Glorious sunshine, bright blue skies and temperatures hitting the 20s. Then the air-show season arrived and it all went Pete Tong. Steve Smith of AeroResource reports on the traditional season starter at Abingdon…
The Abingdon Air and Country show has grown immensely in the 11 years since it’s inception. Started in 1999 as a country-fare type event with a small flying display, the Abingdon Show can now proudly refer to itself as “an International air-show”. There was one item in particular that was guaranteed to be a show stopper – the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Display Team, in their unmistakable orange aircraft.
The organiser’s suffered a major blow two days prior to the event with the following press release appearing across the web – “Due to circumstances beyond the organisers’ control, no fixed-wing aircraft will be operating from Abingdon Airfield for the Abingdon Air & Country Show on Sunday 2nd May 2010.”
Defence Estates, who own the airfield were un-willing to sign the airfield off to allow fixed wing operations, resulting in no fixed wing aircraft being able to operate from the airfield for the show.
It was a shock for not only the enthusiasts, but just as much for the organiser’s and could have spelt disaster for the show. Thankfully, the helicopter’s were still due to appear on static and were able to operate from the airfield – an RAF Merlin, RAF Puma and U.S. Army UH-60A. All other participants that were due to operate from Abingdon were repositioned to nearby RAF Brize Norton. Credit to the Royal Air Force for stepping into the breach to help out at very short notice.
The clement weather of the last few weeks gave way in spectacular fashion on the night of Saturday 1st/Sunday 2nd, with the morning of the show having winds gusting up to 20 knots, continuous rain and -1 degrees centigrade with the wind-chill. Never have craft tents looked so inviting!
However, the show must go on come rain or shine. The first ‘performer’, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire and Hurricane was predictably cancelled given the high winds and so the display kicked off slightly later than scheduled.
The Swifts Glider Aero’s Team were up first, unfortunately due to Defence Estates’ decision the glider was unable to separate from the tug and land (which is always a wonderful spectacle), but managed to make the best of a bad situation with numerous rolls whilst the Silence Twister barrel rolled around the tug and glider.
Next up was the Fennec T-28, which made an un-mistakable noise as it came in for several low and fast passes. This was followed by the black Hawker Hunter T7A G-FFOX (formerly WV318) from Delta Jets from near-by Kemble and then a crowd favourite – ‘Drag ‘Em Oot’ DC3/C-47.
The C-47/DC-3/Dakota – call it what you will – is such an emotive aircraft given the importance of the type in this country’s history during the Second World War. It does not get the glory like the Spitfire or Lancaster, it just got in with its job in relative anonymity.
Following the remarkable DC-3, the Silence Twister returned with a friend for a duet display, the pair performed a stunning display using their SA180/SA1100 Twisters, with the very unique design combining the striking looks of the Supermarine Spitfire and modern composites to compile a agile aerodynamic performer.
A short interlude and then the sky got loud again, as Tom Saunders entered the stage in his red, blue and black BAe Systems Hawk T.1 from 208 Squadron at RAF Valley. Plenty of fast passes followed, as well as a slow wheels down pass and a unique finish to the display as the Hawk spirals vertically into the clouds, high above in the aircrafts stunning new 2010 scheme. Abingdon was Tom’s first public display and despite very difficult conditions, including a very tough head wind, Tom showed the agility and manoeuvrability of the RAF’s advanced trainer.
The Hawk was closely followed by another of the RAF’s training aircraft – The 2010 RAF Tutor display. Despite the aircrafts very small size, this year’s pilot Flt Lt Bill Ramsey, who’s led a very distinguished flying career, managed to keep the aircraft very close to the crowd and show the abilities of the Tutor.
One of the highlights of the show was the appearance of Vampire WZ507, and the crowd were blessed with some sun which briefly appeared providing some wonderful shots of the silver and yellow schemed aircraft.
This was followed by two of RAF Brize Norton’s residents in the form of fly-bys from a 101 Squadron VC-10, one fast wheels up and one slow wheels down approach followed by a full power climb out – A sound that is often heard in the surroundings of Oxfordshire, but one that’s always music to the enthusiasts ear. Next up, also from Brize Norton was a 99 Squadron’s mighty C-17 Globemaster which gave the crowd one very brief ‘topside’ fly-by from left to right before returning to base.
Then, the Grande Finale and what many had been waiting for – the Dutch F-16. The display as usual, featured some remarkable flying and some even more remarkable, ear-splitting blasts of afterburner. Several varied passed followed, including a slow, nose up pass which must have been close to stalling speed, a wheels down approach followed by climbing out on full power and finally an immensely low and quick full afterburner run down the display line from the left to right.
Despite the challenging situation the organisers found themselves in prior to the date and the abysmal weather, the show was as usual, very popular amongst enthusiasts. Predictably, the attendance was down compared to previous years and one can only hope that the show did not make a loss. As for the future of the show given the decision by Defence Estates, we can only wait and see…..