Top Ten Airshow Moments of 2010
Friday 31st December 2010
The 2010 air display season was a strange one in many regards. Military participation from our own services was sparse, and often the warbirds were the highlight, where previously the roar of fast jets deafened and delighted the crowds. We didn't know it at the time, but the return of the Harrier to the display circuit was actually the type's swansong in British service, joining past airshow favourites such as the Canberra, Nimrod and Jaguar in our collective memories. We welcomed new aircraft such as the impressive Airbus A400M and F-22A Raptor, as well as marvellous "new" restorations including the splendid Fieseler Storch. After another belated start, Vulcan XH558 completed her third display season, amid yet more rumours of her imminent financial demise, mercifully the Delta Lady continues to soldier on into 2011.
Here at UKAR, we've taken great pleasure in covering the summer's diplays for you - remember we are a site that is run by enthusiasts just like you, and more importantly run for the benefit of enthusiasts just like you. What follows here is a rundown of what UKAR's team of photographers and writers considered the finest moments from the 2010 airshow season. These are our opinions; we may be right, we may be wrong, so feel free to discuss the verdict of the UKAR jury on the best forum there is!
It's no secret that the Airbus A400M has had a very long and troubled gestation, with funding, political and technical issues arising throughout development. The Grizzly (as it's unofficially been called by Airbus Military) is finally here though, and if the spirited flying display we were treated to in the summer is anything to go by, then it will be a very capable machine indeed. It is an imposing looking aircraft, with impressive looking eight-bladed propellers adorning each of its four engines. Those gave the aircraft a nice growl on take-off, which was of the tactical variety with a steep climb-out straight into a 45 degree banked turn. This set the scene for the entire display, which was very dynamic and showed off the aircraft's excellent manoeuvrability.
There were plenty of steep turns (including one with a fantastic 120 degrees of bank that drew gasps from the crowd), steep climbs and descents, as well as demonstrations of low and high speed handling. The flying display is even more impressive given that this aircraft is part of the test regime, so is loaded with heavy test equipment, and that the entire fleet had only flown a few hundred hours by the summer of 2010. That means that the full flight envelope had not yet been explored, and so the manoeuvres were almost certainly not as aggressive as they could be once the certification has been granted. Clearly though it is already match for the C-130 and C-17 when it comes to impressive flying displays.
Hover & Out
It's fair to say many of us had probably taken the Harrier for granted when it was an annual feature of the RAF's display lineup. When many of the frontline solo displays were withdrawn for the 2007 season, Harrier included, there were people who felt that airshows in this country suffered as a result. When the RAF's role demonstration was also cancelled for 2009, that was certainly the case. In that three year period, the average UK airshow lost key display teams that added noise and spectacle to any airshow lineup, and to regular attendees, the effect was palpable.
That the Harrier returned to the airshow circuit in a year where many shows hit a return to form is no co-incidence. Battle of Britain tributes and astonishing displays like the F-22 may have provided single moments throughout the season, but the fact that 2010 was such a strong airshow year for the UK as a whole owes a lot to the return of a British Aviation icon and an airshow legend, which spent an entire summer creating the sort of "moments" we'd been sorely missing since 2006.
Little did we know at the time, but Flt Lt Steve Kenworthy's 2010 Harrier role demo was to be a "farewell tour" for the type, which has now been retired from service. We're grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the famous hovering routine - to have our ears blasted and to have rubbed our eyes in disbelief - one last time. The three year wait to enjoy those moments again made them special. The fact they were the last makes them treasured memories.
If there is one location in Britain most suited to host an event to commemorate the victorious battles in the air of seventy years ago then that has to be Biggin Hill. Often a target for attack by the bombers of the Luftwaffe, and of course home to a number of the RAF's most heavily tasked defending squadrons, Biggin is synonymous with the Battle of Britain. The 2010 Air Fair set out not only to recreate a Battle of Britain set-piece, but to remember the sacrifices of the era, and to highlight how very much is owed to 'the few'.
The sequence included a mass scramble and the interception of the invading Bf-108 and Bf-109 'fighter-bombers', formation passes and tail-chases, and some extremely impressive pyrotechnics recreating one of the most damaging Luftwaffe raids on Biggin during the period, in which many lives were lost on the ground. The airfield erupted in flames, to be enveloped in smoke for a long time thereafter, making for an impressive backdrop to the displays. What lifted this sequence into one of the highlights of the season though was the accompanying audio production. Using recollections and recordings from the era, haunting classical music, the impact of air-raid sirens and carefully arranged commentary impressively portraying the threats to the nation's sovereignty, the sequence was both emotional and inspiring. A worthy highlight with which to remember the final Air Fair to be held at this legendary airfield.
The awe inspiring A380 has been flying for over five years now and has been in airline service since October 2007, yet is still one of the great wonders of the modern aviation world. Airbus faced much criticism in their quest to build the world's first 'super-jumbo' - not least from competitors Boeing - with critics sceptical of the industry's requirement for an eight hundred plus seat airliner. Now boasting an order-book of well over two hundred aircraft the European consortium's brave move into such uncharted territory has been an astounding success.
To witness an air display by an A380 is akin to watching an elephant ballet dance, and well. As visitors to Farnborough and Kemble will attest, the enormous Airbus seems slow and apparently cumbersome on its initial take-off roll, but from there on reaches some incredible angles of climb and bank which at first sighting defy belief. It is one of the few air display acts that can draw audible comments of awe and disbelief from a non-aviation minded crowd - a crowd that at FIA was also brushing the grass off of themselves having been showered in cuttings during the A380's take-off where the outer engines are hanging wide of either side of the runway!
Half a decade has passed since the Tornado F3 was a regular airshow performer in its own right, an aircraft that is a link to a time when airshows were full of loud, pointy jets tearing ass around the skies - an Ambassador of 'Old Skool'if you will.
This season, however, was to be the final chance to see an F3 publicly displayed and the send-off would happen at RAF Leuchars, the last bastion of the last interceptor. One of the advantages of performers doing so at their homebase is that the chances of getting multiple aircraft involved increases and that was to be the case for this farewell, no less than five F3s took to the skies over the course of the day in formations that marked both the past, present and future of air defence as well as a ceremonial handover of QRA specific to Leuchars.
The F3 has a quarter century of service, not bad for a stopgap, and as far as this enthusiast is concerned nothing does a zoom climb better - 67 wings to the heavens.
The Generation Game
For years now the US Air Force, and indeed the US Navy, have recognised the spectator appeal of "Heritage Flight" displays, putting warbird types in the air in close formation with their modern-day equivalent, albeit often accompanied by mawkish music. The RAF on occasion has done similar, but in 2010 one such pairing became a relatively regular display "act" - the Eurofighter Typhoon, accompanied by one of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Spitfires, most frequently the jaw-droppingly beautiful silver-painted Mk IX MK356.
The routine of formation passes, followed by opposition passes made for tremendous photographic opportunities, and the reaction of the enthusiast community was in stark contrast to the generally mixed reviews this season's Typhoon solo display received.
We'd like to think that this wonderful combination of both the glorious heritage of the RAF and its current premier front-line fast jet is here to stay - truly a match made in airshow heaven.
RIAT's Many Remember The Few
People often say, with some justification in the past, that RIAT does not "do" warbirds well. The venue seems too large, and any period feel is lost by the corporate banners that adorn the flightline and hangars beyond. With this in mind, RIAT had to work extra-hard to make this year's Battle of Britain anniversary commemoration pay off. And pay off it certainly did. The clout of Douglas Bader House managed to coax a bevy warbirds to the show, including for the first time in UK skies in well over a decade, a Daimler-Benz powered Messerschmitt Bf-109. After a flypast of modern Hawks, the stage was left to the warbirds to dance and meander above Fairford, the commentary airwaves poignantly left dead, save for the thunder of the piston engines overhead. As far as airshow moments go, this really was something out of the ordinary.
One seasoned airshow visitor, and a UKAR member, was heard to say that he had to go and "have a moment to himself" during the warbird flypasts, such was the manner with which show organisers, and pilots alike, had hit the emotive nail well-and-truly on the head. Marking such a landmark in not just aviation history, but that of the British Isles, is no small undertaking, but RIAT can be justly proud of this one. We'll never doubt that the show can put on a warbird set-piece again!
Viper's "Stella" Performance
An old dog has most certainly learnt some new tricks. Most would agree that for many years the better european F-16 display was flown by the Dutch, with the Belgian Air Component display playing second fiddle. In 2010 the consensus was that BAC display was superior to the Dutch example.
One doesn't have to think back too far to remember the display of Cdt. Rudy Schoukens, where the Belgian pilot's display consisted of an almost endless succession of high and wide loops. In stark contrast to Schoukens' display, this year Cdt. Michel Beulen put on a very aggressive and varied F-16 display that seemed to constantly work the crowd line. It was in fact a master class in displaying a fast jet; astounding tight turns, high speed passes and zoom climbs.
What separated the Belgian F-16 from many of the fast jet displays on the UK airshow circuit was also the fact that the display was seemingly performed lower and closer to the display and crowd lines, making the display seem more impressive. Whether this was just perception or simply the offshoot of a very well flown display could be open to debate, however what is certain was that the public were treated to an exciting, high energy routine at every show the BAC F-16 attended. Take a bow Cdt. Beulen!
RIAT in Rapt-ures
There have been few more eagerly anticipated airshow performers than Lockheed Martin's fifth generation fighter, the F-22A Raptor. The regrettable cancellation of RIAT 2008 cruelly removed the prospect of the aircraft making its UK public airshow debut. However, RIAT was able to tempt the USAF Raptor demo team back this year, with a new display pilot for 2010, Major David "Zeke" Skalicky, who was finally able to put this remarkable aircraft through its paces to an appreciative British audience.
The Raptor demo encapsulated an incredible set of physics defying manoeuvres such as the high-alpha loop, power loop, tailslide (where the aircraft slide at a rate of -50 knots), the Hoover Pitch and of course a favourite of USAF fighter demos, the knife edge dedication pass, all aided by the aircrafts 2D thrust vectoring nozzles. Perhaps the Raptor's most incredible feat is the ability to regain lost energy at an alarmingly fast rate, thanks to 70,000+ lbs of thrust produced by its two Pratt & Whitney F119-PW-100 engines.
The USAF confidently claims the Raptor to be "the most feared combat aircraft in the world today" and that "there isn't a single battlefield it cannot and will not dominate". The Raptor demonstration is a real crowd pleaser that left all its contemporaries firmly in its wake.
"Big Wing" Flies Again
In a year of memorable events to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the enthusiast community had high hopes for what Duxford's September show might be capable of. To say we weren't disappointed would be an understatement. This historic airfield, itself a key site in Battle of Britain folklore, delighted us all by literally filling those late summer skies with appropriate hardware. No fewer than sixteen Spitfires roared overhead in formation, the ground rumbling to the combined sound of those evocative Merlin (and, indeed Griffon) engines.
Next, they broke off and thrilled the crowds across two days with the mother of all tailchases, something Duxford does incredibly well. The photographers didn't know where to point their lens next, and indeed some simply didn't bother, laying down their equipment to simply watch, marvel, admire and reflect on one of the most remarkable sequences at a British airshow in generations.
Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?