Biggin Hill Airport Family Open Day Report

Saturday 10th September 2011

If ever there was an event on to a hiding to nothing from the outset it was this new format show held at the famous Battle of Britain airfield. The sudden and unexpected cancellation of the much loved Air Fairs had turned many enthusiasts against this, its smaller substitute, and it would appear that a lack of local advertising also impacted on the surprisingly small crowd.

Phil Whalley was one of the few that went to see what was on offer.

The pages of UKAR were aflame with anger and disbelief when the news broke that the Biggin Hill Airport management had terminated the contract with the organisers of the Air Fair, citing reasons which did not appear to stand up under scrutiny. Perhaps to assuage the local community by appearing to still be 'transparent' and accessible, an open day style event was announced. It was planned to include a modest flying schedule, with other ground based attractions and visits 'live' side to see the operations at the airport.It was a formula that hadn't appeared to have been seen as attractive going by the numbers present, although the aforementioned lack of advertising may have been the biggest factor. The large public area was also noticeably short on sales outlets and exhibits. It has to be said though that viewed in isolation as a 'Family Open Day' it did comprise an impressive warbird and civilian display content, interspersed with the more typical dog displays, bands and motorcycle team demonstrations.

The afternoon flying display was opened by the Tigers parachute team, taken aloft by an Islander, followed by the first of the warbirds with Dave Evans in P-51 'Janie'. The graceful formation aerobatics of the Red Hawks in their Fournier RF4 motor-gliders contrasted with the power of the Hangar 11 P-40 Kittyhawk flown by Peter Teichman and sporting new 'Clawin' Kitty' nose art in temporary paint, on top of the similarly temporary scheme still being worn during the long drawn-out release period of the Red Tails Hollywood film.

There followed a long lunch break period during which the rainclouds built up, unfortunately letting loose a heavy downpour as the display recommenced. Pete Wells found himself displaying solo in the rain after fellow SWIP 'Twister' Guy Westgate picked up a puncture whilst taxiing out. Chris Gotke pulled long wingtip streamers through the damp air in the RNHF Sea Fury, before the weather front thankfully passed through during the Breitling Wingwalkers display. Dave Barrell and Charlotte Voce made the long transit from Jersey in one of the Stearmans to join that of Steve Hicks and Stella Guilding for the show.

Aptly the final item on the flying programme was Peter Monk's original 'Kent Spitfire', MkIX TA805, and flown in inimitable style by Dan Griffith. Peter Monk has recently expanded his Spitfire ownership to include a Mk1 - X4650 - and another MkIX - MK912 - which was positioned inside one of the airfield's revetments as part of a re-enactment setting. Members of the public could pay £30 to sit in the cockpit for photos. At the time of the Open Day MK912 was still sporting the Mickey Mouse nose art, the 'Russell' title and the White Horse of Kent logo similar to that on TA805. By the following weekend it was to be seen at the Goodwood Revival with all these removed.

Although the Open Day cannot be compared in any way to the Biggin Hill Air Fairs of old, it has to be said that with a bit more organisation, advertising and planning it would be a very welcome addition to the airshow season. Something being better than nothing - as has happened at North Weald, and would probably be the case with any future Mildenhall air event - would be about the best attribute offered. It doesn't though, of course, come anywhere near being a worthy replacement and it must be hoped that there is still a chance of a re-think by the airport's management.