The 2014 UK airshow season got off to a fine start on Sunday, 4 May as the gates to Dalton Barracks, Oxfordshire, were once again opened for the Abingdon Air & Country Show – run to raise funds for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance. Karl Drage was there for GAR. Additional photography as credited.
With wide-ranging weather forecasts in the week leading up to the event, the substantial Abingdon crowd was undoubtedly boosted by the pleasant, warm, albeit at times watery, sunshine present on the morning of the show itself.
Abingdon’s issues with jet and heavy aircraft operating into and from the airfield are well documented (at its worst in 2010 when no fixed-wing aircraft were allowed to be present on the ground), and it was great to see many of the display participants – plus the traditional Abingdon ‘fly-in’ – operating from the showground on the day.
With flying display participants plus spare aircraft, fly-in visitors and static display aircraft all parked in broadly the same area, there was a rich variety of types to be found, including Royal Air Force Merlin HC3 from nearby RAF Benson, Royal Netherlands Air Force PC-7 and privately-owned examples of Broussard, T-67 Firefly, Me-108, Auster, Chipmunk and Gazelle.
Making arguably the most welcome return was Tony De Bruyn, returning to Abingdon for the first time since suffering an extremely serious crash at Cotswold Airport in 2012. He and support team had brought his newest OV-10B Bronco 99+18 / G-ONAA across and attended the Bronco Fan Day at Cotswold Airport the day before the show, and it was great to see him looking so well.
Elsewhere on the site, classic cars, buses and assorted other motorised vehicles were joined by the “Zoo Bus”, ferret racing, period re-enactors, tank rides, the Daleks, a falconry show and a variety of musical performers to keep punters happy prior to the start of the circa three-hour long flying display.
Opening proceedings was one of Abingdon’s near neighbours in the shape of an RAF Brize Norton-based C-130J Hercules C4 from No. 47 Squadron, permitted only to make a single pass down the crowdline. Regardless, it presented an all-too-rare opportunity to see a Royal Air Force ‘heavy’ in the skies at a UK show.
2014 will see multiple commemorations centred on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, and the first evidence of that came courtesy of Flight Lieutenant Antony “Parky” Parkinson in the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Supermarine Spitfire Mk LF.IXe, carrying the markings of ML217 / 5J-K of No. 126 Squadron for this display season.
5J-K had been flown by Wing Commander (at the time of his retirement) Ioannis “Johnny” Plagis, DSO, DFC and Bar, during the invasion of Normandy, at which time he held command of the squadron. Ending the war with 16 confirmed enemy kills, he was Southern Rhodesia’s highest-scoring ace and the top-scoring ace of Greek origin.
Rod Dean’s performance in Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1 XX543 / G-CBAB extolled the virtues of this former-RAF basic training aircraft as an aerobatic platform, with a display exuding grace rather than grunt, and one which the crowd really enjoyed.
The original plan was for Hangar 11’s Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk to be displayed by collection owner Peter Teichman, but the P-40 morphed into a second Spitfire booking a few weeks prior to the show. The light blue paint scheme carried by PR.XI variant PL965 / G-MKXI looked great against the similarly coloured sky as Peter showed off slightly more topside than Parky in the BBMF example.
The surprise package for many was provided by Richard Grace and Dave Puleston, flying their Pitts S-1Ds as the Trig Aerobatic Team. These diminutive aircraft (and the perfect visualisation of just how small they are was provided a little later in the day when they taxied out to depart at the same time as the Stearmans of the Breitling Wingwalkers) were flown in extremely close formation for a substantial portion of the team’s routine, and the yellow paint on the top surfaces provided arguably the most photogenic opportunities of the whole afternoon. The crowd, understandably, loved them.
Another significant anniversary to be marked in 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the commencement of World War I, and this is reflected by the colour scheme carried by this season’s Royal Air Force Tucano display aircraft, ZF140, representing No. 1 Flying Training School based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. With no budget to paint the aircraft in its entirety, simpler, yet hugely effective, artwork was designed to add to and complement the existing markings. The poppies and ‘Lest we forget’ titles certainly stand out on the aircraft, and Flight Lieutenant Dave Kirby’s routine shows them off to great effect.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too sure about the booking of two Jet Provost solo displays, but both Andy Hill in Jet Aerobatics’ T5 XW324 / G-BWSG and Neil McCarthy in Newcastle Jet Provost Group’s T3 XM479 / G-BVEZ, performed beautiful displays back-to-back and provided some welcome noise on a day when it was at something of a premium. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Neil display the JP, and his sequence seemed a tad punchier than I remembered it. The only disappointment, and I realise it’s not as simple as just making it happen, was that there were no passes as a pair.
Slowing things down to a virtual walk was Peter Holloway in his Fieseler Fi-156A-1 Storch. The 1944-built aircraft is famous for its incredible short take-off and landing performance, and Peter showed precisely why. Even in the light off-crowd wind, he was able to maintain a virtual hover, much to the amazement of those witnessing the type for the first time.
Arguably picking up the pace, albeit only slightly, was the Renegades Parachute Display Team which jumped from Invicta Aviation Short SC7 Skyvan G-PIGY, another aircraft sporting a new look for 2014. The all-over olive drab colours make it look rather more ‘military’ than the white and blue scheme it carried previously.
Mark and David Miller’s beautiful de Havilland DH.89 Dragon Rapide is seen on a semi-regular basis at some of the UK’s smaller shows, and was handled beautifully by the first named after being called upon fairly late in the day to replace the Army Air Corps Lynx AH7 display – which was cancelled following the tragic loss of an aircraft and the five crew members on board in a crash in Afghanistan.
Powered by Vic Norman’s Aerosuperbatics, airshow stalwarts the Breitling Wingwalkers commenced their domestic season with Martyn Carrington and Dave Barrell at the controls of the team’s brightly painted Boeing Stearmans, while seasoned campaigners Danielle “Bird” Hughes and Stella “Stealth” Guilding opened their accounts on the wings. The team has recently announced that it will be unveiling three new wingwalkers soon for the 2014 season.
Another aircraft stepping into the breach was Kennet Aviation’s North American T-6 Texan G-KAMY, flown by airshow legend John Beattie, replacing the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s (RNHF) Sea Fury. Texan/Harvard displays have become something of a rarity at UK shows – at least when compared to days gone by – and it’s always nice to hear that unmistakable growl. John, sadly, displayed in arguably the worst light of the day in an aircraft that really needs to be seen in sunshine.
It had been planned that Midair Squadron’s Canberra and Hunter duo would close the display, however, a paperwork issue with the Hunter meant that it was left to Squadron Leader Dave Piper Ret’d to wrap things up with a Canberra solo. XH134 / G-XMHD only returned to the airshow circuit at the back end of the 2013 season after the type’s retirement from Royal Air Force service in 2006.
Having witnessed two performances of the duo display at Cotswold Airport last week, it was interesting to note just how much quieter the Canberra seemed during its solo routine, the last high-speed pass aside, than the paired one, where it really did drown out the Hunter with ease.
As always, Abingdon Air & Country Show provided a nice, gentle season opener and attracted what I imagine will turn out to be a very healthy attendance number, which can only mean good things for the Thames Valley and Chiltern Air Ambulance – the show’s main beneficiary. The number of late-in-the-day changes clearly had an impact on what organiser Neil Porter had set out to achieve with his programme, and I do wonder if in hindsight he may have elected to separate the two Jet Provost solos. Despite the challenges he faced, he still managed to put together a varied and polished flying display, and it’s great to have the 2014 calendar underway.