Abingdon Air & Country Show Report

Sunday 3rd May 2015

Airshows such as Abingdon can sometimes be accused of producing very similar flying displays each year, eschewing rarer items in favour of overloading their programme with what are seen as 'filler' acts. Abingdon's position as a season opener may be a hindrance in attracting certain displays that are not quite ready at such an early stage, however it can also result in some interesting debuts. This year's participation list boasted the debut of the much anticipated Typhoon and Spitfire synchro pair, marking the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, among a strong line-up for the show which quietened any accusations of complacency with 'filler' acts. However, multiple cancellations in the weeks preceding the show and a less than ideal weather forecast threatened the show's success.

Scott Perry braved the British weather to report from Abingdon on the first weekend of the 2015 UK airshow season for UK Airshow Review. Photography from the UKAR Staff Team.

The journey to Abingdon marks the beginning of the airshow season for many enthusiasts, to an event that has grown considerably since its inception in 2000, in the process raising considerable sums for charities. As the name suggests, the event is far more than an airshow but the work of the Abingdon organising committee has attracted some rare and exciting performances over the past fifteen years. However, sometimes luck just isn't on your side; unfortunately it certainly wasn't on the side of Neil Porter and the rest of the team for the 2015 show.

A month before the show, the flying display boasted the first display by Kennet Aviation's Supermarine Seafire XVII since 2011, a rare appearance from the Vampire Preservation Group's Vampire T11 and the Midair Squadron's Canberra PR9 which received much acclaim at last year's show; with the Westland Whirlwind also due for a static appearance. Unfortunately all of the aforementioned, which could have been considered as star items, cancelled for various reasons in the weeks preceding the show. The weather was also on the undesirable side with heavy showers throughout the day, forcing Jet Aerobatics' Jet Provost T5, Will Greenwood's recently acquired Yak-3M, Lauren Richardson's Pitts Special and the Royal Navy Sea King HU5 all to cancel their displays on the day. Additionally, many of the light aircraft that were due to attend the morning fly-in were also forced to cancel due to the weather conditions. Unfortunately, the poor luck for Abingdon does not end there - the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Avro Lancaster was originally due to display and land at the show, the aircraft's presence on the ground being a coup in itself. However due to not being ready for its PDA, and the grim weather forecast, the appearance was reduced to a flypast without landing. After all this, the aircraft then had to cancel its appearance entirely due to technical issues experienced on the day of the show.

The RV8tors had the honour of opening the show, the team's appearance epitomizing the problems encountered before the show. Andy Hill and Alister Kay ably slotted into the vacant slot left by the T-28 Fennec that experienced nose wheel problems on a flight from Duxford on the Thursday before the show, the Fennec itself a late replacement for the Vampire T11. The tight routine and formation work of Messrs Hill and Kay makes their display perfect for smaller venues such as Abingdon with their polished routine reminding all immediately, after the long winter break, of the great flying that we are treated to throughout the summer. Often it is the aircraft type that decides the level of interest a display holds, however, Peter Troy-Davies proved in his Calidus Autogyro that even the lightest of aircraft can captivate the audience. The smaller crowd line at Abingdon again perfectly suited this display, with Peter keeping the aircraft close in front of the crowd for the duration of his display in one of the most engaging routines of the day; therefore it comes as no surprise that Peter has already been booked to reprise his routine at next year's event.

Despite the BBMF's Lancaster being unable to fulfil its Abingdon appearance, the Flight cannot be accused of being deterred by the bad weather, with their Dakota III displaying in some of the poorest conditions suffered on the day. The BBMF also provided half of a display that certainly made up for the long periods of sitting in the rain and was the main attraction for many. 2015 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Britain and to mark the sacrifice of 'The Few' the Royal Air Force have put together a formation of BBMF Spitfire and 29(R) Squadron Typhoon FGR4, painted in the livery of Hurricane pilot Flt Lt Eric James Brindley Nicolson DFC, the only Fighter Command pilot to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the war. The opening section of the routine was comprised of the Spitfire leading the Typhoon in a very tight line astern formation before separating to perform a series of opposition passes. A vast improvement on the Typhoon and Spitfire flypasts that we saw last year to mark the 70th Anniversary of D-Day. There are not many who witnessed the display who would disagree that this was indeed a fitting tribute, despite the conditions, and with there only being another four public events that will host the routine, it is certainly a display that is well worth making an extra effort to see. The Spitfire XVI returned with the Hurricane IIC to close the show; following the formation passes the pair broke to perform their solo routines, which still lack impact compared to many other warbird displays. Having said that it was very apt to see the pair of fighters given their own display slot in this anniversary year, having played a secondary role last year with the focus rightly on the Lancaster pair for much of the season. The commentary was a major bugbear from last year's show, however, with the significance of these two displays the commentator, Ben Dunnell, made a great judgement in choosing to lead the crowd in 'reverential' silence for the duration of the displays, far more emotive than any words.

Another pairs routine came from the Gnat Display Team, who unfortunately copped the start of a downpour that resulted in a hiatus lasting over an hour in the display. The team should be commended on their efforts to complete their routine, despite the poor weather and visibility that they suffered. However, on their final break there was a moment that caused many on the airfield to skip a heartbeat when one of the pair rapidly lost altitude and appeared from the crowd line to be heading towards the ground. However, the reactions and skill of the pilots averted any incident as the team fought against the worsening weather conditions. The vacant slot left by the cancellation of last year's star, the Canberra PR9, was ably filled by the Classic Air Force's seldom seen in recent years Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF11, itself a substitute for its T7 stable mate. Jon Corley flew a routine that was perhaps flatter than it might have been, due to yet another impending shower, but maintaining an effortlessly elegant aesthetic throughout the routine. However this resulted in the Meteor being kept close to the crowd with plenty of good opportunities for the photographers present; the display was coupled with the sun on the aircraft reminding all of how brilliant the venue can be for photographers.

One advantage of the dark clouds that brought the showers were that once these had passed overhead they created a good contrast with the aircraft displaying. The fluorescent orange present on Tony DeBruyn's OV-10B Bronco being a prime example of this. Tony has been a committed supporter of the show in recent years and put the Bronco through a routine displaying all profiles of the aircraft superbly. Plane Sailing's Catalina perhaps looks best against dark skies in its current white colour scheme and whilst its display had to be cut a little short to allow the BBMF fighters to close the show, it added a certain grace to the display. The Twister Aerobatics team of Pete Wells and Chris Burkett were perhaps best equipped for the gloomy conditions that their display suffered with the aid of LED lights fitted down the side of each aircraft that are usually used for their evening displays. One aircraft to suffer though was Kennet Aviation's T6 Texan in its dark colour scheme which lacked presence when flying among the darker clouds, this was not helped as its routine of gentle aerobatics also seemed to be flown higher than most of the other displays.

Despite the weather preventing most of the aircraft that were due to make up the static display attending, there was a good contingent of Westland helicopters present. The Royal Air Force provided an AgustaWestland Merlin HC3a from neighbouring RAF Benson, representing the contemporary end of the spectrum. It was great to see the Army Historic Flight (now the Historic Aircraft Flight Trust) represented at airshows once again, their Westland Scout AH1 taking full opportunity of its appearance by arriving in formation with a Westland Wasp HAS1. The Gazelle Squadron completed the line up with three of their fleet also on static display.

From an organizational perspective we can only commend the work of Neil Porter and his team and sympathize with the constant struggle that they faced this year with cancellations and the British weather. Opening the car parks an hour and a half before the showground to ease the flow of traffic and allowing visitors the opportunity to see visiting aircraft arrive, is most appreciated. The change of commentator and the PA system was a great improvement, with the crowd not subjected to the deafening volume of the previous year. The positioning of the parachutists in the middle of the display often causes a delay in proceedings, but by allowing the Shorts C7 Skyvan to get airborne and perform the woody run in a prior slot, allowing another display while the Skyvan was repositioning for the drop allowed the momentum of the display to keep flowing. Perhaps small things compared to the overall event, but all adding considerably to the experience for those at the show.

Despite the weather and breaks in the display, which due to the show's nature was not too much of an issue for the majority of visitors as there is plenty on offer to be entertained by away from the flying display, and loss of some star items Neil Porter and his team should be very proud of their efforts.