With a weekend of varied and exciting flying display performances, a static display with some genuine rarities and more ground displays than you could possibly explore in one day, RAF Waddington International Airshow was once again a huge success, as Gareth Stringer reports.
Well, that was a rather good weekend, wasn’t it? That’s what most people seemed to be saying on Sunday evening at Waddington, and if the subsequent 24 hours or so is anything to go by, feedback from the show has been largely very positive.
That has to be great news for everyone involved and, while the event has been forced in to a 2015 sabbatical due to planned runway work, it is vital that a sabbatical is all it is. Without putting too fine a point on it – RAF Waddington International Airshow must return in 2016. Any other decision would be remarkably short-sighted and counter-productive.
This year’s crowd was, as it always seems to be, significant – in the region of 135,000 across the weekend – and while there were some traffic issues, the Waddington team and local authorities seem to have minimised these as much as they possibly could. Just a note on tickets too, as there was some ill-feeling that tickets were being sold on the gates, when the airshow had announced that none would be available. Basically, if you knew they weren’t selling tickets on the gate, you wouldn’t turn up, but what if you didn’t know, because you hadn’t checked? Waddington made some tickets available so they weren’t turning people away who had potentially driven a long way with no idea that they weren’t going to get in.
Once inside, visitors found a reasonably sized static display to explore, but one where quality probably ruled over quantity, and there were some real highlights in there, such as the P-8A Poseidon, Turkish Navy CN235 MPA, Excel Aviation Boeing 727, Puma 2 ‘Black Peter’ and Whirlwind HAR10. Next year the latter could be a flying item at airshows, so fingers crossed that plan comes to fruition and we’ll bring you more info when we get it.
While Saturday morning started off wet – very wet actually, for a time – the weather broke, as forecast, and it turned in to a very pleasant and at times very warm day. Sunday morning kicked off with some low, claggy cloud, and it was overcast at times throughout, but it finished with some stunning light, so overall the show enjoyed a fine weekend, if not always the easiest for photography.
And it was also blessed with some fine flying, albeit Sunday turned in something of a struggle with the display ending up almost an hour behind schedule, mainly due to a number of small issues adding delays as the day progressed. Believe me, there was little the airshow team could do to avoid them. Still, it was unfortunate that Flt Lt Andy Preece, the Royal Air Force’s Tutor display pilot, was told that his services were not required after he had spent thirty minutes airborne in the hold. Hopefully a runners-up prize in the best display awards will go some way to making up for that, and Andy really does fly the little trainer with aplomb.
He was beaten to top prize by Patrick Tuit in the Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation Hunter F6A, though, and I doubt many people would argue with that decision.
Patrick really kept the jet motoring, and I think it is fair to say it was one of the best Hunter routines many spectators had seen in recent years, with some wonderful blue notes along the way, as this video, that I grabbed on Sunday morning, demonstrates very well. Turn up your volume now!
Patrick was pushed hard by the other fast jet solos, it has to be said, and Captain Julien ‘Teddy’ Meister was excellent in the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet, with a routine that oozed power and aggression.
He’s clearly been well trained by previous display pilot ‘Deasy’, a former GAM interviewee, and the man himself was back in attendance at Waddington, fulfilling his coaching duties, and we look forward to seeing Teddy display again at RIAT and Yeovilton.
Personally, I thought SoloTurk lacked some of the flamboyance and excitement of last year, and unfortunately their visit to Lincolnshire this time around will probably be mostly remembered for the A400M’s attendance and the approach the F-16 made on Saturday and the video footage that was captured of it. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad display at all, it just seemed, in my opinion, to be missing something of the flow and thrill of the 2013 routine.
The same could not be said of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight’s contribution in the Saab Viggen and Draken. The former really is a fine airshow performer; a big noisy brute that leaves a thunderous, crackling trail of noise in its wake, almost reminiscent of an Apollo rocket launch.
Seeing the Draken display, a first for me since an Austrian example performed at a Mildenhall Air Fete way back when, was a real treat. Its afterburner lights-up sounding like a stack of metal dustbins colliding with one another, and it really was marvellous to see that distinct double-delta shape in the air once again.
If I was going to make one criticism, for me there was perhaps too much vertical manoeuvring in the routine and I wanted to see more of the jet down low. I’m nit-picking perhaps, because it was still a great sight!
The Royal Air Force had a good show on home soil, Tutor on Sunday aside, and I am sure Flt Lt Noel Rees will have been pleased with his weekend’s work in the Typhoon, both as a solo and with the Spitfire to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Flt Lt Dave Kirby also put on two good shows in the Tucano and we’ll be bringing you features with Dave and Noel, very soon.
Chinook was excellent and got the third place in the flying display awards, the Reds flew with the Gnats and Hunter on Saturday to mark their 50th season (and suffered a well publicised bird strike!) while the Waddington home ISTAR team launched Sentinel, Sentry and Rivet Joint for the Station Flypasts, with some bonus missed approaches along the way. Last but not least, the Falcons jumped on Sunday, 202 Sqn performed what will no doubt have been the last Sea King SAR demos at a Waddington airshow and the BBMF displayed its fighters and both heavies over the weekend, with the fighters on especially fine form.
The other services got a look in too, with the AAC Apache performing with some huge pyros and the Lynx aerobatting spectacularly in what is definitely its final season on the display circuit. The Royal Navy’s Black Cats are always solid performers (now with Wildcat and Lynx) as is the Merlin HM2, a display which it would be nice to see at a few more venues throughout the UK. We saw all the UK military’s rotary displays in one place, so Waddington provided a good weekend for helicopter fans.
Elsewhere in the flying programme was the Vulcan, with Kev Rumens at the helm on Saturday and Bill Ramsey on Sunday, with both displays bringing the Waddington show-ground to a stand-still. We’ve already become accustomed to the Midair Squadron Canberra and Hunter (Canberra only on Saturday) looking stunning this season, and I thought they were again, although they ended up being on very late on Sunday and many visitors may have missed them displaying in beautiful early evening sunshine, which was a real shame.
The Gnat Display Team flew their new three-ship routine, which was great to see bearing in mind the Reds’ 50th commemorations, while Tony De Bruyn made a hugely welcome return in his Bronco, two years after suffering a serious accident, and it was genuinely excellent to see him and his lovely aircraft back at Waddington.
Meanwhile, Patrulla Aspa, the Spanish Air Force’s helicopter display team made its UK début at the show. I’d be very interested to hear what you think, but I felt there were some excellent parts of the routine with a number of very clever ideas and highly skilled flying, but the whole thing could be tightened up, or at least compressed a little. You never want a display to feel like it is dragging on, and it did begin to get that way with Aspa, I felt. Still, a great coup for the airshow and let’s hope we get to see them again.
Away from the flying displays, the show-ground and static displays were absolutely heaving all weekend, with the RAF On Air presentations in particular proving extremely popular once again. On Air is a great concept that brings the RAF’s people face to face with the general public on RAF territory, as it were, and is another string to the event’s bow that should not be ignored.
Paul Sall, Airshow director said:
“RAF Waddington has welcomed more than 135,000 visitors over the weekend, it has once again been an exciting opportunity for all members of the family to view tremendous flying displays and a wide variety of ground exhibits showcasing the work of the RAF and its partner organisations. A truly international flavour with participation from many different countries. I hope our visitors had a great day out at the Royal Air Force’s premier airshow.”
So, all in all, another hugely successful weekend for Paul and his team at RAF Waddington.
They should be extremely proud of the momentum they have generated for their airshow, and, while they must be bitterly disappointed at next year’s ‘cancellation’, there really shouldn’t be any discussion as to whether the show returns in 2016 or not.
To leave the Royal Air Force with just one airshow (at RAF Cosford) would be folly to say the least.
The positive impact that RAF Waddington International Airshow has must not be under-stated and there will many people hoping that show does return in 2016 – and I am among them.