Biggin Hill International Air Fair 2005 Review
Saturday 3rd Septemeber - Sunday 4th Septemeber
With autumn now just around the corner, sadly, so too is the end of the 2005 airshow season. Only a handful of shows now remain on the calendar, and time is fast running out before the winter hiatus begins. The Biggin Hill International Air Fair, with its early September slot, provides an opportunity to enjoy late season thrills, and again the organisers managed to produce a substantial and diverse display, and not for the first time this season, the whole weekend enjoyed soaring temperatures and glorious sunshine!
and report from the capital's biggest airshow. All photography by the authors.
Admittedly, the 'International' tag was stretching it a bit this year - aside from a Dutch Spitfire and Turkish owned Pitts Special, the flying display contained no foreign items at all. There were, however, a handful of European items to be found lining the small static park, with a pair of French Air Force Mirage F1s being the undoubted stars of the ground displays.
In previous years, there has been some noteworthy participation from foreign air arms - in the last three years alone the Belgians, French and USAF have all provided items for the flying display, and the organisers had lined up some foreign acts for this year, but for various reasons they were let down at the eleventh hour.
Not considering what might have been, the Air Displays International team had managed to assemble a wide ranging number of types and brought them together in a mammoth 6 hour+ flying display that was varied and always entertaining for the large crowds in attendance.
An integral part of any airshow is, of course, the commentary team, and a special mention must go to Biggin's announcers. With legendary pilot and TV personality Brendan O'Brien joined in the commentary box by American Ron David, the crowd were treated to one of the best airshow commentaries your authors have ever heard. These two are without doubt one of this airshow's biggest assets, breaking up the action with fantastic insights into the displays and aircraft, whilst keeping it light-hearted and genuinely amusing throughout - exactly what you want from an airshow commentary team.
And so we move onto the main action of the weekend - the display itself. A procession of classic cars up and down the crowdline each day preceded the flying display, which got underway at a rather sedate pace on the Saturday with the Fieseler Storch. Originally planned to be joined by the Shuttleworth Collection's Westland Lysander, the Storch was left to open the show alone after the Lysander untimely went 'tech' - a real shame, especially considering it was being billed as one of the main items in the display with several pages in the programme dedicated to the type, and their wartime role.
The souvenir programme itself is another point worthy of praise - a high quality publication jam-packed full of interesting and useful content rather than pages and pages of adverts that you find at other shows, and all for the reasonable price of a fiver. Something other shows could learn from.
Anyway, back with the flying display, and the Harrier GR.7, which was the first item from the RAF to display on each day. As we've come to expect, the RAF had turned out in force once more, and alongside the GR.7, the RAF also put on displays by the Hawk, Tucano, Jaguar, Tornado F.3, Typhoon and Chinook, with the Red Arrows and the RAF Falcons Parachute Team making Saturday-only appearances. The C-130J tactical demo regrettably had to be scrubbed, with the RAF unable to find a spare airframe for the show.
The remaining UK military participation came from the Army's Blue Eagles display team, and the Royal Navy, who sent along a lone Harrier T.8 and the Black Cats Lynx Duo. The Black Cats were also unable to display after one of their aircraft suffered a fire during a practice on the Friday, with the broken airframe being taken home on the back of a low-loader, and regrettably the Harrier T.8 failed to make the display on the Sunday.
Of note were the contrasting fortunes of several UK Military types - whilst the Typhoon was making its Biggin Hill debut, the Jaguar and Sea Harrier were bidding farewell to the venue, both facing retirement in the near future. Each type now only has a handful of airshow appearances left. As a matter of fact, the Jaguar that flew the display went straight off for scrapping on the Monday after the show, having run out of hours on the airframe!
Completing the mix were a healthy dose of classic jets, warbirds and civilian aerobatic types. Will Curtis from the Honda Dream Team was as impressive as ever in his Su-26, as were the Red Bull Matadors in theirs - both are truly incredible displays. Another impressive display came from a Turkish owned Pitts Special, a.k.a. “Purple Violet”. The owner has stripped the aircraft right down to the bare minimum in search of all-out aerobatic performance, so much so that the aircraft only has the capacity to hold 20 minutes worth of fuel, meaning the team have to dissemble and reassemble the airframe so that they can travel to and from air displays in a specially modified truck!
Airshow regulars, The Utterly Butterly Barnstormers, made their mandatory appearance, with a two-ship on the Saturday and a solo on the Sunday. The last civilian item on the list is also fast becoming a regular at UK Airshows - the DHL 757. Having already completed numerous displays at shows up and down the country this year, DHL's 757 display is approaching the end of its first full season in the UK. Let's hope that we see her again next year - it's not every day you see an airliner in a flying display, let alone one as well flown as this.
On the classic jet side - Delta Jets announced their arrival in spectacular style, two of their Hunters and a Gnat arriving in formation with the Red Arrows. A beautiful sight, but unfortunately missed by large numbers of photographers (authors included) as they arrived before the display got underway and without any announcement from the commentators.
Further classic jet action came from Golden Apple's duo of T-33 and F-86 - both looking immaculate during their excellently flown pairs display.
Two Naval types completed the classic jet roster - a performance from the Red Bull Sea Vixen on both days was most welcome. Remarkably, neither of your authors had previously seen 'CVIX' perform at an airshow before Biggin Hill, and with this year's booking list for the aircraft consisting mostly of seaside shows and European dates, Biggin Hill was sadly one of very few chances to see her at a major UK display this year. Let's hope she's out and about more in 2006.
The second of the naval types makes up 50% of the Royal Navy Historic Flight. The Sea Hawk was joined, as ever, by the prop-driven Sea Fury, both aircraft returning to Biggin Hill a year on from their return to the airshow circuit after lengthy lay-offs for maintenance.
This leads us nicely onto the warbird participation, and there was plenty of it. As ever, Biggin Hill paid tribute to its World War Two roots, and there was no shortage of piston power on show. Duxford residents were present in abundance, with the P-47 and Bearcat flying solo routines, whilst OFMC's P-51D 'Ferocious Frankie' joined up with Rob Davies' 'Big Beautiful Doll' for a pairs routine, and a flypast on each day in formation with B-17 'Sally B'.
Both days of the show also saw performances from the BBMF, who were in attendance with a Spitfire, Hurricane and the flight's Dakota. Peter Vacher's perfect Hurricane was also featured in the flying display, but for many, the highlights of the entire weekend were the Spitfires. Each day saw a simulated scramble, with five Spitfires taking to the air for some tail chasing, set to the sound of air raid sirens over the loudspeakers and pyrotechnics in front of the crowds.
The climax of the flying display on both days was reserved for Ray Hanna, flying the OFMC's Spitfire, MH434. Possibly the best-known Spitfire on the circuit, flown by the man who is regarded by many, as the best Spitfire display pilot in the world, and it wasn't hard to see why - a thrilling and graceful display in a magnificent machine. There could be no more fitting way to close the show than this.
So, all in all, an excellent airshow. Despite thick fog in the mornings, both show days turned out to be gloriously sunny and very hot. An interesting and varied flying display with no traffic problems, in or out, and affordable ticket pricing at a fitting venue all meant that the large numbers who attended left sunburnt and smiling. What more could we have asked for?