The Parachute Regiment Charity was set up to help support soldiers and families of The Parachute Regiment, as well as members of the Airborne Forces who are also in need of help. In 2008 a small but successful event was held at Old Sarum airfield in Salisbury and, after six years away, the organisers decided to put together another show on 11 May. Tom Mercer was there for GAR.
The weather forecast for the show wasn’t great but, for once, it wasn’t rain that was the issue. The 30-40mph gusts were a real cause for concern and it could quite easily have led to all participating aircraft being unable to display, and the first show of 2014 at Old Warden was cancelled early on the same morning due to the extreme conditions. Fortunately though, those that braved the wind were rewarded with a very pleasant day in the Wiltshire countryside.
The main air displays didn’t start until after 2pm but the early birds were treated to a short role demonstration by a Chinook HC4 from RAF Odiham. As two Jackals secured the landing site, the Chinook, carrying Prince Michael of Kent, appeared out of nowhere and flew in from the hills in the distance. As the aircraft touched down, soldiers from 2 Para poured out and immediately started countering the enemy’s attack. With the area secure and the role demonstration over, Prince Michael’s convoy made its way to the crowd line to meet members, past and present, of The Parachute Regiment. The role demo was exciting to watch and it’s always great to see frontline aircraft perform ‘operationally’, in a way that the public may not always get a chance to appreciate.
The role demonstration was over by about 11am and with the high winds, the display programme was already on to its third iteration since Saturday evening. Flying wasn’t due to get underway properly until 2.30pm so there was plenty of time to have a look around the small event, get up close and personal with an AAC Lynx Mk7 from Middle Wallop and also watch the Chinook depart and return to base. At an event of this size, three hours seemed like a long time to wait for the displays to start, but this was made easier by the presentations that were taking place in the main arena.
The display programme was reshuffled for a fourth time because, sadly, several aircraft were unable to get out of their home airfields – this included the Great War Display Team and Duxford based Old Flying Machine Company Spitfire Mk.IXb MH434. The planned jump by the Red Devils Parachute Display Team was also scrubbed as the gusts at lower levels proved to be just too dangerous.
Finally, the display programme was able to get started and the first of two Yak-50s took to the sky. Designed by the Soviet Yakolev company in 1970s, the Yak-50 was the chosen aircraft of the national aerobatic display team. The USSR wanted an aircraft that would dominate international display competitions and they weren’t too concerned about how much it would cost! The result was a 360mph, turbo-charged radial engine monoplane that soon dominated competitions later in that decade. G-SKPH is a member of the Aerostars display team and put on a fantastic solo display in very challenging conditions. Although the display was flown a little higher than normal, the skill involved in such a routine was easy to see and was more than enough to whet the appetite for what lay ahead.
Ben Lovering was next to display in the Raging Bull of Biplane Aerobatics. G-KLAW is a Christen Eagle II – a kit-built sporting biplane that was designed as a competitor to the Pitts Special. Ben put on a brilliant display of aerobatics but unfortunately due to it’s size and the height at which it was performed, the aircraft was all but lost at times. Had the display been slightly lower, I’m confident it would have been extremely photogenic.
The RV8tors were up next and have become a regular sight at airshows up and down the country over the last few years and in the skies above Old Sarum, the pair put on a stunning display in less than ideal conditions. The smoke generators on the home-built RV8 really demonstrated the drift that pilots Alister Kay and Andy Hill had to contend with. Both have to be applauded for managing to pull off a pairs routine in such high winds.
A second Yak-50 got airborne, this time it was an aircraft marked ’49’ from the Yakovlevs Display Team based at Henstridge Airfield in Dorset. The silver and red colour scheme looked great and although I’m used to seeing the full team display, this solo managed to show off the Yak-50 in all it’s glory. Unfortunately I messed up my shutter speeds on this display and didn’t realise until I got home! I’m hoping that I get to see the full team display somewhere later this year.
Just in case you hadn’t got your full fix of Soviet props for the day, a beautiful Yak-11 was next on to the grass runway. The throaty roar of the Yak-11 is absolutely fantastic and in true Russian style, the display came complete with a familiar dark smoke trailing behind the aircraft. A beautifully glossy paint scheme added to the joy of watching this warbird display. This was the first time that I had seen this type fly and I’m already looking forward to seeing it again. A superb demonstration of display flying.
Having had several items cancel earlier on in the day, it was a pleasant surprise to hear that RAF Brize Norton was sending in a Hercules for a couple of flypasts. This was a real treat and it is believed that this was arranged at the last minute as the aircraft had been conducting a two hour training mission over the Salisbury Plain Training Area. The first flypast was a simulated supply drop with the ramp down and the aircraft was flown at nice slow speed. The C-130J then went into circuit before winding up the engines to perform a final high speed pass. The Hercules is a rare sight at UK airshows these days so well done to the team on securing it.
Now in late afternoon, there were just two aircraft left to display and the first of those was the Duxford based Scottish Aviation Bulldog, flown by the hugely experienced Rod Dean. The aircraft was also in the flying programme at Abingdon last week so I knew what to expect from the display. The Bulldog’s routine could be a lesson to the RAF on how the RAF’s Tutor display should be flown; the aircraft are of similar size and power yet the Bulldog’s display seems to be flown with much more verve.
The buzz of the Extra 300 has become synonymous with competition aerobatics, although the noise can be slightly irritating at times! Justyn Gorman from World Aero Aerobatics really put on a fantastic display of high ‘G’ manoeuvres. The World Aero Aerobatics team was a unique act as they had agreed to display free of charge in exchange for their manager doing the commentary for ten minutes, talking about the aircraft, pilot and parent company. It’s not very often that you get something for free these days and it’s nice to see that some people are still managing to think outside the box.
All that remained was for the visiting aircraft to depart (which included a gorgeous Gazelle from the Gazelle Squadron Display Team) and the evening sunset ceremony to take place. The Support Our Paras event is only in it’s second year, and there was a six year gap between those, and it’s yet to be decided as to whether the event will return in 2015 or not. Attendance figures did not appear to be exceptionally high but with strong winds and very little advertising, it was easy to see why. I only found out about the event when I was at Abingdon last week, because one of the organisers there was helping at Old Sarum on the day. With many online forums, websites and social media, it’s difficult to understand why this event wasn’t publicised more.
But, the show has everything needed to make it a success in the future – a team of willing volunteers, a great location and plenty of space for people to set up stalls and mobile shops. With a little bit of work, Support Our Paras could easily be turned into a ‘country fayre’ style show and become a flagship fundraising event for The Parachute Regiment Charity. Only time will tell what will happen next but I for one hope that this returns to the calendar in 2015.