RAF Cosford Air Show 2017 Press Launch

Tuesday 28th March 2017

The Royal Air Force's only remaining air show, the RAF Cosford Air Show, took some criticism alongside the praise following the 2016 event. Following their normal format, the organisation team opened their doors for their annual press launch to local and national media recently to demonstrate what they are doing to respond to criticism good and bad, set out their progress so far, and explain what they hope to achieve for the Air Show in 2017.

Tom Jones reports once again from the RAF Cosford Air Show's annual press launch. Photography as credited.

When looking forward, a useful starting point can be found by looking back. It's fair to say that after a bumper year in 2015, the 2016 edition won't be remembered by enthusiasts as a "vintage" event in its history. It would be wrong to ignore this, or pretend it wasn't the case. A number of critiques were fielded in relation to 2016's show; lack of fast jets, sticking with the same tried but seldom tested formula, weather, and a lack of international participation. So it was clear from the first briefings by Group Captain Mark Hunt, and Wing Commander Chris Jones, that the Air Show, right from the high echelons of the Royal Air Force, have set out to deliver a bigger and better show than the previous year.

This year's Air Show Chairman, Wing Commander Chris Jones, OC No 1 SofTT set out the Air Show's aims "To improve public understanding of the Service within the overall Defence in order to maximise support for the RAF and its activities."

The obvious question stemming from this, then, is why the RAF Cosford Air Show is the RAF's only Air Show these days. Wg Cdr Jones provided an answer:

"Why are we the RAF's only Air Show? There has been a decline in the number of RAF assets, but an increase in the operational commitments. However, the Air Force board knows we have a low footprint in this part of the country, and the retention of the RAF Cosford Air Show is of continued importance."

In short; perhaps unsurprisingly, the RAF has to do more with less. Wg Cdr Jones did, however, note the positive effects that the RAF Cosford Air Show brings to the charities it supports each year. In the last 5 years, over £1 million has been donated to the RAF Association, the RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF Charitable Trust, and the RAF Museum. Questions of the RAF Cosford Air Show becoming a two day show have been raised for some years now, but this was the first time that someone at the level of the Air Show Chairman had noted the issue. During the presentation, when asked about a two day event , he said: "We do have aspirations in the future to do a two-day show. We will be posing that after this year's show."

Talking about actual aircraft participation, Peter Reoch, Air Show Operations Manager, explained some of the themes and plans in terms of participating aircraft, and what they hope to do with them.

"We understand that enthusiasts want the "uncluttered" and photogenic opportunities for the rarer and more exotic aircraft. That's why in the "Battlefield Support" theme, we plan on laying several trackfield helipads on the grass at the south western end of the airfield with the trees as a clean backdrop. Aircraft penciled in for static display in this area will include the recently confirmed Belgian Air Force's NH90 TTH. I hope to have all aircraft at an angle that will allow for some excellent photo opportunities, with a clean backdrop of trees, whilst remaining in line with out "Battlefield Support" theme.

Other aircraft around the base will be situated in photographic positions, such as in between the hangars where there is a cleaner background instead of in front of food stalls. We will use the "UBAS (University of Birmingham Air Squadron) Dispersal" for our open cockpit Jaguars, as this is an area where clean images aren't really achievable, so it's a good place to have multiple aircraft open for the public to have a look inside."

In terms of international participation in the flying display, Peter had cause to be cautiously optimistic about this year's show: "It's by no means confirmed, but we've been working really hard and I think we're looking promising for Italian and Polish flying displays. We have had some very encouraging correspondence with them, and now the month of April is a nervous time, as we wait for confirmation letters to arrive! Interestingly enough, a small Italian team, FlyFano, attended the 2015 Air Show, and some members of that team are serving in the Aeronautica Militare [Italian Air Force], and are now rising to senior positions. We've had a lot of positive dialogue with them, and hopefully it comes to fruition in the air. It really pays to foster international relationships, as you never know where they can end up, which all tallies in with our other theme this year; International Co-operation."

One thing that has been noticed on our forums, was the unexpected discussions with Cyprus, specifically the Cypriot Air National Guard. Following efforts made by the team at Embassies and nurturing international relationships, it has been announced that the Cypriot Air National Guard will be sending a delegation and ground-display to the RAF Cosford Air Show 2017, with a view to potentially providing aircraft in the future. Whilst they will unfortunately not be bringing any aircraft with them this year, the efforts should not go underestimated or uncredited. Fostering relationships is what the theme "International Co-Operation" is all about, and given that following a delegation, the Cypriots have confirmed that they will look at sending aircraft to the show for static display in 2018, it is a coup for the organisers, indeed.

In terms of RAF participation, the apparent lack of was one of the largest criticisms of the Air Show last year. Whilst this was touched upon earlier by the Air Show Chairman, the Air Show Operations Manager confirmed that "we're in discussions with all RAF bases and squadrons with a view of supporting the show, but it is hard for the RAF to release operational assets to perform at a public event on a weekend."

It's clear, insofar as Royal Air Force participation is concerned, that those involved with all echelons of the Air Show are keen to see an increase in support, and are mindful of the comments made in response to last year's show. Whether that increase in support comes to fruition remains to be seen, and will undoubtedly form part of the assessment of the success of the 2017 Air Show.

During the Media Launch it was also confirmed that there would be a rare flying display of a Coastguard AgustaWestland AW189 on Sunday 11th June. This of itself is a gem of an item, and should look great at Cosford, but going further, it was announced that there are aspirations for the AW189 to perform a flying display alongside the already confirmed Westland Whirlwind, in an "old meets new" tribute to UK Search and Rescue operations. A unique feature, and one not anticipated for any other airshow in the UK this summer.

In terms of other plans for the Air Show not previously announced, the Air Show Operations Manager gave us another interesting piece of information: "We plan on a pretty special static display featuring the VAAC Harrier and Jaguar ZB615 – both in their raspberry ripple schemes, Jaguar XX833 (an ex-QinetiQ machine, and the last flying Jaguar in the UK) together alongside the British Aerospace EAP, which is being rolled out from the RAF Museum for us. We hope to position these in a way that will allow for the best photographs of these unique and interesting aircraft. If we get aircraft support from QinetiQ, we'll try and park that nearby also, to create a nice 'flight test' static park."

Interviewing Wg Cdr Jones, I asked him about his role as the Air Show Chairman, and what he wanted to see from this year's show:

What was your experience of the 2016 show, what do you want to improve on in 2017?

The role of Air Show Chairman is a yearly rotation. I took on the role in August last year, after a year of shadowing my predecessor to see how things were done. My successor is currently shadowing me this year.

I think the basic formula we have at the RAF Cosford Air Show works well. We put a lot of effort into our themes this year, as we always do, and try to find something that is unique and well thought out.

In terms of what I would like to see this year, we took on board what was said regarding the 2016 show, and I want to build on the flying display.

Given that you are the RAF's only Air Show, how do you engage within the wider RAF community to secure support for the event?

We engage with all of the RAF display assets through the RAF Events Team, which is the standard process. However, I have a number of contacts through my experience within the Service, and so when I took on the role in August, I wrote letters to all of them, and will try and speak to all of them ahead of the show. However, balanced against that, given the tempo of operational commitments, and the number of assets the RAF has at the moment, it is very difficult for the RAF to release operational assets to perform at an Air Show.

We tend to have good working relationships with RAF Shawbury and RAF Brize Norton, and we're keen to see this continue. At the same time, I have to be a realist with what can be achieved. Taking account of RIAT [the Royal International Air Tattoo], there is a clearly a strategic international focus for that show. At RAF Cosford, it is first and foremost about the Royal Air Force. It is one of the only chances the public have to come onto an active RAF base, and engage with the service.

What would be the main bullet-point to pass on to your successor?

Plan early, hold frequent and regular progress meetings, and place great emphasis on fostering relations with international partners, get out there, visit embassies, and sell the show! I would say it's also important to keep things fresh with new blood.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you stepped into the role?

It would have been helpful to have more of the understanding that I have now of how the air display industry works.

The RAF100 is approaching next year, what would you personally wish to see?

I would like to see a celebration of our history, but also of our future.

In terms of the future, the Air Show Director, Clive Elliott, was able to expand on how the show fared in 2016, and what things are looking like in the future. Attendance at the show in 2016 was 55,000, down from approximately 55,000 in 2015. In terms of why this happened, this appears likely to be a combination of the flying display in 2015 compared to 2016, and the decidedly less than clement weather predictions, and in the end conditions, for the 2016 event. Looking forward to 2017, ticket sales are roughly on a par with sales at the same time last year.

Clive also told me that the Air Show Team at Cosford is working closely with the RAF100 Team, and will be a "lead regional event" in the celebrations next year. Whilst Mr. Elliott was unable to express details or progress, the RAF Cosford Air Show, in conjunction with the RAF100 Team is "planning what will hopefully be a very spectacular static display". Michelle Morgans of the co-located RAF Museum was also present, and was able to explain the relationship between the Museum and the Air Show, and what is involved in the recent (welcome) practice of using some rare museum exhibits for static display:

"We really enjoy providing aircraft from the Museum to the Air Show when and where we can. The added benefit is that it allows us to promote ourselves. The process starts with Air Show orgainsing team and Museum sitting down and discussing the show's themes, and we see whether we are able to provide an aircraft that is accessible and fits in with those themes.

Some aircraft are easier to provide than others, for instance in the National Cold War Exhibition, it would be difficult to remove aircraft from there as some are suspended from the ceiling, and the removal of the wall form the Exhibition building to allow the aircraft to be brought out is too expensive." For 2017, the Harrier GR9 and Hurricane IIc will be outside as part of the 'Battlefield Support' theme, as well as the previously mentioned EAP.

The Air Show also has a rare theme of "Space", which centrally focuses on the RAF Cosford Air Show's recent welcome focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) activities. It's recognised that there is a shortage of people entering into STEM careers, and the Air Show hopes to captivate youngsters' interests in STEM. To capitulate with the "Space" theme, an entire hangar will be devoted to this theme, with a number of interesting and seldom seen exhibits and static displays. More than this, though, Group Captain Hunt noted that, launching at the 2017 iteration of the RAF Cosford Air Show, a permanent STEM "Innovation Hub', which will be an attraction at RAF Cosford which will remain open permanently, and grow for the RAF100 celebrations.'

The final theme noted is the "Battle of Britain Memorial Flight 60th Anniversary". Normally the event only focuses on three themes each year, but in 2017 the RAF's much-loved BBMF reach their diamond year this year, and the RAF Cosford Air Show has been selected as one of only 3 airshows in the UK where a formation of Lancaster and four Spitfires will fly in formation, and Cosford will be the first event for the public to see that celebration.

On the day there were interesting snippets of information given out by all facets of the air display industry, including the news that there would be two new Wing Walkers performing with the Breitling team for 2017, who were confirmed to display at RAF Cosford during the Media Launch. Both girls, and machines, were also due to be present at the Media Launch, alongside a number of other visiting aircraft, however poor weather scuppered this plan sadly. Let's hope the weather for the Air Show proper in June is much improved!

It's clear the RAF Cosford Air Show, and its dedicated organising team had some points to take home and consider following the 2016 show. Whilst only the event delivered on Sunday 11th June itself will demonstrate if they have raised the bar or not, it seems clear that given their focused efforts on building on the flying display and fostering international relations, the latter of which was seldom mentioned this time last year, that considerable efforts have been made to listen to comments and feedback raised, and building on this achieve another successful Airshow.

The RAF Cosford Air Show is advanced tickets only, and £25.00 per adult ticket, with under 16s going free.