RAF Cosford Air Show

Sunday 12th June 2022

The RAF Cosford Airshow was the first large scale military airshow of 2022 and of course since ‘you know what’. With the loss of the RNAS Yeovilton International Air Day, the RAF Cosford Airshow is now the sole airshow organised by the Ministry of Defence.

Dominic Vickery was getting back into the swing of things at the largest airshow held in the UK since 2019. Photography by the Staff Team.

Credit where credit is due, a little over 6 months ago we were all wondering if there would be an event held at Cosford in 2022. It would have been all too easy to have canned the show citing covid and its associated reasons, but on 18th January tickets went on sale, promising an exciting, action-packed six hour flying display, themed around the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. It would be less than 5 months before the first participant's wheels touched down for the event.

With a new organising team, the forum discussions centred around what the event would look like this year, with a fear it would be a return to Cosfords of old and a ‘seaside’ style of show. However, less than a month after the ticket announcement the first participants were announced; it was a huge coup for Cosford, the Hungarian Gripen, followed by the Belgian F-16 and show regular A109 helicopter which may well be its last appearance at Cosford before retirement. The Armee de l’air Rafale, in its only 2022 UK airshow appearance also self-confirmed. The hype was well and truly building amongst enthusiasts.

With the addition of the usual RAF assets you would expect to see at the RAF's only air show, and the announcement of a few static items, participation updates seemed to hit a brick wall. The display was looking worryingly thin and looked like less than half of the aforementioned six hour display was full. Then, with the cancellation of the Hungarian Gripen, talk around the show started to raise concerns about the flying display and its lack of items. Even with the confirmation that both the A400M and F-35 would perform a series of flypasts, things were looking very sparse. In fact from mid April the only full flying updates were the P-51 Mustang operated by Rolls Royce and for the first time since 2015, a synchro pair display by the RAF Typhoon and a Battle of Britain Memorial flight Spitfire.

The key to any modern event is communications. After selling out their ticket allocation it shouldn't have been hard to keep ticket holders informed. Even a little post acknowledging people's concerns, or an update of what’s being worked on, could have done wonders for the event. The lack of updates continued in the week leading up to the show and to compound matters further, it wasn't until late Thursday afternoon that it was announced that instead of the previously stated six-hour flying display, there would now be a ‘full afternoon of flying’. The anticipation and excitement normally felt in the run up to a big air show wasn't there and it all felt a little flat. On Friday when acts started to arrive and practice their displays, much to our surprise an RAF Hercules landed for static display which would later be joined by an Irish Air Corp Pilatus PC-9, both being cracking static additions but still unannounced.

On the weekend of the show however, and again credit where it is due, comms from the team burst back into life; sneak peeks of static items were being teased, air-to-air photographs were shared and with favourable weather forecast, despite the previous months' frustrations and concerns, excitement for the show started to build. On Friday and Saturday more static items started to arrive. The Coastguard’s AW189 gave a nice hover and slow taxi in front of the enthusiasts gathered on Cosford's railway station platform however the surprise of the day was the arrival of Historic Helicopters. We knew they would attend with their Sea King and Whirlwind but you can imagine the surprise when what turned out to be their Lynx, Wessex, Whirlwind and Sea King arriving and all breaking into the circuit, landing, having a discussion about refuelling, sitting in a corner of the airfield for over an hour with rotors turning before the Sea King and Whirlwind were moved into the static, the Lynx and Wessex staying ‘live side’ and joining the flying display. The appearance of the Lynx marked a return to a public air display for over seven years since retirement from the Army Air Corps. This again was completely unannounced by Cosford and it was at nearly 11pm on the Friday night that Historic Helicopters themselves that had stated they’d be present, and post-arrival on Saturday what they actually would be flying.

Arriving on base at 7.15am with no traffic whatsoever which, as most know for Cosford, can be a real issue, it seems (don’t jinx it) the team have cracked their traffic management plan for the morning entry. The team regularly posted traffic updates on social media throughout the morning and there weren't many real grumbles about wait times to get on to the airfield and to get parked up.

As the general public started to arrive and look around the static display, regular attendees will know it is blessed with a huge array of based-items with most being potentially available to be used as static items, as demonstrated in 2019. This year though that seemed to not be the case at all with a wealth of dead space around the airfield. The main resident type at Cosford is the SEPECATJaguar and I counted 6 out for the public to view, one of these being on jacks impressively used to showcase the aircraft's hydraulics systems in operation, but that was about it.

One of the static themes was the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands War. The RAF’s most famous Chinook ‘Bravo November’, which arrived to the museum earlier this year was listed for the static, joined by a Sea Harrier, Harrier GR.3, a Westland Wasp and an Argentinian Air Force Pucara. This could have been a massive pull but unfortunately it didn't live up to expectations. The Pucara was put on display minus its outer wings, Bravo November was left, along the Harrier GR.3, inside the museum hangar with just the hangar doors open, and the rest cramped outside together, whilst in the next hangar along, there was nothing but space, a vendor’s trailer and some metal fencing. This felt a bit half-hearted and a huge wasted opportunity. Nothing dashes excitement like getting a “that’ll do” vibe, as this display had.

By contrast, a highlight of the static display was a UK Search and Rescue line up showing the history of both the RAF's former machines to the present day civilian outfit in date ascending order. On show were an HM Coastguard AW189, Historic Helicopters’ Sea King and Whirlwind with the Cosford collection’s Wessex in between them. A display of this type will probably not be repeated any time soon and could easily be one of the top 10 airshow highlights of 2022.

At 12 noon the flying display started, the official programme confirming that this was now scheduled to be 4.45hrs. Even with a pre show announcement of ‘an afternoon’ of flying, this was way short of what should be expected at an event of Cosford’s size and actually turned out to be a fair chunk less with the loss of Team Raven and the cancellation of the A400M flypast.

Opening the show were the RAF Falcons with a very rare jump from an RAF Chinook, a display that was very neatly presented and their carousel maneuver being hugely impressive and one not to be missed.

Whilst the flying display contained fairly large gaps between acts, and credit to commentators Ben Dunnell and Andy Pawsey for keeping the crowd informed and not allowing any deathly silences, it did contain some real highlights. The welcome return of the BBMF spitfire and Typhoon ‘synchro’ display was good to see, opening with a topside pass and finishing with a crossover split into the colourful ‘blackjack’ Typhoon solo. Whilst on its own a good display, it was trumped by the Armee de l’Air Rafale which put on its usual polished display featuring lots of after burner and energy throughout its slot, but even this was bested by the Belgian F-16. This year’s routine is possibly one of its finest displays I have ever seen, featuring plenty of negative G and manoeuvers that one didn’t know an F-16 could do, even after all these years and countless solo displays.

Other gems from the flying display were the Historic Helicopters’ Wessex, making its Cosford debut, along with their Lynx later on in the day, making the first public display in civilian hands since retirement. Whilst it was so good to see a Lynx in the air again many were wondering if we would see a return of the aerobatic displays from the former AAC Blue Eagles team. Sadly this was not the case but give it a bit more time for a proper display build up (and hopefully CAA approval) and we may yet once again see a Lynx backflip!

The day’s flying ended with some RAF flypasts; a pair of Texan T1's marking their first UK airshow flying appearance, followed by a pair of Hawk T2s, both from RAF Valley, both very welcome sights and hopefully something that will be repeated throughout UK shows in the near future.

Finishing off the day was an appearance by the RAFs newest fighter, the F-35 performing 2 passes; the first being a quick pass (not exactly fast and not in reheat), the second slowing into its party piece of hovering. Whilst being old enough to remember the Harrier arriving at Cosford on the morning of the show and making plenty of racket, the F-35 should bring back many a memory from Cosford's regular punters and hopefully will be regular Sunday sight once again!

Once the flying display had finished many were left wondering why such acts had been left to close the display; with so many people left at the end of the show the traffic getting out could be described as horrendous. I packed my belongings into my car, went for a wander around the static items again and sat in my car for an hour before even thinking about heading off. People were understandably starting to lose their cool - so much so that the RAF Police had to make a tannoy announcement asking for people’s patience. To put a bit of context to it, the flying finished at 16:50 and I didn't start my engine until 19:35. And even then it still took me 20 minutes to get off the airfield. This really needs addressing for next year.

Whilst this review may come across as negative and a way to have a poke at the organising team, it’s actually quite the opposite. Let’s not forget that less than 5 months ago the show hadn't sold a single ticket (other than 2020 rollovers) and possibly didn't have a single participant in mind. To go from that to what we saw on the day is nothing short of incredible and one that can only be applauded. The RAF Cosford Airshow is a firm favourite throughout the UKAR team and we hope the show has a long and successful future. The gripes that have been raised here are very easily fixed. Many can remember the panning RIAT got in 2019 for their comms and social media output, but that has been addressed and fixed and there’s nothing stopping the Cosford team doing the same.

If this was what can be arranged in less than 5 months and now having the show’s return confirmed for 11th June 2023, we cant wait to see what will be at next year's show with a full year of planning behind them!

A special thanks and mention needs to go out to Ironbird Photography for once again making an air to air photo flight opportunity available to UKAR, we’ll see you again next year, and we cant wait!