Little Gransden Charity Car & Air Day 2008 Review
Sunday 31st August
Little Gransden in Cambridgeshire has been the venue for the Charity Car & Air Day for some sixteen years now. The event in that time has raised in excess of £80,000 for charities; the principle recipient has of course been the BBC Children in Need Appeal for which the event has been primarily associated. The event's main organisers Dave Poile, Mark and John Jefferies ably assisted by an all volunteer stewarding and airside marshalling team once again put on an astounding event in the surrounds of the Cambridgeshire farm strip that make this a unique event on the airshow calendar.
reports on behalf of UK Airshow Review. All photography by the author.
The weather on the day was unfortunately unkind; a dense fog prevailed throughout the morning precluding the usual arrival of a mixture of General Aviation visitors. For safety reasons visiting aircraft numbers this year was capped and strictly limited to 40 aircraft. This figure however does not include the air display participants. Thankfully for all involved the visibility improved allowing the organisers to put on scaled down but nonetheless highly memorable event and a handful of visiting aircraft did actually make it in despite the weather.
Commentary at Little Gransden was as usual supplied by Ken Ellis of Flypast Magazine Editorial fame. He performed valiantly behind the microphone throughout the day, assisted by those participants at the event he could persuade to talk to the assembled masses.
His chief comedy achievement this year was the assuming Marks & Spencers' ad rip off; "This isn't just any airshow, folks" - very amusing and somehow very akin to the spirit of this particular event. Ken's other key skill was reminding people that loose change in the pocket was in fact hazardous and should be immediately donated. Those who have never been to Little Gransden are missing out on a peach of an event. There were in excess of 150 vintage vehicles on display and the country fair atmosphere is just superb. Thankfully the bureaucrats haven't yet wrecked this event.
The airshow proper kicked off once again with The Aircraft Restoration Company's T-28 Fennec. The little rascal putting the newly authorised display line to good use with a variety of curving passes prior to the display pilot departing to Duxford, and then returning again with four wheels to enjoy the rest of the day's events on the inside. This in itself says something about the nature of this show and how friendly it is.
The newly authorised display line is a big positive for photographers in the same way that Old Warden is held in high regard by show goers. It allows the aircraft to be demonstrated safely in front of the public whilst still allowing you to capture some unusual angles. Another big bonus at Little Gransden for those thinking of attending next year is the proximity of the crowd line to the runway threshold. This also allows the possibility of great approach shots.
The sight of vintage warbirds being operated into this wonderful location gives you some idea of what it must have been like when these aircraft types were being operated off grass aerodromes in anger.
The Bell 47 G-MASH piloted by Tracey Martin had thankfully repositioned to Gransden the day prior to the event and managed to show this unusual warbird off to good effect in the confines of the strip. G-MASH itself has only recently rejoined the show circuit with Tracey at the helm, having just emerged from some extensive restoration and maintenance - the main gearbox having been overhauled and the aircraft now sports a brand new transparent bubble.
Little Gransden is of course by day actually the home of Yak UK Ltd and as such sees a fair share of Yakovlev types, the most frequent of course being the ever popular Yak-50 and 52. It came as no surprise therefore that the Aerostars were once again able to grace the skies around Little Gransden. Their display has over time taken on a more polished edge and whilst its not a fast punchy jet display, they managed to ensure the crowds attention stayed focused on the flying in front of them.
Little Gransden has over the years provided several notable display firsts and this year was no different with the resident Spartan Monoplane making its UK display Debut in the capable hands of Mark Jefferies. The wonderful noise this aircraft makes is very similar to a Harvard. This UK first was actually preceded by another first in the shape of a spirited Pilatus PC-12 display, the aircraft and pilot having only received a Display Authorisation the evening prior to the show from Mike Wood, the event's CAA Air Display Safety Director. They then combined to provide arguably one of the highlights of the event with two close formation passes. Whilst Little Gransden has seen aircraft as big as an Antonov AN-2 land, it was notable to see such a relatively big aircraft as the PC-12 stop in a fraction of the distance more gentile types required.
Mark Jefferies, well known Aerobatic Champion took to the air once again in his own Extra 300 and demonstrated his skill and proficiency in this machine with his by now trademark departure, before ensuring the crowd got to see this aircraft at a variety of angles, leaving us in no doubt that Mark is a master of the aerobatic art.
Old Warden resident, Peter Holloway's so called "Shuttlewaffe Collection" have been keen supporters of this event over the years and 2008 was no exception. The Bu-181 Bestmann, FW44 Steiglitz & Klemm Kl-35 2 all made welcome appearances. The planned 3 ship formation flypast was reduced to two by the Bestmann's temperamental engine starting antics but after some gentle coaxing as befits a vintage aircraft, and at the hands of Clive Denney she did eventually manage a full display. The Bestmann's antics at least allowed Clive to watch his son's UK display debut in an L4 Cub.
Warbirds and Gransden are just meant for each other and this year we were treated to a bumper crop. John Beattie in the Seafire, Cliff Spink in a late mark Spitfire LF XIVE, and then Maurice Hammond, another Little Gransden stalwart and now proud custodian of two airworthy P-51s treating us to the whistling sound of air through the gunports and radiators in his P-51D "Janie".
Peter Vacher's superbly restored Hurricane Mark I was very poignant to see at Little Gransden, as the airfield is also the home of the Cambridgeshire Fighter and Bomber Society's own Mark II Hurricane, which is currently being restored to museum display standards from recovered wreckage. Visitors on the day were able to see the team's remarkable progress on this long term restoration project for a small fee which was naturally aimed at the restoration itself.
Peter Teichman, proprietor of the ever expanding Hangar 11 collection at North Weald and well known warbird display pilot bought his wonderful P-40 Warhawk to Little Gransden this year and proved his mastery of this particular aircraft.
Peter apparently says this aircraft requires more attention than a Spitfire or P-51 to fly well - he is obviously best placed to know that having the enviable choice of airframes to fly! He displayed the P-40 to full affect within the tight confines of the airfield and his display was warmly appreciated by those members of the public who later applauded him as he climbed out of the cockpit.
Another aircraft arguably in the warbird class is the Pilatus P2 which was also nimbly demonstrated and we were also treated to the Fox Glider Aerobatic Display where the pilot was seemingly out to prove how iron clad his stomach was, with several gut wrenching negative-G bunts being the order of the day! In stark contrast the pilot then went on to prove how a glider really can seemingly defy gravity and fly forever.
Little Gransden wouldn't be the same without some good old fashioned barnstorming and Dennis Neville and his Circus did the honours once again this year with a couple of Tiger Moths and the Queen Bee demonstrating how to perform the 'twin limbo', complete with hedgehop! The ever popular balloon popping routine followed, prior to the now traditional flour bombing, assisted by some minor pyro's to add a bit more effect to the audience.
Another unique show attribute at Little Gransden is that every year they hold a brief memorial ceremony to remember those who fell in the course of airborne conflict. This year was the first that I can remember where the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster was unable to provide the customary fly through due to the inclement weather conditions. The service was as ever poignant, and the subsequent the minute's silence well observed by the audience.
Overall the show this year was a great success. The weather played a big part in limiting what was on offer and reduced the expected display programme. Those who did make it are to be congratulated on making their way to event through some awful weather fronts that affected most of the southern parts of the country throughout the day.
The show itself nevertheless had been well attended and whilst the donations received this year may not break last year's record amount, it is believed that the Little Gransden team are once again in a position to donate a substantial sum to the BBC Children in need appeal at the 'Cheque Handing Over Ceremony'.
If you're thinking about attending next year then it comes highly recommend. Not only is the money going to charity but the fun of this event is something that should be experienced first hand, so put a marker in your diary for 2009.