Red Bull Air Race – Ascot Racecourse – 14-16 August 2015

The Friday of the event didn’t bode well for the weekend’s racing with the weather curtailing all chances of practice runs for the pilots, and indeed threatening their chances at even arriving at the location. A small break in the rain and low cloud did finally allow for them to land and for a single run through the course by Mike Mangold in one of the the Challenger aircraft, but to all intents and purposes the day was a wash out.

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Thankfully the weekend did improve, and the Saturday saw the teams practice in the morning and then carry out their qualifying runs.

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With Bonhomme taking ‘pole’ the scene was set for an exciting Sunday of racing, with hopes high for a home win.

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Red Bull:’

Britain’s Paul Bonhomme was crowned the winner of the Red Bull Air Race World Championship stop at the famous Ascot Racecourse, flying brilliantly under pressure in the world’s fastest motorsport series. The victory was Bonhomme’s third this season and second straight win at Ascot to the delight of more than 40,000 home fans.

Bonhomme’s final run was flawless and he stopped the clock in 1:06.416 seconds. Australia’s Matt Hall took second place in a time of 1:09.024 while Yoshihide Muroya got his first podium of the season with third.

With the hard-fought victory in the Final 4, Bonhomme picked up 12 points to widen his lead at the top of the overall standings to eight points (46) ahead of Hall (38 points) in second going into the final three races. Reigning World Champion Nigel Lamb of Britain, who last year finished second at the race over the historic Ascot Racecourse, finished back in 5th place, a result that destroyed his chances of defending his title.

“It was a hard day at the office but today was great fun – I enjoyed that,” said Bonhomme after hitting speeds of near 370kph on the track that featured a standing start in front of the grandstands. “All I can say is this was due to teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. I’m only the driver. I just point the plane in the right direction.”

It was the second time the Red Bull Air Race was staged in Ascot, just west of London, that has quickly become one of the most attractive racing locations on the calendar and a favourite with the pilots.

Austria’s Hannes Arch, who struggled in the training session and was last in Qualifying on Saturday, finished a disappointing eighth after winning the last two races in Budapest and Rovinj, Croatia. Arch had a great run in the Round of 12, just beating Bonhomme. But Bonhomme was the “fastest loser” and advanced to the Round of 8. Arch was unable to get his engine started before the Round of 8 and was forced to retire. “It’s frustrating if you can’t race but that’s life,” said Arch, who slipped to third overall with 30 points.’

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Paul Bonhomme went on to win the 2015 title, before announcing his retirement from the sport.

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Royal Netherlands Air Force Display Teams 2013

The Royal Netherlands Air Force solo display teams have long been popular and colourful supporters of UK airshows over the years, and 2013 has been no exception. The Orange Lion F-16 flown by Captain Stefan “Stitch” Hutten has displayed at Waddington and RIAT, whilst the AH-64D Apache joined it at RIAT, and additionally appeared at Culdrose and Sunderland. Their calendars also cover a number of other countries around Europe.

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The home base of the RNLAF F-16 Demo Team shifts between Volkel and Leeuwarden Airbases every two years. In early 2012 the Leeuwarden team handed over their responsibility to Volkel Airbase and the personnel from the 312 and 313 Squadrons.

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The team have been using J-015 in this stunning orange scheme since 2009, and the ‘Viper’ is fitted with a brake chute in national colours.

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Crewed by Captain Major Raymond Laporte and co-pilot Captain Harm “Kaas” Cazemier, the Apache is operated by 301 ‘Redskins’ Squadron of the Defence Helicopter Command stationed at Gilze-Rijen Air Base. Unlike the F-16 the team’s Apache is decorated with decals which can be removed should the attack helicopter be needed on operations. The display can include flares, though sadly these are not often cleared for use at UK shows.

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“Through wisdom, effective and immortal” is the motto of 301 Squadron. This motto is clearly displayed in the Squadron’s emblem which features a centaur as the central figure. This centaur combines the strength of a horse with the upper body of a warrior displaying its wisdom and strength. The display scheme also includes markings commemorating 100 years of Netherlands military aviation.

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South East Airshow – Manston Airport 22 June 2013

Returning as a location for an airshow after a break of almost twenty years, the South East Airshow taking place at the one time RAF Manston – now Kent International Airport – created much interest when first announced. At a time when we are more used to losing shows, gaining a new one was a most welcome change. Although it has its roots in the seafront displays around Margate the content of the show was clearly more akin to a ‘proper’ airshow, with the added bonus of viewing the participants and their movements on the ground. Back in the days of the RAF displays the location of Manston created serious traffic headaches, and this proved to be the case again with many visitors being stuck in the queues for up to five hours whilst others gave up and headed home. The terrible weather on the day also created cancellations to the flying programme and limitations for those that flew, but despite this a highly entertaining and varied afternoon’s display did take place with content of the highest quality. Commentary was provided by George Bacon, recently announced as part of the two-man RIAT team.

Warbirds displaying included the Navy Historic Flight Sea Fury:

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Peter Teichman, who opened the show in P-40 ‘Lulu Belle’, returned from North Weald in P-51 ‘Jumpin’ Jacques’:

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The ever popular Sally B:

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Fittingly the show was closed by ‘The Kent Spitfire’ Mk IX TA805 from Biggin Hill:

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Returning to the scene after three and half years of restoration Dutch B-25 Mitchell was flown in a vigorous manner much missed:

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Classic jets provided a gratifyingly large proportion of the show opening with perhaps the main cause of the greater than expected crowd numbers, Avro Vulcan XH558:

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Last year ex-Red Arrow Ben Murphy filled-in on the occasions that Jonathon Whaley was unable to display stunningly-schemed Hunter ‘Miss Demeanour’, whilst at Manston Patrick Tuit took a turn – this being his display debut in ‘Miss D’. Patrick is the chief pilot and trainer for the Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation.

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Another debut display was the long awaited appearance of the Red Star Rebels, although only two of the L-29 Delfins flew at Manston. The intention has been to offer four of the classic jet trainers but the team has been through a long gestation period before making this initial showing. The idea behind the team is to finally turn the ‘Cold War’ into a very heated scenario, with the Eastern Bloc aircraft attacking the West’s airfields – which they accomplished with impressive pyrotechnics:

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Though unconnected as far as the story-line of the show progressed, these explosions were soon outclassed by the NATO offering, the British Army’s Apache:

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The lighter side of aviation was represented by a couple of aerobatic demonstrations, with Nigel Willson displaying his Yak 52:

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and Chris Burkett in the G-Force Extra 300:

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A number of aircraft were displayed on the ground, including an RAF Hawk and this Tornado GR4 from Marham:

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A number of aircraft could also be seen around the airport in various conditions, such as these two 747s and DC-8 in derelict state:

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After the show there was much heated debate around the serious congestion issues with many pointing the finger at the organisers, stating a lack of traffic management and planning as the main causes. The initial statement from organisers AS Enterprises and Heritage Events was: ‘All parties recognise the problems that people faced travelling by vehicle to the South East Airshow and apologise to those who experienced long delays and were unable to attend the event. There will be a full debrief with all parties and once we have collated all the feedback, we will be able to make a more detailed statement. We would ask for people to email their views and their personal experiences to enquiry@heritage-events.co.uk so we can respond appropriately to each person individually.’

This was followed by a more detailed response:

We planned this event for months and took the advice of all the experts but could never have dreamed that so many people would want to attend without having bought a ticket in advance. We pre-sold 15,000 tickets and expected about another 5,000 more. In reality we had almost 30,000 people get through the gate and enjoy a great day out. We had a car park which had enough spaces for 16,000 cars and even at the busiest time we had 5000 spaces, We had three entrances, 2 of which flowed smoothly all day and three exits as well as 10 car parking teams working flat out all day. Also on the same day was the final of the Amateur Golf Championships in Sandwich, the Jazz Festival in Margate, a luxury boat sale in Ramsgate and Canterbury College’s Open Day in Broadstairs so there was lots of other things going on too. I can’t apologise enough for the fact that one particular road became totally gridlocked and we will do better for any future events’.

It must be hoped that improvements can be made and that future shows of this calibre can continue at Manston, although it has to be accepted that the road layout approaching the airport will always create problems – as they always did.