Biggin Hill International Air Fair 2006 Review
Saturday 3rd June - Sunday 4th June
After just two years in its September slot, Biggin Hill was once again on the move. In an effort to avoid clashes with several other airshows in the UK and on the continent, the International Air Fair was moved back to the early June date that it held a couple of years previously. It was hoped that the change in date would give the organisers more scope for booking display acts - foreign ones especially after the rather thin overseas participation at last year's event - but did it work?
and report from the 44th Air Fair at Biggin Hill. All photography by the authors.
Looking at the list of foreign participants, the answer has to be yes. Last year we had only a pair of French Air Force Mirage F-1's on static alongside a Spitfire from the Royal Netherlands Air Force in the flying display. Compare that with this year: a polished display from the French based Breitling team, and from the Belgian Armed Forces, a Sea King SAR Demo and one of the last chances to see the quaint little Fouga Magister display in the UK, in this, its final season. There's no denying it's an improvement.
The change of dates brought other benefits besides the added foreign participation too - the cloudless skies and scorching sunshine we enjoyed being an obvious one! Photography isn't quite as challenging either; the crowd line at Biggin is such that by mid afternoon, the sun has moved from over your shoulder to stare you in the face, and in September this made things particularly tricky with the sun obviously being lower in the sky.
The star items for many were to be a solo display by a Belgian Air Force F-16 and it's involvement in an 'Air Power Demonstration' featuring an RAF C-130 Hercules, Chinook and a pair of Lynx helicopters. Unfortunately, at the last minute both the F-16's participation in the flying display and the Demo were scrubbed, and we were left with only a single 'Viper' in the static park. Undeterred, the organisers managed a last minute replacement with Sally B and P-51D "Ferocious Frankie" making use of the pyrotechnics which had been installed for the military set piece.
There were a couple of other last minute gains for the organisers too. The RAF Merlin was available for both days after its appearance scheduled elsewhere for the Sunday was cancelled, and the Sea Vixen was also on hand all weekend for the same reason.
In addition to the Belgian SAR demo mentioned earlier, whirlybirds from the British armed forces were present in numbers for the flying display - the Black Cats from the Royal Navy and the RAF represented by Team Merlin and the Chinook Display Team. As we've come to expect, all three displays were superbly flown and are as impressive as ever, which helped the Chinook crew to pick up the award for best solo display at Biggin for the second year running.
There were of course fixed wing flyers from the RAF too. The new C-130J display joined the excellently flown Hawk, the loud and impressive Typhoon and the Harrier GR.7, which earned itself the customary round of applause despite a somewhat short display. ATC restrictions at Biggin make the fast jets particularly impressive, as with so many major airports nearby, they're forced into their flat displays even in such perfect weather conditions, keeping them low and tight in front of the crowd.
Shows of this size provide a great arena for civilian aerobatic acts, and there were no shortage of them in the flying display. At some of the larger shows, 'civvy' aircraft can become lost along the huge crowdline, but at Biggin teams like the Utterly Butterly wing walkers, the Red Bull Matadors and the 2Excel Blades can really show off their impressive and exciting formation displays at a venue that suits. Rather more unusual displays came from a Fox Glider, notable for both it and the Extra 300 tug being inverted, and a superb routine by former British aerobatic champion James Black in an Antonov AN-2 'Colt'. Will Curtis also flew two displays - one in his familiar Road Angel sponsored Su-26, the second was more unusually in a Learjet 45 from his Gold Air fleet!
As with most other shows these days, the emphasis is on a family day out and that requires a mix of all types of aviation. Biggin truly had something for everyone, and completing the mix were the historic aircraft. The BBMF were present at the show with PA474 flanked by the flight's Spitfire Mk XIX and Hurricane IIc, resplendid in her new 17 Squadron colour scheme. Unfortunately, the Lanc didn't make the flying display on the Saturday after a repeat of the landing gear problem that had kept her from taking part at Southend only a week before.
In addition, there were two other set pieces involving historic aircraft. Sedately opening the display was Glen Lacey's collection of German warbirds, comprising a Fiesler Storch, Bu-181 Bestmann and a Klemm 35 gull winged training aircraft. The Klemm wasn't able to make the flying display, but the Storch and Bestmann were joined by James Pittock's Me108 Taifun.
The major theme of the show was "Classic Air Travel and Transport" and coinciding with this, Air Atlantique had brought a sizeable chunk of their Coventry based fleet with them to the show. Following spirited solo displays by each type, they all joined up to make a single pass in a loose formation - something that's never been seen before at an airshow in this country.
We knew that the billed tribute to Ray Hanna was to be Nigel Lamb flying Spitfire MH434 in formation with the yellow Gnat, but what we will actually remember as a fitting memorial to Ray was seeing 'his' Spit being displayed in a way so reminiscent of the master, and closing the show as Ray did last year for the final time, shortly before his passing. Nigel used the famous valley and hugged the lower parts of the airfield in such a way as to thrill the crowd into gasps of amazement. The experienced 'Bigginers' among us knew that it was a perfectly safe routine, and applauded what was a magnificently flowing and seemingly effortless display of man and machine in perfect harmony. It was just that it was a different man. The King is dead - long live the King. Long may we continue to see Ray's Spitfire flown in such a way.
Although not a classic, Biggin Hill 2006 was still an excellent airshow. Many have said the show could have done with a couple more jets, but much like Kemble, there's an atmosphere and sparkle to events at 'The Bump' which more than make up for any shortfalls in participation.
Crowds were up on last year with around 85,000 spectators over the course of the weekend - no doubt helped by the glorious weather, but its good news for the show, which once again faces an uncertain future. Confronted with a huge increase in Policing costs, future shows at Biggin had been in doubt. Although these cost increases may still affect the show long term, the organisers have at least successfully managed to reduce these expenses for next year, which means that, amongst other things, we can look forward to celebrating the BBMF's 50th anniversary at the birthplace of the flight.