Top Ten Airshow Moments of 2012
Monday 31st December 2012
The 2012 UK Airshow Display Season should be remembered as the best of recent years. While the usual British weather tried its best to disrupt shows, the quality of the participants shone through. We saw three countries make their UK airshow débuts at Fairford - Columbia, Japan & South Korea - as well as the début displays of many new types, including The Fighter Collection's P-47G Thunderbolt 'Snafu', which sadly didn't make our top 10 due to it's display at Flying Legends leaving many rather underwhelmed. The warbird scene was further enhanced - albeit briefly - by the flying appearances of the Albatros and RE8 replicas which appeared at airshows at Old Warden and Duxford before taking up residence in the RAF Museum, Hendon.
Shows at Cosford, Waddington and RIAT were regarded as the best examples hosted at each respective venue in recent years, providing iconic moments and historic appearances throughout the summer. In fact there were so many star moments that cutting the list down to just 10 was a difficult task for the UKAR team! Other items that we feel deserve a mention include the static appearance of an Australian E-7A Wedgetail at Waddington, the Jaguar GR3 taxi run at Cosford, Jersey hosting the Viggen's first UK display and a rare flying display by Boeing, showcasing the 787 Dreamliner at Farnborough.
While this season was not as jinxed as 2011 seemed to be, it was sadly not without loss. Most notable in July, veteran pilot Trevor Roche was killed in a crash prior to the Shuttleworth July Military Pageant Show and nearing the end of the year both Peter Eager & Don Bean passed away following illness.
This really only scratches the surface of what was a memorable season. So, without further ado, the UK Airshow Review team presents our top ten moments from the 2012 display season!
Top Marks for the Mark Is
Not many years ago the thought of witnessing three Mark I Spitfires airworthy in the UK would have been merely a dream, yet in 2012 old-timer AR213 had two newly restored examples for company - and TFC's Flying Legends brought them together at Duxford to create a historical moment, not only for warbirds and airshows, but also in the story of the iconic fighter. The Spitfire entered RAF service at Duxford in 1938 before playing a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain and the defence of the nation, and although AR213 was a late-build airframe and didn't see frontline service, the two ‘new' examples are a direct link to the great battles seen in the skies over southern England.
First to fly - P9374 - was restored by Historic Flying Ltd at Duxford and has been flying since August 2011, whilst X4650 returned to the skies in March of 2012 at Biggin Hill. The three Mk.Is formed-up into a Vic for a couple of passes at Legends, banking away to display the classic elliptical wing profile introduced by those very first Spitfires and recreated here over the Cambridgeshire countryside.
One of the highlights of the year was her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee and to mark this a flypast of 27 RAF Hawks was flown in an E II R formation at this years RIAT at RAF Fairford.
Due to the weather the aircraft only displayed on the Sunday, the cloud base and visibility being unsuitable for such a large formation on the Saturday. Saturday however did see a formation of nine of the new Hawk T2s from IV(R) Squadron which was a bonus for those attending on both days. The sight of 27 Hawk aircraft is unlikely to be seen again due to the eventual withdrawal from service of the T1s from the training role.
Operating from RAF Valley and formed from three separate elements, the "E" being "Emerald", the "II" being "Ingot" and the "R" "Ruby", they made a magnificent sight as they arrived perpendicular to Fairford's main runway from the north.
It has been a number of years since the Air Tattoo heralded a display MiG-29 'Fulcrum', so the much loved Cold War classic, operated by Poland, was always going to be a highlight for many enthusiasts. The Polish Air Force brought two examples of the MiG-29, both single seaters and adorned with special markings on the top of the fuselage as well as the inside of the tails depicting Polish pilots who fought during WW2.
The display itself was nothing extraordinary with the usual barrel rolls and climbs but the two Klimov engines belting out copious black smoke always captured the attention of the crowd. The end of the routine featured a very impressive downwind low approach then powering up and climbing before rolling into the downwind circuit to land.
Bringing a taste of AXALP to Lincolnshire in 2012 was the stunning display by Captain Ralph "Deasy" Knittel of the Swiss Luftwaffe flying the F/A-18C Hornet. Performing at the RAF Waddington International Airshow 2012, the highly appreciative crowd witnessed a series of fast passes, knife edge turns and max power loops. With the Hornet streaming vapour during every expertly executed manoeuvre, the display ticked all the boxes for an inspirational fast jet routine and was one of the best fighter displays seen in the UK in 2012.
With Switzerland relying heavily on its 33 F/A-18C/D fighters for air defence and policing missions, a series of update programmes are in progress to keep the Hornet fleet up-to-date. Integration of the new AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, the JHMCS helmet-mounted sight plus the Raytheon ASQ-228 ATFLIR advanced targeting pod should see the F/A-18 in Swiss (and hopefully UK) skies for a while yet.
Always Use A Condor
Many say that size doesn't matter, and it's how you use it that counts - well the An-124 impressed in both categories at Yeovilton Airshow this year! The largest performer at any UK Airshow in 2012, the Condor's performance at Yeovilton was only confirmed at a very late stage in the run up to the show, with the aircraft operating on a MOD charter flight from RAF Brize Norton. The type was last seen in the flying display at a UK airshow over two decades ago at Farnborough, so it's appearance at Yeovilton was very welcome.
The An-124 performed a small number of flypasts and extremely tight turns, with the crew doing a brilliant job to show the aircraft's awesome size and maneuverability to the crowd. The short display finished with an energetic wing waggle pass, before a steep climb-out to finish, leaving most in the crowd open-mouthed at what they had just witnessed. Let's just hope it's not another two decades until we see another eastern 'heavy' flying at a UK airshow again!
Synonymous with set piece formations, the Royal International Air Tattoo didn't disappoint. The organisers teamed up with the Royal Air Force, Air Tanker and Airbus to provide a formation flypast of RAF 'heavies'. The formation was led by the venerable Vickers VC-10 which was greeted with great delight on the UKAR forums. The type is in its last twelve months of service and the Air Tattoo gave the old girl a chance to steal the limelight one more time. Closely following the VC-10 were a Hercules, Tristar and C-17 representing the current fleet of transport aircraft.
Bringing up the rear were the two 'new boys', the A-330 Voyager Tanker and the newly named (that weekend) A400M Atlas. All bar the Atlas operated from Brize with the former operating from Fairford itself. This again being a real treat for the members of the UKAR forums due to the scheduled displays at the Air Tattoo and Farnborough being cancelled shortly before the airshow.
Spirit of RIAT
RIAT 2012 will be remembered as one of the best shows in recent memory. One of the major highlights was the appearance of a USAF Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit on static display. This was the first time a B-2 has been on the ground at a UK show since RAF Mildenhall's Air Fete in 2000. The aircraft certainly hasn't lost any of it's magic or mystique, with the type proving to be the must-see static attraction at the show.
The arrival time of the Spirit was a close kept secret, with the arrival not even listed in the infamous "sheet of lies" but as arrival week continued, rumblings of "Friday evening" gathered pace. The hearsay was spot on too, using the appropriate call sign "DEATH11" the "Spirit of New York" arrived at 19:00 - typically during a heavy downpour. Upon arrival, the aircraft headed into one of the hangars on the northside of the airfield. The Spirit was hangared every evening and towed across to its static spot on the western end of the airfield early on the show days. Perhaps surprisingly was how close the public were allowed to get to the Spirit, with the crew very friendly and more than happy to answer questions. The rare appearance of such an incredible and iconic aircraft makes it a simple decision to include it in this years Top Ten.
Manufactured by New Zealand based The Vintage Aviator Ltd (TVAL) for the RAF Museum and bound for eventual display in Hendon, the Albatros DVa and RE8 were a very pleasant surprise for the historic aviation enthusiast community. In the hands of American aviation legend Kermit Weeks and TVAL Chief Pilot Gene DeMarco, the pair of First World War airworthy reproductions made their debut at the Shuttleworth Pageant and then seven days later at Duxford's September air show.
The RAF Museum permitted three show appearances for the Albatros and RE8 with the Shuttleworth Uncovered air display the last and perhaps the best. Gene DeMarco flew into Stansted from a European trip in the early morning to return the RE8 to Old Warden from Duxford and then later display the RE8 in the show, Stu Goldspink replaced Kermit Weeks in the Albatros. After an extended display as a duo, the Shuttleworth Collection's Bristol Fighter and SE5a then had the chance to clear the Albatros away from the RE8's six ‘o clock, allowing all the Great War aeroplanes to get into formation for a couple of never to be repeated flypasts in the glorious early evening light.
It all got quite exciting when rumours started to appear regarding Japanese participation at RIAT. Many people dismissed such rumours and it's not exactly surprising that they did because the Japanese have only participated in a foreign airshow one back in 1997 when the Blue Impulse and their T-4s displayed for the USAF's 50th anniversary at Nellis Airshow. So this was also the first appearance of a frontline type.
It wasn't too long before RIAT confirmed that the JASDF (Japanese Air Self Defence Force) would be participating at the Air Tattoo with one of their new Boeing KC-767J tanker transports of 404 Hikotai (Squadron) which also brought a group of Taiko drummers who would perform on the ground to entertain those who were interested in more than just the aircraft. I for one will be happy to see the Japanese back again, especially if they brought some of their fighter fleet!
Heart and Seoul
When RIAT announced that the Republic Of Korea Air Force display team, the "Black Eagles", flying eight Korean Air Industries (KAI) T-50B Golden Eagle trainer aircraft, would be appearing at the show there was genuine excitement on the UKAR forum. Despite that excitement nobody was quite sure what their display would be like. As it transpired the team made their UK debut at the RAF Waddington airshow where they thrilled the crowd with their display.
Tight formations and crisp changes between each one, loops, rolls and the teams signature Taegukgi manoeuvre, where they draw the Korean national flag earned the team a standing ovation as they landed and saw them pick up the Boeing trophy for best overall display. Their showing at RIAT saw them pick up the 'King Hussein Memorial Sword' for best overall flying display and the 'As The Crow Flies Trophy', which is awarded by members of FRIAT. Even on the ground the team continued to attract the crowds, always happy to oblige people eager to get photos and autographs. They were great ambassadors for their country and many who saw them display hailed their routine as the best they've seen. It's hard to argue against that.
Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?