Reflections on the Shoreham tragedy
Monday 24th August 2015
If you're reading this, the chances are you like airshows. And you're not alone. Each summer, more than six million of us flock to events up and down the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. From RNAS Culdrose in the South-West, via RAF Fairford, Old Warden’s Shuttleworth Collection, the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, RAF Cosford, Sunderland, right up to East Fortune. This has gone on since aviation began.
Along the way there have been tragedies, this is undeniable. Saturday, August 22, 2015 at Shoreham will go down as a dark day in airshow lore, along with the events at Manston in 1948, and Farnborough, 1952. That last date, until Shoreham, was the last time a member of the public was killed during an air display in the UK - that 63-year span, during which there have been countless thousands of events, has seen the rules and regulations by which shows are run fine-tuned to a point where air displays are as safe as they can be, while still remaining an entertaining spectacle. And therein lies the nub. Airshows need to retain an entertainment factor, else they cease to be worthy of the name.
And this brings risk. Not a huge risk, but an increased one. Aeroplanes will have accidents. The military suffers accidents in the most modern of aircraft, just as the private pilot might in their little Cessna. The vintage aeroplanes, such as the Hawker Hunter, that display at airshows suffer accidents too, but this is in no way, contrary to the media narrative, down to their age. The "paperwork trail" needed to operate a classic aeroplane is onerous. Look at the issues Air Atlantique had trying to source new engines for their Canberra B2/6. It's not a case of being able to pop down to Halfords for spares. Vintage aeroplanes are maintained by experts, to standards which match, and doubtless exceed those for many other types of flying machine.
The pilots themselves must pass stringent examinations, both physical and in terms of their abilities. To get your Display Authorisation is not easy, and the men and women who fly at airshows today are from the very top tranche of pilots in the country, if not the world. The Civil Aviation Authority’s system of display pilot authorisations is indeed the envy of many other nations due to its stringent and effective oversight of aerial displays. Likewise, the regulatory framework provided by the CAA & MAA, assisted by professional bodies such as the British Air Display Association and The Honourable Company of Air Pilots make the UK airshow industry one of the safest in the world.
To see the media coverage from Shoreham, you'd think that airshows suffered accidents most weeks. This is not true in any way, shape or form. This has been a challenging summer, with the loss of the Hunter coming so soon after Kev Whyman lost his life in the Folland Gnat at Oulton Park's CarFest event. Pilots do not go out to crash. These two tragic events were freak accidents in the purest sense. We don't know what happened; it's the job of the CAA and AAIB to find out.
As expected, the CAA has responded predictably quickly, outlawing "high-energy" manoeuvres in vintage jets over land for the foreseeable future, possibly until the end of the display season to buy themselves time to gather the findings of the two accident reports, and to draw up new rules for the 2016 shows accordingly. While some industry professionals and enthusiasts have seen the decision as a knee-jerk reaction, pandering to demands of the grubbier side of the press, given the circumstances and current litigious climate we live in, it was to be expected.
The regulations laid down within CAP 403 (and indeed the Military Aviation Authority’s RA 2335) are some of the most robust display flying regulations in the world which have helped keep the public (and the pilots) safe for many years. We must therefore hope that a review of these regulations is carried out in a sensible and measured manner which avoids the outlandish suggestions in some corners of the press that the aerial demonstrations that millions love and enjoy should be restricted to events held over the sea, with a display line so distant to the crowd as to totally detach the spectator from the event, as well as being something that carries a number of other risks to the display pilots themselves.
For so many people to have lost their lives at Shoreham, especially people in no way connected with the airshow, is incredibly painful to all of us who love, cherish and wish to defend these events. A true case of everyone involved being in the wrong place at precisely the wrong time. Amid the genuine outpouring of emotion, and the tawdry, opportunistic media hysteria, there are lessons to be learned, yes, but also a sense of perspective is required. This was an accident. Whatever caused Andy Hill and WV372 to deviate from their display profile to end up where they did was the result of something. Quite possibly it was the outcome of a million-to-one chain of events. The airshow industry must mourn those dead, and owes it to them to make sure shows remain as safe as is humanly possible, but also we must all remember that airshows have been for many decades a source of great, safe, family entertainment for countless millions and the display community and industry must not allow itself to be picked apart by a salacious tabloid press desperate to sell newspapers on the back of a horrid tragedy.
Far From the Madding Crowd
Friday 29th August 2014
There's no question that it's the aviation event of the summer, indeed of several summers, but while the visit of Canadian Warplane Heritage's Avro Lancaster has packed out airshow venues up and down the country, how many of us can actually claim to have had the view, access or photographic opportunity to do the aircraft and its legacy justice?
At the time of writing, the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster has flown just a couple of solo display sorties in the UK, among them one shortly after arriving at RAF Coningsby and another at Durham Tees Valley airport. Both were, by all accounts, and from the evidence on video, utterly superb. Low, fast and agile, while displaying the Lancaster perfectly safely. What a pity, then, that at public air display appearances all we have seen is black, featureless undersides as the Canadian machine meanders along tamely at 1,000ft in the distant, monotonous wake of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight example.
Thanks to the Canadians having to fly to the military rules and limits set by the BBMF, it's left us an Emperor's New Clothes scenario where very few have dared to speak out and criticise, yet many have found the show appearances to be repetitive and even underwhelming. We can't see either Lancaster properly, which after the journey the Canadian example has made is surely the point. There are few better sights in historic aviation than the upper surface of an Avro Lancaster. Rich in colour and oozing character, with the huge roundels and exhaust staining from the four Merlin engines, but the BBMF display is such that only the much-derided "freeloader" outside the venue ever gets to see it properly - and so high is the pairs routine flown, with turns so wide, that not even the chancer outside the airfield boundary gets a sight of these machines from their best aspect on this tour.
Now the usual retort when the sacred cow of the BBMF is criticised is "what do you expect, loops and rolls?". Nonsense. You only have to watch the video of the Canadian flypasts (was it even a full display?) at Durham Tees Valley to see what is required. Look at the topside pass - the aircraft is actually climbing away during the manoeuvre, can't get much safer than that! Then there's the closing extremely fast pass, just listen to the roar of those engines. Far more engaging than dreary underside circuits at 1,000ft.
By all means begin the display as a pair - seeing two Lancasters together is a rare sight and one which may not be repeated for many years, if at all, but then let the Canadians off the leash for a solo. Let them display their aircraft, their way.
And then there's the issue of access on the ground. Coningsby hangar tours sold out in the blink of an eye. The Waddington and Tees Valley events were full houses too, and great volumes of people have swamped airfields and airshows (in some cases causing chaos on local roads) to line the fences and catch any glimpse they can. There is unprecedented demand to see the Lancasters up close, and a demand which has, thus far, simply not been met. With places strictly limited, Biggin Hill charged a three-figure sum for access. Southend Airport was another running a small-scale limited allocation event, and were charging the price of a medium-sized airshow ticket to watch a take-off from a hotel balcony half a mile away and across a car park. Why has no-one had the presence of mind to organise access at a reasonable cost for a huge amount of people?
Part of this is, of course, down to timing - the CWH machine arrived at a point in the airshow season well after the major shows at the biggest venues which would have accommodated a landing at the showground, but even so it cannot be beyond the wit of man to arrange something. To not have the aeroplane on the ground at Duxford in September at the very least seems foolish given the effect that these two aircraft have had on show attendances to date, but especially so given the lack of opportunity to get up close to these two machines at any other airshow during the Canadian's stay in the UK.
The visit of the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster to the UK will no doubt be remembered greatly by the public, and has already generated great interest in the press, but for the enthusiast the tour already threatens to be a damb squib. All we ask is to be shown the aeroplane to its best advantage in the air, and to have access to it on the ground without having to re-mortgage the house.
Wing Commander Kenneth Horatio Wallis MBE 1916-2013
Tuesday, 3rd September 2013
All at UKAR were terribly saddened to learn this week of the passing of the great aviator Ken Wallis. Dan O'Hagan writes this obituary to a man the like of whom British aviation will surely never see again.
Few lives in aviation have been like that of Kenneth Horatio Wallis. Actually, I'll rephrase that. No life in aviation has been like that of Ken Wallis.
Born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, the young man's love for aviation was kindled at early age after his own father’s passion for aircraft and engineering, and after witnessing the flight of an Henri Mignet HM.14 "Pou de Ciel" Flying Flea. In 1937 he made his own first solo flight in a de Havilland Gypsy Moth. His A Licence for dual and solo flying came after just twelve hours at the controls.
With the coming of the Second World War, and despite a problem with his sight which he managed to conceal, Wallis flew both the Westland Lysander and Vickers Wellington. He survived 36 bombing raids over enemy territory, often returning in heavily damaged aeroplanes. After one such return, it was reckoned that his aircraft had 115 different holes shot into it. Sometimes he didn't make it back in one piece - on five occasions his machine came to grief on the way home, earning him the unfortunate moniker "Crash" while in the RAF. In the post-war years, he'd even get his hands on the mighty Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" while on exchange with the United States Air Force.
Ask most aviation enthusiasts what they know of Ken Wallis, and the chances are they'll reply with a single word: "autogyro". Put simply, Wallis was the king of this novel type of flying machine. Though the autogyro is the invention of a Spaniard - Juan de la Cierva, Wallis' devotion to, and championing of, the curious craft has become the stuff of legend.
The autogyro generates lift using an auto rotating blade, while forward thrust comes from a conventional "pusher" propeller, driven by a single engine. Wallis and his machines came to global prominence after one of them, "Little Nellie", played a starring role in the 1967 James Bond film "You Only Live Twice". Wallis himself even doubled for Sean Connery flying the machine for the cameras. Of his brush with the silver screen, he said: "I had to do 81 flights and was in the air for more than 44 hours – and don’t even get a mention in the credits!".
It's reckoned that the Wallis collection of self-designed and self-built autogyros at his home at Reymerston Hall in Norfolk numbered almost twenty. Many of the machines were record-breakers; indeed, Wallis set no fewer than 34 world records in his autogyros, including a new speed record of 129.1mph as recently as November, 2002.
In my own days working in Norfolk at Anglia Television, news reporters would often visit Wallis's sprawling home for demonstrations of his autogyros, or for comment on aviation stories. Without fail, they would always return to the office wide-eyed with wonder at what they'd seen, and been told, for Ken was quite the story-teller. Indeed, he was still making public appearances and speeches well into his 98th year.
Perhaps one of the most important contributions Wallis made to British aviation is among his least-known, to the general public at least. His involvement in the development of the English Electric Canberra - Britain's first jet bomber went a long way to ensuring the type's success, after early teething problems. When posted as armament officer to the first Canberra station RAF Binbrook in 1951, Wallis noted 100 shortcomings with the revolutionary new aircraft. One-by-one, Wallis set about correcting these imperfections, most notably with the bomb-loading and release mechanisms. It has been claimed, by his friend Bruce Barrymore-Halpenny that Wallis was "the man who saved the Canberra".
Though Wallis was to receive the MBE in 1996, it surely ranks as one of the great oversights, bordering on the criminal, that this great aviator was never furnished with a knighthood.
In later years he remained a staunch advocate of the autogyro, flying well into his nineties. He was also President of the wonderful Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton, near Bungay. The museum contains a replica, built and flown on ten occasions by Ken, of the 1910 "Wallbro Monoplane" designed in 1908 by his father Horace and uncle Percy in an attempt to cross the English Channel in the contest won a year later by Louis Bleriot.
A true one-off, and in these days of hyperbole and cheap, transient "celebrity", he was a true icon, pioneer, trailblazer and hero. He lived a long life, yes, but one that had to be so, simply to fit everything in.
Wing Commander Kenneth Horatio Wallis died on Sunday, September 1, 2013 at the age of 97.
Monday, 24th December 2012
As we come to the end of 2012, I think it would be safe to say that the good ship UKAR is currently sailing in calm seas: We've made our peace and moved on from a few old rivalries, the forums have a more friendly atmosphere than they perhaps have had for a while, and the new Display Frequency podcast has been a great success. However it would be foolish though to think that we could rest on our laurels, so we're pleased to announce that we've decided to bring some new blood onto the Staff team in order to help deliver more high-quality content for our loyal members, readers and listeners.
To that end, we thought it would be only polite to introduce you to those who have agreed to come on board.
First up, Peter Reoch (PeterR) shall be swapping his blue username for a yellow one. Currently a student at Coventry University, Pete's come a long way from spotting Tu-134s over Wolverhampton and freely handing his mobile number out over the internet 'back in the day'. Since joining the moderating team earlier this year he has provided plenty of top-quality features for us - both written and in audio form for Display Frequency - and we have published many of his great photographs.
Next up, its Essex boy Dean West (DeanW). Dean has been around for years and years now, and has always impressed with his fine eye for a photograph, and the technical skill to put together the shot he's after. We've featured his images before, and we're looking forward to him being able to contribute to our reports and reviews more often. He's also a thoroughly nice chap, which is always good.
Andy Evans (boff180) is another well-respected UKAR long-termer, and over the years we've published a number of his reviews and photographs. His job role sees him spending a fair amount of time on the opposite side of the Atlantic, which means he can bring to the table some top-notch international reporting.
Coming from North of the border, young Chris Milne (Macc) can often be found at the Lossiemouth fence. His photography has come on leaps and bounds since the days when he wielded a Nikon D50 (and as I recall, published all his forum posts in lurid pink text!); his excellent images are a regular feature in Pictures of the Week.
Last, but of course by no means least, we're glad to have Keith Meachem (KAM68) on board. Keith has provided UKAR with both high-quality writing and excellent photography over the years, and we feel he will be an excellent addition to our team; we're excited to feature more of his work in the future.
So, go easy on the new kids as they settle in, and please do say hello if you bump into them (or any of the team, for that matter) at a fenceline or airshow in future.
We'd also like to take the opportunity to thank you all for your continued support, and we wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Display Teams - The Best Kept Secret Is Out!
Monday, 16th July 2012
So, have we just witnessed the finest display team in the world? As the dust, or rather mud, settles on the Royal International Air Tattoo 2012, there's no doubting that the stars of the show were the Black Eagles from the Republic of Korea Air Force.
Flying the T-50B, an afterburning, supersonic jet trainer, not only did the team fly their eight jets with precision, they flew with a noise and a spectacle quite unlike any display team we can remember.
Like all teams of course there was some degree of overlap in terms of manoeuvres we'd seen from other teams, but the unique touches, not least the high-alpha pass by a pair of jets, and the wonderful drawing of the Korean national emblem, the Taeguk, in the sky really puts the team into the very top bracket of national teams.
For many years, the Italian Frecce Tricolori and our own Red Arrows have been generally considered the top teams in the world, but we'd suggest that on the evidence of their first display outside Korea at Waddington, where the team won an award for their display, and then leaving RIAT with two trophies under their arms, that elite group of two has expanded to a triumverate.
Which brings us onto the Red Arrows - this was always going to be a difficult year for the RAFAT, coming on the back of a tragic 2011 and the sad losses of Jon Egging and Sean Cunningham, followed by a turbulent off-season which saw the team elect to display with only seven aircraft in 2012. All the more reason for us, the airshow community to get behind the team.
And we can do so by supporting a new book released this summer. "Red Arrows in Camera" by Keith Wilson (Haynes, £25) is, we'd say, the definitive book published to date on the team. The Reds rich history is recorded with plenty of photography, both recent and vintage, including a wealth of information and imagery covering earlier RAF display teams in Hunters and Meteors.
The book also acts as a photographic record of the 2011 season, with the most striking photographs being the air-to-airs, coming from the lenses of seasoned aviation experts such as Mike Jorgensen and EJ van Konigsveld.
It's a fairly hefty volume, which makes this an excellent "coffee-table" book, as well as being a useful go-to resource on the Reds for your aviation bookshelf.
Last season's losses are not glossed over in any way, with dedications to both Flt Lts Egging and Cunningham, and fittingly, 50p from each sale goes direct to the RAF Benevolent Fund.
The book is out now, and UKAR has three copies to be won in our next Display Frequency podcast, so keep an eye out!
UKAR Enclosure In Detail
Friday, 29th July 2011
2011 saw the fifth year of UKAR's presence at the Cotswold Airshow, or Kemble Air Day as it was known then. The enclosure has been very popular over the years with many of the same faces regularly attending along with new ones discovering it for the first time. For many it's a great way to relax at an airshow in relative comfort and meet other UKAR members but it doesn't just happen, there is some organisation to it all so here's a bit of detail about the preparation of providing the enclosure.
The original idea for the enclosure came from the airshow's able organiser Glen Moreman. He offered us the marquee, chairs and tables and the rest was up to us. At that time it was sponsored by Aircraft Illustrated so any money we raised went partly to fund refreshments and the rest to charity. Now we've gone it alone and the aim is to break even on hosting the enclosure if not the associated costs.
Typically the planning starts a few months beforehand, once I get approval from Glen. Working in a graphic design studio certainly helps as I can design and print off tickets and laminate any signage needed. Then up to a month before it's a trip to a bulk retail outlet to purchase drink, tea and coffee, water and cups (which we always seem to run out of!). There is a knack in knowing what to purchase, individual portions of milk work best, people tend to get through a bottle of milk much quicker. Weather has its part to play, a hot day will see more cold drinks consumed, a cold day will see tea and coffee be used up much quicker.
All too quickly the airshow weekend comes around. On the Friday the car is loaded up with almost everything needed for the weekend ahead and we make the trip to Kemble from London. We roll onto the airfield early afternoon, check-in, get our passes and make our way to the enclosure. During the week the build team have erected the marquee and fencing and inside the marquee our chairs and tables await. It takes a couple of hours to position the tables, arrange the refreshments and get everything ready for minimal set up the following morning. The all important banner is put up on the front of the marquee and we're pretty much done for the day. We then make our way to our accommodation the other side of Cirencester.
The first show day starts bright and early and we arrive at the airfield before 7.00am where the early birds are already waiting in their cars at the gate. It does feel great to drive past them all and onto the showground itself. The car gets tucked away inside the enclosure, we do the final setting up, put the kettles on and await the first punters.
At 8.00 the airfield is opened and people start streaming in. There's the usual mad dash to the flightline around us but things are calmer inside the enclosure. We welcome the first of our members and in no time we've got quite a gathering of people taking advantage of our free tea and coffee and settling themselves on the uncluttered crowdline in anticipation of the show ahead.
Being an aviation enthuiast myself (obviously) I want to take photos as well so I go backwards and forwards between the marquee and outside area. During the day it's a matter of boiling up the kettles and filling the water flasks which seems to be a never ending job. Biba does a great job of greeting our guests and looking after children, usually with a handful of sweets!
The break in flying for lunch gives Biba and I a chance to have our lunch with the help of our gas rings followed by a look round the stalls. Then the afternoon session begins and it's back to work. The marquee really comes into its own if it rains as the Saturday this year showed, everyone dives into it until the shower stops although some brave the conditions outside.
At the end of flying our guests leave with some returning on the Sunday. We tidy up and get ready to do the same again for the second day of the show. The hot water flasks are remarkably good as any water still left at the end of Saturday is still piping hot in the morning. Sunday is a repeat performance, the only difference being the rapidly dwindling refreshment supplies. No matter how many cups you bring we always seem to run out so ask people to keep reuse them. Even so we do run out, usually milk as well.
At the end of the day we say goodbye for another year and do a clear up of our site. That means clearing all the tables and folding them up and stacking the chairs. It's only polite to look around and pick up any rubbish left on our patch and bin it to make sure the site is as clean as when we arrived. We finally leave, after most of the public has gone, for a well deserved pub dinner. We stay in the area and return home on the Monday thinking of ideas on how to improve for next year.
UKAR By Numbers
Friday, 31st December 2010
Almost two years ago now, the UKAR team were thinking of new ways to reach out to the membership, while at the same time encouraging a raising of the photographic standards across the forum. When we launched "Pictures of the Week" (POTW) we had no idea how successful it would become, nor quite how many individual members would get their work featured.
At year's end, we decided to collate the statistics from the last 52 weekly updates to see how POTW is developing. In total in 2010, a massive 181 different photographers have had their images selected for POTW inclusion. By any standards, this is an impressive figure and speaks volumes for UKAR's standing, and the quality of photographer this forum attracts. We're pretty confident that you won't find such consistently strong aviation photography on any other site. It seems that if you're a photographer with quality work to showcase, UKAR has long been the only forum of choice.
Six members really excelled in 2010, with six entries in POTW. Some of the names are well-known on the board, such as Nigel Blake, Tom Hill, Dino van Doorn and Neil Jones, and the others, Krzysztof Zielinski and Slawek Krajniewski are among a group of supremely talented Polish photographers who really caught the eye, making a big impact on UKAR, not least with their unique approach to creative photography, which has since been copied by others, with nowhere near the same quality of results.
A further five UKARians racked up five POTW entries: Kieron Pilbeam, Richard Pittman, Fred Martin (our undisputed king of the Golden Oldies), Phillipe Rey, and the long-serving member Tony Osborne.
Featured types in POTW have covered the whole history of powered flight, with everything from Old Warden's Edwardians, right up to the modern day Raptor. Retiring types such as the Harrier and F-111 have been well-represented, as we try to strike a balance between quality and "newsworthyness" in the chosen images.
Continuing the statistical breakdown, seven members featured four times (among them Dan Butcher, the most represented Staff member), twenty-one appeared three times, with a further forty-two members achieving two photographs. Another 100 members each managed to impress us to earn a single appearance.
Of course Picture of the Week will continue into 2011, so keep posting, and maybe you too can be part of the UKAR "clique". A clique which in 2010 featured no fewer than 181 members.
And while we're on the subject of statistics, we'd like to share a few more numbers with you, which really puts UKAR's size and reach into perspective. In 2010 our forums had 895,000 unique visitors, and 2.4 million visits in total. The UK Airshow Review site featuring our reviews, reports and competitions was accessed a further 500,000 times. We gave away prizes worth £100s, published 44 objective reviews or features, and there were a further 20 blog updates and, of course, the weekly Picture of the Week updates, all on top of the effort that it takes to maintain a forum of such size and popularity. Frankly we'd be amazed if any other enthusiast-run British aviation site came anywhere near to those figures.
We'd like to thank you all for helping make UKAR what it is over the last decade-and-a-half, and as we head into our 15th year, we're sure the future will be even better.
Happy New Year's shooting!
The UKAR Team
5,000 UKARians Can't Be Wrong!
Friday, 20th August 2010
UKAR is an ever-expanding community, and we've never been growing faster in our 14 years in cyberspace. We're about to break the 5,000 member milestone, within just two years of our 2008 relaunch. No incarnation of UKAR has ever enjoyed such a large membership - and we'd like to thank you all for making us the undisputed number one.
Our winning formula is quite simple, a lively and well-read message board, championing the very best in creative aviation photography, teamed with a homepage boasting critical, impartial, image-led reviews of airshows and aviation events both large and small. While we do have links, and indeed friendships with many of the premier shows and display teams, you can rest assured we approach our reviews with an enquiring eye.
No other enthusiast-driven site can boast among its members the number of display acts and crews we have, nor can any other similar British forum claim such a vast number of overseas members. The recent group of Polish photographers to sign up have helped take UKAR's imagery standards yet higher.
With so many UKAR members, you can be certain that when aviation news breaks, you're most likely to read it first on our pages - and probably with photographic evidence!
By way of comparison, the last Ikonboard version of UKAR, which closed two years ago had 4,681 members - a figure we've already passed in half the time, and the growth continues.
July is traditionally our busiest month - with Waddington, RIAT and Legends, and the site traffic for the month makes spectacular reading. Our homepage reports and reviews received 22,791 unique visits, with 104,149 pages served - at an average of 2.3 per minute. The forum's statistics are even more astonishing - just short of 100,000 unique visitors, with a whopping 6,675,201 pages served at an average of 149 per minute. You're all part of the ongoing UKAR success story.
Next year marks UKAR's 15th Anniversary. We hope to celebrate the milestone in some way, and would welcome reader input in shaping our plans.
If there's anything you can think of that would improve the service UKAR provides - be it the way we present our homepage, or the message board, then we'd love to hear your feedback, good or bad. It's easy to sit on your laurels when you're top of the pile, and that's something we have no intention of doing.
Commentator's Eye - RIAT Behind The Mic
Friday, 23rd July 2010
Royal International Air Tattoo Senior Commentator Dan O'Hagan writes exclusively for UKAR on just what goes into the mammonth eight-hour live commentary broadcast at RIAT.
So, that's our second RIAT commentary done and dusted. From the feedback, we appear to have gone down well. With this in mind, I thought I'd pen a quick Editor's Blog to give you guys some idea of what we do and how we do it.
As you'll now be aware, we're a three-ship of commentators - myself, Ben Dunnell of Aircraft Magazine and Combat Aircraft Monthly, and Cameron "Spiv" Gair, formerly OC 99 Squadron, Royal Air Force. Apart from emails, phone calls and couple of meetings with Ben during the year, we only come together on the Wednesday of the show week, and it's amazing how quickly the rapport has developed, which I hope comes across in the way we "bounce off" each other during the show. I'm sure we were an unknown quantity before the 2009 show, and I certainly feel we had to earn people's trust over these first two years - it's certainly a big responsibility to be "front-of-house" at a show of RIAT's magnitude.
Wednesday through Friday are spent in the Flight Centre, where we meet the arriving crews, check basic facts like names, display profiles and aircraft type. The Thursday can be very busy for us, and we don't always get outside to watch as many rehearsals and validations as we'd like to, but we do try and make time to see the "star items" practice.
So what's the role of an airshow commentator? I don't believe for one second people want to hear us dominate the display. Our job is to enhance the displays and not swamp them with endless facts and figures. Equally we're not there to offer a blow-by-blow radio-style description of the flying. What we aim for, and I'd like to think we got close to, is a commentary which is an unintrustive companion to the display, one which neither talks down to the enthusiast nor blinds "Joe Bloggs" with science.
An airshow commentary is not easy, especially at a display the size of RIAT. We likened it to presenting a solid eight-hour radio show. That's a lot of talking, and a lot of things that can go wrong. Sunday was extremely challenging, with delays and cancellations forcing us to think on our feet. Spiv has a direct phone line to the tower, so is always abreast of what is happening, allowing Ben and I to concentrate on the broadcast, meaning there's always at least two pairs of eyes on the runway. You may have heard us using the pre-recorded interviews at various points, especially on Sunday. I like doing this to "tease" upcoming displays, as well as buying us a little thinking time and preventing "dead air". I'm extremely proud of the fact that on Sunday, amid all the weather chaos, we never once "chickened out" by using our fall-back option of handing back to the radio studio for music.
This year we had a new commentary tower, which was a big improvement on the canvas-and-scaffold affair the previous year. It's still not perfect, but is warm and dry and feels like a proper commentary position. The major downside is being behind glass, which does lead to a feeling of being detached from the actual display.
You'd be suprised how quickly eight hours whizzes by when you're broadcasting, moreso on Saturday when the afternoon programme seemed to be over in the blink of an eye. Saturday's show was so fast-moving that we even had to drop plans for a live interview with Vulcan pilot Martin Withers.
The 2010 show, I hope, will be remembered among other things for the excellent Battle of Britain segment. As he edits an historic aviation magazine, I felt it was right and proper to let Ben's splendid knowledge come to the fore. We discussed suitable music and audio clips to enhance the display and Ben produced a remarkable script - just the right balance of description of actual real-time events, historical fact and sentiment. It is very easy to make tributes such as this cloying and saccharine, but I believe the Battle of Britain 70th anniversary segment of RIAT hit absolutely the right tone. Our decision to remain silent during the warbird flypasts was one we always intended to take, and the positive feedback received from seasoned airshow fans has been most encouraging. No matter how good or bad the commentary, nothing speaks quite as well as the roar of fourteen 1940s-era aero engines. The three of us have a love for aviation, just as you do, and we try to give the commentary that we ourselves would like to hear.
By close of play on Sunday, tiredness was really kicking in. My own personal feeling was that the 2010 commentary was an improvement on our first - the in-at-the-deep-end terror of 2009 was replaced by a feeling of confidence. It's always a euphoric moment when we wrap up the commentary, say our thanks and goodbyes and hand back to the Air Tattoo Live studio. The first beer at the post-show hangar party tastes SO sweet!
In Ben and Spiv, and our producer Richard Dudley-Smith, I couldn't ask for a better team - Ben's eye for the finest of detail, and Spiv's knowledge of flying, and how RIAT functions. If we're asked back in 2011, I'm sure all of us would love to do it all over again.
Dare To Be Different...
Friday, 9th July 2010
The UKAR / DigiPad.co.uk "Creative Photography competition has been in full swing now for about a month, and it's due to close at the end of July, so you don't have long to get your entries in.
We've had some good stuff already, but with the major summer shows coming thick and fast, we thought we'd trawl through the forum archives and pick out five of our favourite forum contributors for their originality and talent behind the lens, to hopefully inspire those who haven't entered yet to get the creative juices flowing when they're out and about at airshows in the next couple of weeks.
First up is long-time UKAR regular and all round nice chap, Steve Buckby. He's considered by many of us to be the master of the creative photograph, even earning recognition in Aircraft Magazine's "100 Best Pictures" supplement from September 2009. His PBase website is as fine a collection of photographs as you'll ever find. Essential viewing for anyone with aspirations on winning our top prize.
Slawek Krajniewski hasn't been with us on UKAR for very long, but he's made a big impression in that time and has regularly featured in our "Week in Pictures" highlights; highly original and unmoved by the mantra of level horizons and side-on tediousness that have been force fed to us by photo databases and rigidly adhered to by far too many copycat photographers, his images and presentation are a breath of fresh air and have won him many fans.
Andrew Beaumont is another one, like Steve, with a terrific eye for composition. He's been posting consistently high quality material on our forums for a few years now, and in particular, his Flying Legends 2009 thread was as good as they come, using depth of field and "bokeh" compositions to their fullest.
Another new member that's really made an impression is Egon; working at an airport, he may have had a few more opportunities than most, but there's no denying his talents, particularly when it comes to low light and night time shooting. Egon's "outside the box" thinking is what we're looking for in our competition.
Our final choice is young Dean West, a UKAR regular in the Steve/Andrew mould. Strong shapes, colours and making use of light are basic ingredients of photography, and Dean is well versed in using all of them to his advantage.
UKAR is the premier site for the creative photographer, and there's plenty more of you besides these guys, as can be seen in the long-running "Arty Farty" and "Big Sky, Small Plane" threads, which are a showcase for so much of that artistic talent.
Legends and RIAT are coming up, and both always result in a deluge of photo threads on the board. Get out there and dare to be different - be creative rather than following the crowd.
Vulcan: The Road Ahead
Friday, 26th February 2010
So, the future of the Vulcan is safe - for now. An anonymous donor has come forward to the tune of £458,000 which should guarantee the operation of the aircraft though the 2010 display season. Great news, but it must not be allowed to paper over some major cracks which remain in the project's public perception.
It was at best short-sighted, at worst negligent that the major fundraising drive for next season was launched not when the aircraft was in public view every weekend during the summer, but when it was stowed away, out of sight and mind at RAF Lyneham for the winter. This type of oversight must become a thing of the past.
The tone of the YouTube video was all wrong too, coming across as a rather sick pastiche of the daytime charity advertisements on television, especially at the time of the Haitian earthquake appeal.
Still, TVOC's official web site is embarrassingly amateurish. Behind the nice and shiny appeal page lurks a website which would have looked outdated ten years ago. The garish colours and mix of fonts and font sizes gives anything but the professional impression the project should have. This is a multi-million pound charity, and needs to put itself across as such. The village-fete-ism which has dogged TVOC from the early days (who can forget the infamous "apple-bobbing" offered at a Bruntingthorpe open day) needs to be swept away and a new era of slick professionalism brought in. There ARE some excellent people involved with the project, equally there may be others who are now out of their depth. There is no time for sentiment, the team must be as lean as possible, and anyone unwilling or unable to pull the necessary weight should be removed.
Staying with the project's on-line presence, the website appeal "totaliser" has been utterly misleading and is in dire need of simplifying. What is so difficult about displaying in easy-to-understand terms the amount raised, and amount needed? Simplicity, transparency and a willingness to be open to the public should be the way forward for the Vulcan scheme.
Dr Pleming and his team have done tremendously well to keep the project alive this long. It can be argued that they have at times played a dangerous game of brinkmanship, saved, not for the first time by a philanthropic eleventh-hour benefactor. Questions will need to be asked of all involved if relying on the public, and the chance of bumper one-off donations is the way on which to build a sustainable project.
We're delighted to hear that the fundraising appeal for 2011 IS scheduled to start much sooner than last year's. Brilliant. This shows that the powers at the helm ARE listening and learning. This is a steep learning curve for all concerned, for no-one has ever tried to operate an aircraft with the complexity and thirst for finance of the Vulcan. The ability to keep pace with that learning curve is the real yardstick by which Dr Pleming and his colleagues will ultimately be judged.
Enthusiasts fall into three broad categories when it comes to XH558. There are the blind "happy clappers" who steadfastedly refuse to see anything wrong with the project and how it is run. Then there are the "naysayers", some who probably take some twisted delight in the project teetering on the brink. The largest group are the realists, who want the aircraft to remain airworthy, and can see the narrow path to success, and are infuriated when those in charge seem to almost deliberately deviate from it. Their voices are often shouted down by both happy clapper and naysayer. UKAR's message to TVOC is don't be disheartened by the naysayers, nor lured into complacency by the happy clappers, but for the good of the project LISTEN to the realists and what they are telling you, for there won't always be a generous millionaire there to bail you out.
Week In Pictures
Friday, 25th September 2009
Here at UKAR, we are delighted that so many of you are enjoying our newest feature, "The Week In Pictures". We feel it helps to promote a raising of the already-high quality of aviation photography on the forum, as well as getting our readership involved and interacting with airshows.co.uk. After all, UKAR is run solely for the benefit of our members.
What we hope to outline in this blog is how we apply the selection criteria each week.
We're not a photographic database, so we're not necessarily looking for the most razor-sharp, perfectly exposed shot. What we're searching for are those shots which make us say "wow" when we see them. A recent Hind shot from Peter Steehouwer at Hradec Králové is a case in point. Aviation can be spectacular, and images that portray that are perfect material for "The Week In Pictures".
Another factor is whether a shot is newsworthy. These days websites and forums like ours have rather superceded the print media for breaking news stories. Glenn Bloore's Space Shuttle images, and Oliver Zarden's damaged UH-1D from a few weeks back spring to mind.
Clever, neat compositions capturing unique moments score highly with the UKAR judges too - Richard Foord's "scrambling" Spitfire pilot at Shoreham featured more man than machine, but the result was terrific.
Of the seven photographs we select each week, one features as Picture of the Week on our homepage, but all seven are then put forward to join the monthly competition where Iain Campbell of PlanesTV will select the winning shot to receive a DVD of their choice, and announce the result in his blog. Got to be in it to win it!
As much as UKAR's Staff and Moderators would love to be able to say we have the time to visit every single thread and examine every image posted, naturally we're not able to guarantee that. Occasionally good images will slip through the net. For this reason we'd like to invite you to nominate a shot when you see it, and contact the UKAR team via a PM to the "UK Airshow Review" account.
So, get on with posting and hopefully nominating. As they say with the National Lottery, "it could be you!".
UKAR Blog Takes Off
Sunday, 16th August 2009
Welcome all, to the new blogs section here on UK Airshow Review. We'll be inviting guest bloggers from the world of airshows and aviation to join us in due course, but for now, you'll just have to put up with us scribbling away in this corner of the website, bringing you the latest site news and a monthly 'digest' of happenings on the forum.
In addition to these 'ere blogs, the Eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed a few other new features and some cosmetic changes to the website. Let's begin then, with an explanation of the changes.
First and foremost, we've widened the site template by about 150 pixels; a measure that, as well as bringing the site more up to date, will allow us to make use of bigger images in our reports in future. This does mean that, temporarily, the back-catalogue of reports and features from 2005 - 2007 are currently unavailable as we have some minor modifications to make, but they will be re-appearing in due course.
There's a few new regular features on the website too. We have "The Week In Pictures" page, which will showcase the best and/or most newsworthy images put on the UKAR forums each week. We have an incredibly talented community of photographers contributing to the UKAR photo forums and we thought this was a fantastic way to highlight some of the cream of the crop.
We also have a slot in the menu for "Talking Point" articles. These discussion articles will allow our forum members to have their say on the topical stories and age old debates of our hobby. We're hoping to have the first installment in this exciting new series on the website soon.
Don't forget that you can subscribe to our RSS feed to keep on top of the updates.
In forum related news, we've taken on six new moderators to help us keep things under control. Good timing too - their arrival not only co-incided with the busiest month in UKAR's 12 year history - with no less than 400 new accounts registered - but critically, their presence has allowed other members of the team to divert their efforts towards updating the website and bringing you all this new content, so we extend our thanks to Brian, Doug, Ian, Paul, Rod and Stuart for their work so far.
That'll do it for this blog - we'd love to hear from you on the forums if you have any comments or queries regarding any of the above.