RAF Leuchars International Air Show Report

Saturday 7th September 2013

In the week preceeding Leuchars Airshow 2013, the weather looked as if it was going to try its absolute best to ensure that the final RAF airshow at RAF Leuchars would be a damp and depressing affair. In reality, the weather gods were kind and bathed the airfield in sunshine for most of the day. The same could not be said for the rest of the UK however, which did have an effect on the show. Even in such nice weather though, nothing could hide the underlying tone of sadness that many felt knowing that they were part of history. The end of an era.

Leuchars Airshow 2013 was the 65th and final Battle of Britain at Home Airshow to be held by the RAF. Andy Evans was on hand for UKAR to record the passing of a legend, additional photography from Chris Milne.

The build up to the 2013 show was relatively slow compared to other major shows with many star acts only being announced in the few weeks leading up to the event. Compared to the two other major military airshows in the UK (Waddington and RIAT), Leuchars has in recent years appeared to struggle to attract major military star acts due to both its location relative to Europe and it's annual date, towards the end of the UK season. All these pre-show concerns however very quickly vanished as the quality of a number of updates in quick succession made many enthusiasts salivate with anticipation.

Comparing the static line-up with that of Waddington and RIAT made for some interesting results. Leuchars had three times the number of F-16's on display than RIAT managed. In addition, at the media launch, RIAT this year promised us an example of every RAF Typhoon Squadron on display and they failed by not having a 41(R) Squadron machine present; Leuchars succeeded, sort of... Forming the centre piece of the static was a row of RAF Typhoons adorned in the markings of every active RAF Squadron with the only exception of 1435 flight (which isn't a Squadron). It has to be said though that Leuchars did cheat by quite obviously applying the other units decals to based 6 and 1 Squadron machines. How could you tell? The aircraft still carried their E or F Squadron tail codes! So what about a comparison with Waddington? Waddington has received criticism this year for the amount of civilian light aircraft "spam" filling their static line up. I am happy to report that Leuchars has never succumbed to this trend and whilst it's static is smaller than many shows it predominantly consists of military aircraft.

In some ways, the static display at Leuchars represented the highest quality selection we have seen at a show this year. International particpation was strong with a pair of F-16s each from Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands providing a welcome sight. Joining the fast jet collection was a pair of Rafale M from the Aéronavale and a pair of Aeronautica Militare EF-2000 Typhoons joined a significant number of RAF Typhoons dotted around the airfield. Even the broken Luftwaffe Tornado which was stranded on the base was pulled out for display. Other stars of the static line up came from the number of heavy aircraft present. Making its final airshow appearance was an RAF VC-10 which shared the concrete with its replacement, Voyager (conversely, the newly delivered ZZ335 making it's airshow debut). These aircraft were joined by the special marked 5(AC) Squadron Sentinel and a KLu KDC-10.

The flying consisted of a wide variety of aircraft, however it did suffer from some unfortunate events; the Vulcan's appearance was cancelled a few days before the show due to a leaking fuel tank, the Black Cats Lynx suffered a malfunction en route and the Swedish Historic Flight J29 Tunnan had an engine failure shortly before the show weekend. During the show, the weather surrounding the area prevented the Breitling Wing Walkers from joining the flying and the Army Air Corps Apache from arriving on static display.

Full credit must be given to the Gnat Team and the Hunter that were due to display who, that morning had fought through the weather on their long journey from North Weald in Essex to arrive at Leuchars. It was therefore a shame that the show ran over, cutting the Gnats display slot to just six minutes and cancelling the Hunter completely, with its slot given instead to the Catalina. Whilst I fully understand the importance of the Catalina display at Leuchars with the presence of VC winner John Cruickshank at the show, I'd have to question the cancellation of the Hunter display and the reduction of the Gnat display when acts such as the Wildcats appeared to be too long in my opinion and quickly lost the interest of the crowd. Surely it would have been better to reduce slot times for acts such as this, especially as they weren't the only Pitts displays in the flying display?

These small niggles aside, the flying display contained a number of class acts. Kicking off the display was yet another of the memorable Red Arrows formations that have punctuated the 2013 season. This time 'The Reds' were joined by four of the Typhoons based at RAF Leuchars. This really symbolised that this was the beginning of the end for Leuchars, and also showed that the base was intent to go out in style. Kudos to the organisers for booking the must have attraction of the 2013 airshow circuit, the Swedish Historic Flight's Viggen; an aircraft some larger shows this year seemed to have overlooked and have been criticised for. The Historic Flight also deserve a pat on the back for providing a replacement for their poorly Tunnan in the form of their gorgeous Vampire; teaming this pair up with the ever welcome SAAB 105 certainly bought some much welcome Scandinavian flair to proceedings.

The Red Arrows of course gave their own send off to Leuchars with a unique display using just eight aircraft. The last time the Reds flew with an eight ship in Scotland was in 2011 soon after the tragic loss of Flt Lt Jon Egging - a display that moved many. This year's display was reduced to an eight ship for much happier reasons; at approximately 3am that morning, Red 9, Flt Lt Mike Child's wife gave birth to their baby daughter. As you can imagine he was excused duties to be with them and I believe I speak on behalf of the entire UKAR team and our community when I wish them congratulations and all the luck for the future.

The highlight of Leuchars Airshow 2013 was the UK debut of arguably the best Typhoon display in Europe. Deploying for the first time outside of their home land were a pair of Typhoons from the Austrian Air Force together with an ex-RAF C-130K. The Austrians actually performed two seperate displays throughout the day. The first consisted of two parts; initially the C-130K played the part of a rogue aircraft and the Typhoons performed extremely aggressive take offs in order to intercept the aircraft. What followed was a superb sequence of low speed turning as the Typhoon's air policing mission was ably demonstrated, 'forcing' the C-130 to land. The second part of the first display consisted of a dogfighting demonstration between the two Typhoons. This element highlighted just how powerful and agile a platform the Typhoon really is, performing almost Flanker 'Cobra'-like turns at some stages. This dogfight demonstration was the most agile and aggressive manoeuvring I have ever seen from a Typhoon. Together with the recently restored Canberra PR9, this act should be considered a "must" for the large UK airshows in 2014.

The second Austrian display of the day was the debut of their solo display. Whilst this routine was full of power and aggression, it was not quite as good as the RAF display which was of course also present. The 2013 RAF display in particular has been the best we have seen and credit must be given to Flt Lt Jamie Norris for a season of stellar performances.

Of course, all good things must come to an end and so has RAF Leuchars Airshow. As is the annual tradition, the sunset ceremony ended the airshow and bought a lump to everyones throat as we realised this is the end. Symbolising the future, a based Typhoon was joined by a 617 Squadron Tornado to perform the final flypast, bringing to end 65 years of Battle of Britain at Home airshows at the base. What the future holds for airshows in Scotland is very unclear and I understand the RAF are currently studying possibilities. These range from a new show at RAF Lossiemouth to increased support for another Scottish airshow; however there is also the outside chance that a new event may be arranged at Leuchars as I understand the runway will remain serviceable after the RAF move out.

One thing is clear, RAF Leuchars Airshow 2013 went down fighting with one of the highest quality and most successful shows of the UK airshow scene this year. It will be greatly missed by many and will be a tough act to follow.