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.

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V (AC) Squadron RAF Centenary Special Tail

No. 5 Squadron Royal Flying Corps was formed at Farnborough on 26 July 1913 and, following the outbreak of the First World War, deployed to France on 15 August 1914. Equipped with a variety of aircraft types it carried out reconnaissance for the British Expeditionary Force, flying its first missions on 21 August. The Squadron took a leading role in the development of aerial photography and wireless telephony during the early days of the War. Now titled V (Army Cooperation) the squadron was reformed on 1st April 2004 at RAF Waddington, marking the beginning of a new era in the world of military Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), continuing in the role in which it served with such distinction in its early days. The new role for ‘5’ is to operate the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) System, which consists of five Sentinel R1s – modified Bombardier Global Express long-range business jets – and eight Ground Stations.

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To celebrate its centenary the squadron have decorated the tail of ZJ692 with a special scheme. The Maple Leaf  commemorates the Squadron’s close links with the Canadian Corps during WWI and also appears on the squadron badge. Sentinel ZJ692 is illustrated at its home base and in formation with the Red Arrows on 6 July during the Waddington International Airshow.

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IWM Duxford Spring Air Show – Remembering the Mighty Eighth – 26 May 2013

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Duxford’s first show of 2013 commemorated the 70th anniversary of the arrival at the wartime Cambridgeshire airfield of the 78th Fighter Group of the US Army Air Force. Initially equipped with P-47 Thunderbolts and arriving in April 1943, the Group traded them for P-51 Mustangs in December 1944, and both types played a significant part in the commemorations – not just at the show but also as part of the following day’s flypasts over other significant airfields with links to the USAAF and also the Cambridge American Cemetery at Madingley – see Madingley flypast .

As part of the ‘Eagle Squadron’ P-47 ‘Snafu’ and P-51 ‘Princess Elizabeth’ were joined by a Hurricane and Spitfire representing aircraft flown by volunteer US pilots at a time before their home country had joined the battle, and these squadrons flew under that title. Flying as a four-ship, with B-17 ‘Sally B’, with the Red Arrows and in pairs, the ‘Eagle Squadron’ was one of the most eagerly anticipated display acts of recent years – and they didn’t fail to deliver. Led by British pilot Paul Bonhomme in the Hurricane, the remaining members of the quartet were the three pilots that make up the ‘Bremont Horsemen Flight Team’ – Dan Friedkin (Spitfire), Ed Shipley (Mustang) and Steve Hinton (Thunderbolt). The trio normally fly Mustangs and have been seen before at Duxford doing so in a mix of UK-based P-51s and specially imported US-based airframes.

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The US theme ran through the whole show both in the air and on the ground. ‘The Three Belles’ delighted the crowds on the ground:

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whilst Golden Apple Operation’s F-86A Sabre made a welcome return after its engine issues:

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US warbirds included a couple of P-40s (Pearl Harbor survivor P-40B illustrated), TF-51D Mustang ‘Miss Velma’ (a two-seater which took ‘Bud’ Anderson aloft before the display started and again on the Monday commemorations) two DC-3s, a Harvard pair and two L-4 Cubs.

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Other warbird content included the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane, Westland Lysander and the pairs display of the ‘Grace Spitfire’ with ARCo’s Buchon.

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Civilian teams gave added colour to the show with the Trig Aerobatic Team, RV8tors and the solo Breitling Stearman wingwalker making good use of the sunny conditions.

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The focus of the event was quite rightly aimed at the historics, but the RAF did send the display Tucano in its homage scheme:

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Due to delays the Tucano pilot hadn’t received his display authorisation in time to take part in the show. The RAF did though make an impact in closing the show with the Red Arrows making their UK 2013 debut, and flying nine Hawks for the first time since the tragedies of 2011.

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Duxford’s first show of 2013 was an all-round success and heavily attended. Hopefully setting a trend for the rest of the year.

The next airshow at Duxford is the Flying Legends event over the weekend of 13 and 14 July.

With thanks to Esther Blaine and the IWM staff.