Sywell Airshow 2008 Review
Sunday 24th August
As with its forerunners, Sywell's biennial airshow is all about raising funds for the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance. In an almost identical start to the aerodrome's most recent show in 2006, Sunday the 24th of August 2008 started off wet, but again, as in 2006 the clouds parted and the sun shone until the middle of the afternoon.
reports from his local. All photography by the authors.
In the run up to the event the star items on the participation list were the Vulcan, the DC-6 and an appearance by the Red Arrows. Sadly, as we all know, the Vulcan became unserviceable whilst repositioning to Brize Norton, from where it would operate over the show weekend, and on the day itself it emerged that the DC-6 would be unable to attend due to the closure (or at least intended closure) of its Coventry airport home during the afternoon. There's no two ways about it, these cancellations will have come as huge blows to the show's organisers, just as they did to those in attendance, and it has to be hoped that the goodwill of the paying public won't have been damaged as a result.
Though a fly-in had been held the previous day, the morning of the show itself still saw many arrivals, both in terms of participating aircraft and also visiting GA, and including all manner of weird and wonderful flying machines, many of which I was unfamiliar with.
Pleasure flights were also being offered during the morning in a pair of Tiger Moths, a Microlight and one of the resident Brooklands Flying Club AT-3s. Judging by the amount of movements prompted by these aircraft, they seemed to be a rather popular addition to the day.
Making the first of two appearances between "shouts", was A109E Power G-WNAA herself - the Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance, reinforcing just how important the fund-raising in aid of their cause is.
The flying displays themselves got underway at 1350, and despite the weather early doors, the crowdline seemed to be much more densely packed than in 2006. In the commentary position was Ken Ellis, who clearly drew a very mixed reaction from the crowd present.
Opening the show were the Great War Display Team. They brought together what has to be (and by some distance) the biggest and most impressive gathering of WW1 replicas that I've ever seen in the air at the same time. No less than three SE5As, a Sopwith Pup, a pair of Fokker DR1 Triplanes, a pair of Junkers CL1s, as well as a Nieuport 17 all featured in this dog-fight based aerial spectacular.
Following hotly on their heels were Team Guinot, this particular performance featuring two of their Stearmen and as always complete with wing-walking ladies. They looked great against the deep blue skies and proved to be a big hit with the general public as expected.
The Historic Aircraft Collection (HAC) provided the immaculately presented Hawker Nimrod next, with a routine tailored perfectly to the Sywell dog-leg.
One of the surprise acts of the day were the Swift Aerobatic Display Team, for this appearance featuring the Pawnee who acted as the Swift glider's tug, and also the Silence Twister. Guy Westgate in the Swift rolled and flew inverted whilst still attached to the tug, before they departed for higher altitudes, leaving the Silence Twister to perform its solo routine. It's been said before but the similarities this aircraft bears to the Spitfire, at least from below are uncanny. Guy later returned with a trademark exhibition of grace, energy management and quite astonishing skill in the glider.
One of the many firsts for me on the day was the Pitts 12 "Macho Stinker" - described as a 360hp unlimited level display biplane. The aircraft itself is unique in the UK and there are but a handful in Europe as a whole. Having arrived in the UK in January it's under the custody of Rob Howarth and Alan Cassidy, 'aerobaticdisplays.co.uk'.
The residents played a big part of the airshow as always, and Tony Richards of Warbird Experiences put the Harvard through its paces next.
A demonstration of Formula 1 air racing was provided by The Dukes of Cassutt with their three Cassutt IIIM racers, led by Richard Grace, the son of a performer who we'd see later in the afternoon.
Despite the lack of Vulcan, the sound of jet engines were still to be heard above the Northamptonshire airfield as the Vampire Preservation Group's T11 example performed a very pleasant, albeit somewhat disappointingly short display.
While Alister Kay and P-51D Mustang "Ferocious Frankie's" performance here didn't quite get the pulse racing in the same way as it had done at Shuttleworth's Military Pageant earlier in the month, it was still a great showing of the aircraft, and that sound... Simply majestic!
Another new one on me was the curious looking Aeronca 100 belonging to the Real Aeroplane Company, based at Breighton. Apparently it's dubbed the flying tub and it doesn't take an awful lot of imagination to see why!
Dennis Neville and his flying circus always go down well with the crowd and this was no exception. Despite a not inconsiderable crosswind, the Chipmunk, two Tiger Moths and single Queen Bee all took it in turns to fly beneath two sets of washing lines, as well as attempting to burst balloons being released from the ground.
Another resident performer who always wows the assembled masses is Martin Lovell and his MD-500E helicopter. After prancing around on his 'tip toes' and performing an auto-rotation, he returned to crowd centre, a matter of inches above the ground, knocked over a pre-positioned cone with his skid and then proceeded to 'pick it up' on the aforementioned item! He then flew it to another point on the display line, before placing it back down on its side and flicking it back upright!
One of the highlights of the whole programme was the appearance of the Edgley Optica. Designed by John Edgley and built by Brooklands Aerospace, the craft has been blighted by a succession of misfortunes. In 1985 two Hampshire Constabulary police officers were killed when the example in which they were flying stalled. Edgley were declared bankrupt soon after and Optica Industries, the company formed to recommence production suffered an arson-induced factory fire destroying all bar one of the 25 examples built to that point. Another bankruptcy followed in 1990, but despite all this, Edgley has bought back the design rights and hopes to recommence production imminently. This was reportedly the first public display in eleven years.
In my 2006 report from the show, I questioned why we'd had to wait until the aircraft's departure to see the topside of the Catalina displayed, but Plane Sailing's team had clearly (cough!) heeded my advice with a wonderful pass opening the routine. It didn't stop there either and this has to go down as one of the best flown displays (of which there were several) of the day.
It was the first time I'd seen Richard Meredith and his Pilatus P-2 since last year's Little Gransden airshow. It's a shame they don't get out a bit more as it's a wonderful looking aircraft.
Clive Denney and the Me108 caught the "allies" off guard with an airfield attack featuring pyrotechnics, before Carolyn Grace and her Spitfire TR.IX arrived to teach him a lesson. Having dealt with the threat she warmed into a very nice routine, culminating in a series of sweeping topside passes that would've looked great in the sunshine experienced earlier in the day.
The Red Arrows performed two passes, including their own take on the Vulcan as they transitted from London to Liverpool. One of the benefits of Sywell being home to a display team made up entirely of former "Reds", I guess! Unfortunately the lack of direction from the commentator meant that there was a mass exodus following the Reds' appearance as large chunks of the crowd seemed to think they'd marked the end of the display!
Of the many times I've seen Peter Teichman and his P-40N Warhawk, I think all bar one have been in pretty terrible light, and this was another one to add to the list, sadly.
As this was also the 80th anniversary of the airfield a special formation had been arranged to depict the history of the site. Although scheduled to include an Auster, a Piper Cub was flown in its place along with a pair of Tiger Moths, a Fox Moth, a Miles Messenger and one of Brooklands' AT-3s completing the modern day story.
Closing the display were the home side, The Blades, led by former "Red 1", Andy Offer. They fly a very well choreographed, polished and executed routine in their four Extra 300s.
If props were not your thing then the Sywell airshow will have been something of a disappointment, but having gone knowing exactly what to expect I thought it was very good. Despite the cancellations there were no gaps in the just under four-hour flying display at all. The proximity of the display line was nice and close to the crowd (or at least feels that way) and virtually all of the acts on display flew their aircraft in a manner to make the most of the dog-legged layout.
In terms of facilities several people were heard to comment on the toilets being the "poshest" they'd ever seen at an airshow venue and my own experiences mirrored that.
There were a few concerns about what might have happened had the pitch black clouds off to the south west deposited what for a long time they'd looked very likely to. The main car park was somewhat soggy when we'd arrived! Fortunately no such issues were encountered, though getting out proved slightly more difficult than getting in until someone finally stepped up to the plate and actually started controlling the traffic things speeded up greatly.
Initial indications suggest that a very healthy looking cheque will be presented to the Air Ambulance as a result of the day and everyone associated with the event should be immensely proud of that fact.
All being well the next instance of this popular event will take place in 2010.