For a third year running, the RAF Cosford airshow suffered slightly from the weather, but with an impressive participation list, the showground was busy as usual. Ben Montgomery reports for AeroResource.
The 2011 show at RAF Cosford was one of the wettest in recent years, with many display items cancelled or being curtailed before the decision was made to end the flying early due to the low cloud and rain. In the run up to the 2012 show, it looked possible that a repeat performance could occur, with the weather forecast predicting heavy rain for the days surrounding the show weekend. The British public – stoic as usual – were still out in force despite the unfavourable forecast.
Outside of the airshow weekend, Cosford (apart from housing one of the RAF Museums) is home to the headquarters of the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering, amongst other units. DCAE is actually spread over 4 sites, with No 1 School of Technical Training (1 SOTT) in residence at Cosford. Engineer Officer training is conducted at RAF Cranwell, whilst Aborfield is home to the REME School of Electronic and Aeronautical Engineering, and HMS Sultan houses the Royal Navy elements of the school.
The role of DCAE is to provide Aeronautical Engineering training at Phase 2 (Generic) and Phase 3 (Further) levels, to men and women of the United Kingdom’s armed forces – and also on occasion to those servicing in foreign forces.
No.1 SOTT is comprised of Aerosystems Training Wing, Avionics and Mechanical Training Squadron, Weapons and Survival Equipment Training Squadron, Military Training Wing, Training Development Wing, and 238 Squadron RAF. As part of their role, 238 Squadron is responsible for maintaining and operating some of the last SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft in service worldwide. The Jaguars have taken over the role formerly occupied by the Jet Provost, and are used to simulate an aircraft sortie for trainee technicians. The aircraft can be prepared for a “mission”, seen off at departure, and received at the end of the sortie. The Jaguars are maintained in running order to simulate the mission as realistically as possible – the only thing they do not do is take off from Cosford. Instead, they taxi away from the hard standing and return later, simulating a sortie of some duration.
It was from 238 Squadron that the vast majority of the static display (and one item in the “flying” display) came. Three hangars were open to visitors, with displays showing the invaluable work conducted at Cosford. Of note was a Jaguar GR.1 on hydraulic jacks to display the various flying controls at work, with some lucky members of the public being offered the seat of the house in the cockpit. It is surprising how loud the undercarriage retraction is on a Jaguar – something that is not normally heard over the sound of jet engines. Other Jaguars were open for the public to sit in, with the long queues testament to the popularity of these exhibits. 238 Squadron had also provided four Jaguars outside, displayed in a pose typical of their day to day operations at Cosford. Whilst it was fantastic to see the effort the Squadron had gone to, it was a shame that the barriers were placed so close to these aircraft, limiting the photographic oppurtunities. However, it must be remembered that for the vast majority of visitors, getting close to a jet is more important than getting that perfect photograph. Also open as usual was the RAF Museum – with many recent arrivals drawing interest (Harrier, Nimrod, Hercules and Dominie).
Also on display were some of the other units from Cosford including the Defence School of Photography, with a selection of equipment that would cause many aviation photographers to have a severe attack of lens envy. The RAF really do excel at interaction with the public in general, and in particular at Cosford – with 2012 being no exception.
Despite the superb static displays, the main attraction for most is of course the flying display – starting this year at midday with the RAF Falcons performing a parachute drop. However, as mentioned earlier, 238 Squadron had provided an item of interest out on the main runway. Powering up on the far side of the airfield, a single Jaguar GR.3 taxied up and down the runway – to dispel any imagination of those who were not present, this was a decidedly slow speed run, but by the way the crowd swelled to watch it, no one really minded! The plan had been to taxi the Jaguar to the far end of the runway, where the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton was in attendance in the VIP chalet – having arrived earlier in the day in a 32 Squadron A109. Unfortunately the Jaguar had to turn short of the far end, meaning some viewers did not get the best view of the run. This was probably the first time many had seen a Jaguar under power for several years, and hopefully the spectacle will be repeated next year.
The RAF was well represented at the show – as is to be expected at one of their own airshows – with performances from most of the display acts on the circuit in 2012. The only noticeable absence was the RAF Hawk T.1, away to display at Bodø in Norway.
Apart from the spectacle of display teams like the Red Arrows, many people attend airshows for the abundance of noise provided by fast jet displays – this year provided in bucketloads by the RAF Typhoon display and the Tornado Role Demonstration, from RAF Leuchars and RAF Lossiemouth respectively. The Typhoon, based from RAF Coningsby for the weekend due to the short runway at Cosford, was the first act to display after the Falcons opened the show. Squadron Leader Scott Loughran flew a tight display, with the damp air causing lots of vapour and showing off the afterburners (which were engaged for the majority of the display) to great effect.
The Tornado Role Demonstration is a familiar display item, having been on the circuit in some form for the last few years. This year, flying as Poker 1 and 2, the pair of Tornado GR.4s from 15 Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, again show the public some of the tactics used in combat operations such as those in Afghanistan – the scenario in question is that of “Troops in Contact”. The use of music from the motion picture Inception (“The Dream is Collapsing” for those who want to find it) added a very ominous touch to the start of the display as the combat scenario was described and the Tornados were still out of sight. Opening with an opposing pass, Poker 1 and 2 showcased the employment of various weapons, such as the 27mm Mauser cannon and the Paveway IV laser guided bomb. The Tornado display was also lucky in that it used some of the limited sunlight seen during the show.
Apart from front line aircraft, Cosford also saw several displays from the RAF training aircraft – fitting in well with the airshow theme of 100 years of Central Flying School. Apart from the Hawk as mentioned earlier, Cosford saw displays from the King Air, Tutor and Tucano. The King Air, displayed for the last several years by Flight Lieutenant Leon Creese to the tune of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” has changed this year under the new crew of Flight Lieutenants Ian Birchall and Marcus Eyers. The boisterous attitude to the display has changed to a more elegant format, accompanied by much calmer music – although the routine still contains signature moves such as the ending Khe Sanh approach and short take off.
The display from the Tutor is provided by 16(R) Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant Shaun Kimberley. This display is again anything but boring, with the aircraft spending more time conducting flick rolls and other aerobatics than anything else. Perhaps not suited to a longer display line such as RIAT, the Tutor fits well on smaller lines like Cosford and was well appreciated by the crowd.
This year’s Tucano is a hard aircraft to miss – sporting a fantastic new paint scheme in celebration of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Jon Bond, the display gave photographers several opportunities to capture the topside and underside, showing off the paint scheme to great effect whilst also providing a fast paced and dynamic display.
Currently unique to Cosford on the 2012 airshow calendar, and of massive interest to enthusiasts, was a 7 minute slot allocated to a VC-10 flypast/display. 50 years since her first flight, this stalwart of British Aviation is approaching the end of her life with the RAF – replacement by the new Voyager being just around the corner. Performing two flypasts at Cosford, it was the last chance for many to hear the roar from the four Rolls Royce Conway turbojets – and she really applied the power on the second pass! Whilst not a display as such, this was one of the moments that defined the 2012 show.
Little needs to be mentioned with regards to the Red Arrows – other than a brief recap of their tragic season in 2011. Two accidents during the course of the year saw the losses of Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging and Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham. As such the 2012 display consists of only 7 aircraft, with the “Memorial Bend” manoeuvre being dedicated to the team’s lost friends, Sean and Jon. Public support for the Red Arrows is incredible, and the conclusion to the display at Cosford was met by virtually a standing ovation, in recognition of the hardships the team have faced and overcome over the last year.
In common with the 2010 show, Cosford again attracted a rotary asset from the Belgian Air Component – this year in the form of the A109BA display. Painted with a special scheme celebrating 20 years of service and 100,000 flying hours, this routine was, sadly for the photographer, perhaps in some of the worst light of the day – although this did not detract from the quality of the flying. One particularly impressive manoeuvre at the end of the routine were pirouettes on the runway, with the tail staying effectively stationary.
Staying with the rotary theme, Cosford 2012 also saw three of the British rotary displays – one each from the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army Air Corps. The RAF provided a short Search and Rescue Demonstration from a RAF Valley assigned Sea King HAR.3 – simulating recovering a downed fast jet pilot. The Royal Navy provided the popular Black Cats team flying the Westland Lynx. Unfortunately only one aircraft was present due to technical issues, but the solo display was equally impressive. The Army Air Corps’ Westland Apache display, from AAC Wattisham, aptly demonstrated why it is such a useful asset in combat theatres, with plenty of tight low level manoeuvring as well as the “party piece” of flying down the display line with the 30mm cannon slaved to the crew’s targeting optics.
As well as the fantastic collection of older generation RAF jets on the ground, there was also an impressive selection in the flying display, together with other warbirds ranging through World War One to the Cold War period.
Displaying for the first time at RAF Cosford was the newly restored Meteor T.7 WA591 from Classic Flight at Coventry Airport. Flown by Dan Griffiths, this was possibly the most impressive warbird display of the day – plenty of aggressive topside passes, some at rather low altitudes. Not bad for the oldest flying British jet! Also from Air Atlantique’s Classic Flight was an ex-Swiss Vampire T.55, displayed as an RAF T.11 example, XJ771. This display was more sedate than that of the Meteor, but the pairs formation with the two aircraft was a great opening touch.
Other jet warbirds on display – still following the training theme – were two Folland Gnats, and two Jet Provosts. The Gnat, formerly used as an RAF trainer and mount of the Red Arrows, is a very small aircraft – which meant that the display by these two examples from the Gnat Display Team, whilst being a stellar example of formation flying, did appear to be very far away from the crowd.
The Jet Provosts on display were of two types – a T.3A from the Newcastle Jet Provost Group, and a T.5B from Jet Aerobatics. The T.5 model is a development of the T.3, with a pressurised cockpit – and visually identifiable by the different nose shape.
There were also a good selection of propeller powered warbirds on show, including a last minute substitution of Hangar 11’s P-40 Kittyhawk in place of their P-51D Mustang. The P-40, still resplendent in a artificially worn colour scheme applied for the filming of “Red Tails” provided a solid display at the hands of its owner Peter Teichman. Perhaps the last chance to catch this scheme, as according to Hangar 11 it is due to be repainted this year.
Also on display was the Great War Display Team with their assortment of vintage World War One aircraft. The team put on a large simulated dogfight as it might have been between the German and British aircraft in their collection – far removed from the modern combat simulation provided by the RAF Tornados! The show was certainly based around the crowd line centre – as the turning radius of these older aircraft is very small, they can provide a tight display which, whilst fantastic for those in the centre, may be frustrating for those on the very end of the flightline.
Several warbirds were also present from the Historic Flights of the UK Air Arms – namely the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the Royal Navy Historic Flight. It was uncertain whether each unit would attend due to the inclement weather, but they both did arrive, although the BBMF had to leave their Hurricane at RAF Coningsby as it had developed an engine problem. The RNHF Sea Fury T.20 was on display – their Swordfish having cancelled due to high winds exceeding its flying limitations. The Sea Fury was one of the last piston engined fighters, and has performance similar to the early jets – making this a very dynamic and powerful display compared to other piston engined aircraft.
The 2012 show also saw a varied contingent of civil teams displaying in the skies over Cosford. As well as regular display teams such as the Blades (who closed the show), and the Aerostars flying their Yak-52s, worthy of note are the Trig Team and GliderFX display – although the RV8tors and the SWIP Team are equally worthy of mention. The RV8tors displayed in some particularly poor weather in the morning, but still managed to complete their display without hinderance. The Trig Team, flying their two Pitts S-1D Special biplanes, performed some manoeuvres different to those of the “standard” aerobatic display routines that many teams are based around – and as such, really stood out as some of the top performers of the show.
After the Blades closed the show, most of the spectators departed from Cosford. As many people had left after the Red Arrows and Tornado Role Demonstration, there were very few traffic problems getting out of the showground. Alongside the cars leaving, those who had flown into the show also left, giving another opportunity to see even more old RAF training assets. Amongst those departing were the two Jet Provosts, a Chipmunk and a Bulldog – along with many General Aviation types.
Taking an overview of the show, there was nothing to disappoint this year. All their displays were brilliant in their own ways, and the range and variety on display was one of the best of recent years. Special mention must go to the home team for their extra efforts to display the Jaguars and other aircraft on station – truly a unique, and well utilised asset of Cosford. If this level of commitment and thought is applied to the next airshow at Cosford (9th June 2013), then it wouldn’t be unlikely to see audience numbers increase. Hats off to the Cosford team for organising a superb airshow (despite the changeable weather), with more than a few gems and rarities thrown in.