Biggin Hill International Air Fair Report

Saturday 26th June - Sunday 27th June 2010

Throughout the summer of 1940 fighter pilots based at RAF Biggin Hill took to the skies to defend London and South Eastern England from the might of the incoming Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. During the battle Biggin Hill was attacked on numerous occasions. On August 30th the Luftwaffe attacked no less than three times, 39 personnel were killed during the third raid. This year's show, organised by Air Displays International, was a salute to those pilots who flew from Biggin, to those who never came home and to the personnel killed during attacks on the famous airfield.

Stuart Norris reports from Kent for UK Airshow Review. Photos as credited.

This year's show boasted a line up featuring six Spitfires and five Hurricanes and was strongly supported by the RAF, which contributed twelve items to the flying display as well as static examples of the Hawk and Merlin. The air forces of Belgium and France also participated in the flying display while the Polish Air Force sent an M28 Bryza for static display. In addition to the might of the modern military and warbirds the line up also had carefully selected civilian items; this provided a nice balance to the flying display.

Brendan O'Brien got the show started with his flying circus. Brendan put on a very impressive display of low level flying before finishing with his party piece, landing his Piper Super Cub on the top of a trailer, which was being towed down the runway.

The first of the RAF's contributions came from the Falcons parachute display team. Jumping from the back of the Chinook the team quickly formed their unique eleven man stack before breaking to land right on the drop zone. Taking the salute was Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton. Next came the Tucano display and Chinook role demo. The impressive Tucano display routine saw Flt Lt Tom Bould earn the award for best solo display. The Chinook's routine is now a role demo showing off its airlift and troop drop capabilities, as opposed to an all-out display of agility. The demo ended with the 270 degree turn, which produces the famous rotor slap noise.

The Gnat pair then put on a fine display of formation and opposition passes before the Red Arrows took the skies. "The Reds" are always a firm favourite with the public and this year's display was no exception, their highly polished display earning a huge round of applause.

A spot of runway maintenance after the Reds had landed prevented the Belgian F-16 from taking off at its allotted time. This meant that the RAF Tutor, which had taken off earlier in the day, was able to go straight into its display. After the Tutor departed the F-16 was finally given clearance to display. The routine was very impressive; plenty of afterburner; high G manoeuvres and a knife edge pass which showed off the paint scheme to good effect. The paint scheme split the opinion of enthusiasts when it was unveiled in the spring but it really stood out against the bolt blue sky.

The Black Cats from the Royal Navy made their regular appearance at Biggin before the RAF Typhoon thundered into the air for its display. A short pause followed to allow for a business jet to land.

By this time it had become the hottest day of the year so far, the mercury had risen to 31 degrees with hardly any cloud and precious little wind to cool things down. The heat haze this caused - and the sun moving around to the threshold of runway 03 - meant photography was getting tricky.

The Tornado role demo team took their turn to display next with a series of low level high speed passes and strafing runs. Plenty of pyrotechnics were used to simulate cannon fire and the brimstone missile. Next up were "The Blades" in their new livery which is supporting the RAFA wings appeal. The team's Extra 300s really gleamed in the bright sunshine as the pilots put on a routine of tight formation passes, eye watering unlimited aerobatic manoeuvres and the signature four-ship formation stall turn. The French Air Force Alpha Jet took its turn to display next and I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by its routine, especially the start. Immediately after take off the pilot performed a dirty barrel roll on the climb out, straight from the Mirage 2000 school of display flying!

The next two items were provided by the RAF and were both very welcome participants. First came the VC10, which had flown in from RAF Brize Norton on Saturday to perform two flypasts before landing to spend the night at Biggin Hill. The landing was noteworthy as it was the first time since 1965 a VC10 had landed at the historic airfield. The second item was the Harrier, which returns to the "circuit" this year at a small number of events. Like the Chinook and the Tornados the routine is more of a role demo as opposed to a full display. That said the demo features the hover, the sight and sound of which is still a showstopper. Hard as it is to criticise the Harrier the fact it never came to the western end of the airfield during its display was something of a disappointment.

After the Harrier the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) flew a solo display. The routine did not feature the dirty pass with the gear down. The reason was not clear but it may be that the undercarriage problem encountered at the Southend Festival of the Air has forced a rethink of the display routine.

The scene was now set for the Battle of Britain set piece. The first part was a training scenario featuring a Tiger Moth, Jungmeister, Harvard, Spitfire I and Hangar 11's "Hurribomber". The Tiger Moth, Jungmeister and Harvard demonstrated aerobatics while the Hurribomber and Spitfire flew formation passes. Before long the Hurribomber and Spitfire were bounced by Luftwaffe aircraft being represented by the Me108 and Buchon. Peter Vacher's Hurricane I and the Kent Spitfire took off to take on the German invaders who managed to force the Hurribomber and Spitfire to land. Before the dogfight started the Germans managed to make a couple of strafing runs. However the Spitfire and Hurricane soon engaged their adversaries and emerged victorious. The remaining three Spitfires and three Hurricanes then lined up on the runway before taking off in a simulated scramble. While they were forming up audio was played to simulate a major airfield attack. A series of pyrotechnic explosions accompanied the audio to give an impression on what it may have been like to be at the airfield during an attack.

The four Spitfires and four Hurricanes then flew a missing man formation in tribute to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle of Britain, a poignant moment. The fighters then performed a loose tail chase routine. The Typhoon and BBMF Spitfire XIX followed performing three formation passes and opposition passes. The remaining acts were B-17G "Sally B", the RAF Hawk and a stupendous display by the Red Bull Matadors. Team Viper did not fly on the Sunday. The honour of closing the show usually falls to a Spitfire and Nigel Lamb duly obliged in The Old Flying Machine Company's Spitfire IX, MH434. This was a majestic display with Nigel making low level passes while offering topside views and also making use of the valley. It was a truly fitting way to close the show.

Last year the traffic problems getting off the airfield caused no end of complaints. There was no repeat of those problems this year despite a near capacity crowd on Saturday; the organisers deserve credit for addressing the problem. The general opinion was that this year's show was one of the best to date. The attendance figure of 100,000 people over the two days was very good considering England played Germany in the World Cup on the Sunday and Vulcan XH558 was not airworthy in time for the show. Let's hope the 2011 show is better still!

In the last few days it has emerged that Air Displays International, the organisers behind the Air Fair, have had their contract for 2011 onwards terminated by the Biggin Hill Airport Ltd. We're told that they are keen to continue the airshow into the future, albeit under their own control and perhaps a different format; details will no doubt begin emerging over the coming weeks and months, and you can keep abreast of the latest news on our forums.

UKAR hopes that whatever the outcome, and whoever runs the "new" show, the high quality of organisation and participation at Biggin is maintained. The Air Fair is a cornerstone of the UK air display scene, and to see the show debased after 48 years would be truly sad.