With the demise of the RAF Leuchars airshow, Cosford is now one of only two shows on the calendar hosted by the Royal Air Force. Shaun Schofield headed up to Shropshire to see what the junior service had in store for its first show of the year.
Cosford traditionally offers one of the more varied line-ups of the season, with this year’s event proving to be no exception, with every aspect of aviation represented both in the air and on the ground, offering something for everyone, be they the hardened airshow goer, or day-tripping family. The 2013 edition was a roaring success, drawing record crowds, but the inevitable traffic chaos this caused put a sizeable black mark on the show.
Obvious measures were put in place this year to counteract that, and while it’s impossible to eradicate queuing completely at a location like Cosford, the reduced number of available tickets, car park holding field and increased number of entrances certainly eased the problem in comparison to last year.
While traffic issues marred the 2013 show, the ground displays reaped universal praise, so it was pleasing to see these built upon. A pair of taxying Jaguars once again provided a pre-show highlight, with a T4 and GR3, the latter in the famous all black display scheme of the 90s, given the honours, whilst ‘Spotty’ and the Gulf War special took pride of place in the static display. Other Jags from the DCAE were on show alongside these, including one with a healthy complement of photo reconnaissance equipment, tying in with one of the show’s main themes.
The undisputed highlight of the static display however was the Harrier line up. Last year’s GR3 hide proved hugely popular, and this was expanded to include a GR3, GR9, FA2 and Kestrel, the latter pulled out of the RAF museum, while each Harrier was meticulously kitted out with relevant stores, depicting the range of roles the type operated in throughout its service life. It’s this meticulous research and attention to detail that separates Cosford’s ground displays from other shows.
Onto the flying display, and being an RAF show, it came as no surprise to see a full complement of display teams on show from the home team, excluding the Chinook, which unfortunately wasn’t quite ready to commence its display season. Headlining the RAF participation as ever were the Red Arrows, looking resplendent in their 50th anniversary colour scheme.
The weather Gods were obviously smiling on the Reds, as they so often do, with the worst of the days’ weather clearing in perfect time to allow them to perform a typically polished full show.
The sole afterburning contribution of the afternoon came courtesy of the RAF Typhoon. Elliott waxed lyrical about this year’s demo in his Duxford D-Day show review, and I have to do the same. Flt Lt Noel Rees has expanded on last year’s superb routine, introducing additional rolls and such like to keep the sequence flowing from manoeuvre to manoeuvre, giving it something of the feel of the superb French fast jet displays we’ve come to know and love over the years.
Throw plenty of tight turning and burning into the mix and all the ingredients are there for a superb demonstration of the jet’s capabilities. Sadly, whilst the Reds enjoyed a break in the weather, the Typhoon drew the short straw, perhaps displaying in the worst of it, denying many onlookers their first chance to see the new 29(R) Squadron special scheme in the sunshine.
Making a return to the circuit this year is the RAF’s Tutor display. in the experienced hands of Flt Lt Andy Preece, who has displayed the Tutor before. Whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, it remains a fine demonstration of pilot skill, and does show us the RAF’s elementary training aircraft, whilst his clearance to display at a lower altitude this year gives Andy’s routine a little more impact. Flt Lt Dave Kirby’s Tucano display likewise demonstrates fine pilot skill in the precision of the manoeuvres, and his aircraft wears an excellent commemorative scheme, but given the distance from the crowd at Cosford, lacked any real impact sadly, for me at least.
In addition to the Reds, the two other RAF display teams were on show. The RAF Falcons parachute team were given the honour of opening the show, dropping from the now familiar sight of a Cessna Caravan, whilst the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were present with their Hurricane IIc, Spitfire XIX (another nod to the photo recce theme) and Dakota III. With the show taking place over the D-Day 70 weekend, the Dakota proved a fitting tribute in this significant anniversary year, providing a solo routing before the fighters took centre stage.
Even with all those ‘official’ demo teams on show, the RAF was not quite done. ‘C’ Flight of 22 (R) Squadron at RAF Valley provided a search and rescue demonstration courtesy of the venerable Sea King HAR3A. With time very much not on the side of this old workhorse, the chance to see one publicly is not to be sniffed at; certainly one to make the most of before they’re gone forever.
In contrast, the Voyager will be around for many years to come, but the chance to see one perform a flypast was no less welcome, in a time when public appearances by the RAF heavies are few and far between.
Further military action was provided by both the Royal Navy and Army Air Corps. It was a slightly indifferent day for the senior service which, having lost the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Swordfish and Sea Fury prior to the show due to technical issues, nearly suffered the same fate with the solo Black Cats Lynx. After a short hiatus in the flying programme, the technical gremlins were vanquished and the aircraft was put through a typically agile routine. We look forward to seeing the Lynx / Wildcat pair at shows later this season.
This year’s AAC Apache display is another impressive demonstration of the roles this beast of a machine undertakes, especially when complemented by such liberal use of pyrotechnics, adding plenty of visual and audible impact to the routine. Look out for an interview feature with the team, coming very soon to GAR.
Classic jets always feature predominantly in a Cosford programme and this year was no exception. Jeff Bell’s Jet Provost T5 is becoming a regular feature of the show, and was in the capable hands of Andy Hill, who performed an impressive routine that really was flown for the crowd, with plenty of ‘photo’ passes.
A late addition to the show was the Classic Air Force’s Venom, which, like the JP, flew a spirited display, seemingly carrying plenty of speed throughout each manoeuvre. Both excellent displays in their own right, but somewhat overshadowed by the Midair Squadron pair of Canberra and Hunter, and, I’m pleased to report, Avro Vulcan XH558.
As Abingdon missed out on the Midair duo due to paperwork issues with the Hunter, this was undoubtedly one of the most eagerly anticipated acts at the show, and sure enough, they didn’t disappoint. Commencing the display with a series of formation passes, the two soon broke, leaving centre stage for the Hunter. A rather graceful and gentle display followed, featuring plenty of those topside passes that please the photographers so much.
Soon after, the Canberra took over the display honours, performing the same rip-roaring routine that received such high praise at Abingdon. The Hunter wasn’t quite done there; intervening during one of the Canberra’s repositioning manoeuvres with a high speed pass that got the famous blue note singing. It was left to the Canberra to conclude the display on a similar note, a terrific sight and sound all round. The pair will not fail to impress wherever they go this year.
As for the Vulcan, Cosford proved a real return to form and it’s clear that the winter wing modification has worked a treat, if evidence of this first post-mod display is anything to go by. The redesigned routine features familiar manoeuvres, but in a revised order, and it’s clear that they’re able to wring a little more out of the jet, with plenty more noise – including three full blooded howls – where it matters, near the crowd.
The first (as fast as I can remember seeing the Vulcan fly) and final passes in particular really got the ground shaking, which was tremendous to hear, and exactly what a Vulcan display is all about. Of course, there’s still room for improvement, a topside pass showing off the Vulcan at its most aesthetically pleasing angle certainly wouldn’t go amiss, but with encouraging news that the display is still being worked on, there’s hope that there might be even more to come.
Peter Teichman is another regular at Cosford, returning again this year with his Spitfire XI, another photo reconnaissance themed participant. Peter flew in his typically smooth style, effortlessly using up every available piece of sky to show the Spitfire off to its fullest. He’s a true stalwart of the UK airshow scene, and long may that continue.
In recent years, the Belgian Air Component has offered rare, international support for the show, their last contribution coming in 2012 with the A109. This year, they were present again with their Red Devils aerobatic team. Flying four SF 260 primary trainers, the team fly a sequence of formation loops and wingovers for the first half, before a more dynamic second half, as is customary. Truth be told, the nature of their aircraft of choice means the display lacks a little impact in comparison to other teams, and they’d surely benefit from using a smoke system. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see further international participation at the show, which hopefully can be built upon in the future.
There were a whole range of other teams on display which epitomised the variety of the show. Kicking off the fixed-wing flying were the Breitling Wingwalkers in with their familiar orange Stearmans and rasping engine notes while The Blades displayed late on, performing with their usual precision. These was also a range of biplanes of a very different ilk from the Stearmans, courtesy of the Great War Display Team, which has to be one of the more underrated displays on the circuit, for me at least.
A poignant act in this 100th anniversary year since the outbreak of World War One; they fly a fantastic, thrilling routine that fills the sky full of aeroplanes for a solid ten minutes. There’s rarely a dull moment as the advantage chops and changes between the allied and axis aircraft.
Two very different solo aerobatic routines were also on show, firstly in the form of the Fox Glider from the Glider FX team, which, as ever, performed a sublime, graceful sequence, and Rich Goodwin in his Muscle Biplane (Pitts Special). I must admit, I often use this type of display to put the camera down and take a breather, which means I actually get to view the display properly, rather than through a viewfinder.
As a result, I got to fully appreciate the vast amounts of skill and technique Rich applies in his rip-roaring routine, one of the finer aerobatic displays around for sure, even when compared to the more modern Extra and Sbach displays on the circuit.
His display was in stark contrast to the show’s penultimate act courtesy of the Old Buckers, flying a pair of Jungmanns in a very sedate and gentle routine. These made way for the Yakovlevs to close the show, with a tight and dynamic display in their four Yak 50/52s.
Often overshadowed by the Aerostars, the team put on a fine display with some innovative manoeuvres, not least the multiple crossovers leading into a follow the leader sequence, all the while, the engine notes sounding wonderfully Russian and agricultural.
All in all, Cosford delivered another fine afternoon’s flying. The Vulcan, Canberra and Hunter will prove to be the highlights for many, but overall, the standard of flying was exemplary. If there was to be one criticism, it’s perhaps that the show has become a little ‘samey’ with several returning participants this year.
Obviously, requesting acts and getting them to accept are two very different challenges, but an additional fast jet or two, or increased foreign participation, would improve a good show, into an excellent one.