With RAF Waddington undergoing runway resurfacing work, 2015 sees just one Royal Air Force airshow. It was the turn of RAF Cosford to step up to the plate and deliver one of the biggest events on the UK calendar. A show that promised so much in the build-up frustratingly suffered a handful of hard-hitting cancellations at short notice, yet still delivered an impressive day out. Dean West reports.
On 14 June RAF Cosford opened its gates to a sell out crowd of 55,000 visitors for its annual airshow. The day started beautifully, with clear blue skies over the West Midlands airbase providing perfect conditions for the crowds to enjoy the static display, stalls and, of course, the RAF Museum.
The static display itself was small, in comparison to the likes of Waddington and Fairford at least, but of a high quality. The highlight for many was the TSR2 which had been moved out from the RAF Museum’s Test Flight hangar to take its place in the static display outside. With 2015 marking the 50th anniversary of the cancellation of the TSR2, the Cosford organisers took the opportunity to showcase the imposing aircraft, one of only two TSR2s that remain in existence, in a move that went down a treat with the paying public. It was obvious that it wasn’t just the enthusiasts that were in awe of the airframe; the general public too were seemingly attracted to the striking rigid lines and, even in this day and age, the futuristic look of the aircraft.
The TSR2 contrasted nicely with a personal highlight parked a stone’s throw away in the shape of two PC-9Ms from the Irish Air Corps (IAC). It’s rare to see Irish military assets at an event so for Cosford to have two PC-9s on static, totalling a quarter of the IAC’s total PC-9M fleet, was particularly impressive. Cosford always provides an opportunity to get nostalgic about the SEPECAT Jaguar too, with the base being home to the Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering (DSAE). Over 20 of the type were on display throughout the showground in a variety of marks and colours, from wrap around camouflage GR1s to the relatively new T4s that were retired back in 2007. A pair of Jaguars were also seen in action, sandwiched in the afternoon flying display, with a GR3 and T4 performing a taxi demonstration along Cosford’s runway, much to the delight of the enthusiasts.
The majority of the other static aircraft related to Cosford’s other themes, the 90th Anniversary of the RAF’s University Air Squadrons (UAS) and a Search And Rescue (SAR) meet. The UAS celebrations saw an ex-RAF Bulldog and Chipmunk alongside a based Birmingham UAS Tutor T1, while the SAR meet participants were much more exotic. Foreign support came from the Italian Air Force in the shape of an HH-139A, a German Navy Sea King Mk41 and a Royal Netherlands Navy NH-90 NFH, the latter having made its way up from RNAS Culdrose where it was part of a three-week deployment. The world’s only airworthy Whirlwind HAR10 was another highlight of the SAR meet, parked opposite its successor, the Sea King HAR3. This static example from RAF Valley was making one of the Sea King’s last public appearances before its withdrawal from service on October 1st.
These themes were continued in to the flying display with one of the highlights of the day coming from an RAF Sea King demonstration, the distinctive yellow helicopter providing a nice splash of colour against what was now a dark grey sky, with an aerial routine that concluded with an on-crowd bow marking the type’s last ever public flying display. With the unfortunate cancellation of a German Navy P-3C Orion a few days before the show, the only other SAR meet participant in the flying display was from Plane Sailing’s Catalina.
The Orion’s flying appearance would probably have been one of the highlights of the UK show season, with even static participation from the maritime aircraft being extremely uncommon. Unfortunately, the only available airframe became unserviceable on the Thursday before the show and its planned flypasts were withdrawn. This was just one of three hugely frustrating foreign cancellations from the flying display, with the Polish Air Force withdrawing their MiG-29 Fulcrum solo display due to the grounding of the fleet with potential engine issues while Ramex Delta, the much anticipated French Air Force Mirage 2000N pair, were unable to make their UK debut as they too cancelled just a couple of days before the show. To add further insult to injury, Cosford then also lost the Polish Armed Forces W-3 Sokol and RAF Puma from the static display.
The bad luck fortunately stopped there and the remainder of the flying display provided some of the most varied acts on offer within the UK, with a couple of European air arms providing fast jet solos.
Securing the display of T2 Aviation’s Boeing 727, one of only two currently used in the oil spill response role, was a real coup for the organisers. Dan Griffith, who many will be familiar with from his displays in the likes of the Classic Air Force Meteor and Kent Spitfire, was at the controls of the classic three-holer and delivered a routine to his usual high standards. With T2 Aviation being an offshoot of 2Excel, the 727’s display started with a formation flypast with 2Excel’s display team, The Blades, with the jet dwarfing the four Extra 300s, before the 727 pulled up and out of the formation for its solo routine, which included tight figure eights, low fast passes and even a missed approach. This punchy routine was undoubtedly a high point of the day and is likely to be one of the stand out moments of the 2015 season.
In contrast to the 727, another civilian highlight came in the shape of the much smaller Pitts S2S. The aerobatic biplane, flown by Rich Goodwin, provided one of the most dynamic and entertaining routines of the day – starting with a short take-off straight in to a low knife edge pass along the runway before entering a flowing display of the aircraft’s energy and ability to carry out rather absurd manoeuvres – the Harrier style hover being a prime example. Peter Dickson, of X Factor voiceover fame, provided the commentary for Rich’s display with an entertaining narration that made the display further stand out.
The show delivered a great selection of classic jet action with a majestic display from a Jet Provost T5 of Jet Aerobatics as well as solo appearance from Classic Air Force’s Meteor NF11. The Jet Provost display was a poignant moment in the flying programme, with the aircraft flown in memory of the late Bill Hartree, who had been Cosford’s flying display director for ten years. Shortly before Cosford’s 2014 show Bill was taken ill with cancer and sadly passed away in November. The JP5’s display was a fitting tribute as Bill had instructed on the type in RAF service, alongside flying the likes of the SEPECAT Jaguar. To honour Bill’s ten years of service to the show, Cosford have created the Hartree Memorial Trophy for the most polished and accurate flying display. It was a particular treat to see the NF11 displaying following a few years where the Classic Air Force’s T7 carried out the majority of Meteor flying appearances at UK shows.
With XH558 in its final display season the Vulcan effect was evidently still as strong as ever with the sell out crowd taking to its feet for the duration of the Vulcan display. Those who may expect the aircraft to be thrown around slightly more energetically than in previous years will be disappointed as there was no visible upping of the ante for this routine, but it was still nice to appreciate the display with the knowledge that following XH558’s retirement in October, we will never see a Vulcan in the skies again.
The first ever winner of the aforementioned Hartree Memorial Trophy was Captain Julien ‘Teddy’ Meister of the Swiss Air Force in the F/A-18C Hornet. The solo was nothing short of the usual Swiss Air Force standards with a highly energetic routine that kept the aircraft close to the crowdline. The Belgian Air Force F-16 solo display provided another international fast jet highlight, although the routine lacked the punch of the Hornet with a slightly more distant display.
Being the sole RAF show this year, it was no surprise that Cosford 2015 was well supported by the British forces. The highlight of the RAF participation was the Typhoon FGR4 and Spitfire Mk.Vb pairs display, known as Synchro75 in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Frustratingly the special camouflaged scheme Typhoon was unserviceable for the display so the usual No. 29 Squadron display aircraft took part, which was also used for the solo, but this didn’t detract too much from what was a wonderful display. The aircraft begin their routine with close formation work, with the purr of the Merlin engine being surprisingly loud in contrast to the Typhoon’s two EJ200 powerplants. The display climaxed with one of the single most impressive moments of the day, the Typhoon and Spitfire performing an opposition crossover before the former went vertical and in to the clouds with the latter performing an iconic victory roll. If you’re at RIAT or Dunsfold later this summer, this is a routine that you can’t miss.
It’s good to see the Chinook display team enjoying a fuller schedule of almost 30 events this year, much busier than in recent seasons, but that didn’t mean the Cosford display was any less of a stand out that in previous years. No matter how many times you see the display, the pedal turns, wingovers and quickstops never fail to impress!
For many, Cosford was the first opportunity to see the Army Air Corps (AAC) Attack Helicopter Display Team, made up of two Apache AH1. 2015 is the first season that the AAC have presented two Apaches in a display that builds on the display role demonstration of previous years, keeping the role demo element which uses some awesome pyrotechnics that really make the ground shake. However, following the role demonstration element the Apaches round up their sequence with a few manoeuvres along the runway, allowing the crowd to get a closer look at the impressive machines. The Royal Navy was represented by a solo routine from a Lynx HMA8. With the Black Cats having now transitioned to the newer Wildcat it was a pleasure to see the venerable Lynx in the air, particularly as the type has under two years before its retirement from Royal Navy service.
The RAF’s biggest and smallest were also in the air, with a solo display from Andy Preece in the Tutor T1 while we were treated to a fly-through from a Voyager KC3, the largest aircraft to have ever been in service with the RAF. Wrapping up the British military participation was, of course, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team the Red Arrows. The Reds, this year sporting a smart Union Flag design on the tail, performed their usual polished routine before making a special flypast. In their ‘big battle’ formation the nine Hawks were joined by two Spitfires and two Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) for a flypast commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
2015 also marks 70 years since Victory in Europe, with the closing segment of the show dedicated to commemorating this anniversary. The 30 minute set piece began with a sedate solo display from Classic Air Force’s Avro Anson, which was bounced by Cliff Spink in the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano Buchón, which in turn attracted the attention of The Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s P-51D Mustang and Peter Vacher’s Hurricane Mk.I. Both Allied fighters chased the Buchón, leading in to a mock dogfight, before the ‘formation’ split and each of the aircraft performed a solo routine. The P-51D was getting plenty of attention from the crowd, not only as a result of its dramatic ‘new’ RAF scheme, which includes a large shark’s mouth, but also because of the high speed dives that lead to the iconic whistling sound the aircraft is known for.
The VE Day finale was a great way to wrap up an excellent Cosford Airshow 2015. The show took a huge step forwards with a varied flying display that offered something for both the enthusiast and Joe Public, even with the frustrating international cancellations late on, as well as a static display that had clearly been given a lot of thought and consideration in order to make the most of the limited ground space. The nightmare traffic issues that many had experienced in previous years were also no more, so it’s hard to fault the show! The 2016 event will take place on Sunday 19 June and while no themes have yet been announced, one change can be exclusively revealed by GAR – the 2015 show was lead commentator Sean Maffett’s last Cosford. The legendary commentator will be stepping down from the position, but it is not yet known who will be taking the hot seat for 2016.
If the Cosford team can build on the success of this year and deliver an even bigger and better show, then you had better get your tickets early as it will definitely be a sell out again!