The beginning of May traditionally sees the start of the years airshow season. Adam Duffield takes a look at the Abingdon Air & Country Show for AeroResource as it starts the 2012 season.
The Abingdon Air & Country Show is now in its twelfth year of running and has become one of the larger names on the airshow circuit, drawing a variety of displays and increasing numbers of visitors. Held on the grounds of the former RAF Abingdon airbase the show is run in order to raise funds for the Thames Valley & Chilton Air Ambulance charity whilst providing an enjoyable day out for all the family. Though the afternoon air display may well be the main attraction for most visitors there is also a varied range of things to see away from the aircraft - which this year included a classic car rally, childrens entertainment, tank rides, local emergency services and a wide range of stalls selling both aviation and non-aviation related goods.
The run up to the event showed a promising line up. With its close proximity to RAF Brize Norton the show has historically enjoyed flypasts from any available RAF assets based locally and this year the plan was no different with an intended flypast from an RAF Tristar. Also planned to visit was a regular Abingdon attendee, a UH-60 Blackhawk from the US Army SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) flight. Unfortunately both items had to cancel closer to the event for operational reasons, however the rest of the line-up remained intact and interesting. Another important factor in the build-up to the event was the faithful British weather. With most areas declaring official states of drought the irony of two weeks constant rain failed to miss most people. Localised flooding around the country along with ground saturation in many other areas may have had the organisers worried to start with but the ground at Abingdon remained both firm and usable meaning the show was on.
With gates opening at 10am a steady stream of vehicles headed towards the car park. At the same time visiting aircraft had already started to arrive with one or two in the pattern at all times. An early surprise for some was the late addition of the Catalina Aircraft Company's PBY Catalina, which was added to both the static and flying line-up at the last minute. The morning’s weather was also a surprise, with the forecasted cloud cover breaking up early to give some lovely sunlight on the static display items, many of which had arrived the day before.
The static display area was split in two with the showground entrance running through the middle. On one side were the static only items consisting of the spare display Grob Tutor and Tucano, a Pilatus PC-7 from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, Tony De Bruyn’s OV-10B Bronco and a Grob Vigilant from the locally based 612 Volunteer Gliding Squadron. The other side of the grounds hosted the visiting aircraft, along with those that would be taking part in the flying display later in the afternoon. Already on the ground in the morning were the Dakota ‘Drag ‘em oot’, T28 Fennec and the RAF display Tucano, Tutor and King Air. Also on static display was an RAF Merlin that the crew had opened for visits. Judging by the constant queues it was certainly enjoyed by a lot of people. Adding to this the constant arrivals throughout the morning (of both the remaining display aircraft and visitors), there was always something to watch.
With the aircraft arrivals completed it was time for the flying display to start. The first act was a surprise to everyone, as the previously unannounced Army Air Corps Lynx that had been on static display during the morning fired up and departed ready to run in for a practice display. Following a tight display complete with trademark backflips, the Lynx hovered back into its static display position giving the gathered spectators a good experience of the downdraft generated by its twin Rolls Royce Gem engines.
Shortly afterwards the Thames Valley & Chilton Air Ambulance Eurocopter EC-135 performed two flypasts. With the event supporting this charity it’s always good for the crowds to see the aircraft that their money would be supporting. Due to the quick-reaction nature of its operations, it departed back off towards Oxford to continue its lifesaving work.
The first of the scheduled displays followed with the appearance of the 2012 RAF Hawk T1 Display. The aircraft was based out of nearby RAF Brize Norton for the display, which for this season is flown by Flight Lieutenant Philip Bird. Philip and his aircraft operate from the 4 Flying Training School (4FTS), 208(R) Squadron - based out of RAF Valley in Anglesey. In the week prior to the airshow the 2012 display scheme was revealed - however due to the sheer effort involved in painting the aircraft it was unavailable in time for the Abingdon show. As the only jet aircraft flying in the display this year, the Hawk performed a wonderful display that seemed more compact and closer to the crowd than previous year's offerings - the inclusion of a stall turn in the sequence was certainly different.
A new name for a regular airshow act was next on the agenda, as the two Pitts S-1D Specials of the Trig Team took to the skies for their display. Flown by Richard Grace and Dave Puleston the two distinctively coloured aircraft put on their usual high standard of close formation flying, leaving a trail of white smoke over the airfield that contrasted with the rapidly approaching grey skies.
Many spectators at airshows can often be found not only discussing how aircraft look, but the noise they make - and the next act to display rates highly in those discussions. As soon as it had took off, the noise of the 1760 horsepower Merlin engine of P-51D Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’ caught everyone’s attention as display pilot Alister Kay put her through her paces.
In complete contrast from the loud and fast pace of the Mustang display, the next aircraft to take to the skies was much more subtle and graceful. The Miles M.11 Whitney Straight is one of only two survivors of the type - produced during the 1930’s.Its gentle pace gave plenty of time to admire the bright silver paintwork in the brief periods of sun breaking through the ever thickening cloud. With the show running slightly early a few extra passes kept the crowd looking towards the sky whilst waiting for the next aircraft to arrive.
Flying from its base at RAF Coningsby, the ever popular Battle of Britain Memorial flight provided its Supermarine Spitfire PR.19 for a solo display. Despite the magnificent sight and sound of a Spitfire in the air above Oxfordshire, the display was short lived and lacked the excitement and topside passes of some of the displays earlier in the line-up. Combined with the seemingly abrupt ending the display left everyone wanting more.
In the lead up to the show it was uncertain if the East Kirkby based Dakota ‘Drag ‘em oot’ would make the show. With winter servicing running until the last minute it’s first flight of the year took place only the previous day - but thanks to the hard work on the ground it not only passed flight tests but also gained display clearance and arrived at Abingdon the day before the show. Flying alongside the Avro Anson from Classic Flight (based at Coventry Airport), the duo went through a series of close formation passes before splitting off into solo displays. Both aircraft put on wonderfully graceful shows with plenty of their photogenic topsides being shown - the Dakota in particular putting in some lovely tight turns.
Next up was another of the regular airshow displays from the RAF in the form of the Grob G.115E Tutor T.1. Flown for the 2012 season by Flight Lieutenant Shaun Kimberley, based at 115(R) Squadron RAF Cranwell, this year's display shows a much more entertaining side to the Tutor than has been seen previously with flicks being put into the display at each and every opportunity.
Rather appropriately the RAF Tucano display followed (this aircraft is the next step in flight training for future RAF fast jet pilots), which gave the public a good chance to compare the performance differences between the two types of trainer aircraft. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Jon Bond from No.1 Flying Training School based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, the aircraft was also sporting its brand new 2012 colour scheme. With Her Majesty the Queen celebrating her Golden Jubilee this year, the team have opted to honour the occasion with a specially designed paint scheme that certainly stands out. With patriotic red, white and blue on the topside and a bright red underside (complemented by a large royal cypher) the aircraft looked stunning no matter which angle it was viewed from.
Another airshow regular took to the skies after the Tucano landed, with the unique Breitling Wingwalkers in their bright orange Boeing Stearman biplanes. Complete with two brave girls on top they put on their usual display of tight aerobatics and breath-taking crossovers all whilst the girls performed their own routine in perfect time. If anyone managed to get a close up of them, its clear to see the force that they were performing under and given the chill in the air it must certainly have been cold up there.
With the Dakota departing back to its base at East Kirkby there was a small break before another surprise display started. Only four days before the show the PBY Catalina operated by Plane Sailing had confirmed its attendance at the show. Anyone familiar with IWM Duxford airshows would recognise this aircraft and its distinctive shape. With its usual graceful performance it was a pleasure to see in the skies, and the added radio interaction from the co-pilot gave a different perspective to display flying.
One of the stars of the show has to have been the Hawker Hurricane Mk.1, a genuine Battle of Britain survivor. This wonderful machine is the only airworthy Mk.1 aircraft in the world and despite the weather having clouded over by this stage the pilot put on a wonderful display. To see a true piece of World War II heritage still flying is always amazing but when it has a history that includes five confirmed kills it adds something magical to it. Given the increasing complexity of aircraft nowadays its unlikely that we will ever see such an old aircraft with that much history flying in the future.
A fast jump from the past to the present saw the last RAF display of the day lined up for its turn. This year sees a new display pilot for the King Air in Flight Lieutenant Ian Birchall from 45(R) Squadron based at RAF Cranwell - taking over from Flight Lieutenant Leon Creese. Over the last couple of years the King Air display has become synonymous with ELO’s "Mr Blue Sky" track playing in the background and it feels odd not hearing it in the background as the King Air performs. As always however, an entertaining display with the tactical "Khe Sanh" style landing being a particular highlight - making the King Air stand out from other acts.
With the Army Air Corps Lynx departing for home it was time for the final display of the day – a Bü cker Jungmeister and Bestmann. With a series of formation passes to start with they split off for solo displays with the Bestmann going first. A World War 2 era training aircraft, it performed a number of passes in possibly some of the worst light in the day. In a sudden contrast however the Jungmeister was blessed with a break in the clouds and some amazing sunlight as the German bi-plane put on a very spirited display.
With both aircraft landing the 2012 display was complete and all that was left was a steady stream of display and visiting aircraft departing. In the whole display line-up only one aircraft failed to make it and that was the T-28 Fennec. Having arrived on the Saturday it experienced issues starting prior to its planned display on the Sunday which unfortunately couldn’t be resolved in time. For those not in a rush to get out however they at least saw it depart and got to experience the unique rasping sound of the radial engine.
The team at Abingdon put together a well-planned show with not only plenty of flying action but other entertainment for the less aviation minded. Whilst this year’s line-up may not have included what some may consider big ticket names the display acts that were there put on well thought out performances throughout a varied afternoon of action. The threatened rain for the afternoon held off and whilst it did cloud over with a chill in the air, you could see that everyone was still enjoying the show. The late addition of a couple of extra acts helped fill any gaps that would have been present from cancelled items and at no point were people left with nothing to look at. The Abingdon Air & Country show has certainly got the 2012 airshow season off to a good start.