Top Ten Airshow Moments of 2011
Friday 30th December 2011
If we're honest, the 2011 airshow season couldn't end soon enough. A terrible litany of accidents, incidents and near-misses, with several pilots killed, and some much-loved airframes destroyed or seriously damaged both at home and abroad.
What follows are the moments we'd prefer the 2011 display season was remembered for. Even without the accidents, this wasn't a vintage year. Once again the RAF's contribution to the airshow scene was underwhelming, with no Typhoon solo, and mediocre, distant showings from the ubiquitous trainer types. Vulcan XH558 soldiered on, no mean feat considering the bills for her upkeep keep rising year-on-year. RIAT was marred by controversy - namely Alexandra Burke's unwelcome appearance costing several thousand pounds, which could surely have been better used bolstering a so-so flying programme, and the staggering decision to drop "star" items from the weather-hit Saturday show, instead of re-shuffling at the expense of commonly-seen UK types (click here to read RIAT's reasoning). Yeovilton's Air Day fared much better, with a tremendous line-up which showed what CAN be achieved, even in today's airshow climate.
So, without further ado, the UK Airshow Review team presents, in ascending order, our top ten moments from the 2011 airshow season.
Kestrel Four Pack
For all the well-documented grievances we had with Flying Legends 2011, once again The Fighter Collection put together a selection of aeroplanes which got even the most cynical enthusiats purring. And purring was precisely the sound that a four-ship of Kestrel engines generated, as for the first time in living memory (we reckon the first time since the Hendon shows in the 1930s) FOUR Hawker biplanes flew in formation at an airshow, with a pair of Nimrods, a Demon and a Hind. A marvellous sight, and another reminder of just what a hotbed of aircraft restoration the UK is.
The actual routine was little more than formation flight, but often, and what some pilots seem to forget on occasions, is that we don't need to see these vintage gems aerobatted to within an inch of their lives. More often that not, just seeing and hearing such rare machines in flight is enough to thrill and delight.
Hogging the Headlines
The A-10 was once a common sight in the skies over this country which makes it all the harder to believe RIAT 2003 was the last time its full demonstration was seen at an air show in the UK. The first pass will live long in the memory of those who were in park and view East for the rehearsal on Wednesday and Friday, some people ducked for cover as the Thunderbolt dived onto the display line to start its routine.
Sadly the demonstration was cut short by a technical problem on Saturday but on Sunday the crowd were treated to the full demonstration, a mixture of aerobatics and simulated combat manoeuvres. The strafing runs really caught the eye, with low level pull ups and evasive weaving. The demonstration was widely acclaimed which left many people wondering how the pilot, Captain Joe 'Rifle'Shetterly, left Fairford without a single award. Let's hope we don't have to wait another eight years until we see the A-10 demonstration again.
Yeovilton's V Sign
One of the many highlights at an already five star Yeovilton Air Day only lasted a few minutes, but for fans of classic military jet aircraft this item well and truly deserves its place in this year's top-ten.
Moments before its display slot and in the hands of Martin Withers, Avro Vulcan XH558 was joined for a just a couple of flypasts by Simon Hargreaves flying the de Havilland Sea Vixen XP924 on one of it's all too rare airshow outings.
Judging by the fact that the crowd became silent, apart from the sound of camera shutters going into overdrive, demonstrates what a short but significant moment in the air show season this was.
Was it really as long ago as Flying Legends 1996 that "Hoof" Proudfoot lost his life in the UK's last Lockheed P-38 Lightning? This year saw the unmistakable, poignant, Fork-Tailed Devil's shape back in Duxford skies at the 2011 Legends show in July, and unsurprisingly, she stole the show. The purists might prefer to see the aircraft in a military scheme, but the bare metal finish on Red Bull's example cut a real dash, as did an unexpectedly aggressive display routine. We hope that this successful sortie across the channel might be the start of more regular visits by the wonderful Red Bull fleet.
On this visit, the Lightning was escorted by its Chance-Vought Corsair stablemate - perhaps next time she visits these shores, Red Bull's B-25 Mitchell or Douglas DC-6 might like to come along for the ride too!
The Italian C-27J is no stranger to RIAT but this years performance was a bit different. Given approval by the CAA to enable it to perform its full routine, the Alenia Spartan of the Reparto Sperimentale Volo bounded from the runway into a routine that would be more appropriate for an aerobatic sport plane rather than a military transport aircraft. Starting with a wing over straight after its take off climb it then went on to perform an aileron roll and to everyone's astonishment (except the flight crew and display committee, hopefully) a loop. Using all the power of its pair of Rolls-Royce AE 2100 turbojets combined with a lack of any significant cargo it then went on to perform further spectacular manoeuvres including a barrel roll and a knife edge pass before making a steep "Khe Sanh" or "Sarajevo" tactical approach, coming to a complete standstill after a landing run of less than 1000'. Taxiing to its position on the flight line, the enthusiasm of pilot Major Severino De Luca and his crew was obvious, waving to the crowd in the vicinity while appearing to be almost climbing out of the cockpit windows.
At the RIAT awards ceremony the Sir Douglas Bader Trophy - for the Best Individual Flying Display, was presented by Alan Smith, Chairman of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises to the winning crew. Maj De Luca said: "This is so unexpected and an immense pleasure. I'm so pleased for myself and the entire team - it's the greatest honour we can have." Soon after receiving the trophy, the same team were back on stage to be presented with the "As the Crow Flies" Trophy, voted for by the "FRIAT" members, and presented by Fred Crawley, Trustee of the RAF Charitable Trust.
RIAT features prominently in this article, as indeed it should - we're so lucky in the UK to have the World's largest military airshow (and not forgetting the variety and numbers of other airshows too). The rarest of the RIAT contenders was undoubtedly the Ukrainian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27UB and Ilyushin Il-76. Russian hardware is all too scarce in the UK these days, so many an enthusiast was delighted on the Thursday before the show when the two Ukrainian Air Force aircraft appeared overhead Fairford before joining the circuit to land. We're used to seeing fighters hold the nose up on landing for aerodynamic braking, but it was novel to see the Il-76 give it a try too.
They had pride of pride of place in the static display, and were reasonably well positioned for photography. They looked wonderful of course; the Su-27 in three-tone blue/grey camouflage, and the Il-76 having such a distinctive design. Departure day created the most excitement: the Su-27 executed a low-level roll just after departure (much to the FRIAT grandstand's delight) and the Il-76 suffered a tyre-burst on rotation. Well done to RIAT for gaining these aircraft for display - they were very much appreciated by the enthusiasts.
Duxford's Bold Eagle
In an incredible coup for IWM Duxford at its September Air Show, the F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team was possibly the most unexpected of display appearances of 2011 - a very rare chance to see one of the US demo teams, and particularly special given the recent news that all but the Thunderbirds and F-22 displays have been binned for 2012. Major Michael 'Cash' Maeder wrung large quantities of 'G' and ear-splitting volumes of noise from the Strike Eagle borrowed from Lakenheath - a base at which Maeder has spent some of his F-15 service, including operations over Iraq.
The two day show took place under skies of each extreme - the Saturday witnessing unseasonal blue skies, whilst the following day attracted a blanket of cloud and associated damp conditions which created the perfect environment for the formation of incredible amounts of vapour to the extent that the F-15E was often totally enveloped in cloud. Even in the dry air of the first day of the weekend the Strike Eagle was rarely without an accompaniment of vapour, illustrating the high-energy of the display - something rarely seen above the Cambridgeshire countryside. The missed approach, gut-wrenchingly sharp pull-up and vertical climb out had to be seen to be believed - one of the stand-out moments of 2011.
Hunter's Anniversary Waltz
2011 marked the 60th anniversary of one of Sir Sydney Camm's classic designs, the Hawker Hunter. Airshows up and down the country marked the occasion, which not only created some amazing formations, but also allowed rare opportunities to see foreign Hunters visitng UK air displays.
The highlight for many came at Kemble when a pair of Hunters from the Dutch Hawker Hunter Foundation flew in formation with Team Viper and 'Miss Demeanour'. Another notable flypast was seen at the Air Tattoo, where Team Viper were again joined by 'Miss Demeanour' and an equally flamboyant example from the Swiss Hunter Team in Switzerland, whose T.68 wears a stunning Tiger striped livery.
The Hunter is one of the most popular jets on the airshow circuit and the sight of so many in the sky together, along with the famous "blue note" sound, delighted many people over the summer.
Nobody really knew what to expect from the Marine Nationale role demo at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2011. An obvious coup by the organisers to secure two rare types in the flying display with the Dassault Rafale M and the Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard - the latter very much a dying breed.
The routine itself was outstanding. Lasting approximately fifteen minutes, the pair performed some close formation flybys, before breaking away and doing individual flybys, which mostly consisted of the two types beating up the airfield quite spectacularly at low altitude for duration, as well as some high subsonic "sneak" passes. Indeed many thought the Rafale had broken the sound barrier during one particular pass, although this proved to be unfounded. A mesmerising performance from the French Navy and a true highlight of the airshow season, one that is worthy of it's lofty position in our top ten.
Undoubted star of IWM Duxford's Autumn Air Show was the beautiful Meteor T.7 of Air Atlantique's Classic Flight, based at Airbase, Coventry. It was an eagerly awaited debut display appearance by this stunning restoration project, quite rightly chosen as a highlight of 2011, arguably the prettiest jet now flying on the display circuit, and thereafter given much aviation magazine coverage featuring stunning images captured from the so called 'naughty field' in the glorious light which was so gratefully enjoyed before being replaced by more typical grey skies.
The T.7 - WA591 - took sixteen years to restore and is now the world's oldest airworthy jet aircraft. It made its first flight after rebuild in June of this year from Kemble (officially titled Cotswold Airport) and made a static appearance at RIAT, just down the road at Fairford, still sporting a patchwork primer and undercoat scheme. As the Duxford show date approached it was still touch and go whether the T.7 would be ready in time to display, to perhaps be substituted by the Flight's NF.11, but appear it did, and totally stole the show.
Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?