ve always been a bit uneasy, truth be told, as I’m not a proper photographer so the only pictures I would have to show are dodgy iPhone examples, which are nowhere near the standard set by my more talented and esteemed friends. I thought I’d share some highlights of my aviation year so far, particularly those from the various airshows I have attended. I apologise if I sound a little self-indulgent too.
I’ve no idea how we’ve entered March already, but I guess they say time flies when you’re having fun. I certainly had fun last year. I considered 2012 the pinnacle of my aviation experiences, helped in no small part by the brilliant company and laughs aplenty throughout that season.
Thankfully, that continued in 2013. I maintain that half the enjoyment these days comes from the social side at events. After all, what are you going to do when the cloud base is on the deck, it’s chucking it down and nothing flies? No point in remaining sour faced and glum. Luckily the weather has played ball more often the not and we experienced many bright, warm and sunny days for a change. I’d say the sun shines on the righteous, but that’s probably not true in our case!
For all the flack the British airshow scene receives in some quarters, it’s difficult to deny that 2013 was a hugely enjoyable season. The Swedish Air Force Historic Flight made its presence felt, particularly the mighty Saab Viggen. I have very fond memories of watching this beast at Mildenhall Air Fete and it was superb to see an example gracing our shores again. I hope that this is the start of more frequent appearances in the future.
Likewise, the return of P-51C Mustang Princess Elizabeth was another high point for me. Perhaps my favourite example of the North American fighter, it was an honour to meet Steve Hinton Jr, who displayed her so well at Duxford’s Flying Legends. With the then imminent departure of P-47G Thunderbolt Snafu to America, the Eagle Squadron display at Duxford’s May airshow was even more poignant. I really felt all involved nailed this tribute and provided a suitable and moving memorial to those Americans who served in the UK during the Second World War.
Another venue that I have to mention is Shoreham. It’s always one of my favourite shows, not least because of the beautiful backdrop of the South Downs and Lancing College. This year, the team assembled one of the most impressive line ups in the show’s history; one that showcased the variety that Shoreham is famous for, as well as introducing new items and innovation to keep things fresh. Founders Don Bean and Peter Eager may sadly no longer be around, but their legacy lives on and new Display Director Rod Dean and colleagues did them proud.
RIAT was, on reflection, a mixed bag. The social side was brilliant and it was great fun camping at Kempsford for the whole duration of the show. Had I known the full line up back when I first booked, I probably would have been reluctant to have splashed out to be honest. Still, that’s the price you pay for booking early.
Enough has been written about the show (surely the most controversial RIAT ever?) and I have very little to add really. Yes, the Eurocopter demo was poor and the Vulcan distant, as were a lot of the fast jet demos. There were some clear highlights though – the Reds and A380 formation was suitably patriotic, the Polish MiG-29 is always impressive and the French Rafale and Swedish Gripen tore the skis apart in style, to name but a few.
I’ve not experienced RIAT in the ‘glory days’ (I’m ashamed to say my debut was in 2010) so I have little to compare it to personally. However, I felt it lacked something compared to last year’s classic and I felt the Hungarian Air Force show at Kecskemet knocked it for six as far as atmosphere and line up are concerned. I obviously appreciate the difficulties RIAT has in as far as the participations side of things, alas I can’t help but feel that it’s starting to stray from what made it so successful in the first place.
Many of the smaller venues have once again provided plenty of entertainment. I loved my first visit to Woburn for the DH Moth Club Rally for instance, and trips to Old Warden are always a joy when conditions are favourable.
It’s not often that we see a new show these days, so I was delighted that Manston returned to the fold, this being an airfield that has a strong childhood connection to brother Elliott and myself. Obviously there were a number of organisational issues that need to be addressed, not least the traffic chaos (we were lucky staying just down the road). Still, it was a good first effort despite the weather’s best efforts to disrupt the flying programme. I’ll admit that it was a mighty impressive line up for the new team. It’s is just a shame to hear that the event will not be returning in 2014, with plans to host it as a two day show falling by the wayside. The South East of England isn’t exactly overwhelmed with airshows, so I hope Manston becomes a permanent fixture on the calendar one of these days.
My three excursions to Europe all fielded worthy results from very different shows. We sweltered in the unbearable heat at Kecskemet, but it was well worth it for the stunning display by the Russian Knights on Saturday evening. Crystal clear blue skies, lovely Flankers and some stirring flying combined to leave a lasting impression. The flying display ran almost 12 hours so was an endurance event at times, but again, look at the high points. Polish Su-22 Fitters (displaying to the highly appropriate tune of Funky Town no less!), Romanian MiG-21, Czech Mi-24 Hind, I could go on.
La Ferté-Alais and Hahnweide offered more vintage delights as these are two of Europe’s top historic shows. La Ferté’s weather could have been better but the aviators and organisers persevered in testing conditions at times. Hahnweide is such a magical place; it’s really difficult to explain unless you’ve sampled it yourself. All I can say is that if you’re considering a foreign show in 2015 (it’s biannual), do it! Travelling abroad couldn’t be easier these days. I certainly don’t want to denigrate our own scene but there’s so much out there and numerous aircraft types, both historic and modern, that you won’t see in this country.
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Anyway, that’s enough musings from me for now. We’re approaching the first aviation events of the 2014 season. I’m eagerly anticipating many shows this year, from the wonderful East Kirkby in Lincolnshire to what promises to be a spectacular Air 14 at Payerne in Switzerland, with many of the usual suspects in between. Then there’s this business of two Lancasters in August…
Hope to see some of you there!
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