Whilst July is one of the busiest airshow months of the year in the UK, the focus is often on the large shows such as RIAT, Waddington, Flying Legends and Yeovilton. However, across the country there are many smaller shows running that can often offer a surprise. Adam Duffield heads to Old Buckenham to see what their 2014 airshow had in store.
Nestled in the Norfolk countryside, the World War 2 airfield at Old Buckenham may only be a fraction of its wartime size however still remains important within the area and is a popular destination for general aviation types. The airfield has undergone a transformation over recent years and, in the last 12 months has also become home to a collection of military vehicles that can be viewed at any time.
The show site is compact but that’s not a bad thing in itself. Navigating around the mass of vintage (and some modern) cars that attended as part of the static display along with numerous military vehicles can take some time but thanks to the layout you are never far away from the crowdline or indeed the flying action. With difficulty in being able to have a true static display within the grounds itself, many of the more interesting aircraft that are either based at the airfield or flew in for the day were lined up along the western end crowd line allowing visitors to view however may have hindered viewing of the runway itself. Whilst that maybe no issue for the majority of the action that is in the air and unaffected, it may have impacted viewing of Brendan O’Brien’s flying feats for some. A situation that is difficult to avoid given the size of the airfield and, in the wider perspective of the show, very minor. Another slight niggle for some may have been viewing locations themselves. Whilst crowd line areas at the east and west of the airfield are easily found, one of the prime spots – just to the right of the centre line – was not so easily found for many as many believed it was open to VIP pass holders only, not realising that there was a small entrance to the side between Jimmys Café and the hangar. Again, a very minor point however something that could be easily rectified in future shows.
Something very rarely mentioned in any airshow reviews is the catering aspect however this one area is something that the team at Old Buckenham deserve credit for. With shows often featuring the same, overpriced and low-quality burgers and bacon, it was a real change to see catering outlets selected for quality of food. From BBQ to ‘cooked to order’ fish there was plenty on offer and all at prices much below the likes of Duxford or RIAT for something of a much higher standard, something larger shows should take note of.
Following on from last year, the two day format was once again used albeit with a difference. With the 2013 show Saturday event consisting of purely pleasure flights and a few arrivals, the decision was taken to stage a smaller, one and a half hour display in the afternoon with some of the acts that would also be displaying on the Sunday. The pleasure flights still took place both before and after the displays on both days with the flying clubs Piper PA-28 and Boeing Stearman making non-stop flights.
Opening the show was local pilot Matt Summers in his Vans RV8 (G-RVPL). Now in his third display season, and an Old Buckenham local, he is not a display pilot that is seen at many events. In a display that showed the aerobatic capabilities of the homebuilt RV8 well, comparing the display with last years it was a much lower, tighter and more fluid sequence. At the opposite end of the display experience spectrum, Rod Dean once again showed his skills with a typically polished display in the Scottish Aviation Bulldog (XX543/G-CBAB).
Making brief appearances during the Saturday were two helicopters often seen in the area although for different purposes; An EC-135 (G-CGZD) operated by the East Anglian Air Ambulance provided a fly through for the crowds on route back to its base in Norwich whilst later in the day the Suffolk based EC-135 (G-SUFK) of the National Police Air Service landed for a short period to witness the show for themselves.
Nigel Willson was certainly kept busy at the show and the Saturday saw him perform in two very different aircraft. First up was his own Yak-52 (G-BXJB) that many will have seen at shows across the country. Developed from the Yak-50 aerobatic type, the Russian designed trainer showed its aerobatic lineage with the yellow and white scheme standing out well in the sun and blue skies. In a very different style of display, Nigel returned to the skies later in the day to demonstrate the elegant lines of the Beechcraft Staggerwing (N9405H). Possibly one of the best looking biplanes of all time, it was designed in the 1930s as an executive transport type however also saw use in World War 2 with various forces in the transport and courier role. Carrying the nose art ‘High Maintenance’ this example is one of only two airworthy in the UK and a real rarity to see displayed at any public shows making its attendance even more special.
As the ‘home’ display team, the Wildcat Aerobatics team was one of the highly anticipated displays of the weekend. Comprising of two Pitts S-2 biplanes (G-DIII and G-ZIII) and an Edge 360 (G-EDGJ) the team operate out of Old Buckenham and are regularly seen in the skies above Norfolk. The routine for 2014 has been revised and improves upon the three ship foundation built over the last 12 months, particularly the first section of the display that sees non-stop action right in front of the crowd with Edge pilot David Jenkins performing numerous twists and tumbles whilst Pitts pilots Al Coutts and Willie Cruickshank go through a series of opposition manoeuvres at the same time.
During the 2013 show, aerial stuntman extraordinaire Brendan O’Brien attempted to capture the world record for the shortest truck top landing in his Piper Cub (G-BPCF) however weather conditions prevented success. Undeterred, he returned for a second attempt however the strong crosswind on the first day prevented the landing although a few skilful touches on the mobile runway were completed. Despite not breaking the record at that time, the crowd were noticeably impressed by the display and the low level manoeuvrability of the Cub at Brendan’s hands.
Whilst the Saturday may have seen only a short flying display schedule, the beautiful weather and lower price enticed many people to the show. Based upon initial numbers, more people attended the first day of 2014 than attended the main second day in 2013 – something that can only benefit the show for next year and proves the popularity of the event locally.
The Sunday forecast was much different to the previous day with early morning seeing medium level cloud covering the airfield and surrounding region. Being the main show day attendance from early on was visibly higher and an early break in the clouds saw the flying display once again blessed with some of the best weather of the day.
With performance far exceeding what would be expected with an aircraft so small, the Taylor Titch (G-BKWD) displayed by John Sully showed the potency that makes it a Formula 1 air racer. Despite its diminutive size, the display was kept close to the crowd ensuring that it wasn’t lost in the distance.
Flying a pair of Vans RV8’s (G-HILZ and G-RVMZ), the RV8tors formation display team of Alister Kay and Andy Hill are often seen at various displays and have been regulars at Old Buckenham over the years. With an extremely tight formation display of their usual high standard enhanced with the amazingly bright wingtip lights the pair stood out against the cloud that rolled in late in the afternoon.
Matt Summers returned on Sunday not only to display his Vans RV8 but also as a short notice replacement for a missing item. Originally scheduled to be the only jet participant at the show, the Jet Provost was unfortunately unable to attend. Luckily, Matt was able to step in and perform an impressive aerobatic display in a Bucker Jungmann (G-WJCM). Whilst some may have seen this purely as a filler replacement act it was far from it and more than worthy to have been included in the original display schedule, cancellation or not.
Another pilot on multiple display duties was Nigel Willson. Again displaying the Yak-52 (after another display at Felixstowe in the morning) and the Beechcraft Staggerwing, Nigel also displayed the North American Aviation Navion (60344/N4956C) on the Sunday. In dark green US Army markings it was another type that is not seen at the larger shows so a real pleasure to see displayed so gracefully.
Also returning for displays on the second day were Rod Dean in the Bulldog and the Wildcats team who had spent the morning at Silverstone for another display during a busy weekend for them. The final returning act was that of Brendan O’Brien, back for another attempt at the world record. With much calmer winds, and a few practice runs, Brendan managed to successfully guide the Piper Cub onto the trailer and lock the wheels in place, taking the world record with an impressive 600 meter landing distance taking his total to an incredible 202 world records.
For many though the highlight of any airshow will always be a warbird display and Old Buckenham treated the crowds to two of the best loved aircraft types around in the form of The Old Flying Machine Company’s Spitfire MkIX (MH434/G-ASJV) and North American P-51 Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’ (413704/G-BTCD). Displaying as separate items rather than a formation pair, pilot Stuart Goldspink flew the Spitfire exceptionally well however it may well be the show closing display from the OFMC Mustang that stays with many. Opening with a simply sublime topside pass the whole display was captivating and the perfect way in which to close the show.
The 2014 Old Buckenham airshow was finally treated to the good weather that it has been looking for over the last few years. Whilst Sunday may have clouded over towards the end, the hot and dry weather certainly pulled the crowds in and the addition of a shorter display on the Saturday adds extra appeal to those who may not want to attend the traditionally busier main show day. As always with shows of this size, you cannot expect the latest and greatest of fast jets or international display teams however what you can expect is quality display acts that are often overlooked by larger shows. Combined with an amazingly relaxed atmosphere it is shows such as these that can often surprise and quickly become a regular show on many peoples calendar.