With the 2013 Abingdon Air & Country Show blessed with perfect weather and an impressive line-up of display acts the 2014 show already had a lot to live up to. Adam Duffield and Jamie Ewan attended to discover if one of the traditional season openers could meet expectations.
The Abingdon Air & Country show has become a regular event for many enthusiasts looking to get back their airshow fix after the long winter months. Although other events have already been held around the country, the Abingdon show that is held annually over the May bank holiday weekend is seen as the airshow season opener. Although the key focus is on the performances in the air, there is plenty more to this show to keep everyone occupied. With numerous stalls around the airfield, various classic and military vehicle clubs and a main area hosting shows from falconry to the Oxford Drum Troupe there is plenty to see and do prior to the three hour afternoon flying display.
For the first time this year, an advertised night shoot event was held on the evening prior to the show. With a number of the aircraft arriving over Friday and Saturday, a limited number of people were given the opportunity to get photos under a very different environment to what the main show provides. Whilst none of the aircraft were able to run engines during the night, the crew of the RNlAF PC-7 (L-09) were on hand to remove covers along with the RAF crew of the Tucano pair who switched on the navigation lights of both the participating aircraft (ZF140 and ZF264). Other aircraft on the night were Tony De Bruyn’s new OV-10 Bronco (99+18) which flew in after spending the day at Kemble, Short Skyvan (G-PIGY), de Havilland Chipmunk (WK577), Max Holste Broussard (IR/G-YYYY) and a pair of Westland Gazelle helicopters in both Royal Navy Marine (XX436/G-ZZLE) and RAF Central Flying School (ZB627/G-CBSK) colors.
Throughout Sunday morning both grass and hard runways were in constant use with a wide variety of aircraft arriving. Many light general aviation types filled the fly in parking area whilst a few were directed to the disused cross runway that housed the majority of static display aircraft including a number of Auster and Piper Cub types, Yak 52 (G-YAKI) and Harvard (G-AZSC). During the morning the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance (Eurocopter EC-135 G-HBOB) made two short visits in between callouts. As one of the main recipients of profits from the airshow it is always good to see the aircraft despite its constant operational commitments.
As an early show in the season, Abingdon does always seem to suffer from a higher than average cancellation rate of attending display aircraft for a number of reasons. Early confirmed items of the Catalina and Royal Navy Historic Flight Sea Fury both had to drop out in the weeks prior to the event due to both awaiting parts to complete winter servicing. A display from the Army Air Corps solo Lynx was also originally confirmed however, with the tragic accident in Afghanistan on 26th April and the loss of five servicemen, participation was understandably withdrawn. Thanks to efforts from Neil Porter and his team, replacement items were found despite the short notice meaning the planned three hour display would still go ahead. A very last minute cancellation (that morning) was that of Peter Vacher’s Hurricane Mk1 (R4118/G-HUPW) due to a waterlogged departure airfield.
Prior to the opening of the air display itself, crowds gathered along the fence were treated to a slightly different display. Throughout the day a number of tracked vehicles had been offering pleasure rides at the back of the airfield and included an example of a T55 tank. Designed and built in Russia, this particular example was originally in service with Czechoslovakia forces and is now privately owned. Driving along in front of the gathered crowd with plumes of smoke from the exhaust, the crew parked in front of the control tower and provided two firing demonstrations before returning to its off road course.
Opening the show was an example of local co-operation. During the morning arrivals into RAF Brize Norton could be seen in the distance and it was from that base that a Lockheed C-130J (ZH874) from 47 Squadron provided a single fly past. Past years have seen other RAF heavies from the base provide similar flypasts however with recent retirements of the VC-10, Tristar and C-130K along with operational commitments of the C-17, C-130J and Voyager fleets it is an item that not many other shows can boast of attracting.
As always, a varied selection of types adorned the display schedule. Rod Dean, a regular at many shows around the country, displayed his Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1 (XX543/G-CBAB) in a typically polished fashion. Less often seen at shows was the Fieseler Storch (GM+AI/G-STCH) which was bought in to replace the cancelled AAC Lynx. A strange looking aircraft from some angles, the watching crowd was noticeably impressed with the short take-off and landing performance along with its incredibly slow flight and ‘sideways’ handling enabling it to remain within a very tight display circle although the length of its display was maybe longer than needed. Using the Short Skyvan (G-PIGY), the Renegades parachute display team took off from Abingdon before landing back in front of the crows showing the skill of the parachutists.
Replacing the Sea Fury and Catalina were the North American T6 Texan (8084/LN-AMY) and Dragon Rapide (G-AGJG). Arriving with RNHF Commanding Officer Lt Cdr Chris Gotke (who provided the commentary for the display), John Beattie piloted the US Army schemed Texan through a display showing the qualities of the trainer aircraft very well. Mark Miller took the Rapide to the air in its Scottish Airways Ltd camouflage scheme. A regular at Duxford, it’s good to see the Rapide at a different venue and although a sedate display it was enjoyable to watch.
The RAF Tucano for 2014 was to be the only RAF display at the show after the last minute cancellation of the Tutor display due to the fleet being grounded. This year’s pilot is Flt Lt Dave Kirby who many may remember as the display manager for the 2013 Tucano team. Again the main display aircraft (ZF140) has been given a special paint scheme and, whilst not as extensive as has been seen in previous years, the poppy motif on the engine cowlings and underside to commemorate the start of World War 1 really stand out and look great once in the air. Whilst not a display item itself, the RAF Merlin (ZJ131) that was on static display during the show departed back to its home base mid-afternoon however not without providing the crowd with a couple of passes.
Two regular display acts at the show one again returned to entertain the crowds with routines that never fail to impress. The Trig team of Richard Grace and Dave Puleston in their bright yellow Pitts S-1D aircraft (G-PIII and G-IIIP) flew a very impressively tight display with minimal separation distance between the two aircraft. The barnstorming antics of the Breitling Wingwalkers always captivate the public with the girls seemingly defying gravity whilst stood atop the wings of their Boeing Stearman mounts (4/SE-BOG and 2/N74189). Having had a busy winter travelling out to the middle east, the team will no doubt be seen all over the country throughout the summer.
Having a Spitfire display at any airshow is always good but having two can only be better. The first was provided by Flt Lt Antony Parkinson piloting the BBMF Spitfire Mk9 (MK356). Previously painted in an all over silver scheme, the aircraft has received a re-spray over the winter and now carries a camouflage scheme resplendent with D-day markings. The second display was from the Hangar 11 collection and flown by Peter Teichman. Using his Spitfire PR11 (PL965), Peter flew a display that really demonstrated the lines of the Spitfire beautifully and was by far and away the better of the two displays with the BBMF Spitfire routine being typically restrained by comparison.
Scheduled to be an interesting pairing of two Jet Provosts – a T.3 (XM470/G-BVEZ) and T.5 (XW324) – a last minute issue on departure for the T.3 caused a delay resulting in two solo displays instead. First up was Andy Hills displaying in the T.5 variant, the same aircraft as was displayed at the 2013 show by Dan Arlett, whose opening topside pass setup for an excellent display with plenty of photo opportunities including a knife edge pass down the crowd line. Not to be outdone, and having resolved the initial issues, Neil McCarthy piloted the T.3 into a routine that followed directly after his counterpart. Although it seemed a less aggressive display than Andy, both were perfect examples of how to display a Jet Provost and it’s hard to pick between them for a favourite
By far the most anticipated display of the day however was the debut display of the Midair Squadron pairing of Canberra PR9 (XH134/G-OMHD) and Hunter T7 (XL577/G-XMHD). With the Canberra first appearing back in the air at the end of 2013, many enthusiasts have been waiting with anticipation to see a full display. Unfortunately news broke that morning that some of the paper work required for the Hunter to perform was not complete therefore only a Canberra solo display would be performed. An obvious disappointment for many who were keen to see the duo however with the arrival of the Canberra this was soon forgotten. In its striking silver scheme that looking very good in the sun, the display (flown by Dave Piper) was certainly something to wait for. Well thought out to provide views of almost every angle of the aircraft, the final fast past and associated noise was a perfect moment on which to close the show.
It’s fair to say that Abingdon suffered this year with the high number of ‘top billing’ cancellations with the Midair Hunter and Peter Vacher’s Hurricane being the two that stick out the most. It should also be remembered that these cancellations can happen to any show and it’s entirely out of the hands of the organisers to control and they should be given credit for trying to fill the gaps left with alternative items. The glorious weather that graced the show (for the second year in a row) brought with it visibly high visitor numbers with the crowd line being crammed all afternoon – something that can only be a positive for the show going forwards. Abingdon Air & Country show is the perfect start to the season, a chance to catch up with friends old and new whilst enjoying a friendly atmosphere and, despite the cancellations, was still a very enjoyable day out and an event not to be missed on the airshow calendar.