RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2006 Review
Saturday 8th July
The second weekend of July 2006 saw the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day return to its traditional summer time slot after being held in mid September for three years. It was hoped that this move would be favourable for weather and more importantly, for aircraft participation which had recently been in decline. Would the show have the same appeal after the departure of the Sea Harrier? Would attendance equal last year's jam-packed show? Yeovilton Air Day proved to be eventful in every sense of the word.
attended the first of the two Royal Navy Air Days. Additional photography from and .
The distribution of information prior to any airshow nowadays has improved immeasurably. With the advent of the Internet, details of participation can sometimes be found months in advance, should the organisers choose to publish them. This was something Yeovilton had going in its favour this year - as it became clear that military support of the show was on the up again. Aircraft from France, Germany, Belgium and Poland, in addition to Ireland and the UK were on the bill.
The opening time of 9am was greeted by a large queue at the main gate and although measures were to be taken to speed things up, namely show staff moving down the queue selling tickets to those in need, the perennial problem may be eased by opening slightly earlier. Once the queue was moving, however, entry on to the base was fairly swift, and there was a chance to look around the static aircraft on display before the flying programme started.
The mix of military and civilian at Yeovilton has become the norm, along with displaying a number of the flying display aircraft closer to the crowd line. Stars of the static were without question the French Navy, who brought no less than five aircraft ranging from the state of the art Rafale M, to the ageing Alouette III. Another notable foreign participant was the German Navy Atlantic which was sadly making its last appearance.
UK Armed forces were represented on the ground by a full compliment of current Royal Navy types including an 800 NAS Harrier, the Squadron having stood up at RAF Cottesmore earlier this year. The RAF displayed two Tornado GR.4s, VC-10 and Nimrod, along with a King Air from 45 (R) Sqn carrying their 90th anniversary markings. The Army Air Corps were also present with the ever popular Longbow Apache. Part of the current vision of the future for the Royal Navy was represented by a mock up of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now known as the Lightning II.
The flying display was kicked off by the RAF Tornado GR.4. After being held by ATC until the time was "on the dot", Flight Lieutenants Ryan Mannering and Tony Griffiths came racing in, flying a 31 Squadron machine and their routine was typically punchy with plenty of reheat. After the final run-in and zoom climb, the Tonka departed to display at Blackpool before it would return to Yeovilton.
Vintage aircraft and classic jets usually feature strongly at Yeovilton and this year was no exception. First to display in this section were The Battle of Britain Memorial flight - and the air day just wouldn't be the same without their appearance. This year, the display featured the Lancaster B.1 with Hurricane Mk.IIC and Spitfire Mk.IIa escorts. The Rolls-Royce Spitfire PR Mk.XIX also displayed, giving the crowd a second look at the type in its 70th anniversary year.
First of Yeovilton's "home team" to feature were the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Fury FB.11 and Sea Hawk FGA.6. Starting with a short pairs routine, each aircraft then performed a solo display. With the RNHF pair currently such a popular airshow act it is easy to forget that only a couple seaons ago, both types were grounded. This is testament to the tireless work of the RNHF - maintaining two beautiful pieces of Royal Navy heritage.
Rotary wing is naturally a prominent theme in the flying display and this year, the Royal Navy helicopters from Yeovilton and Culdrose were joined by the RAF Merlin and Chinook. These displays are well known for being dynamic, breathtaking demonstrations of both machines and Yeovilton had the added bonus of involving them in the Air Day's Grand Finale. The Black Cats display team of two Lynx helicopters wowed the "home crowd" with their aerial ballet. The series of crossovers and accurate paired manoeuvres looked closer and more dynamic than previous displays, if that were possible!
The Red Arrows rounded off the morning section of the flying display with their trademark precision formation aerobatics. Further formation teams came in the shape of the Blue Eagles, flying the Lynx and four Gazelles, and the Cobham Formation team of four Hawks from the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU) at RNAS Culdrose and Falcon 20's of FR Aviation.
The traditional lunchtime slot usually involves something slightly more sedate. However, this year a "Runway Dash" was staged, involving a Lynx helicopter and various racing cars and motorcycles in a drag race. This was a most entertaining section of the flying display and it gave the show crowds a great chance to compare the performance of a military helicopter against something more familiar.
The afternoon section of the flying display was kicked off in energetic style by the F-16AM Fighting Falcon of the Belgian Air Component. This was as polished, accurately flown, and impressive as any F-16 display this year. Another current front-line solo display to feature was that of the RAF Typhoon. This was a significant display because, although airshow crowds had the chance to see Squadron Leader Matt Elliot displaying the Typhoon elsewhere last year, it was the first time the aircraft had appeared at the Air Day.
This year, classic Jet participation came from the ex-Delta Jets owned Gnat T.1 and a most welcome appearance of the beautiful Hunter GA.11, itself a former Yeovilton resident. Displayed by Brian Grant, this was a routine for the photographers with plenty of topsides, and graceful flying.
Yeovilton's flying display didn't pass without incident - the RAF Hercules demonstration was curtailed after what appeared to be a heavy landing and the return of the Tornado GR.4 didn't go unnoticed either. After its return to the flight line, the aircraft appeared to suffer an engine failure during shut down which was followed by a fire from the port engine nozzle. The emergency services dealt with the incident quickly and the display programme continued without further interruption.
Making its last appearance at the Air Day was the Belgian Fouga Magister. The graceful display, flown by Lietenant Colnel Rorive will be missed at UK airshows - having made regular appearances at various shows for a number of years.
Finishing with a bang, the Commando Assault Finale is Yeovilton's piece de resistance. A spectacular demonstration of men and machines, featuring Royal Navy Helicopters (although slightly less in number than previous years) joined by the RAF Merlin from 28 Sqn and Harrier GR.7s from 800 NAS. Various scenarios are played out, which has the crowd transfixed as helicopters swoop in carrying underslung loads and troops advance along the crowdline. Other UK shows could learn a lot from Yeovilton's approach as this is a great addition to the normal solo displays of each aircraft type.
Yeovilton Air Day appears to be on the up again. Fuller static displays and a great flying display with foreign participation made this year's show one to remember. The move to July sandwiched it in between Waddington and Fairford, but this did not seem to affect aircraft participation in any great fashion. Next year's show is once again in the July "slot", on the 7th, and will no doubt be well worth a look.