Abingdon Air & Country Show

Saturday 11th September 2021

Originally clashing with the rearranged RAF Cosford Air Show, the 2021 instalment of the Abingdon Air & Country Show was the largest show in the UK over the weekend of the 11th to the 12th September 2021. After missing a year, it would be interesting to see if the show would be able to replicate its trademark relaxed atmosphere so late in the season which had made it so popular with enthusiasts and the general public alike.

Andy Evans reports from the former RAF Abingdon for UKAR. Additional images from Jakub Zurek and Dominic Vickery.

Traditionally, the Abingdon Air & Country Show has been one of the first popular events of the British airshow season, one where many enthusiasts take the opportunity to blow the cob webs out of their photography gear and to meet up with like-minded friends that they may have not seen over the winter. Following the cancellation of the 2020 event and the uncertainty of early 2021 thanks to COVID-19, the organisers rescheduled the event from its traditional May-Day bank holiday slot to mid-September. Despite having to quickly re-deploy volunteers due to a number of them having to self-isolate in the days before the event, this relocation turned out to be advantageous for Abingdon. The reduced COVID-19 restrictions allowed for a full-size crowd to be catered for and with the unfortunate cancellation of RAF Cosford Air Show, it appeared the stage was set for Abingdon to benefit from excellent RAF participation. At least that was the plan.

Upon arrival visitors could be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into a re-enactment of World War Two as they looked across the runway. The airfield is currently being used for the filming of Masters of the Air and directly opposite the crowd line sat a wartime airfield scene complete with a pair of full-scale replica B-17 bombers, not your usual backdrop at an airshow! To aid with authenticity when filming, the grass was also quite long outside of the showground which did pose a challenge when trying to photograph movements on the runway but this was hardly any hardship. The biggest challenge facing the photographer was the layout of the event resulting in the crowd facing the sun for the entire flying display. This may have been frustrating but thanks to the changes in regulations, it is the only layout that allows the event to continue in the post-Shoreham era.

Abingdon’s traditional set-up treats the visitor to a lazy morning of arena displays plus arriving aircraft for both flying and static display, followed by an afternoon flying display which begins with model aircraft. This year was no different with early arrivals consisting of the the Army Historic Flight and the welcome appearance of Sea King HAR3 XZ597 which would later display and Wessex HU5 XT761 on static display throughout the day, both arriving in glorious morning sunshine directly in front of the crowd. The number of visiting aircraft was down this year but this was unavoidable due to a combination of pilots self-isolating and bad weather elsewhere. That said, there was no shortage of visiting aircraft on the ground, including the imposing B-17 Sally B which had arrived the day before to take part in the pre-show night photoshoot.

In addition to Sally B who closed the show in typical graceful form, the flying display included a number of warbird displays. This included P-51 Mustang ‘Miss Helen’ and a pair of solo displays from Hurricane Mk Is R4118 and V7497. The outstanding warbird display of the day however went to Peter Teichman in Hangar 11’s new star, the Mk IX Russian Spitfire PT879 who provided a masterclass in how to display a warbird at a small event. Indeed, the displays by both the Russian Spitfire and Hurricane R4118 highlighted just how uninspiring the underside-heavy solo displays performed by the RAF BBMF are, emphasised by the appearance of BBMF Spitfire Mk XVI TE311 in the display.

The undoubted headline display for the 2021 show was to be the RAF Typhoon solo display. It is always a bit of a coup for the smaller shows to attract the only RAF fast jet solo display - I can therefore only imagine how the organisers felt when, shortly before the show, the RAF decided to downgrade the appearance of the Typhoon from a flying display to a pair of flypasts only. If this had been for genuine operational reasons then it would have been understandable however this downgrade was to accommodate two private RAF events elsewhere into the same sortie. It really paints the RAF in a poor light that private events take priority over displaying to the public - one may have been for an Air Cadets event however this doesn’t escape the fact that a display was advertised at Abingdon by the RAF for months and the public had purchased tickets on that basis. Given that just one week earlier the Typhoon team took part in a private £1,500+ a seat air to air photoshoot during "official QRA training" after displaying at Bournemouth Air Day, we sincerely hope that this is not evidence of a worrying new trend that private events are being given priority over displaying to the public by those responsible for tasking the RAF display teams.

The RAF did provide flypasts from a Chinook (which, when the display season had included just three venues could easily have been a display) and the Red Arrows however the hoped-for flypasts from a C-17 and C-130J did not materialise. The planned C-17 had to be re-tasked elsewhere but it was frustrating to witness a number of Hercules in the circuit on local flights at RAF Brize Norton in the distance throughout the day; was it really that hard for the RAF to extend a circuit to perform a flypast?

Lacking the expected star display, one act shone out over and above the rest at Abingdon and that was Rich Goodwin. His style of display is well suited to this type of showground and injected an element of excitement and daring which isn’t provided by warbird displays. Richard displayed his custom Jet Pitts with his usual energy performing twists and turns that seem to defy physics. His display was also interspersed with a number of races performed down the runway alongside a sponsors Audi in both directions, with the Pitts assuming a different flight angle on each pass. It’s not often that visitors get the chance to see an aircraft travelling so low and fast, an experience that was amplified by the long grass emphasising how low Richard really was.

There were the usual traffic problems with everyone trying to leave after the end of the flying display but those who decided to remain were able to watch the visiting aircraft depart in comfort before returning to their cars and leaving with ease. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Abingdon Air & Country Show exists to raise much needed funds for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance together with other local charities and rescheduling the event allowed for this to be maximised once restrictions had been lifted. After a year away, the show has returned and delivered a typically high-quality relaxing event with a variety of display acts to suit all tastes. Next year the show will be held on Saturday 10th September 2022 let’s hope for more of the same, hopefully with more support from certain RAF display assets though!