Top 10 Airshow Moments of 2014

Wednesday 31st December 2014

2014 was always going to be a testing year for airshows, with military budgets shrinking and the world economy still on a slow road to recovery, yet across the UK airshows again flourished with over 5 million visitors travelling to a rich array of aerial events .

With 2014 being a “Farnborough Year” we saw a number of new aircraft debuting in the UK, including the P-8A Poseidon, Textron Scorpion and Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. The biggest debut of 2014 was due to be the F-35B Lightning II, with flying displays expected at RIAT & Farnborough, before the untimely grounding of the whole F-35 fleet sadly forced the cancellation of the deployment. RIAT again had its fair share of controversy on our lively forums, with “Vulcangate” and the sparse static displays being two key discussion points. The show at RAF Waddington was the best we’d seen there in recent years, however the show weekend was bittersweet for many visitors with the news that the 2015 event had been cancelled, with no guarantees over its long term future given. For the UK's historic aviation scene, 2014 has been without a doubt a vintage year with a number of new restorations being returned to the skies. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s tour of the UK with their Avro Lancaster was a massive highlight of the airshow season, with venues across the country stretched to capacity as thousands flocked to see the unique sight of two Lancasters flying together.

Looking ahead to 2015, the Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary commemorations are looking to be a leading theme throughout the season at both civilian and military organised events. 2015 will be an interesting year at Douglas Bader House, with the event being the first under the command of new CEO Andy Armstrong. Who knows what assets the UK Armed Forces will provide for public displays in 2015, but with only one Royal Air Force air show remaining we cannot be too optimistic..!

But for now, enjoy the UK Airshow Review staff team’s top ten moments from the 2014 display season!

10) Historic Harriers

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Although there is a certain amount of interest in walking the static line-up at any airshow, it is quite a rarity that an aircraft type attracts so much curiosity that it becomes a must-see exhibit in its own right.

This was certainly the case at the RAF Cosford Airshow 2014 where the evolution of the iconic Harrier Jump Jet was on display from the prototype Kestrel FGA1 (recently restored at The Michael Beetham Conservation Centre within the grounds of RAF Museum Cosford) through to the Harrier GR3, Sea Harrier FA2 and Harrier GR9, the latter two on loan from RNAS Culdrose and DSAE Sultan respectively.

They were displayed with associated weaponary and airfield paraphernalia which made for an interesting photo opportunity prior to the flying display commencing in the air. Seeing all four variants together for what may be a never-to-be-repeated event highlighted the ingenuity and complexity of this classic British aircraft design, one which was most probably withdrawn from service before it's time. TC

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9) Wooden Wonders

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Shuttleworth's 2014 Military Pageant in June was a good show in spite of everything it had to contend with; an Old Warden debut for the Vulcan was cancelled in advance, other star items including TFC's Hawker Nimrod and Gloster Gladiator had failed to materialise and an unfortunate landing incident claimed the Collection's Sopwith triplane mid-way though the flying programme, fortunately without any injury. Even the PA system had a ghost in the machine, broadcasting a buzzing sound for much of the afternoon that drove some to distraction.

On top of it all, the weather was grim. Several heavy downpours throughout the day had left the crowds sodden and detracted from some wonderful flying, particularly Cliff Spink in ARC's Mark I Spitfire, the Catalina showing an agility rarely seen elsewhere and Chris Heames in the Hunter T7, who flew commendably in the worst of what the British summer had to offer that day.

Those who stayed through it all were richly rewarded for their stick-to-itiveness however. Fittingly for the year which marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, this airshow's final act was the wonderful debut of a pair of Royal Aircraft Factory BE2es for which the clouds had parted, allowing some soft early evening light to finally brighten up a rotten day. DB

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8) Fantastic Fitters

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With the on-off situation of the F-35 Lighning II's debut appearance at RIAT 2014 hanging in the balance it was fortunate that the organisers had booked a range of aircraft that would be of interest to the enthusiast and the eventual cancellation of the F-35's became more of a lesser disappointment if truth be known.

One of the much anticipated participants was the pair of Polish SU-22 "Fitters" flown in from Świdwin, the 21st Tactical Air Base in Poland. In all, three aircraft arrived in classic cold war camouflage which made for a welcome change compared to Western Air Forces with their rather drab overall grey schemes. Once airborne the Fitters role demo routine consisted of formation circuits with wings both fixed and swept back as they soared above Fairford. The culmination of the display had both aircraft perform a slow dirty pass which appeared to be well below the 100ft mark and then with after burners lit accelerated skywards.

With restrictions in place at most UK venues the crowd missed out on the use of flares as witnessed on the continent, this would have added an extra dimension but nevertheless for many people the SU-22's were the highlight of RIAT. We can only hope that more ex-Eastern Bloc hardware makes it over to these shores in the not too distant future. TC

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7) Corsair Farewell

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As we get older and the world moves on, the Cold War is becoming a distant memory. More and more of the types that operated for either the East and West during this period of our recent past are fast disappearing into the museums and annuls of history, never to fly again. One Cold War warrior that holds a very special place in many enthusiasts hearts is the A-7 Corsair II, the SLUFF.

By the time you read this article, the final operator of the SLUFF has retired their final aircraft from active service. However, before they were put out to pasture the Greeks saw fit to send two examples to RAF Fairford for RIAT 2014 where they quickly became one of the stars of the show, albeit on static. Further more, the Greeks recognised the gravity of their attendance and sent two specially painted aircraft to mark the event along with tonnes of unique memorabilia.

The SLUFF represents the loss of another type full of character and will be greatly missed. It is only fitting that their final UK appearance features in our Top 10 and that the organisers of RIAT are recognised for bringing us this very special chance to say goodbye. AE

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6) Italian Empire

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When people hear that the Reparto Sepimentale Volo will be displaying at RIAT, excited thoughts immediately turn to their unique C-27J Spartan routine looping and rolling a transport aircraft round the sky. Indeed, it's appearance twice before in our Top 10 stands testament to this. Imagine the levels of excitement when news broke that the RSV would be attending RIAT 2014 in force with multiple flying displays.

Joining the C-27J at RAF Fairford was their Tornado (the only remaining display in Europe) and Typhoon solo displays. Completing this dream team was the inclusion of the AMX solo display, one of the rarest aircraft on the European airshow circuit. The RSV's displays didn't disappoint filling the sky with their trademark loops, rolls, afterburners and close-in action not often seen in such abundance from military displays. The Typhoon in particular showing exactly how restrained the RAF display is in comparison amply proving the RSV are the masters of the sky.

The Italian invasion of RAF Fairford was an event we won't forget for a long time. Here at UKAR we very much look forward to the 2015 season and hope for yet another appearance from the RSV in the UK, they certainly are a must see participant one wonders what they could produce if displaying the M-346 or C-130J? AE

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"It was the first time for the Tornado’s crew to fly his display at the RIAT, since the team had only been selected a few months earlier. We felt very excited by the thought of facing this new challenge, knowing that we had in front such a huge, warm and aviation-expert crowd. The Italian Tornado crew is really honored for being included in your Top 10 team and we look forward to have the chance to live this amazing experience again in the next future!"

Capt. Marco Mangini & Maj. Giuseppe Gentile
Tornado Display Pilot & Display Navigator

"Another roll, another loop, another cloverleaf and another steep landing for the Spartan! RIAT 2014 was our third appearance in the British blue sky over Fairford… We felt like being part of a big family of world aviation traditions and every time seems to be the first time! Great experience again….great flying for the British crowd!"

Maj. Fabio de Michele, Maj. Gianmarco di Loreto & CMSgt. Ugo Sabeni
C-27J Display Pilot, Co-Pilot & Flight Test Engineer

"The unbelievable atmosphere, the sound of freedom of the legendary old propeller aircrafts and the modern fast jets, the crowd, the blue sky, the staff make this airshow unique in the world. Looking at that, upside down, from the cockpit of my Typhoon caused me goosebumps! Thanks for the unforgettable experience."

Capt. Federico Petracca
Eurofighter Display Pilot

"Attending the RIAT has been a highlight in my brief display pilot experience: outstanding organization and great public support."

Capt. Francesco Sferra
AMX Display Pilot

5) Fire Breathing Dragon

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After the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight’s inaugural appearance at RAF Waddington in 2013, the news of their return was greeted with much delight and anticipation, especially given the newly restored SK 35C Draken would be joining their AJS 37 Viggen in 2014. This was the SwAFHF Draken’s British display debut and the first time that an example of the Swedish Delta winged fighter had been displayed in the country for fourteen years, giving the occasion extra excitement for some with it being their first opportunity to see a Draken.

The outstanding performance characteristics of the aircraft were well demonstrated to the audience throughout Lars Martinsson’s display. The elongated flame, when the afterburner was engaged, during the display adding to the aesthetic pleasure that the delta design provided for enthusiasts and photographers. We hope see the Draken (and the other members of the SwAFHF fleet) back in the UK skies in the future, with good links being established with the airshows at RAF Waddington and Jersey in recent years. SP

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4) D-Day Daks

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The events of World War Two, which helped shape modern day Britain, are ones which we should never forget. Rightly so, then, Duxford’s May show set out to remember and reflect on the infamous D-Day landings of the 1944, amassing a collection of the aircraft which had provided fundamental support to the ground troops as they invaded German-occupied Europe 70 years ago. Central to these plans was a gathering of arguably the most famous type - the C-47A (or Dakota in RAF service) - with two UK-based aircraft Drag ‘em ‘Oot and the Aces High example joined by “Union Jack Dak” and “Whiskey 7”, both based in the USA.

The transatlantic trip by the two US-based machines served to reinforce the Dakota’s reputation as the “workhorse” of any fleet, highlighting its strength and versatility as a support ship which helped underpin the allied victory. The display itself, initiated by a superb 3-ship takeoff, comprised “Union Jack Dak” in formation with the 2 UK-based aircraft dropping the Red Devils parachutists, “Whiskey 7” soloing in the meantime, before the 4 aircraft subsequently joined for a pair of graceful 4-ship flypasts in the late evening sun. The display wasn’t energetic or fast-paced; it didn’t need to be. What we saw was an exquisitely choreographed tribute to those who fell 70 years ago, and sadly for many veterans one which may well be their last. TL

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3) Trijet Wonder

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Airliner displays can be very hit and miss at airshows, with their appearances all too often simply consisting of sedate dirty flypasts leaving the crowd feeling cold. The same cannot be said of the Boeing B727-200F at the Duxford September Airshow, with display flying legend Dan Griffith at the controls. The aircraft is a new addition to the UK aviation scene, operated by T2 Aviation for Oil Spill Response work, and comes adorned in an elegant red/white colour scheme.

The 10 minute display from the classic Boeing trijet consisted of multiple passes in differing configurations, with the unique spray bars also being showcased during the routine. Both topside and underside surfaces were shown to the record-breaking Duxford crowd, along with liberal doses of power from the three smokey Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines. A classic display, of a classic type which has become an extremely rare sight in European skies in modern times. We at UKAR sincerely hope its display was not a one-off and will be seen somewhere in 2015 (and hopefully in better weather)! PR

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2) Once in a Lanc Time

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Anyone doubting the relevance or survivability of the airshow in this modern age needs to look no further than the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s “Lancaster Tour” of the UK this summer. The pairing of CWHM’s Lancaster Mk. X KB726 and the BBMF’s Lancaster Mk. I PA474 drew sell-out crowds from every corner of the country and beyond, and what a sight (and sound) they were during their appearances moving some to tears. Ok, so some were disappointed by the photo opportunities presented, however, for the right reasons, it will be very much a "remember when..." story in the years to come. If that isn't the measure of an outstanding airshow moment, then we don't know what is.

There can be no doubt that the expense and efforts of all parties should be celebrated. It was a massive and costly undertaking, carried out professionally, safely and with minimal delay. In times of austerity, bean-counting and red tape, it was gratifying to see a silver-lining in the clouds. There may still be doubts about the relevance of airshows these days but, looking at the impact of the tour, those doubts seem far-fetched indeed. TJ

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1) Comet Rises

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Normally the coveted top position in UKAR's annual run-down is fiercely debated. Usually it's a close-call and this year two acts vied to be top of the shop. Emerging victorious by a larger than expected margin was September's return to display flying of the Shuttleworth Collection's marvellous de Havilland DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House.

The 2014 Pageant had already been one of the best Shuttleworth shows in years, with glorious weather conditions, save for the worrying wind direction which put the Comet's appearance in question, for the reason that the airfield configuration, coupled with the aircraft's notorious handling on the approach and in the landing roll necessitate operations only from the 21 end of Old Warden's bumpy grass strip.

Long after the show was officially "over", the wind dropped sufficiently to allow the Collection's Chief Pilot "Dodge" Bailey to take-off, slightly downwind. And how every single person who'd stayed behind appreciated it.

What followed, as the sun set behind the hangars, was quite simply sensational. The Shuttleworth display flying style meant that the crowd was thrilled with a most intimate, graceful, ethereal display, in perfect gold-tinged, clear late summer skies.

The reason this display heads the list is because, unlike the summer's most-vaunted imported act, the Comet left nobody wanting more, or wondering what might have been. Here was a pilot who knew both his machine and his audience. He flew the Comet respectfully, but without treating it as if it were made of glass. Every soul on the airfield left that night contented. And safe in the knowledge they'd witnessed that rarest moment - airshow perfection. DO

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Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?

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