RAF Waddington International Air Show 2008 Review
Saturday 5th July - Sunday 6th July
After the washout of Waddington 2007 there were high hopes for 2008. The question on everyone's lips was "would the Vulcan be making an appearance?". For most of the preceding week it was still a question that couldn't be answered even by TVOC themselves. However, in the last two days before the show XH558 was not only given its certificate of airworthiness but also the all important display authorisation.
reports on Vulcan XH558's home coming. All photography by the author.
The forecast for Saturday was an early weather front giving way to sunny spells around lunchtime with the odd shower. Much better than the persistent rain of last year which ultimately cancelled the airshow. It wasn't long before the clouds gathered over Lincolnshire and we prepared for rain. Sure enough it started raining but it didn't dampen the spirit of the record numbers who attended in the hope of seeing the Vulcan fly for the first time in 15 odd years.
Luckily the display was some way off from starting so there was hope the rain would ease off in time, unfortunately it wasn't the case. What better way to start the show than with the Red Arrows. They approached from crowd rear and went into a formation turn. It was quite obvious this would be a flat display but the conditions made it even flatter, as they turned in formation those on the outside were lost in cloud. Ever the professionals, rather than abandon the display they cleared the area and went into the hold in the hope the weather would clear enough for them to display.
It was quite some time before conditions cleared enough for them to come in and at least attempt some formations but it was clear the weather was less than ideal but you have to give them credit for making every attempt to give the crowds a glimpse of a nine-ship jet formation team. It was a case of flat displays all round to begin with, the Tucano and King Air doing their best. Even the Grob Tutor managed to find the airfield and display.
One of the more exotic items on display were the Dhruv helicopters of the Indian Air Force team the Sarangs. They have been appearing at several shows in the UK this year including Biggin Hill. Their brand of formation helicopter aerobatics was reminiscent of the Dutch Grasshoppers although their aircraft are more photogenic, or they would be in bright sunshine!
The Blades gave us a full display in their new Barclays colours even with a stiff crosswind and low cloud. Of course the pilots are all pros with them being ex-members of the Red Arrows so there isn't much that would prevent them putting on a show of some sort. The RAF Chinook was impressive as ever showing just how agile a huge helicopter can be. By this time the front had almost blown over so we were set for a bit of sun at last. Yet another crazy day where you have to pack wet weather gear and sunscreen.
The RAF Falcons finally found a window in the weather and were able to jump from A C-130. Several items either had to be delayed or placed elsewhere in the programme, a nightmare for the organisers but almost seamless for the attendees. All the way from Chile came the Extras of the Los Halcones team. We were looking forward to a decent display but after only a couple of manoeuvres they suddenly aborted, as did their commentator who finished quite abruptly. Strange for them to abort considering the Blades using similar machines had flown their display in much worse conditions but it was all due to the gusty crosswind.
Unfortunately there is only one Merlin on the circuit this year, the RN machine, but it gave the Chinook a decent run for its money. A Typhoon got airborne for some formation passes with the BBMF's PRXIX Spitfire PS915. Not an easy feat with a WWII prop and modern fast jet. This wasn't to be the only formation display of old and new, more of that later. The RN Black Cats made their appearance before the Spanish Team Aguila flew their seven-ship display in challenging conditions and instead of doing their trademark formation landing they did a runand break and landed individually, again due to the weather.
The Army Air Corps are making the most of their WAH-64D Apache at displays this year and it flew with the more common Lynx. The Apache's 30mm chain gun can be aimed by a turn of the head and it shows this off to good effect in the display. We don't often see the Mirage 2000 these days so it was good to see the French Air Force's delta pulling some high Gs but some cloud had rolled in which made photography difficult.
While the Mirage was displaying the Vulcan had fired up and started taxying to the runway hold. There was a wave of clicking camera shutters as XH558 passed Falklands veteran XM607 over the far side, a rare opportunity to photograph two Vulcans together. There was great anticipation as 558 waited for her turn to line up. At most airshows the crowdline may be a few people deep but looking along the line it seemed as though everyone on the airfield had gathered to witness the Vulcan's first public display since being retired from RAF service in 1993.
Finally she was given take-off clearance and 558 edged onto the runway. The four Olympus engines spooled up, the brakes were released and the nose sprung up as she moved forward. Then the characteristic howl could be heard, a sound last heard by many 15 years ago as the Vulcan carried out what was thought to be her farewell airshow season. In no time she was airborne in the familiar steep climb. Not only did this bring back memories for some but it also introduced a new generation to the magic and sheer power of the Vulcan. The sound of many car alarms being set off was another bit of nostalgia!
The Vulcan wasn't due to display, it was to go into the hold to the east until the incoming BBMF had displayed. The Spitfire and Hurricane left the Lancaster circling and landed. We were about to witness a unique moment in airshow history. Looking towards Lincoln the Vulcan could be seen, the line of black smoke trailing behind. Half way along the runway it turned away towards the circling Lancaster. We were about to see the Vulcan and Lancaster flying in formation. The Vulcan closed in behind the Lancaster and they both turned towards the crowdline.
There was silence as these two superlative bombers from the pen of aircraft designer Roy Chadwick glided past in front of us. Two bombers, a world apart in terms of design and power but both four engined bombers from the Avro stable. Thousands of cameras could be heard clicking and I doubt there was anybody watching who didn't have a lump in their throat or a tear in their eye. This was the perfect venue as well, RAF Waddington, which was home to both aircraft types when they were in service.
The Lancaster came into land and it was time for the Vulcan's display, but first the Waddington based E-3 for the role demo took to the skies. 558's display was somewhat familiar but not as energetic as her RAF days. It was more sedate for two reasons, to reduce fatigue on the airframe and to allow pilot Dave Thomas and the rest of the crew to get familiar with flying the 'tin triangle' again. It certainly wasn't disappointing. We got to see the bomb bay doors open on one orbit and close on the next, the big difference being the disappearance of the 'farewell' on the doors!
The roller landing was replaced by a gear down pass followed by a high power climb to complete the display. Dave Thomas turned the aircraft downwind for landing. A perfect landing back on Waddington's familiar runway and spontaneous applause from everyone, not many aircraft have that kind of effect on people but to see such a complex airplane go from RAF service to displaying in private hands despite the technical and financial problems is truly amazing.
Many of the solo displays from the RAF we used to see have now been incorporated into the Role Demo, a graphic demonstration of the RAF's capability, although the AAC's Apache does get a a piece of the action if resources allow. The Role Demo made its successful début last year but suggestions and comments have been noted, including those from UKAR members, to improve the display for this year. With pyrotechnics aplenty there was always something to look at and Flt. Lt. Andy Pawsey's commentary made it clear what was happening. It was after this we decided to look round the static while the RN Lynx equipped Black Cats and RAF Typhoon displayed in the background.
The static display was plentiful but sadly lacking in quality. The number of private aircraft outweighed the modern military by some amount and made it look like a GA fly-in rather than the RAF's premier show. There had been some notable cancellations but I'm sure it left many disappointed. Aircraft that would have been of interest such as the Chilean C-130 and Czech AN-26 were parked down the far end and hemmed in with barriers making any decent photos impossible. Alpha Dispersal, where the E-3s hang out, was again nothing special with a handful of private aircraft that would be more at home at a fly-in. Nice to see but not at the airshow you'd expect to see them!
The event on Sunday certainly had the worst of the weather and also the Vulcan developed a minor fault which couldn't be rectified in time but the crowds did get to see a fast taxi run complete with spray. Waddington 2008 wasn't a classic year but seeing Vulcan 558 fly at her former home was indeed the reason for many people to attend and made up for any no-shows elsewhere in the programme. For 2008 at least Lincolnshire truly was bomber country.