Radial Trainer and Transport Fly-in
Saturday 29th April - Sunday 30th April 2017
For the discernible airshow enthusiast, the long winter period can feel like an eternity of waiting and wondering of what the next season might deliver. Luckily, a myriad of different events, ranging from specially-organised nightshoots to themed fly-ins, tends to keep the passion for the hobby alive. A recent newcomer to this scene has been the Radial & Trainer Fly-In which, for the first time, had relocated to both a new venue and a slightly later date. Renamed the "Radial, Trainer and Transport Fly-In", it was hoped that the event could yield both improved weather and an eclectic mix of aircraft.
reports from Wolverhampton's Halfpenny Green Airport for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the UK Airshow Review team.
With the current legislation surrounding aviation related events, it is certainly no mean feat creating something successful that appeals to both the enthusiast and matches the appropriate safety criteria. However, the organisers of the Radial, Trainer and Transport (RT&T) Fly-In, headed by Andrew O'Dell, have managed to attract the interest of some interesting and varied aircraft types in the past. Unfortunately, previous events have succumbed to inclement weather conditions with only the second fly-in, back in 2015, delivering a sizeable number of aircraft attendees.
In an attempt to negate this issue, the event was rescheduled to run throughout the May bank holiday weekend, with this allowing for potentially better weather conditions and the likelihood of more aircraft being awoken from their Winter slumbers. The move to Halfpenny Green Airport was also selected due to the introduction of increased hard-standing areas, eliminating the risk of rain prior to the event making grass parking areas unusable. It was decided during initial discussions that the Fly-In would accompany a ground vehicle element, rekindling the "Wings and Wheels" style of event that last occurred in 2015.
Being part of the organising team gave an interesting insight into the level of prior planning that must be undertaken, with details including event layout, aircraft parking structures plus food and beverage (arguably the most important aspect) all having to be formulated far in advance. Unlike an airshow however, the booking of aircraft was a somewhat fluid affair, with attendance mostly dependent on the willingness of aircraft owners. Nevertheless, as the weekend loomed ever closer aircraft confirmations slowly and consistently trickled in.
It was hoped that the largest collection of North American T-6 Harvards/Texans seen in the UK since the likes of the Great Vintage Fly-In Weekend would form the centrepiece of the new event, with this being bolstered by at least seven Yakovlev Yak-52s. Sadly, a combination of aircraft maintenance and slightly unfavourable conditions on the Sunday prevented this fully coming to fruition. A couple of other disappointing losses included the highly anticipated P-51D Mustang "Miss Helen", which sadly had some minor engine troubles at Duxford earlier in the week. It was also hoped for a brace of Spitfires to make an appearance from the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, but extenuating circumstances prevented their attendance.
Nevertheless, arriving at the airfield on the Friday further increased the levels of nerves and enthusiasm, with set-up preparations well under way. Friday also saw a couple of early arrivals for the weekends frivolities, with one of the highlights making a slow and lumbering arrival under heavy skies. The aircraft in question was the largest visitor during the weekend, an Antonov An-2 from Popham, with the aircraft flying non-stop during the Saturday before departing early on Sunday to beat the incoming inclement conditions. Saturday was easily the busiest day of the weekend, with just below 100 aircraft arrivals of all shapes and sizes.
Of the aforementioned Harvards & Texans, four still managed to arrive and park alongside each other. Although somewhat down on initial expectations, the sight of 4 T-6s with totally differing paint schemes was a rare sight to behold and has certainly not been completed at any recent airshows. One of the examples present included a recently imported, and very rare, T-6G Texan in South African Air Force markings. Making a flying arrival was Sam Worthington-Leese in his AT-16ND Harvard IIB, with the aircraft previously belonging to singer/songwriter Gary Numan. Sam also paid a visit to support his restoration project stall concerning the return to flight of RB396, a Hawker Typhoon IB. Luckily the project seems to be gathering strong momentum recently, especially with the acquisition of a Napier Sabre engine earlier in 2017 and what appeared to be plenty of public interest during the weekend.
The accolade for the largest number of a single aircraft type fell to the dozen or so 'Beagle' designs, with the marshallers doing a grand job of ensuring the Bulldogs and Pups were parked alongside each other. Witnessing 5 Bulldog T1s in identical paint schemes really did feel like stepping back in time to the flightline of a University Air Squadron of yesteryear. Other rarities included a sole vintage helicopter attendee, an ex-Swiss Air Force Alouette II, plus the unexpected arrival of an Avro Anson C.21. This aircraft had recently been sold by the Classic Air Force and now resides at Sleap Airport, with this being the first time the aircraft had performed a land-away since being recently purchased. The Anson holds a particularly strong connection with Halfpenny Green, with No.3 Air Observer & Navigator School operating the aircraft from the airfield during World War 2.
But without a doubt the aircraft that made the greatest impact at the event was the de Havilland Vampire T11, with the jet trainer making an impactful arrival on Saturday, the howl of the Goblin turbojet reverberating around the airfield. Naturally, many will have either seen first-hand or through media outlets the extent of the aircraft's impact on the Sunday, but the aircraft was able to return safely after a short sortie with no damage. It was certainly no mean feat pushing the aircraft the entire length of the runway in preparation for its departure, with the entire marshalling and fly-in crew having to flex the muscles!
After the event, I managed to collar Andrew O'Dell for a few quick questions surrounding the event:
"The event came to fruition, rather bizarely, when I was in a pub with a friend after attending an LAA Rally at Sywell. Without question, the fly-in seemed well supported by a high quantity of General Aviation types. However there seemed a distinct lack of historic, vintage and radial types at the fly-in, where it dawned on me that there was, at the time, no event that provided a relatively generalistic vintage aircraft gathering (i.e. excluding the type specific Moth Meet, Aeronca fly-in etc.). This therefore led to the start of the first fly-in, which was solely tailored towards radial-engine aircraft only. The training element was included simply due to the huge variety of military training types available, ranging from the diminutive L-4 Grasshopper to the Spitfire TR.IX. Furthermore, the limited number of radial-engine aircraft within the UK, plus the associated operating costs, required some sort of diversification to bolster numbers. Luckily however, the vintage aircraft scene is arguably the best it's ever been, so new aircraft are always arriving on our shores."
"There are no specific themes for the event, the idea is to remain quite generalised due to the nature of the event. The overall ethos of the event is to entice people of all ages to an event that differs from an airshow, whereby they can attend an event that either gets the juices flowing once again or to get a younger generation interested in the hobby. Therefore, we tried to pride ourselves this time on offering close access to the aircraft, with this being planned to the finest detail due to a new layout and location. Granted, there were some teething problems, but after reading some of the comments on social media it looked as though it was mostly positive feedback."
"A number of different airfield options were considered, specifically in an attempt to the put the event in a more centralised location in terms of geographical positon. Consequently, it was hoped that this would potentially allow for a greater influx of visiting aircraft. The idea was put across to Paul Bunch, who is a part-time FISO at Halfpenny Green Airport, who then passed the idea onto the airfield manager. After initial discussion, it was quickly decided that the event would be excellent for both the event and the local area, especially introducing a vehicle element which would potentially broaden the spectrum of incoming visitors."
Overall, the event seemed to be well-received from visitors by road and the air, with some changes being implemented in future events following the feedback provided. From an enthusiast's perspective, the aircraft variety was something some airshow organisers could have been particularly envious of, with some of the types present seldom seen at public events on a regular basis. The Radial, Trainers & Transport Fly-In certainly demonstrated its unique theme to good effect, with the curse of unfavourable weather conditions seemingly partially lifted on this occasion.