After what has seemed like an endless cold and dreary winter, the start of the 2013 airshow season is finally upon us. Adam Duffield attended the 2013 Abingdon Air and Country Show to see if it was the cure for the winter airshow blues.
Whilst the season itself may have officially started a week before hand at Shuttleworth, Abingdon is always one of the early season shows held on the first bank holiday weekend in May. With the week before the show having possibly the longest run of good weather so far this year, it was typical to arrive at Dalton Barracks to be greeted by 100% cloud cover. A quick look however made it clear that the crowds had not been deterred with a sizeable queue forming before the official gate opening times and a constant stream of cars entering the site.
As with any show nowadays, Abingdon suffered a number of cancellations of participants in the run up to the show. Amongst these was the unfortunate loss of the Belgian Air Force Sea King search and rescue display which had received tasking to support one of their own national shows. The US Army SHAPE Blackhawk was also unable to attend due to the current financial restrictions in place as a result of sequestration, which is affecting US participation at shows both home and abroad. A more notable loss to the show this year were displays from the Royal Air Force. With the grounding of the Grob Tutor fleet earlier in the year due to propeller issues, and no displays for the Hawk T1 or King Air in 2013, the number of RAF displays available to shows this year has been significantly cut and neither the Tucano nor Typhoon display teams were able to attend.
But an airshow isn’t about what hasn’t turned up and the display items, both static and flying, certainly didn’t disappoint. The organisers were privileged to secure static display items from 3 foreign air forces keeping up their record of having participation from a foreign nation. The Royal Netherlands Air Force brought an example of their Pilatus PC-7 Turbo trainer and the Belgians, unable to send the Sea King display, instead were able to provide a SIAI Marchetti SF260 complete with a shark mouth paint scheme. Two other examples of the Marchetti were also present alongside it, one being ex-Italian Air Force with the second flown into the airfield on the Saturday evening by Tony De Bruyn. Following his accident at Kemble last year it was wonderful to see him back at Abingdon for this year’s show along with the Bronco Demo Team Stand. The final nation to provide an aircraft was Poland with a naval PZL M28 Bryza. Whilst a common sight at some of the larger airshows over the years it was a real coup for the show to secure its attendance as the largest aircraft on the ground.
As usual a large number of private aircraft arrived during the morning to spend the day at the show with some being brought to the front of the static display line by the crowd. These included a collection of Austers, a pair of Druine D31 Turbulents, a Murphy Renegade Spirit single seat biplane and a lovely, bright yellow, De Havilland Tiger Moth. Closer to the public view were a Bucker Bestmann and Nord Pingouin (a French produced Messerschmitt Bf-108) in Luftwaffe schemes along with a Fokker S-11 Instructor in a Royal Netherlands Navy scheme.
Almost on cue, the overcast cloud started to break and produce some rare blue skies and sun for the flying display. Once again, the show this year was held in support of the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust. Operating a Eurocopter EC-135 based at RAF Benson it was only fitting that they opened the show with a series of flypasts and manoeuvres that show the handling of the helicopter off extremely well.
With no RAF displays in this year’s show it gave opportunity for more civilian display acts to shine. A perfect example of this was Will Hilton flying his first ever public solo display in one of the SWIP teams Silence Twister aircraft. At 19 years old he displayed the aircraft wonderfully with a series of tight turns and flicks remaining close to the crowd at all times and keeping everyone’s attention. More usually seen as a pairs routine it was good to see the full potential of the twister in capable hands with a more dynamic solo display. Airshow regulars Alister Kay and Andy Hill, the RV8Tors in their Vans RV8’s, made full use of the smoke systems against the increasing amounts of blue sky to show a well-polished formation flying routine. Also displaying a high standard of formation flying were the Breitling Wingwalkers in their bright Boeing Stearman’s, who captured the attention of the mostly family crowd more than any other display during the day with their daredevil barnstorming routine.
No airshow would be complete without a smattering of warbirds and in this respect Abingdon managed to book some of the best. Aces High’s C-47 Dakota arrived early in the morning of the show day and the team allowed the public to get on board for a small donation and have a look around the aircraft prior to going up for its display which was performed with the usual grace and poise of an aircraft much smaller than the venerable Dakota. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster with its 4 glorious sounding merlin engines is always a captivating sight and even more so in this, the 70 year anniversary of the legendary Dambusters raids. Peter Teichman flew a wonderful display in the sparkling P-51D Mustang ‘Jumpin Jacques’ showing just how powerful it is and treating the crowd to the wonderful Mustang howl. However, the star of the warbirds has to have been Peter Vacher’s amazingly restored Hawker Hurricane Mk1. Flown for the display by Peter Kynsey it really did look amazing in the sun and the backdrop over the tannoy system of an interview with World War II pilot Wg Cdr Bob Foster DFC who flew the aircraft during the Battle of Britain gave additional poignancy to a wonderfully evocative routine.
Propeller trainer aircraft were in out in force for the display segment. Rod Dean in the Scottish Aviation Bulldog painted in East Midlands University Air Squadron scheme put on a very gentle but compact display whilst Radial Revelations operated North American T-28 Fennec showed off its raw power and speed in comparison along with the wonderful soundtrack of its 7-cylinder supercharged engine. However. It was its brightly painted training predecessor, the North American Harvard AT-6D flown by Clive Davidson, that stood out the most. Painted in a bright yellow scheme to represent a US Navy SNJ-5 from USN Reserve, NAS Glenview, it was another graceful display focusing on precision rather than all out power.
Not to be outdone by their propeller counterparts, jet trainers were also represented by a Folland Gnat T1 and Jet Provost T5. The Gnat, one of two operated by the Gnat Display Team based at North Weald, was flown for the display by Kev Whyman and appeared to be a different airframe to the one expected by the commentator. A display act not seen at many shows during any given year, it seemed distant and high especially given the relatively small size of the aircraft. In contrast to this was Dan Arlett in the Jet Provost who put on an excellent display with loops, rolls and inverted passes galore. His knife edge pass in sun with blue skies behind may well be the best photographic opportunity for a Jet Provost all year!
The final two aircraft in the flying line up deserve special mention as this was likely the last Abingdon show that either type will be seen at. A single missed approach flypast was performed by Tristar ZE706 of 216 Squadron based at nearby RAF Brize Norton. The close proximity of its home base meaning that eagle eyed visitors could view it lifting in the distance behind the crowd line and watch it lining up for its approach. With the type due to be withdrawn from service in April 2014 and replaced by the Airbus A330 Voyager, the distinctive triple engine aircraft will certainly be missed by enthusiasts. The second type is that of the Army Air Corps Westland Lynx AH7 flown this year by Capt Eddie Brown of 671 Squadron. Due to be retired from service by 2015 this remarkable helicopter puts on a display unlike any other in the UK and enthralled the crowds with its opening roll and eye opening backflips. This is truly a display that cannot be matched by any other helicopter out there and will be greatly missed.
Along with static and flying display aircraft, there was the usual wide attractions provided to entertain the whole family. With a classic car rally featuring numerous highly polished examples from the easily identifiable bubble cars to wonderfully restored MG’s, a selection of historic military vehicles and a main arena featuring the Abbey Brass Band, Irish Dancing and Falconry displays there was plenty for everyone. The Army Air Corps publicity team were also present with a static Gazelle example and their Apache flight simulator.
Once again, the team behind Abingdon Air and Country show managed to put on a wonderful selection of displays of the highest calibre. Whilst some may have predicted the decline in RAF displays for 2013 as the beginning of the end for some shows, Abingdon has proven just how good a show can be utilizing the wide variety of civilian display acts that are available. Combined with the stunning weather and a packed crowd line, Abingdon’s 2013 show must surely go down as one of their most successful to date and sets a high standard for them to beat next year.