RAF Waddington International Air Show – Sunday 6 July 2014

The weather on the Sunday at Waddington started grim and remained so for much of the day, typically only really breaking late in the day as the show drew to a close. Undoubted highlight was the return of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight which this time debuted their Draken along with a second appearance by the Viggen. Other notable flying acts included the Spanish Air Force Patrulla Aspa, the RAF’s own RC-135V Rivet Joint, Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation F6, Swiss Hornet, SoloTurk, Midair Squadron and Vulcan XH558.

The event is the main RAF ‘at home’ show and attracts around 150,000 visitors over the weekend, which unsurprisingly causes an amount of traffic issues – especially for those attempting to leave as the display draws to a close (as pictured). There will be no airshow at Waddington in 2015 due to the planned runway re-shaping, and a campaign is underway to ensure that it returns from 2016.

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Aviation at the Goodwood Festival of Speed – 27-29 June 2014

Although much of the FoS is centred around the various four and two wheeled aspects, there is a winged presence both in the air and on the ground. The ‘Aviation Exhibition’ included Goodwood Aviation’s Harvard (with friends!), Ultimate High’s Extra 300 and Bulldog, Tracey Curtis-Taylor’s Stearman as well as a number of showroom examples from Bell, Cessna and Beechcraft, and various sales tents and features such as the ICON sculpture illustrated below. The area was sponsored by Midair (in association with Air BP and Textron) whose Canberra and Hunter would also take part in the air displays. Other aircraft seen in the air were the RAF’s Red Arrows and Typhoon and Avro Vulcan XH558.

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On completion of their display on the Sunday the Midair Hunter and Canberra pulled back around to run at speed along the display line parallel with the hill climb. A Midair press release fills in the details:

‘The Goodwood Festival of Speed air display took a new turn on Sunday, as the Midair Squadron Hawker Hunter XL577 set a flown time of 9.98 seconds across the notorious Goodwood Hillclimb in front of Goodwood House. As the first and only attempt of this kind, the Hunter, piloted by Squadron Leader Dave Piper (retired) reached a top speed 361 knots (415 mph), as he weaved his way to the top of the course.

The driven record is held by Nick Heidfeld in a time of 41.6 seconds set in 1999 in a McLaren MP4-13-Mercedes Benz with an average speed of 104 mph, meaning the Midair Squadron’s time shaved 32 seconds off Heidfeld’s time – admittedly in a jet!

Midair Squadron leader Mike Davis said: “It was an opportunity we couldn’t resist. After setting the world air speed record in 1953, the Hunter has continued to be acknowledged as one of the fastest and most agile fighter jets ever built. This new way of timing the Goodwood Hill Climb brings a whole new dimension to the Festival of Speed and we look forward to a challenge in 2015; regardless of any future outcome, this is a wonderful tribute to British engineering and the piloting skill of the Midair Squadron.” ‘

The Hunter entering the time zone:

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Midair Squadron First Performance – Cotswold Airport (Kemble) – 30 April 2014

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At the onetime RAF Kemble – once home to the Red Arrows – a new display team gave their inaugural display to announce their arrival on to the air display scene. Canberra XH134 made its debut at the Goodwood Revival in September 2013 (Goodwood Revival 2013), and that has been followed by Hunter T7 XL577 returning to the air for the first time since 2009, just this week, resplendent in its new silver scheme.

Twenty-three PR.9 photo-reconnaissance Canberra versions were built by Shorts from 1955, with XH134 constructed in 1959. They served with three RAF squadrons from 1960, but from 1976 just with 39 squadron, latterly at RAF Marham in Norfolk. PR.9s have carried out operations at hot-spots around the world, more recently including Bosnia, Iraq, Rwanda, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan, right up until the type’s retirement in July 2006. In the final months of service just three Canberras were in use; XH131, XH134 and XH135. XH134 was painted with a special retirement tail scheme and became the focus of attention as the Canberra era drew to a close. At its height the Canberra force comprised 63 RAF and Royal Navy squadrons, with over 800 of all variants serving the country from bases around the world, and was also an export success, so these last few months of operations before retirement were seen as a focal point for a celebration of one of the all time greats of aviation – and XH134 took centre stage. It was displayed at airshows and made special flypasts, sometimes as part of a formation – including with the Red Arrows in their current Hawk jets.

The end of the Canberra’s stalwart service for its country took place on 28 July 2006, with all three aircraft being transferred to a new owner at Kemble. XH131 returned ‘home’ by road to the Ulster Aviation Society in 2010, leaving ‘134 and ‘135 at what is now titled Cotswold Airport. C2 Aviation Ltd. was formed in 2013, and owners Midair stated that their objective was to create ‘The Midair Squadron’ which would comprise XH134 and the addition of two Hawker Hunters as a package available for airshows and commercial advertising work – including the possibility of having company logos applied to the aircraft. To this end it was decided that all of the aircraft would be repainted into all over silver as a ‘blank canvas’ which sadly would mean the loss of XH134’s special tail scheme, although that has been carefully recorded. ‘134 made its maiden flight in civilian ownership on 19 July 2013, just in time to fly the short distance to Fairford for a static appearance at the Royal International Air Tattoo later that day. At this point the Canberra was still in its RAF hemp colour scheme, giving the public a last chance to see it before repaint.

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XH134 came out of the paint shop in its new scheme on 2 September with thoughts moving to its first display appearance in the air. Certain strict criteria would need to be met before the Civil Aviation Authority would grant permission for Midair to display the Canberra, but that they did and with the mountain of paperwork in place ‘134 made its display debut at the Goodwood Revival just eleven days later, to the great delight of the aviation community. It is currently the only flying Canberra in the UK.

Hunter XL577 first flew on 30 April 1958 (making the event its fifty-sixth ‘birthday’), and was previously with Delta Jets on the airfield until their demise. The second Hunter planned to join the Squadron is XL600 which is currently stripped and undergoing major work towards making it airworthy. The other silver Hunter seen in the images is non-airworthy T8 XE665 named ‘George Wellesley Wesley’ which was also previously with Delta Jets.

Sadly the good weather of the morning failed to hold so the display took place in hazy overcast skies, but did not disappoint. The routine opens with the pair together before a break head-on to the crowd followed by individual displays, as illustrated:

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Images from the display:

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Canberra display pilot Dave Piper:

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Owner Mike Davis (above) stated:

“It’s a wonderful day to celebrate the addition of XL577 to the Midair Squadron. Following twenty-four months of extensive restoration fuelled by a personal passion and a dedicated team, I am delighted to see these aircraft flying together. Our pilots have put on a show stopping display routine for our guests this afternoon.”

“Today marks the start of the busy display season for the Squadron, one which we’re very much looking forward to and delighted to have become involved in”.

Local celebrity Willie Carson dropped in and was very interested in the aircraft. He was surprised at the ‘coal hole’ position for the crewman in the Canberra, finding it hard to believe that anybody could spend so long in the air seated here:

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The Midair Squadron is scheduled for their first public display at the Abingdon Air & Country Show on Sunday 4th May, followed by the Canberra displaying at Llandudno Air Show at the end of the month.

The Midair Squadron will be seen at international events throughout the coming season. Further details of the events will be found on www.midair-squadron.com.

They’ll most definitely be a highlight at any show at which they appear.

‘Demobbed’ Hawker Hunter XL586 – March 2014

Once military aircraft come to the ends of their service lives most will be unceremoniously scrapped, a precious few will continue to fly in one form or another, some will go on display in museums, whilst others will find themselves used for a variety of ground-based purposes very far removed from anything for which they were designed. Hawker Hunter T.7 XL586 is a great example of the latter, now to be found at Action Park in Wickford, Essex.

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Built and first flown in 1958 it served with 1 TWU, 2 TWU and 229 OCU RAF at bases such as Brawdy and Lossiemouth, until being retired and entering storage at Shawbury in 1991. It passed through Witham Special Vehicles and Everett Aero before arriving at Delta Jets at Kemble in April 1998 – latterly as a gate guard – before being roaded to Riverside MOT Centre in Melksham, Wiltshire, in August 2009. Whilst at Kemble it gained the rear fuselage and wings from XL578 – hence that being the serial visible. The move south to Essex was in May 2011 and the aircraft may be mounted on a pole at some point in the future.

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Action Park is a centre for various activities including paint-balling, off-roading, rally driving, motorcross, archery and clay pigeon shooting. See http://www.actionpark.co.uk/ for further details.

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‘Airbourne’ – Eastbourne – 18 August 2013

Whilst the airshow itself takes place along the seafront of Eastbourne town, the heights of Beachyhead are a popular location to view some of the aircraft arriving, holding and departing. The following are a few images from the Sunday of the four day show.

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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.