For over 20 years, the Little Gransden Air & Car Show has been raising money for charity during which time it has become a regular for many enthusiasts. Jack Goward reports for AeroResource from a show with a promising line up threated by the unpredictable British weather.
Situated just between Cambridge and Bedford and only a few miles away from the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, this charismatic little airfield plays host to the annual Air & Car show that is fast becoming one of the most eagerly anticipated air shows on the UK calendar. The show is held in aid of Children in Need along with other local charities and since the first event in 1992, the show has raised over £165,000 for the charities and goes from strength to strength each year. This year marked the 21st annual Air & Car show and the pre-show line up certainly looked interesting.
On the Saturday prior to the show the organisers were contemplating the possibility of a ‘no show’ due to a heavy and persistent band of rain that was lingering over the East of the country. However, once the weather reports improved and it looked like there was going to be a good chance of some sunshine, the ground conditions were deemed good and the show went ahead. On the morning of the event the situation still looked fairly bleak with heavy rain and low cloud still in the air. However, to everyones delight, the weather subsequently improved and by around 1100 the sun was breaking through the low cloud and starting to burn off the mist that had settled over the airfield and the visitors started to pour in.
Car parks were open at around 0830 with local Air Cadet Squadrons on hand to assist. The show ground itself didn’t open until 1000 due to the volume of vintage cars that had to be parked within the airfield before visitors could be allowed access. This could be one aspect of the event that could potentially be altered slightly in the future to give visitors more time to have a look around the airfield before getting comfortable for the flying display. With the flying scheduled to start at 1300, it is quite a challenge to make your way around some 450 vintage cars as well as the static aircraft, stalls and hangars.
The airfield itself has a somewhat unique and different layout to most venues. Due to the location of the hangars and static aircraft parking combined with the runway position, the display axis actually cures around an ‘L’ shaped crowd line. With the sun moving around into the front of the crowd later in the day, this curving line can still give plenty of opportunity for good light conditions at the end of the display providing the aircraft take advantage.
There were various aircraft on static display such as the resident Yak C.11 ( G-OYAK), a Cessna 140 ( G-HALG) and an Extra 200 ( G-EEEK) although photographing other static aircraft was challenging due to the cramped nature of the airfield. The highlight of the static was undoubtedly the Belgian Army Augusta A-109HO ( H44 ), for which the organisers of the show made a huge effort to get added to the line up flying in on the Friday before the show and scheduled to depart on the Monday. Future pilots train on the Eurocopter EC-120 along with the French Air Force before graduating up to the A-109. When speaking to one of the crew at the show, he said that the current turn around for helicopter pilots is only 1 per year and around 4 per year for the F-16 on the fast jet training. The airframe that attended is usually used for VIP transport when back on home turf although it can easily be converted to carry weaponry and other defensive equipment if needed.
With poor weather conditions across the UK, pretty much the entire timetable for the flying display had to be altered. With various cancellations such as the Great War Sky Knights, Super Decathlon, Vans RV-4 and the Blackburn B2 there were also a number of late additions such as David Peters and Nigel Finlayson’s Waco UPF-7 ( G-UPFS) , Stewart Luck’s RANS S6-ES Microlight ( G-TSOB) , Guy Westgate’s MDM-1 Glider ( G-IIFX) and Martin Willing’s Duxford based T-28 Fennec (N14113). Kicking off the flying proceedings was Mark Jefferies, owner of Little Gransden Airfield along with his brother John, in his Extra 300/SC ( G-IIHI ) sponsored by Abarth which is capable of withstanding up to +/-25g and is built specifically for unlimited aerobatics. This airframe is a single seat variant of the popular Extra 300, such as that flown by the Blades aerobatic team, and is one of only 21 that have been built to date. Mark has been flying aerobatics for the past 29 years and has become a very well known air show performer on the UK circuit , his display was simply stunning, mesmerizing the crowds with low, fast knife edge passes and incredible aerobatic maneuvers that defy the laws of gravity.
Following Mark’s display, Stewart Luck displayed his RANS S6-ES Microlight (G-TSOB) named ‘The Spirit of Brooklands’ and is the first example of the type built through the schools Build a Plane project. Running in conjunction with Boeing and The Royal Aeronautical Society, the project is aims to develop practical aviation skills in young people throughout the UK. Guy Westgate flew his renowned glider aerobatics after a tow from a Piper Pawnee (G-ASIY) and had even attached whistles to the winglets which sounded more like misfiring fireworks but none the less, his display was highly impressive. Next, the Harvard Duo took centre stage (Duxford based G-BJST/KF729 & Neil Oakman’s G-BUKY/52-8543 ) flying a very gracious display with both formation flying and solo maneuvers.
With the weather conditions improving and crowds growing, Little Gransden based Lauren Richardson took to the skies for a home display in her Pitts Special S1-S single seater ( G-BKDR ). Lauren is the current female aerobatic champion in the UK and this year marks her first full air show season. After a spirited display, Nigel Pickard’s two Spartan Executives (NC17633 and NC17615), were met in the air by Cliff Spink flying the Stearman Kaydet . The three performed just the one formation flypast before they positioned themselves on crowd centre for a break where after Cliff Spink flew a fantastic display in the Kaydet before the two Executives ran in from the right in close formation to undertake their display. There were only 34 Spartan Executives ever built with NC17615 and NC17633 the 14th and 21st respectively. It is a real treat to have not one but two incredibly rare airframes flying in the UK.
The SWIP team was next to get airborne with Peter Wells and Jon Gowdy at the controls of the teams two Silence Twisters (G-SWIP and G-ZWIP ). Always a crowd pleaser, the SWIP team performed impeccably tight formation aerobatics and precision opposition passes. Following the aerobatics of the Silence Twisters, Nigel Finlayson’s Waco UPF-7 ( G-UPFS ) provided a much more tranquil display before making way for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc (LF363 ) and the recently restored Supermarine Spitfire Mk XVI e (TE311 ). The pair flew a rather distan t display compared to the other participants but none the less, it was great to hear the Merlin engines roar over Little Gransden. Keeping with the RAF display teams, the 2013 Tucano was the next item with Flight Lieutenant Andrew Fyvie-Rae putting ZF239 through her paces.
After the Tucano, it was back to the raw power of the Merlin engine with Maurice Hammonds North American P-51D Mustang “Janie” ( G-MSTG/414419 ), piloted by Rob Davis. On completion of his solo display, Rob was joined in the air by a Nord Pingouin ( G-ETME / KG+EM) , a German designed and license-built French version of the Messerschmitt Bf 108B where it was rather out classed in a tail chase described quite excellently by the shows commentator, Ken Ellis. Following the rather one-sided dogfight, the Auster AOP Mk11 , a modified AOP 9 (G-ASCC/XP254) was partnered by Justin Needham’s rather wonderful Cessna Bird Dog (G-PDOG/24550 ). Next to the skies was the TRIG Team in their two Pitts Special S-1D Biplanes (G-PIII and G-IIIP ). Dave Puleston and Richard Grace flew a superb display under greying skies pleasing crowds with impressive close formation aerobatics and a series of solo maneuvers.
Moving towards the latter stages of the air show and arguably the highlights, the Old Warden based BAE Systems Heritage Flight, Avro C19 Anson ( G-AHKX ) pulled out all the stops with topside after topside showing off the beautiful design of this wonderful aircraft. Whilst the Anson was carrying out it s own display, a rather familiar shape appeared in the distance trailing thick black smoke. This brought everyone to their feet as Little Gransden was about to be graced with the presence of Roy Chadwick’s finest, the mighty Avro Vulcan (XH558). Originally only scheduled to do the one pass, Martin Withers, Bill Perrins, Barry Masefield and Jonathon Lazzari performed a total of three passes, one of which was a stunningly low topside from right to left showing off the beauty of this incredible aircraft.
After XH558, there was something a little different. Dubbed by Ken Ellis as being one of the best air show acts he’s ever seen, a 40% scale model of an Extra 300 was paired with the real thing in a unique display of formation aerobatics. The model was flown closer to the audience whilst Chris Burkett in his full size Extra 300 (G-EXIL) flew on a slightly different line a bit further away, creating a perception that the two were wing to wing showing great talent on both parts and further adding to the variety of participants at Little Gransden. Next up was something not seen too often at all on the UK circuit. Ian Austin flew a stunning display in the Swiss built Pilatus PC-12 ( M-JJTL ), performing close topside passes along with low and slow flypasts showing the undercarriage and flaps fully extended.
The BBMF’s Avro Lancaster (PA474) “Thumper MkIII” followed the PC-12 with a wonderful display paired with the unbeatable sound of four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines singing in perfect harmony. With a topside pass that made the day of many photographers amongst the crowd, this display was something to remember . The display of the beautiful Lancaster was thoughtfully dedicated to a RAF Veteran Lancaster tailgunner who was in the crowd for the show. Sadly, after the Vulcan and Lancaster had performed, the crowds seemed to dwindle slightly before the last few items completed their displays. Martin Willing’s Duxford based T-28 did it s piece before making way for Captain Neville’s flying circus and their barn storming antics.
Matthew Boddington piloted the Miles M38 Messenger (G-AKIN ), flying a lovely display before Nigel Willson and his Yak 52 ( G-BXJB) flew a spirited display with a teddy bear riding shotgun in aid of charity. Then Peter Teichman, with his Hawker Hurricane Mk IIB Hurribomber (G-HHII/BE505) ”Pegs” took centre stage as the penultimate display item. The final performer of the 2013 Little Gransden Air & Car show was the East Midlands based, Rolls-Royce Spitfire MkXIX (G-RRGN/PS853 ) at the capable hands of William Dean. Having only recently returned to the air, the ex BBMF and war veteran was a fitting way to bring the 2013 Air & Car show to a close.
A big congratulations should go to the event’s organisers, David Poile MBE and his team, for putting together one of the best air shows on the UK circuit despite a difficult lead up and ever changing display schedule during the day. The number of acts that displayed and the sheer variety really puts some of the larger shows to shame and the ingenuity of pairing an Extra 300 with a radio controlled plane just shows what is capable if you think outside of the box. The ‘home team’ displays really made the best use of the curved display line giving some excellent photo opportunities. With over 4 hours of flying display, even with a brief 10 minute remembrance service held in the middle of the show (another feature unique to this show) , a wide variety of vintage cars and a lovely family atmosphere, Little Gransden is definitely one to put in your calendars for next year.