Abingdon Air Fayre 2005 Review
Sunday 1st May
We all know the story with busses - you wait for ages and then two turn up at once! Airshows are no different it would seem - after months of enduring wind, rain, and freezing cold temperatures, the airshow season finally arrives with two shows on the same day! For fans of prop aircraft, Old Warden held it's first show of the year, whilst a little further west, Abingdon Air Fayre offered a much more diverse flying display, with something to cater for all tastes.
spent a pleasent afternoon in sunny Oxfordshire. Additional photography from , , and .
Abingdon airfield is part of Dalton Barracks, formerly RAF Abingdon. It ceased to be an RAF station in December 1992. Only a very small RAF presence remains, in the form of 612 Volunteer Gliding school, operating Grob Vigiliant motor gliders.
Plenty of visiting aircraft were on static display, mostly civilian. Although the most exotic visitor and the one drawing the most attention from the crowd was a Polish Navy M28 Bryza, not an uncommon sight at some of the larger UK airshows. But a major coup for Abingdon, particularly bearing in mind just how difficult it is to secure any kind of foreign aircraft for airshows.
Kicking off the display was a resident Grob Vigilant T.1. Shortly after the Vigilant landed, the next item to display could be seen running in from the left for a fast pass. This was an RAF Hawk T.1 from 100 Squadron at RAF Leeming. It was flown by Flt. Lt. Dave Harvey. The Hawk had been operating from nearby RAF Brize Norton. Dave flew a precise and impressive routine, with plenty of loops and rolls that we've come to expect from this nimble little trainer, before going onto finals for a full stop landing at Abingdon.
Up next was Peter Metcalfe in a smart, brightly painted Pitts Special, appropriately registered as G-BIRD. Peter put the Pitts through it's paces with an impressive showing of aerobatics. The first Helicopter of the day was then preparing for it's display, a Royal Navy Lynx Mk.8 from 815 squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton. Despite a very slow start to it's display (after take-off the Lynx nearly vanished into the distance for some unknown reason), it put on a fine showing. It's always a pleasure to hear the distinct whine of the Lynx's RR Gem engines.
Once the Lynx was down, the Piston Provost took off to display. Up next was a T67 Firefly in Hong Kong colours.This was the first ever air display by Neil Whatling. Unfortunately, it was very distant from the display line and also at quite a high altitude for a display.
Now it was the turn of many people's star of the show, RAF 18 squadron's Chinook HC.2 display. At the end of 2004, the Chinook was voted "Best RAF display" of 2004, by UKAR board members. Last years display co-pilot Flt. Lt. Carl Zarecky, is now the 2005 Chinook display pilot. With high expectations set from last year's fabulous display, Carl didn't disappoint. Flying a similar routine to last year, but with some of his own new tricks. The display was better than the previous year's. Unfortunately, towards the end of the display, just after performing a "wheelie" manoeuver on the runway, lifting off the runway in a shallow hover, the starboard back wheel came loose and fell off. Carl was clearly aware of the problem and aborted the rest of the display. The Chinook then immediately flew back to it's home base at RAF Odiham, where it made a safe landing. An unfortunate end to a fantastic display, without a doubt the highlight of the day. It's difficult to see anything taking the "Best RAF Display" crown off the Chinook this year.
Denny Dobson and his Extra 300 were up next. As usual Denny's display was quite breathtaking. A trademark party trick of Denny's is to fly underneath a wire held up by two poles, probably no more than 15ft high supported by a person on each side and then cut the wire in half with the props of his Extra 300. I had never seen him do anymore than one before, but Denny set a record by having no fewer than ten wires, after initially flying underneath each one, in his next pass he cut all ten in one go. Superb flying.
Then it was Warbird time with the P-51 Mustang "Jumpin Jacques" and the BBMF's Lancaster displaying one after the other. Both are a lovely sight and sound to see and hear. Now it was another major highlights display slot. The RAF's latest helicopter to make it's first display since 2002, the Merlin HC.3. Like the Chinook, it performed some breathtaking manoeuvers, particuarly the steep climbs and tight turns. A couple of nice touches were included in the display, firstly a red flare was lit from the rear ramp, providing some trailing smoke for a brief while, and also the Merlin showed some of it's capabilities by dropping off a small vehicle from it's ramp. A very spirited and memorable performance from an aircraft that has been a bit of a stranger to airshows.
Keeping with RAF aircraft, the display finale was provided by a Jaguar GR.3 of 41 Squadron from RAF Coltishall. Like the Hawk, the Jaguar had been operating from Brize Norton for the show. This is the types last ever display season. In 2005, the Jaguar fleet is being retired from RAF service. After a 550 knot arrival, the Jaguar performed a tight display, before another fast pass and climb to 6,000ft before returning to Brize. This closed the show.
I went to Abingdon open-minded, knowing this would be a small event. A number of things impressed me. As well as the flying display, there was a relaxed atmosphere at the show. The commentary was also excellent, and accessibility both getting on and off the airfield was good, with only minimal queues. At only £6 per adult, it's a real bargain. I have really only two gripes. Firstly, there weren't enough toilets on the airfield, and neither were there enough litter bins, particuarly with the fear of foreign object damage to aircraft. Both of these were probably because the organisers did not expect the volume of people to attend. However, these are two minor things, that couldn't dent what was a excellent little show and day out.
It was announced during the day, that 2005 had seen a record attendance for the Air and Country show at Abingdon. Very encouraging news, as, hopefully, the show will continue and expand in the coming years and follow the footsteps of the likes of Kemble. A great start to the 2005 airshow season!