Abingdon Air And Country Show 2009 Review
Sunday 3rd May
Celebrating it's tenth anniversary in 2009, the Abingdon Air and Country Show has cemented itself a place in the affections of airshow fans up and down the country, combining a relaxed rural feel with some serious air display action. The first weekend in May is now circled in red marker pen on calendars nationwide as Abingdon continues to impress as the curtain-raiser to the new airshow season.
reports from Abingdon. Photography by the author, and .
Ten years on the display calendar now, and definitely going from strength to strength - that's the verdict from UKAR members on the Abingdon Air and Country Show. Certainly the record crowds at the 2009 event lend weight to that view, indeed so full was the showground and car park come early afternoon, the organisers gave serious thought to closing the gates, and all this in supposedly austere financial times!
Abingdon's success comes partly through historically being the "first" show of the year (though Old Warden and Bruntingthorpe also held events this year) and thus is the first chance for aviation-starved enthusiasts to enjoy a show after the winter recess. Equally important is the competitive pricing (£10 per adult on the day) and varied display programme. And this year the weather decided to behave too, another draw for the Bank Holiday masses.
The showground was packed with non-aviation attractions this year - for the first time the organisers had a farmers market which appeared to be doing brisk business. I don't think I've ever seen "goat curry" for sale before, and certainly not at an airshow. The locally-based AT&T Williams Formula One team had sent a 2009 season car along for static display, and of course there was the usual military recruiting, emergency services demonstrations and classic cars to enjoy before flying began.
The perennial moan about Abingdon is the chronic lack of toilet facilities - with this year's bumper crowd, again the problem was evident, with reports of queuing for nearly 30 minutes at peak times during the day. Portaloos are expensive, but are an essential feature for large outdoor events, and this year there simply were nowhere near enough for the size of crowd which decended on the airfield.
The showground skyline was dominated by a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III of 99 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton on static display, and Abingdon's organisers had done a good job in attracting a varied lineup of flying participants too - even if many had been seen at previous "Abbo" shows. Warbirds, aerobatic types and modern military were all well-represented, though on a personal level I was disappointed not to see a Spitfire displaying, as I feel an airshow isn't really an airshow without one!
Starting the display was Andrew Dixon in his Percival Pembroke C.1. His display is familiar to Abingdon regulars, though this years definitely seemed to lack the "wow" factor of previous outings, though displaying in claggy grey skies perhaps didn't help. The aircraft flies in the colours of 60 Squadron, RAF Wildenrath, and is owned by Andrew himself, who is no stranger to displaying large piston-engined beasts, having flown Elly Sallingboe's B-17 "Sally B" for many years.
Next, and staying with the Hunting-Percival theme, we had a display debut from Neil McCarthy in the Newcastle Jet Provost Owners Group's Mk T.3A G-BVEZ/XM479. The "JP" always suffers from a lack of noise and presence, but Neil must be commended on a very tidy routine, showing off the aircraft's lines for the photographers with a well-planned display. Let's hope this booking proves to be the first of many for both pilot and machine.
Peter Teichman was due to bring his "Hurribomber" along to Abingdon for her display debut, before her landing accident last month curtailed those plans. Even so, the replacement for this show, Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk G-KITT was a star turn in her own right, showing off a new, if temporary paintscheme, worn recently in the Czech Republic during the filming of George Lucas's "Red Tails". With experience on the P-40M, P-51D and Spitfire XI, Peter knows how to display a warbird as well as anyone, and his display in the Kittyhawk was graceful yet powerful, and offered plenty of opportunity for "topside" photography. His Hurricane will be back in the air within months, so hopefully she can fulfil her promise at Abingdon 2010!
Formation aerobatics were provided by "The Dukes of Cassutt" in a trio of Cassutt IIIM Racer monoplanes. The display was neat and tidy, but perhaps suffers from too many breaks, meaning an awful lot of the slot is filled with the aircraft getting back into formation! Smoke generators might be a wise investment too, as the Cassutts are tiny aeroplanes in a big, big sky.
2009 will be a lean year for shows in terms of RAF participation. The much-loved Tornado and Harrier solos have, it seems, long gone, and now the popular Role Demonstration has been axed. The Tucano display has fallen victim to an unfortunate, though thankfully not fatal, training accident, leaving the little Grob Tutor as one of only a handful of solo displays provided by the RAF this year.
Flt Lt Bill Ramsey is this year's Tutor display pilot, and his aircraft has been adorned with a special paintscheme of stripes on the upper wing surfaces, and an RAF roundel on the belly. Ramsey's display is as well-flown as the Tutor demo always has been, with stall turns and flick rolls really showing off the primary trainer's envelope, however as a recruiting tool for the RAF, it's hard to see how Johnny Ten Year Old can be impressed by an aircraft which looks and sounds ostensibly like something he'd see at any private airstrip. Power, noise and brute jet force are surely what the RAF needs to be showing at as many airshows as possible.
Next, another RAF solo, and this time considerably more noisy, in the shape of the Hawk T1 demonstration. For the 2009 season the aircraft, from 208(R) Squadron at RAF Valley, has a rather fetching Union Flag paint job, plus the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund logo on the underside,and the display is very slick too, though not for the first time seemed to suffer from being high and distant compared to some of the civilian displays. Flt Lt Matt Barker is the display pilot for this season.
Rob Davies, in his P-51D Mustang "Big Beautiful Doll" is another Abingdon veteran. Like Teichman's Kittyhawk, this aircraft has been in the Czech Republic on the "Red Tails" set, but Rob decided to wash off the movie paint at the first opportunity! A fine display in grey conditions, this aircraft is one of the best-looking Mustangs around.
Solo aerobatics followed the Mustang, in the shape of Nigel Willson's Yak-52 G-BXJB. Nigel's display is split into two halves - the first consists of graceful "warbird-style" flying, the second much more energetic unlimited aerobatics, with liberal use of the smoke generator!
The next item in the display was probably the star act for many. The Swift Aerobatic Display Team are now in their second year, and this innovative routine involving S-1 Swift glider, Piper Pawnee tug and Silence Twister aerobatic aircraft is a real gem. The star of the team, without doubt is Guy Westgate in the glider - his stunning routine drew one of the loudest rounds of applause I've ever heard from an airshow crowd. Absolutely terrific, and genuinely unique.
By now the grey clouds had given way to blue skies and warm sunshine, perfect conditions for UKAR forum member Matt Hampton to display the Vampire Preservation Group's beautiful T.11 WZ507/G-VTII. Matt's in his second season displaying the jet, and has certainly added even more this year to what was already a fine classic jet demonstration. Plenty of big graceful manouevres, showing off the Vampire's distinctive twin-boom layout.
No airshow is complete without a parachute display team. Abingdon's show featured the Princess of Wales Regiment's Tigers jumping out of a Chinook. With a fairly stiff wind blowing across the runway their accuracy in finding the drop zone was excellent, and again drew loud applause from the crowd.
The display's penultimate item was a machine which would have been dropping paratroopers 60 years before the Chinook - the Douglas C-47 Skytrain. The example of the Dakota flying at this year's show was Paddy Green's N473DC "Drag-Em-Oot" looking immaculate in her D-Day stripes. Weather conditions were excellent, as was the display, as the big "Dak" was kept within the airfield boundaries in a very elegant exhibition of the type. Another "display of the day" contender.
Closing the display proper was the Odiham-based Chinook, earlier seen as the Tiger's jump ship. Flt Lt Russ Norman is the pilot again this year, and if anything they've exceeded even the standards of previous years "Wokka" displays. In such a lean time for RAF solo routines, make the most of the Chinook display this year - it really is something special. The "quickstop" in particular never fails to impress.
Rather than rush for the car parks after the Chinook, many stayed behind to see the star of the static, the RAF's C-17 perform a most spirited departure back to its home at nearby RAF Brize Norton, completing a great start to the 2009 airshow season.
Once again Abingdon has set a high standard - I'm sure the planning for 2010 is already underway!