Top Ten Airshow Moments of 2009
Thursday 31st December
As we turn our attention to the fast-approaching, and hopefully sun-kissed 2010 display season, UKAR looks back at the best 2009's British shows had to offer. We all had our favourite display aircraft and displays, as well as several which failed to capture our imagination, though thankfully the former far outnumbered the latter.
It was a season which saw an impressively servicable Vulcan appear at most of the major venues, a debut on these shores for an Armée de l'Air Dassault Rafale and a truly memorable marking of a century of naval aviation. On the negative side, the RAF's commitment to airshows was noticeably pared-down with the demise of the popular Role Demo and late cancellation of the Harrier solo, with emphasis on training types.
Nonetheless, 2009 had its moments, so pour yourself a New Year's drink, sit back and wallow in summer memories as we present our rundown of the Top Ten Airshow Moments of the 2009 airshow season.
Abbo lands Brize Prize
This years Abingdon Air and Country Show pulled off a massive coup with the static appearance of an RAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III (ZZ174) from nearby RAF Brize Norton. Arriving before the gates opened, it is believed to be the largest aircraft ever to land at Abingdon. The aircraft performed a single flyby before breaking into a very tight circuit to land, upon touchdown the C-17A crew demonstrated the aircraft's impressive short landing capabilities comfortably on Abingdon's runway, before reversing into its parking space.
As is the demand for 99 Squadron's machines, the aircraft was ready to depart had they got an operational call during the show. The crew kindly took the time to show people around the jet throughout the day. Shortly after the flying display finished the C-17 departed, this time demonstrating a short takeoff before doing a single flyby before heading for home. No other UK airshow had an appearance from an RAF C-17A in 2009 - an amazing achievement for the Abingdon organisers; let's hope for another appearance in 2010!
The Right Stripes
Besides the C-17, the 10th Anniversary Air and Country Fair at Abingdon held many other items that could have been shortlisted amongst the highlights of 2009. Overcast for much of the flying display, the sun made a re-appearance towards the end of the day, just before the solo display of C-47 Skytrain N473DC "Drag-Em-Oot".
Paddy Green's fantastic Dakota, resplendent in her D-Day stripes, gave a magnificent display with some quite breathtaking bank-angles and tight turns, complete with a fantastic opportunity for a topside photograph which was, without doubt, one of the stand-out moments of the event and, as it turns out, one of our favourites from the entire year!
Like a Virgin
Under Jas Hawker's stewardship, the Red Arrows have been more than willing to formate with a range of aircraft in recent seasons, and 2009 was no exception. Marking Virgin Atlantic's 25th anniversary, the world's leading national display team paired up with one of the airline's Boeing 747-400s to perform two passes on the Sunday of the Biggin Hill International Air Fair.
Less common in the past two decades than in the 70s and 80s, it's always special to see big airliners displaying at low level at airshows, and much to the crowd's delight, the 747 returned for a couple of solo passes before spectacularly raising the gear and powering away.
There were mutterings of disapproval from those of a light blue persuasion when the Royal Navy launched a series of events under the name of 'Fly Navy 100' earlier this year. It was said that unlike the RAF's 90th anniversary celebration of 2008, the senior service had made a somewhat tenuous link between the Admiralty placing a tender for its first aircraft - the rigid airship 'Mayfly' - on 7th May 1909 and a centennial anniversary. After all, it wasn't until 13th April 1913 that the RNAS was formed and even then it was amalgamated with the RFC to form the RAF in 1918.
The centrepiece for proceedings was to be an amassed 'Balbo' flypast of all current Fleet Air Arm types - as well as examples of historic aircraft they once flew - that would take place at a number of events throughout the year. This photograph from RIAT shows the formation approaching from the east, headed up by four Merlins. It was perhaps sad to see that the fast jet contingent was not a pair of Sea Harrier FA.2s, but a brace of the RAF's Harrier GR.9s, albeit flown by pilots of the Naval Strike Wing. Nonetheless, it was a truly epic spectacle and reminder of the pride our naval aviators have of their unique operational capabilities and service's history.
When issues with the Civil Aviation Authority grounded the majority of The Fighter Collection's fleet this summer, there were fears for the effect it would have on the TFC-organised Flying Legends airshow at Duxford, with some rumours even suggesting cancellation was likely. As it turned out, the organisers pulled out all the stops and delivered one of the finest Legends shows in recent memory, with one item dominating the pre-show hype on our forums.
The first ever flying appearance by a Flug Werk Fw190 would itself have easily been a highlight of the 2009 airshow season, but to see it flown with such gusto, in formation with Spitfire Ltd's Bf109, and as part of the amazing Legends opening act of the Spitfire tailchase was truly awe inspiring.
This was the Armée de l'Air's debut season displaying the Dassault Rafale. We were lucky enough to have two appearances at UK airshows, at Yeovilton and RIAT respectively - sadly the former was very much a low show with poor weather. The weather gods were ever so slightly kinder for RIAT.
Rumens For Manoeuvre
With the weather during the Sunday at RIAT being predominantly wet with low cloud, the display by XH558 was clearly at risk of cancellation. Thankfully this didn't happen, and the Vulcan took to the runway as planned. What happened next will long remain in the memories of those present. Kev Rumens had taken over the left hand pilot's seat from Saturday's 'P1' Martin Withers, and after vaporising much of the standing water from Fairford's runway, Kev pulled the mighty Vulcan into its now familiar steep, loud climb. At the top of the climb Kev rolled XH558 to 90 degrees, and well beyond!
Apparently the manoeuvre allowed the Vulcan to remain below the low cloud base, but some suggestions have been made that it was an answer to some of the criticisms of a lacklustre display compared to days of old. Whatever the reason, the take off at RIAT is richly deserved of a place in the Top Ten 2009 Airshow moments.
Mr Blue Sky
Whilst The RAF King Air solo display might not have been the noisiest, smokiest, fastest, highest-g-pulling to have performed at RIAT 2009, the Sunday performance was one to be remembered. On that day, many of the previous displays were badly affected by the heavy rain and most of the spectators had hidden under what shelter they could find. The RNZAF 757 had braved the worst of the weather but then something happened that might be described as airshow magic. Flying to "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO - which was absolutely spot on - the clouds parted and the sun shone on Flt. Lt. Leon Creese for that brief point in time.
On a personal level, this moment of 2009 reminded me that airshows are fun and we attend for enjoyment. Hiding under an umbrella for so long, I began to wonder what on earth I was doing, why the hell I was still there - but then for that brief flash, everything was going to be okay. I was at an airshow and the sun had come out again. As well as the emotive side of this part of the top 10, what Flt. Lt. Creese did to display his aircraft - taking off and landing on such a wet runway - shouldn't be underestimated. It all went together to make one unforgettable display!
The Hills Have Eyes
The once common sight of the RAF's Vulcan force conducting operational training at low level is a spectacle that many people thought would never be seen again, that was until this July when XH558 displayed at the Windermere Airshow.
She arrived from the north and a silence swept through the crowd before she proceeded to prove that the old lady was more than capable of performing low down in the hills. Even her final manoeuvre - the power climb out - had an added twist as the sun gave a brief blast of light off her underside as she cleared the tops of the hills.
The photos that emerged of the Vulcan's seven-minute display amongst the hills of the Lake District couldn't fail to amaze and the sheer 'wow factor' easily won this moment a place in our Top 10.
Sun, Sea and Sensational!
Airshows have their star items which are the "main draw" for enthusiasts and the general public alike. Listing such display items, you'd be hard pressed to get past 5 in total - and that shortlist, would surely include the Red Arrows, and the Vulcan. Separately they draw the crowds in their thousands. Put them together and you'd be able to fill a seaside town to bursting point...
The Dawlish Carnival Air Show pulled off such a coup and it became one of the defining air show moments of the year, if not the past few years. Huge plaudits should go to the group of enthusiasts that organise this air show as well as the skilled pilots that performed it immaculately on the day.
Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?
The new build machine, an Fw190A-8/N, owned by Christophe Jacquard but flown with great energy by Marc 'Leon' Mathis, was the undoubted star amongst an especially high quality line-up of Flying Legends at Duxford.
Replacing the fabulous Mirage 2000C on the display circuit would be no easy feat, but Rafale display pilot Capitaine Cedric Ruet was able to do so with a marvellous routine of power, noise and agility somewhat reminiscent of its predecessor. It certainly didn't go unnoticed either, as the display won two awards at RIAT, 'The Sir Douglas Bader Trophy' for the Best Individual Flying Display and also the 'As the Crow Flies Trophy' gaining the most votes from FRIAT members. A fitting tribute to a spectacular newcomer to the airshow circuit!