Kemble Air Show 2009 Review
Saturday 20th June - Sunday 21st June
The Kemble Air Day has grown in tandem with its reputation as perhaps the finest privately-organised air display in the country. That expansion has been such that, for the first time, the 2009 show was held across two days on June 20 and 21. The now-traditional UKAR members enclosure did brisk trade as crowds swelled by the promise of the appearance of Avro Vulcan XH558 descended onto the Cotswold airfield for a show which more than lived up to the weighty expectations the aviation community has for Glen Moreman and his team.
UKAR sent review debutantto the Sunday show. Photography by the author, and
Fathers Day at Kemble has for many years meant a day filled with some of the finest aircraft the UK display circuit has to offer, and the show's ever-increasing popularity meant that for 2009, Kemble Air Services made the decision to hold the event over both the Saturday and Sunday. So on the morning of June 21, I set off to see for myself whether the show really does deserve the hype that surrounds it.
The first thing to greet you as you arrive at the gate is the spectacular line-up of classic jets provided by the various aircraft owners and operators that call Kemble their home. A line of Hunters long enough to keep anyone interested, parked alongside a Buccaneer and Canberra, all sadly static for the time being (though progress in being made to try and return at least one of these fantastic PR9s back to flight, but that is another story for another day). Walking through the ground attractions, one could find the usual smorgasbord of stalls and stands, with static aircraft to the extreme left and right of this area, laid out in good positions to view and photograph. RAF turnout in this area was very good for a comparatively small airshow, the event's organisers managing to bag some star items such as the VC-10 from 101 Squadron (and provisionally, a C-17A of 99 Squadron), based locally at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. These Leviathans are seldom seen at public events these days due to the tempo of operations, so it was a massive coup for Kemble to confirm them to be attending the show. Sadly due to understandable operational commitments, the C-17A had to cancel. Not to be forgotten were the host of rotary-wing assets such as the firm favourite that is the Merlin, delivered in a sprightly fashion to its spot in the static park by UKAR favourites Team Merlin. These servicemen and women who volunteer out of 'office hours' to bring their aircraft to airshows up and down the country spent the weekend engaging with the crowd, and giving tours of this large helicopter to those who asked politely - be they kids or their young-at-heart parents! An Augusta 109 from RAF Northolt and a Bell Griffin of 60 Squadron were also present with their respective crews.
Kemble was one of the events chosen to be supported by 'Fly Navy 100', a series of events around the country to celebrate one-hundred years of naval aviation in the UK, and to highlight the important work the Fleet Air Arm undertakes today, with many Royal Navy aircraft operating alongside their RAF and Army counterparts in the current Middle Eastern theatre of operations, as well as fly from the Navy's frigates and destroyers positioned all over the globe. In accordance with this, a Jetstream T2 from RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall was provided, though due to having some technical difficulties with their aircraft this season the Royal Navy Historic Flight could not provide the either their Hawker Sea Hawk or Fairey Swordfish. Though for many this sad loss was more than made up for by the attendance of de Havilland Aviation's Sea Vixen, G-CVIX - more on this fantastic aircraft later…
Arriving at the crowd line I found the annual UKAR Enclosure, which provides some fantastic photographic opportunities due to its positioning near to crowd centre and with a relaxed atmosphere and spacious seating area it made the day just that bit better.
Kemble's show is split into two sections, with a morning flying programme commencing at 11:00, a 'lazy lunch' of an hour-and-a-half and then the second section of the display finishing around 17:30. Prior to the main event commencing a display was put on by three large-scale radio controlled models - a Tiger Moth which carried out some hair-raising aerobatics at low level, a rather impressive jet-powered Hawk resplendent in 100 Squadron colours and a C-130 which even carried out a 'paratroop drop'.
Sadly, the day's weather was less than favourable, with a grey clag hanging over the Cotswold skies for much of the day. Nevertheless, the show was opened by Flt Lt Matt Barker of 208 Squadron, flying the Hawk in a wonderful colour scheme which the pilot designed himself. The dull weather certainly didn't help the display come into its own as the low cloud base made some of the more high-energy manoeuvres impossible to carry out. It was universally felt that the display, whilst impressive, was rather distant and the impact of the routine could be greatly improved were it performed closer to the crowdline. A topside pass or two wouldn't go amiss for the photographers either.
Slowing things down a bit, Team Guinot and their Stearmans made for the air to undertake their wingwalking routine - always firm favourite with the crowd. One thing that I always find puzzling is that they appear intent on obscuring their display with a not unsubstantial layer of smoke that hangs in the air for a good minute or so. This season is in fact the last year Aerosuperbatics will have the team sponsored by Guinot, and are currently seeking sponsorship for the next few years.
Andrew Dixon and his tidy Percival Pembroke C.1, an aircraft he owns and operates were also to grace the skies in the morning. This old piston transport was built in 1955, though its age didn't prevent a spirited display, with enough topside passes to keep the photographers happy. Andrew is definitely no stranger to displaying large old aeroplanes, indeed he has many hours as captain of B-17 'Sally B' in his logbook.
Of course, it would not be a Kemble Air Day without a plethora of classic jets, and this year certainly didn't disappoint. "Home team" Delta Jets provided their black Hunter trainer, not to mention Air Atlantique's Classic Flight providing two Venoms, which performed a slick duo routine. Another highlight from the Coventry-based team was the appearance of their Gloster Meteor NF.11 which was flown just as an old jet should be; with plenty of graceful low-G turns and vertical manoeuvres tied in with few 'down in the weeds' fast passes.
However without a doubt it was the two big 'V's, the mighty Avro Vulcan and potent de Havilland Sea Vixen, which stole the hearts of the crowd. Lt Cdr Matt Whitfield put on a striking show of the real grace and power which the Sea Vixen is synonymous with; it may be a somewhat ungainly bird on the ground but once in the air she becomes as elegant yet menacing, yet superbly poised and the routine demonstrated this impeccably. A good example of this is the fact that due to a hydraulic problem with the undercarriage on Saturday, Lt Cdr Whitfield deployed the large ventral airbrake on takeoff to prevent any damage from the huge excess of power the Vixen is blessed with, had the problem surfaced again.
The 'Vulcan effect' struck once again as the big delta swept into view from crowd right to the tones of Holst's 'Mars - The Bringer of War', bringing a stunned, appreciative silence from the crowd. As we have come to expect, XH558 is an impressive sight as she powers around the sky with an imposing grace few, if any, other aircraft can match.
Next up was the RAF's Eurofighter Typhoon. This year's Typhoon display is in my opinion the best it has been since its introduction back in 2005, as Flt Lt Scott Loughran put the aircraft through its paces with second helpings of reheat and vapour in turns up to 9G.
Other displays throughout the day included the dynamic Royal Navy 'Black Cats' who were joined by John Beattie with his Westland Wasp, and their counterparts from the Army, the Blue Eagles. A homebuilt Silence Twister, a Piper Pawnee and a Swift aerobatic glider may not stand out as a great collection of aircraft to put on a formation display, but the Swift Glider team really pushes the boundaries of the more traditional items in the programme and Guy Westgate's solo routine in the Swift glider really is something special - a show of exceptional airmanship.
Flt Lt Leon Creese expertly displayed the RAF King Air to a rather ironic backing track of ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky'. Other participation included representation from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a pair of Jet Provosts and a Piston Provost. General aviation at Kemble was represented earlier in the day with numerous ultralight and microlight types in a formation flypast, as well as aerobatics from an Extra 300 from Ultimate High.
Late in the show, Peter Vacher's Hawker Hurricane I, flown by Carl Schofield provided a heart-stopping moment with a worryingly quiet, then spluttering engine during a pass down the display line. Commentary was led by Sqn Ldr Andy Pawsey, and it must be said those behind the mic handled the Hurricane's "moment" in exemplary fashion, cutting the microphones until it was clear what was unfolding, and the outcome was assured, with the Hurricane finally, mercifully powering away and climbing to safety.
US military support for the show was provided by a flypast (well, three to be exact) by a KC-135 from Mildenhall's 100th Air Refuelling Wing. While none of the passes were low, it was still impressive to see such a beast on the airshow circuit.
Phill O'Dell in Rolls Royce's Spitfire PR.XIX teamed up with the black twin-stick Hawker Hunter from Delta Jets to close the show as the airfield was bathed in warm evening light. How often have you been to a grey, murky show only for the sun to peak through right at the end?
All in all, a fantastic day out - here's to more of the same next year and for many after that!