RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2005 Review
Saturday 17th September
Mid September brought one of the biggest weekends on the worldwide airshow stage. Sadly, most of the events involved a farewell of some kind. At NAS Oceana, the US Navy performed the last public display of their much loved F-14 Tomcat. On our side of the Atlantic, the Royal Navy's Sea Harriers were making their last appearance at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day. 801 Naval Air Squadron was joined by a variety of aircraft, military and civilian, on a sunny Saturday in Somerset.
reports from the Senior Service's largest air base. All photographs by the author.
To arrive early is a lesson that an airshow go-er should learn quickly and not forget. The reasons for this became clear upon getting out of the car, 30 minutes prior to the published opening time - after a smooth journey south from Bristol along the A37. Although traffic was flowing well through the village of Podimore at this time, a large queue of people was forming to enter the show at the main gate.
After the best part of an hour, and the entrance reached, there was still plenty of time to walk around the static display before the flying programme started - but only after reflecting on how much longer the queue must have been by then, and how long it would take for everyone to get in. Good news for this year's Air Day, obviously, but not so good had you arrived much later than the author. It was evident that the static had fallen victim to a number of cancellations in the week running up to the show, with reduced amounts of military hardware on display. Glorious sunshine in the morning provided a great chance to photograph what was present - the expected RN types including three Sea Harriers and a T.8, a pair of British Army Apache AH.1's, a number of Lynx including German, Dutch and French examples, RAF VC-10 and Tornado GR.4s were amongst the more noteworthy items.
So it was time to find a spot as 11:00 approached. After the arrival of the Red Arrows, the Blue Eagles of the Army Air Corps displayed their familiar 4 Gazelles and a "Flipping Lynx", followed by what may well be the last Jaguar display seen at Yeovilton. Typically loud, low and fast - this was one to wake the punters up!
Alan Wade put on a precise display of aerobatics in the bright yellow Slingsby Firefly of the Defence Elementary Flight Training School (DEFTS), after which it was the turn of the RAF Merlin HC.3 of 28 Sqn to wow the crowds. Sqn. Ldr. Mark Beardmore and his crew put on a superb display of this large helicopter, with tight turns and steep nose down maneuvers aplenty. John Beattie and Kennett Aviation's Jet Provost T.5A filled the gap left by the canceled RAF Hercules. Top marks for stepping in with a graceful display of the diminutive jet trainer.
On to one of the stars of the day, the Hunter Flying Club's immaculate FGA.9 in the markings of The Empire Test Pilot School. Brian Grant displayed the jet well for the photographers amongst us, showing plenty of topside in a number of passes. The final fast pass produced the famous "blue note" that only this and the F.6 can.
Many pairs of eyes were then scanning the horizon to the east of the airbase as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight approached. The sound of six Merlin engines of the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane rang out as they flew past before breaking into each solo display. The author admits to finding the Lancaster display quite an emotive one this year, with audio being played describing the Humanitarian role of the Operation Manna flights as PA474 held our attention.
Kicking off the afternoon's flying were the Red Arrows, in one of their last UK appearances of the season. The display has been first class this year, testament to the hard work of the team and their support crew, and the show at Yeovilton was no exception.
Making its only appearance on the 2005 UK circuit was the South African Airways 747-400, with a display that was quite remarkable. Low altitude passes mixed with high angles of bank made this one to remember - it is a shame that Yeovilton was the only place to catch the UKAR Award winning display. At the opposite end of the scale in dimensions, was the Rolls-Royce Spitfire PR.XIX with its distinctive Griffon powered growl.
A well timed move to the flightline beside the control tower at this point saw a number of the aircraft starting up or moving out to take the stage. Making some of the "flyers" accessible in this fashion is one of the best aspects of the show - The author can't remember being so close to a Spitfire as its engine fired up!
The unmistakable Red Bull Sea Vixen was next up, an aircraft that is no stranger to Yeovilton having been present for the 899 NAS disbandment earlier in the year. Not to be out-done by the Merlin, its rival - the Chinook HC.2 - took its turn in swooping and diving. You cannot fail to be impressed by the agility of this large twin-rotor. Another "twin display" - in more ways than one - making an appearance on their 20th Birthday were Poppy and Libby Dover and the pilots of the Utterly Butterly team.
It was then back to the "home side" as the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Hawk FGA.6 flew a shortened display before heading off to the RAF Coltishall Families' Day. The Sea Fury was unfortunately left on the ground at this point, it would have been a blow to lose one of the undoubted stars - but it would be back.
The Black Cats' highly polished helicopter ballet followed, looking close as ever with their mixture of crosses and formation hovering. Racing on through the late afternoon's display, the RAF Tornado GR.4 of 15 Sqn. started with an excellent topside view, arcing around the display line. It was also great to see the "Tonka" with wing pylons and chaff/flare dispensers attached.
801 NAS then took centre stage with the four-ship farewell routine, seen at a number of shows this year. Slightly more might have been expected, this being the last performance, but availability of aircraft and aircrew was a limiting factor. The Squadron themselves having only just returned from deployment earlier in the week. The noise of the four Sea Jets in the hover before landing vertically is one that will sadly be absent next year, it is hard to imagine what could possibly replace the sight and sound.
Rounding off the warbird element of the air day was Kennett Aviation's Skyraider, flown by John Beattie in his second appearance of the day, followed by a rejuvenated RNHF Sea Fury. The "Cobham Formation" of FR Aviation Falcon 20's and FRADU Hawk T.1s made a welcome appearance flying a polished 6-ship display, which broke into a pairs routine from the Falcons and the four "Black Sea Hawks".
The traditional finale to the Yeovilton show is the Commando Assault Demonstration, which combined an impressive number of helicopters, men, machines and pyrotechnics. A set piece was played out with a Sea King ASAC.7 high above the airfield as the AEW. Lynx then performed simulated strafing runs, torpedo drops and fast roping as the demo picked up its pace. The Royal Navy commandos and RAF Chinook and Merlin dropped troops and equipment as the enemy forces were repelled. Finally, the entire display fleet hover infront of the crowd for a final bow.
To conclude, Yeovilton Air Day was blessed with good weather for its SHar Farewell. The flying programme turned out to be excellent - with current military, classic jets, warbirds, rotary wing, and display teams. Attendance was reported to be up by 50% - an amazing figure, which is encouraging for the future of the event. It did, however, cause frustration and disappointment for some. Facilities were stretched on base and people were even turned away at the gate in the afternoon! The Air Day continues to be one of the highlights of the airshow calendar, at a location literally dripping with Naval history. Next year, the show returns to its previous mid July slot to compete with Waddo, RIAT, and Farnborough!