Top 10 Airshow Moments of 2022
Monday 6th March 2023
2022 was a funny year. It felt like something akin to driving through your old hometown after you've moved away for some years. Some things have stayed exactly the same, others have changed. In many respects, the 2022 season felt like a proper return to normality after 2021's halfway house. The year saw the return of old regulars like RIAT, and the RAF Cosford Airshow, both heavy-hitters in the UK calendar. It was also chock full of the usual smattering of Shuttleworths, just as there were in 2021 and some of 2020. And yet, it's not the same. Flying Legends is still off the calendar after some high-profile stories about where it will hold its next event. At current standing, it sounds as though the former RAF Church Fenton is the venue of choice, but will it come off? Who knows. They said the same about Sywell, and that fell through. Warbird airshow goers will need to continue to cross their fingers and hope the creases are ironed out. Whatever can be said for Legends, though, cannot be said for the RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day. The Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm now no-longer has any aviation event. The airshows at RNAS Yeovilton were always unique, refreshing, and saw things that many other shows did not. The loss of that show, and thus the Commando Assault demonstration (as well as the generally excellent atmosphere of the event) is keenly felt in the calendar, and it doesn't sound like a return is on the cards anytime soon, if ever.
But enough doom and gloom - 2022 saw the return of the RAF Cosford Airshow, which by all accounts was put together hastily after a last minute decision. As we said in our review, you could feel it at the event. And yet, what's the enduring memory of that show? More than the moments, which are highlighted below, it's a fantastic example of hard work and perseverance in the face of apathy and lethargy. It would have been so easy to let that show slip into the abyss, and yet the RAF and the new team at the show rolled up their sleeves and got to work, and they delivered a safe and successful, and largely on-brand RAF Cosford Airshow. They should be proud, and we should be grateful.
Of course, biggest of all, was the return of RIAT. No discerning aviation enthusiast can escape the influence that RIAT has on the UK airshow circuit. And what a return. It saw some truly historic moments and participants that would have been unthinkable even pre-pandemic, and all in week-long blissful weather.
The problem we always have with our Top Tens is that there's a regrettable lack of room to sum up all of the key moments of the year's air events, and it's always fiercely debated by the UKAR staff. Suffice it to say that there's a lot to be said about the UK airshow industry as a whole. We're fortunate in the UK to have such a thriving airshow circuit of performers, organisers, volunteers, personnel, and all others who put hard work into making it happen. Let's never ever take that for granted.
2022 was, on the whole, a success for the UK airshow industry. It's back on song, and we hope that 2023 and beyond sees further rebuilding and growth on what has been a huge effort to stand straight and tall after eighteen months of having the wind knocked out of it.
10) THE MISSING LYNX
Historic Helicopters have had a funny time of it in the past few years. On the one hand, their immaculate Westland Whirlwind has been a constant on the UK airshow circuit for almost 10 years now. On the other, since around 2019, they've really stormed ahead with the restoration of "classic" helicopters (though this terminology is in danger of making some of feel quite old!). Their Wessex had a post-restoration debut in the 2019 season, and thereafter the opportunities to see the likes of their fleet have been few and far between, given the pandemic.
As it was, the RAF Cosford Airshow allowed for a truly en masse showing of the hugely expanded classic helicopter roster. The mixed fleet of their Lynx, Wessex, Whirlwind, and Sea King arrived with a huge amount of presence on the Saturday before the show started, the yellow pair of Whirlwind and Sea King flying into the static park to form a great little "SAR through the ages" display, and the Lynx and Wessex took positions for their flying display.
It's been eight years since UK airshow crowds heard the purr of a Lynx AH7, and people may have believed at the time that they probably wouldn't hear or see one airworthy again. Whilst the display (naturally) isn't quite a spirited as when the aircraft was in service, the machine is a great addition to a growing classic helicopter scene.
More broadly, in a post-Shoreham world, Historic Helicopters are a welcome tonic to an otherwise dearth of post-WWII classic aircraft restorations.
9) SCOOTER STARS IN STATIC
One could argue that one of the main draws of the Air Tattoo, other than the wide and varied 8(ish) hour flying display schedule, is the diverse nature of the static park. The days of seeing the likes of KC-135s or Hercules in neat rows as far as the eye can see are now something of a hazy memory, the USP now pivoting towards seeing something that even the most die-hard of enthusiast is unlikely to see at any other airshow (more on that kind of thing later in our Top 10).
And as advances in technology make multi-role jets commonplace across the majority of the world's armed forces nowadays, it tends to make the likes of Gripens, Typhoons and Rafales become not all that dissimilar to each other (particularly in terms of appearance). This has sadly meant that the number of what can only be regarded as classic, single-role jets has slowly dwindled. However, one of the last bastions of safety for these aircraft tends to be in the aggressor role - with the likes of ATAC, Hawker Hunter Aviation and Draken International still utilising a plethora of jets that tend to have been long since retired from active military service.
Combine these two factors, and it's no surprise that there was a great level of anticipation to see that DBH had managed to secure a Germany-based A-4N Skyhawk from Top Aces. It was however greeted with a certain degree of cautious optimism, with RIAT coming tantalisingly close to an example attending in 2017, only for it to cancel the day before the show (so close that the team at Discovery Air still sent a display stand!).
But to see this venerable ex-Israeli Air Force jet grace the exceptionally photogenic western end of the static park in 2022, after a period of some 45 years since the type's last visit to an Air Tattoo, really did make it one of the absolute highlights of the year! It's small wonder that Head of Air Operations, Peter Reoch, deservedly received a bottle of champagne for his efforts! Perhaps it'll be a crate of champagne if/when he gets a Kfir to attend...
Civilian ‘heavy’ displays tend to be a rarity on the airshow scene, especially outside of trade shows, but when they do appear they can leave a lasting impact. They’re always popular - while usually neither as noisy or as agile as a jet fighter or even a modern transport aircraft, the sight of a large civilian airliner being put through its paces in a manner you will never see otherwise has its own quality in the sky and. Though the Air Tattoo is no stranger to the odd airliner display, the civilian world brought one of the most unique shapes in the sky that stood out, and one of Airbus’ newest types, the BelugaXL transporter.
Appearing as a solo display on the show's Saturday morning, the enormous transport aeroplane proved an enormous presence in the hands of Anthony Flynn who, reminiscent of the same company's (and pilot's) A400M demos of previous years, really threw the large jet around in a manner that belied its size. Though the display itself was on the briefer side, it was as memorable as anything else there and more than held its own as a solo item on the list.
Coupled with the really rather enjoyable smiling whale livery (as voted for by Airbus employees), the BelugaXL was a properly stand-out act on the flying programme, the kind of aircraft type and performance that comes along to a flying display too infrequently these days. As so many airliner displays do when flown outside of their normal envelope, it showed that it's not just the military flying world that can amaze and entertain. Hopefully it won't be the last of the demo we see at a UK show.
7) FIVE ALIVE
There are few finer settings for an airshow than Old Warden on a sunny evening. The high quality of displays that Shuttleworth so frequently deliver means that some of their own, more often seen aircraft, such as the Miles Magister are sometimes overlooked in the excitement of participation lists being released. It is therefore most welcome when the chance arises for such aircraft types to be placed at the centre stage.
At 2022's May Evening show, themed as an Evening of Espionage, five Magisters were amassed. Early arriving visitors for the show would have seen the star for many of the quintet arriving, an example that was in the UK for maintenance before flying to its home in the Czech Republic shortly after the event. The timing of this demonstrating the excellent opportunistic vision of the team at Shuttleworth to make the most of having this example in the country and to gather the five together.
After the regular Shuttleworth Magister duo, belonging to the Collection itself and David Bramwell, had taken part in the evening's barnstorming routine they were joined by the examples from the Real Aeroplane Company, Francesco Baldanza and Richard Santos for their main slot in the programme. As the sun having disappeared behind the trees of the Swiss Garden, a backdrop of the picturesque Old Warden Airfield and a near full moon was the setting for their appropriately sedate display, with the aircraft broken into a pair and triplet. To see all five together may be a moment that is never to be repeated and will live long in the memory.
6) CZECHING OUT
In a world where modern military often means cutting edge technology and a certain lack of charm, any opportunity to see Soviet cold war era hardware is one aviation enthusiasts relish. We thought the Czech Hind had made its last UK appearance at Fairford in July, but the duo of Hip and Hind popped into the flying programme for Duxford's Battle of Britain Airshow in September and gave us one more chance to relish this classic display.
Marking the contribution of the Czechoslovakian pilots of 310 Squadron RAF Duxford during the Battle of Britain the Czechs brought two classic military machines back to this historic airfield. Mil Mi-17 Hip and Mi-35 Hind performed a pairs routine, then the Hind resplendent in its commemorative colour scheme flew a solo slot later in the afternoon. The sheer presence they exuded truly stood out among the warbirds that day; the classic cold war hardware, the iconic yet menacing shape and the unmistakable noise. The experience was enhanced by parking the helicopters close to the crowdline, their launch and recovery giving the audience a close encounter. It was an assault on the senses and a real thrill to behold.
With retirement imminent for the Hind this was to be the last Czech Hind appearance on these shores. For this most welcome last trip and for the great displays over the last 30 years that preceded it from three-ships to solos, the enthusiast community is very grateful indeed.
5) SNAKE ON A PLANE
Twain said that familiarity breeds contempt, and we see plenty of that as regards airshow performances. Take any regular performer in the UK, and people will be less excited than a rare one. Even if the machine, display, impact of what we're seeing is largely unchanged. It's a natural part of the human condition - you can't force people to enjoy things they've seen many times before.
To break that cycle of apathy, it takes something truly fresh and different to grab our attention. When Aviation Commander Steven "Vrieske" De Vries of the Belgian Air Force was announced as the new F-16AM display pilot, many expected more of the same. Which is no bad thing - the Belgian F-16 display has been a regular performer in the UK, and is much-loved by audiences.
What Vrieske turned up with to the RAF Cosford Airshow, in his new "Dream Viper" F-16AM, was some of the freshest F-16 flying we've seen since the legendary Belgian demo pilot Michel "Mitch" Beulen in the 2009 - 2011 airshow season. The F-16 (love or hate the scheme) looked great at Cosford's smaller display line, and we've never seen so many negative-G manoeuvres packed into one routine.
Vrieske has announced himself and his jet onto the European airshow circuit at the RAF Cosford Airshow in fine style, and we look forward to seeing more from him over the next few years.
We've been treated to a plethora of role demonstrations at the Air Tattoo over the years. From the days of Jaguars, Harriers and Tornados beating up the airfield in the 80's and 90's, to the hugely popular RAF Role demo of the late 00's and early 10's, they've provided an entertaining spectacle, demonstrating to crowds just what might happen if...
With just a handful of specific demonstration display acts around these days, it was a huge coup for organisers to secure the rare Austrian Air Force QRA demonstration for the show. Although not a debut to the UK (having previously displayed at RAF Leuchars Airshow in 2013), the sight of two fast jets intercepting a smoky (ex-RAF) C-130K Hercules was eagerly anticipated.
And what a routine! From the start, the unmistakable sound of Allison turboprops and perfectly-timed performance take-offs from two Typhoons - towards the Hercules - let us know we were in for a treat. The Hercules acted as the intruder with the Typhoons scrambled to intercept and escort, eventually forcing it to land after several passes. The jets then completed a series of tight formation passes and a display of agility before the routine concluded.
The flying was precise and slick, complemented by an informative and enlightening commentary, creating a polished and exciting display sequence. Who needs loads of aircraft for an exhilarating role demo anyway?!
3) SEAFIRE FIRES BACK
It was way back in 2016 that cracks were discovered in the firewall, effectively grounding Kennet Aviation's Supermarine Seafire Mk XVII SX336 until it could be repaired. A move to Shuttleworth and a COVID pandemic meant that it wasn't until November 2021 that this unique warbird would return to the skies after an extensive overhaul. Soon after, the Navy Wings Charity acquired the airframe to replace their crashed Sea Fury and relocated it to RNAS Yeovilton.
All eyes turned to 2022 and a return to the airshow circuit and it turned out that we wouldn't have to wait long when it was announced in the line-up at Shuttleworth's Season Premiere Airshow. Paired with the collection's unique Hawker Sea Hurricane for a graceful duo display, the Seafire then went on to demonstrate the types sheer power during a debut solo display in front of the assembled crowd. It reminded us all of what we had missed for so many years and Shuttleworth was the perfect venue with its dog-leg display line to introduce this wonderful warbird to new fans.
It was a triumphant return of a unique and well-loved warbird that we look forward to seeing on the display circuit for many years to come.
2) EAGLES ROCK
The aerobatic display team of the Republic of Korea Air Force, the Black Eagles, last appeared in the UK in 2012. They were mightily impressive at the time on a tour that could have been fairly assumed to be a one-off, yet ten years later the team embarked on the massive logistical challenge of another European tour and once again they awed all that saw their dazzling displays.
Flying eight KAI T-50Bs the Black Eagles have a somewhat larger presence than the European teams to which we are accustomed. The jets are bigger, noisier and very much more powerful. Whereas some of their formation shapes are familiar, the rate at which they snap through formation changes certainly isn't. Combined with this speed is pin-point precision, and there is inventiveness throughout the display too, some manoeuvres that are theirs alone, not least in the smoke-painting of a giant South Korean flag, the Taegeuk. This was not just a repeat of the 2012 show either, the team's development and progression was clear to see in their flawless performances.
Although their UK residency was centred around the Royal International Air Tattoo, the team ventured out and about, making brief appearances at the Shuttleworth evening air display and at Southport Airshow. Those appearances were barely more than flypasts, but were airshow history in the making, and without doubt one of those moments that we'd have considered impossible, until they happened.
It was a pleasure to see the Black Eagles again. They seem to have combined the grace of the big European teams with the brisk drill of the Americans, then topped it off with their own flavour. It is the art of the aerobatic display team, perfected.
1) COMMANDING ATTENTION
International Air Tattoos have pulled some incredible items over the years - those things that no other show could get, that you never think you'll see at a show in the UK. Yet after all the decades of golden ticket participants, there still remains a small list of things you just assume would never be there. Things that are so mysterious, so rare, so busy that it just makes sense that they would never have the time, clearance or just the inclination to come to an airshow anywhere, let alone outside their home country.
Everyone had the US Air Force E-4B 'Nightwatch' on that list. This just isn't a plane that 'does' public events. Ok, it's been to a few stateside shows - a few - but that's it. There aren't many of them, they're pretty secretive and they're on constant standby for the president. They're the archetypal 'doomsday plane'. They don't go to British airshows, come on. You might get lucky and catch it landing at Mildenhall or such, supporting a POTUS visit to Europe, but it's hardly going to rock up at an airshow like it's some kind of normal plane!
It was with sheer disbelief that the enthusiast community read the name on the confirmed aircraft list one Thursday lunchtime before the show. It genuinely felt like a mistake. Ludicrous stuff, surely they can't have it sat in the static park right? What if it needs to scramble for the President? Where will it go? A huge 747 like that needs plenty of space. Rumours abounded - it was going to sit at the end of the runway all weekend, ready to shoot off at a moment's notice. It was definitely going to cancel because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There were going to be three lines of fences around it, armed guards, no photos allowed.
And then it just turned up at RIAT. One of those moments where someone spots it off in the distance, holding to land, and the buzz erupts. Whatever is going on at that point just gets forgotten about because everyone has their eyes peeled waiting to see the E-4 come in to land (let's ignore that the Swedish Historic Flight also landed immediately before, receiving plenty of excitement themselves). To everyone's joy and amazement the crew even asked to do a flypast before landing, gear up, along the length of the runway, giving everyone one of the most unlikely and fantastic photographic opportunities they would get. Then over the weekend it was just parked in the showground, crew set up outside with a tat stand and talking to the showgoers, like it was just any other static participant at the show.
The E-4B's attendance at RIAT 2022 will go down as one of the most sensational pulls in the show's history, up there with the Russian Air Force Tu-95 in 1993 the Japan Air Self-Defence Force's debut in 2012. What was no doubt a remarkable effort of organisation and diplomacy on the part of the Air Operations team will ensure that 2022's post-pandemic return will be remembered as one of the show's greatest.
Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?