RAF Cosford Air Show Press Launch

Friday 13th April 2018

Once again, the RAF Cosford Air Show remains the only Royal Air Force air show of the year, something that many would not have envisaged four or five years ago especially in this, the RAF's centenary year. However, it must be said that despite a few cancellations, that change of display axis and the general customary restrictions of an airfield its size, Cosford was to be a real highlight of the air show season in 2017. This year it appears the air show organisers are really pulling out the stops to mark not only RAF100, but the 80th anniversary of Cosford itself - the pressure is on to deliver!

Ian Garfield attended the Press Launch on behalf of UK Airshow Review to see exactly what is in store in this celebratory year. Additional photography by Tom Jones.

Traditionally seen as a more family-friendly event, a shift in perspective over the last few years allied with the introduction of a new organising team has allowed the show to strike the right balance in catering for enthusiasts and families and really come in to its own. This was reflected in UKAR's 'Top 10 Air Show Moments of 2017' with both their set piece around the theme of 'Battlefield Support' and the dynamic display of the Italian Air Force RSV Tornado deservedly earning their place. Participants like these really have suppressed the long-standing criticism that Cosford lacks diversity. With aircraft ranging from the Hawker Fury to the Polish Air Force MiG-29 both already confirmed for the flying display, and a unique line-up of 100 static aircraft planned, 2018 goes one step further.

The predictably unpredictable British weather meant that this year's media launch day was a breezy and ultimately wet affair, despite the decision to change the date from March to April in an attempt to counteract inclement weather. But the rain did not dampen the spirits and indeed Wing Commander Mike Cook, the 2018 Air Show Chairman, was very optimistic and enthusiastic about this year's show as he explained upon opening the launch.

"This year we are a "Gold Event" in the RAF's calendar and it means we can put on a bigger and better show. We're very excited about what we're hoping to achieve. RAF100 is about commemorating, celebrating and inspiring - we want to commemorate the individuals and the history that we are proud of; celebrate the men and women who make up the RAF today; we would also like to inspire the young people of today through promoting STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths".

Some 60,000 visitors are expected to descend upon the show and while plans have been underway for over two years to celebrate RAF100, it was made clear by Wg Cdr Cook that Cosford will "focus on a family occasion with something for everyone". While the varied 6 hour flying display will no doubt accomplish this, one of the highlights will certainly be the static line-up where organisers have promised 100 aircraft, one for every year of the RAF's anniversary. This is no mean feat and despite the disadvantage Cosford faces with the familiar limitations of the small runway, its huge advantage is the adjacent RAF Museum. Once again, airframes will be moved out from the museum's incredible collection and exhibited outside. However, a real showcase of the efforts being put into the event, other aircraft are being shipped in by road including F-4K Phantom XV582 "Black Mike" and Sea King HAR3 XZ596. Air Operations Manager Peter Reoch discussed the airframes "roaded in", and how that process came about:

Firstly, I need to highlight that the support from GJD Services has been pivotal in what we're trying to achieve so a big thank-you to them from me. It's their team, led by Gary Spoors, which has been responsible for most of the work in identifying airframes and working out the logistics of getting them here. I'm pleased that the organisations approached have all been so cooperative and brought into what we're trying to achieve. For example, the BPAG team who've been coming in at weekends to work on 'Black Mike' has been great, taking real pride in how their jet is looking. Be sure to chat with them on the day, they'll have a stand opposite the jet. We're also very lucky to have some key characters on station who are helping us out.

Utilising RAF Museum airframes is nothing new, of course, and over the last few years, several pieces have seen daylight for the first time in years. While this has really been a hit with enthusiasts, many of our forum photographers have been less enthusiastic citing featureless hangars and showground furniture less than ideal backdrops for images. Wing Commander Cook outlined innovative plans for the static layout presenting an interactive map that again demonstrated how different the show would be this year. In discussion, he provided more detail as to how the wishes of photographers will be accommodated alongside those of the public:

"This year the static will be placed in four areas across the airfield, each representing a key theme of the RAF's history of the last 100 years. Policing the empire will show aircraft from World War I through tothe 1930's in a fully immersive and interactive environment; World at War will reflect the role of ground and air personnel. We hope to have wartime aircraft, vehicles and re-enactors to recreate a dispersal-type scene and hope to not only educate the public on World War II but also events such as D-Day and the Berlin Airlift; The Age of Uncertainty moves from post-war to the Cold War, the jet age right through to the Gulf War. This allows us to present many museum exhibits and some of the instructional airframes we use at Cosford which can't be seen anywhere else; The New Millennium will really be the centrepiece for the air show. There will be a mock-up F-35 on display as well as current RAF assets. We'll be showing the current role of the RAF through demonstrations and this is where the STEM hangar will be too. We will again have a number of activities that we hope will inspire young people. As you can see, this year's show is on a much bigger scale than previous years but we're confident everyone who visits will be happy".

When asked about the extent of planning that has gone into the "100 aircraft" static display, Peter Reoch added:

Lots!! Lots of invitations to private owners, and also reaching out to the warbird operators that we already knew. I think we're probably on Version 150 of the parking plan since September. But as you've been shown today using the CGI Model, it stretches across the whole airfield site and we are geographically challenged. Some aircraft are going on trackway, some on grass. And there are some sections that will be parked a bit closer together than I'd like but it's unavoidable. However, we've taken steps to ensure some sections - such as the Cold War QRA line - are as spaced out, clutter free, and photogenic as possible!

The flying display will also reflect the efforts put in to the show on the ground. Organisers really have been on the ball with social media this year and updates are now eagerly anticipated RIAT-style! A number of acts have steadily trickled out over recent months and rare aircraft include items such as the Great War Display Team, Bristol Blenheim and Westland Whirlwind. Also announced on the day were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Chinook Display Team but perhaps, more significantly, a flypast from an RAF Tornado. With the type's retirement looming next year this is likely to be one of the last occasions to see one at an air show. It is, perhaps, a sign of the times that enthusiasts get worked up over a flypast rather than a full display, however it was still a tremendous spectacle to witness a Tornado, wings swept, darting across the murky airfield at the Press Launch. Despite recent operational commitments and a dwindling fleet it is exceptional that an airframe has been released for a display so enthusiasts should bear that in mind. An interesting statement made by the RAF Cosford Air Show on our forum earlier this year was the decision not to feature any civilian aircraft displays that did not have a direct link between the RAF, we asked him further about how that (some may say bold in this day and age) decision came about:

It was my intention from when we started planning this (way back in 2016), because the UK have such an amazing assortment of warbirds and vintage aircraft, many of which we'd never had at the show. We've always tried to strike that 'magic balance' to suit everyone who comes through the door and we will continue that this year, but without civilian display teams. And so far, the feedback from all sectors seems to be very positive, and most display teams who are missing out this year seem to 'get it' too which is a relief! And I think it's worth pointing out that we're flying the display with the aircraft performing in (roughly) chronological order to help tell the RAF story. Then our international partners will be slotted in at appropriate times, for example the Polish Fulcrum during our Battle of Britain tribute.

With the RAF seemingly embracing the chance to demonstrate its current strength with a full complement of display teams and more, Cosford has also been fortunate to receive support from overseas with aircraft from the Polish Air Force, Pakistan Air Force and Austrian Flying Bulls already confirmed. International participation has increased greatly over the last few years and air show Director Clive Elliot explained why he thinks this is:

"We were very fortunate this year that the Assistant Chief of Air Staff supported our international participation campaign and raised on our behalf to 35 air forces around the world to generate some participation. A large amount of success this year will be a result of that. It has increased generally since the show's organising structure was changed a few years ago, but also Peter [Reoch] has done a fantastic job in badgering people! So yes, I think we really are on the map now for international participation - and long may it last."

We asked Peter himself what the reception from international air arms was like in this significant year:

Outstanding so far! Our first international announcement back in January was a debut nation (Pakistan) and we've had positive discussions with a huge number of countries. Some of those have come to nothing, but have put relationships in place for future years. Others are still being worked on, and as of today we've got at least four more international flying displays which are provisionally scheduled to attend but we're just waiting for the final paperwork before we can announce publicly.

In terms of how the participation list overall was shaping up, compared to the "wishlist" originally made by the Air Show office, Peter explained:

I think we're getting there now. The flying display is nearly full already and is (in my eyes) really strong with a great mix of aircraft. One issue, which was perhaps an oversight on my part when planning for our RAF100 static exhibition started, is the difficulty in attracting some of the UK's privately owned vintage aircraft to the show. Believe it or not, not all pilots are fans of airshows and asking them to give up 4 or 5 days to bring their aircraft for static exhibition doesn't tickle their fancy.

A question on many people's lips concerns the presence of the UK's F-35Bs, scheduled to arrive in the UK in June this year. We asked about the prospect of the attendance of the RAF's most modern fast jet at the Show:

Lockheed Martin are kindly providing their F-35 Full Scale Model which will be on static display in the 'New Millennium' zone for visitors to get a closer look at, a first for us at RAF Cosford. At the moment, we're not expecting to see a RAF Lightning II in the air at this year's Air Show - but we haven't had a confirmed negative response yet either. But I do know they will be present at other RAF100 events during the summer.

Several airframes were on display for the press launch including the newly delivered Sea King and Hawk T1, resident Grob Tutor and a visiting Chinook HC6 from RAF Odiham, home of the 2018 RAF Chinook Display Team. For display captain Flt Lt Stu 'Kyno' Kynaston, Cosford is a home event having being brought up in nearby Shrewsbury. The team as a whole were excited for the season ahead and although the current schedule is yet to be published, they are looking to perform more than double the number of displays this year than last year. Weapon Systems Officer Sergeant Dave Cawood explained why he's looking forward to 2018:

"It's great to be part of a display in the RAF's 100th year. My role is shared on the display this year so it is great not only to be in the air but also on the ground where displays permit. It's great to inspire young people and get to talk to them and show them how the Chinook operates, I get a real buzz out of that. I also like that people don't get bored of the Chinook, there are lots of enthusiasts who are still amazed at what it can do. The display is kinder on the airframe than it used to be but we still demonstrate how a Chinook can perform operationally."

One of the highlights of the day was a Jaguar T4 sporting a new specially-painted tail. When you consider the characterless RAF100 'stickers' that have been applied to a number of aircraft this year, it really is a delight to see RAF Cosford making such an effort for their own anniversaries and this decoration really surpasses anything the RAF has done so far this year. It does make one wonder about how the RAF are supporting their only show and as to why Cosford continues to be the only RAF show. However Clive Elliott is in high spirits, especially considering that last year's programme advertised 2018 as "the most spectacular and interactive air show tribute to the Royal Air Force's Centenary":

"If you look at what is confirmed on the website, we're doing well. We are fortunate to be allocated the flying display assets we are, considering both the operational commitments of the Air Force and the equipment it has. I'm quite content with what the RAF have offered and we'll be announcing more between now and the air show itself."

It's important to remember that as well as celebrating RAF100, Cosford reaches its 80th birthday this year too, which is also reflected on the special-tailed Jaguar. Station Commander Group Captain Tone Baker stressed the importance of young blood and the important role Cosford has played over the years to literally thousands of RAF personnel who have passed through the station. He was inspired to join the Royal Air Force after visiting Cosford in the early 80s and is thrilled to be part of the celebrations for both events:

"We are all delighted to be hosting what we think will be our biggest and best air show ever this summer. I feel hugely privileged to be Station Commander here in this centenary year. Cosford has played a big role in training RAF staff from engineers to PT instructors, from apprentices to technicians. We are also hugely proud to have the University of Birmingham Air Squadron based here, inspiring the next generation of recruits."

During the launch there was a huge emphasis on the importance of inspiring young people and many corporate partners of the show will be present to encourage and promote STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths - to younger visitors to the show. Gp Capt Baker agrees that this will help the next generation of recruits:

"This year the show is not just about a celebration of our history but also of our future. I was inspired to join the RAF simply by visiting this air show back in the early 80s. Air power is a key determining factor in every vector of warfare but these days so much can be achieved away from the front line. It is great to see how children and young people can enjoy the activities we have in the STEM hangars and this year we've got even more. Hopefully through showing children what we do, it will inspire the next generation of recruits!"

Air show Director Clive Elliott spoke about the current strength of the RAF and its future over the next few decades:

"I think the buzzwords are 'space' and 'cyber'. So much can be achieved relatively cheaply through these. The service needs to make sure it stays at the cutting edge of technological developments, concentrates on recruiting good people and training them well. We need to continue to have different airframes to achieve our objectives and equipment capability programmes may need to be more flexible in the future to cope with changes. The current development of technology is quite scary!"

This year appears to be one of the most adventurous yet for RAF Cosford and Clive perhaps should feel more pressure than most:

"There's always pressure running an air show and this year there are a lot of very important eyes upon us. When you are the RAF's only air show you can't get it wrong…..because of that the senior leadership team of the air force are very engaged with us, they care about us, they want us to get it right so yes, you could say the pressure is on. We have a tried and tested formula and we feel with what we have planned this year will exceed everyone's expectations"

Of course, with such a momentous season ahead, what for the future? Would 2019 feel like a bit of a come down after the RAF's 100th bash? We asked if that was something the team was mindful of at the moment. Peter responded:

Let's get through 2018 before we start worrying about 2019! But I think everyone - staff and visitors - will recognise that this year is an extraordinary event and the Air Show might not be on the same scale in future years. Spinning the negative into a positive, perhaps that gives RAF Cosford a good opportunity to look at some elements of the Air Show with a blank slate and remodel the event in future years? Who knows!

There had been speculation that 2018 would be a two-day show but Clive confirmed that as it stands, Cosford will remain one day only, contradicting the rumours that have been circulating for some time:

"There are no plans to extend to two days at present. The RAF Cosford Air Show is run by Cosford station and particularly this year there are so many draws on resources at the station itself that I don't think 2018 could ever have been a two-day event. As well as preparing for the show here, staff are also being asked to support Fairford and the parade in London. But we are a successful team, we achieve a great day, we hope to get 60,000 people in this year and until someone tells me differently, that's what we'll continue to do."

In lieu of a two-day show, there are many questions asked year on year as to whether there could be some sort of Saturday photocall. We asked Peter if plans were afoot for any sort of arrangement this year:

Watch this space! As I hope you can appreciate there are hundreds of considerations but I think we're close to sorting something as we recognise there's huge demand for it. Hopefully details will be published on the Air Show website in the next few weeks.

Still, luck has not always been on the organisers' side with either weather or aircraft serviceability putting paid to months of hard work. Feedback from 2017 seemed to be mostly positive. Traffic management now seems to be impeccable and any complaints were generally around display cancellations and the commentary team. The largest criticism by and far was what turned out to be perhaps the most controversial issue at any air show last year: the decision to move the display axis for the Red Arrows and Typhoon displays to the east of the airfield, both a considerable distance and direction away from the normal crowd line. Thankfully, it has already been confirmed that the original display axis is returning but Clive explained the decision last year lay in the hands of the Red Arrows themselves. He stressed that although there was public pressure, this couldn't play a part in the decision to revert back to normal, safety protocols had to be followed:

"The change was driven by the need to do some work on the display axis following new regulations. There was a decision made because of certain situations and unknowns in the local area. It was something that had to be done at the time. We did it, we did it well, it took a lot of work on behalf of the air show staff but we managed it. This year the Reds have taken a look and have decided that flying back on the normal display is the right way to go. Of course we took a hit, we had complaints and comments but we won't get those this year."

With the ambitious and bold plans now falling in to place, it does look to be a bumper year for Cosford. Ticket sales have exceeded the levels of this time last year and organisers continue to listen and act upon feedback provided. What was refreshing to see is that although the focus will certainly be on celebrating RAF100, the traditional and fundamental aspect of Cosford's shows will remain throughout - keeping the show as family friendly as possible. Looking at the list of confirmed items already, the show will again be one-of-a-kind and the static line up will be hard pressed to be beaten at any show this year. Organisers do have good reason to be optimistic - all they need now is the weather on their side. It remains to be seen whether another RAF show will return in the coming years, but nonetheless, there is a tremendous amount of support for 2018 from both military and civilian sources - the RAF Cosford Air Show 2019 certainly will have a tough act to follow.