RAF Cosford Air Show Press Launch

Wednesday 25th March 2015

As the only RAF airshow on the calendar this year, it might be said the show - which has generally been a more family-orientated event - has some big shoes to fill. As we edge closer to the June airshow, it seems abundantly clear that the RAF Cosford Air Show is set to be one of the must-attend shows of 2015.

Once again, Tom Jones and Tim Croton were invited to the Shifnal airfield, this time for the event's press launch on behalf of UK Airshow Review. Photography as credited.

With items like the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Solo Display, the freshly-unveiled RAF "Sharkmouth" schemed P-51D Mustang (formerly "Old Crow") and yesterday's news of the Belgian Solo F-16 Fighting Falcon in the flying, and the Westland Whirlwind and TSR2 in the static park, it’s difficult to see how anyone can accuse the show of resting on their laurels this year - something, I would imagine, is easily done given the consistent sell-out or near sell-out crowds each year.

It's not all plain sailing, though, and it's fair to say that much of the criticism of the show each year lies with the traffic management, or lack of before 2014, over the years. We spoke to the organisers about that issue in our recent interview. The other principle criticism of Cosford shows over the years has been of the lack of diversity in the aircraft on display both in the air and on the ground year on year.

With that in mind the Air Show Chairman, Wing Commander Kevin Rayner, emphasised those two elements of the show perhaps more than any others on the misty Wednesday morning. Speaking of the traffic, two features new to 2015 were emphasised: advanced tickets only and off-base parking. We spoke to the Air Show Director about the move to advanced tickets only, and much of that logic was repeated by Wing Commander Rayner. The bottom line is that it is simpler, quicker and more efficient to scan pre-paid tickets than deal with the cash of thousands of families on the gates.

The show has seen nightmare traffic levels before, including the unacceptable position of having families stuck in traffic with pre-paid tickets. To that, the Air Show Chairman made the promise that if you have an advanced ticket for this year's show, you will get in.

The off-base parking will be to the north western end of the site, the other side of the railway, and close to the entry gates for the RAF Museum and Hawker Hunter gate guard. The organisers have now reached an agreement with the farmer of those fields, and they will be opened up for parking. This turns the gate on the junction of Neachley Lane/Horsa Way into a pedestrian gate.

The train companies are being worked with again this year, with the addition of Virgin Trains who have recently started operating from Shrewsbury. To encourage the use of trains over motor vehicles, it was announced at the press-day that when purchasing a combined rail/air show ticket, the show ticket will be discounted to £18.00, saving £4 off the price of a "normal" ticket. Wing Commander Rayner noted that the traffic at last year's show flowed as well as it ever had before, and that they avoided a repeat of the chaos of 2013. The organisers hope to capitalise on that success with these new measures.

Turning to the criticism over recent years of the lack of diversity of aircraft on display at the show; it's fair to say that the response from the Air Show team speaks for itself. It's been noted that RAF Cosford has one of the best static lines in the world (this could probably be said with Duxford, too) due to the co-location of the RAF Museum. RAF Cosford's runway length and lack of concrete is a hugely limiting factor to the show's potential, but sometimes, a curse is a blessing in disguise. The short runway at Cosford has forced the organisers to think outside of the box, and use more of the gems that are based on the airfield already.

The immaculate Harrier GR3 will be returning in a unique "Camp Belize" display, accompanied by other vehicles to give an insight into the lesser-reported exploits of the RAF in Central America, the based Jaguars are hoped to be out in force, with those "Jags" in special schemes hoped to form part of a photogenic display. The RAF Museum's TSR2 will be out in the fresh air for the first time in some years, and the RAF have expanded on this opportunity, as they are able to showcase the engineering prowess and history of the glory days of Britain's aviation industry.

Sat on the ramp for the press-launch was the unique QinetiQ-operated VAAC Harrier. As well as being utterly beautiful in her raspberry ripple scheme, she's a thoroughly interesting and rare machine. Used to trial flight control systems for the much-maligned F-35 Lightning II, XW175 is of a unique pedigree. Following a lengthy period of storage at Boscombe Down, she has recently been transported to the show and assembled, and will take pride of place at the static park. There has been rife speculation about her fate after the show, and whether she will become part of the RAF Museum's excellent collection. In truth, the answer is yet unknown, but as we have learned in this hobby over the years anything, good or bad, wise or foolish, can happen to aircraft such as this. As yet, she has not been confirmed as becoming a museum exhibit. Even if she is, 2015 might be the last-chance to photograph this machine with the sun on her back.

In the air, the Swiss F/A-18C is eagerly anticipated at Cosford's intimate venue, and must not be underestimated in terms of the concerted effort put in this year to secure this and hopefully other international acts. Wing Commander Rayner highlighted that there has been a push this year for a larger number of international participants to feature at the show, and with healthy speculation from the Czech Republic, and ongoing discussions with many European air arms that push early on in the year looks to be coming home to roost.

It was noted in our interview that the VE70 (70th Anniversary of the Victory in Europe) allows for a broader and more diverse flying programme, that diversity is slowly expressing itself with confirmations of Peter Teichman's excellent P-40 and the RAF-schemed P-51 Mustang, which surely must be one of the most sought-after warbirds along with the Blenheim and BF-109E this year. Speaking of Victory in Europe, the show is also placing emphasis on the Victory Village, which is another static centrepiece, designed with the family in mind, but not without its own contingent of warbirds and replicas on static.

With the cheaper and more relaxed Welshpool airshow ever increasing in popularity, one might say that RAF Cosford really needed to put in the work to address the oft-repeated criticisms and persuade the airshow-going public of the West Midlands that the RAF Cosford Air Show is really is the place to be. Time will tell as to whether the new proposed measures in 2015 will work, and indeed, whether that all-important balance between families and enthusiasts, and everyone in between, is struck. On the efforts already put in for this year's show, the organisers seem to be on the right track.

Only having one RAF airshow in the display calendar would have been unthinkable ten, or even five years ago. Leuchars is but a fond memory, and Waddington's hiatus has those in the east wondering whether that hiatus is soon to become permanent. The eyes of the RAF, and those commissioning and taking part in the feared "RAF Review on Airshows" will surely be fixated on RAF Cosford during June. It's down to the West Midlands event to help persuade the RAF that their airshows are well-worth keeping.