Cosford Airshow is regarded as The West Midland’s largest aviation event. Set in Shropshire, RAF Cosford hosts an extravaganza of ‘home-grown’ displays and flying demonstrations. Adam Chittenden reports for AeroResource.
RAF Cosford, formally known at DCAE Cosford, celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year. Originally opened in 1938, it was home to the joint aircraft maintenance, storage and technical training unit. In 2004, it was renamed DCAE Cosford to represent the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering based there. In 2009, the Metrix Consortium, based at RAF St Athan, were awarded ‘Preferred Bidder’ for the DCAE programme and in light of this DCAE Cosford once again became known as RAF Cosford.
This year being the 75th anniversary of RAF Cosford as well as the 75th anniversary of the Spitfire entering service, it promised to be a good show of both modern and nostalgic airframes. 2013 also marks the 40th year of Jaguar service, and whilst unfortunately not in a flying capacity since 2007, the Jaguars at Cosford are always a major attraction. Cosford Air Show has been unlucky with the weather for the previous three years, especially 2011 of which flying ceased earlier than planned with some aircraft cancelled. With wall-to-wall sunshine predicted, arrival at the show proved that sometimes the forecasters are correct. Traffic is always a major sticking point due to the location of Cosford and entry to the airfield took longer than anticipated – a theme that resonates amongst a number of people. It seems that whilst the traffic management plans may have been in place, unexpectedly large numbers arrived due to the weather and it seems all that could be done was to make the best of a bad situation.
The static display aircraft consisted of active aircraft, aircraft from the museum and visitors. Static display residents of RAF Cosford such as the RAF Tornado GR1, RAF Harrier GR3 and the many Jaguars took pride of place. Also on offer there was a RAF Squirrel & Griffin from 60 Sqn RAF Shawbury, RAF Merlin HC3 from 28/78 Sqn RAF Benson plus other rotary and fixed wing aircraft from the RAF’s training squadrons. Also present was a large model aircraft display. Watching the scaled down aircraft being put through their paces and was a different but interesting prelude to the main flying display.
The flying display itself involved a vast array of current and historic airframes. The RAF Cosford flypast set off the show giving the public an opportunity to see previous operational aircraft from the airfield in the guise of a Chipmunk and Bulldog. This was followed by the RAF Falcons, the UK’s premier military parachute team, who jumped from their Cessna Caravan showing off their signature ’11 person stack’.
As soon as the Falcons landed and tidied up their ‘chutes, the crowd knew what was coming next and heads were scanning the skies awaiting the arrival of Jamie ‘Noz’ Norris, pilot of the 2013 RAF Typhoon display team. Sure enough, from the right, the RAF Typhoon FGR4 came screaming in going straight into the display routine. The display was awesome, showing every angle of the aircraft with plenty of reheat and high-G turns. The great weather meant Jamie performed the full display and looking around, nobody was disappointed.
While the Typhoon display was coming to an end, the Aerostars in their beautiful YAK-50 aircraft were taxiing past the crowd to take off and display. The proximity to the taxiway from the crowd line is an opportunity to get up close to the aircraft and it’s something that some other UK airshows don’t have. The Aerostars put on a cracking display, putting the YAK-50 aircraft through loops, turns and stalls in formation. What a great sound those Vedeneyev radial engines make!
Next up was the RAF Sea King Role Demo giving a good insight into the rescue role the Sea King HAR.3 excels at. The aircrew, flying in ZA105, executed the display with precision and demonstrated the skills of our RAF Search and Rescue teams. With the recent announcement of the SAR privatisation there isn’t long left to see a display like this from the RAF.
Another highlight of the show was the F-86A Sabre. The first swept wing jet fighter ever produced in the Western world was a real crowd pleaser with its stunning bare metal glinting in the sun as it rolled and dived across the airfield. It’s great to know that the UK has the only airworthy ‘A’ model Sabre in the world and is truly a rare airframe indeed.
The RN Historic Flight Hawker Sea Fury was up next. The Sea Fury flew from 1945 through to 1962 in a variety of roles for the Fleet Air Arm. It was the last piston powered fighter to see front line service for the Navy and was also one of the fasted single engine piston aircraft ever built. The sound of the Bristol Centaurus engine was immense as it put on an emphatic display and many people will be looking forward to see her display again at Yeovilton this year.
The BBMF came out in force this year displaying the Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane and the Dakota later in the day. The Spitfire and Hurricane are always air-show favorites and the sound of four Merlin engines on the Lancaster never fails to raise a smile. They are a good testament to the many lives lost not only during the Battle of Britain but World War Two itself.
The AAC Lynx AH.7 display was as good as ever, performing acrobatics you would never expect from a helicopter. Those AAC pilots really know how to put on a show and they demonstrated the fastest helicopter in the world very well putting it through rolls, back flips and forward flips for the crowd. With the Lynx’s replacement, the Wildcat now in operation, it will be sad to see the Lynx disappear from the UK display scene.
The Reds were up next and true to form, stormed in from behind the crowd to carry out their full display. 2013 is their 49th display season and their 2013 full routine is one of their best. Their highly polished display was perfect as ever, demonstrating the professional excellence of the Royal Air Force.
The next section of the air show put much focus into the day to day operations of deployed RAF and AAC rotary assets. Up first was the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) Demo. AeroResource talked to one of the MERT team who, along with her colleagues, are responsible for thousands of saved lives on the battlefield.
Flt Lt Les Wright is part of the Air Force Medical Service Aeromedical Evacuation system which is responsible for the coordination of many different medical teams to ensure the safe transportation of injured troops anywhere in the world. Flt Lt Wright returned from Afghanistan at the end of March this year and has completed three ‘HERRICK’ tours, the codename for all British operations in Afghanistan, during the course of her RAF career. Whilst back in the UK, Flt Lt Wright serves in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham in A&E helping to save the lives of both civilians and injured personnel if they’re involved in an accident. When deployed she works with two teams consisting of two paramedics, one specialist medical nurse and a consultant either an anaesthetist or emergency physician on the Chinook airframe. When asked her opinion of the Chinook, she said: “It’s brilliant, it’s ideal for what we require. It allows up to 8 stretchered patients on the aircraft, we’ve now got a special £20,000 mat which protects the aircraft from spillages which damage the aircraft so now it’s even more versatile. We can get up to 20 ‘walking wounded’ so there are no limits of what it can do, it’s really how well we can spread our medical team across those patients, you know, it’s quick, you feel safe in it but the noise is the real issue affecting ‘comms’, the nurse has direct communication with the cockpit so messages can be passed and PRR (Personal Role Radio) is used between the medical staff separately.”
RAF Merlin ZJ130 formed part of Cosford’s static display. The week previous to Cosford, it was revealed that the Merlin was being withdrawn from Afghanistan operations to return to RAF Benson. The Navy will eventually be the sole operator of the Merlin in the UK Armed Forces and, in light of this, AeroResource was fortunate to have an interview with Flt Lt Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Roberts who pilots the Merlin. Based at RAF Benson, he came back from deployment in Afghanistan in February and describes the Merlin as a “pilot’s aircraft”, both capable and comfortable, which is exactly what you need when you are working in a 40+ degree potentially hostile environment. On being shown around the aircraft it is apparent how modern the cockpit is compared to other rotary aircraft in the RAF’s fleet. The cabin is flexible and can take a wide range of cargo including quad bikes or a Land Rover if required. In a troop carrying configuration it will seat up to 24 fully equipped and will take up to 16 stretchers during humanitarian/disaster relief operations. If used as part of MERT (Medical Emergency Response Team) in a combat zone such as Afghanistan, the carrying capacity is reduced to allow for a larger medical team and defensive armament in both side doors. The RAF Merlin teams work alongside the RAF Chinook teams whilst deployed and Flt Lt Roberts described it as a good partnership rather than a rivalry. On the future for the RAF Merlin pilots and crew and ground staff with the handing over of the Merlin to the Navy, Flt Lt Roberts was positive that they will either train to fly other types or take ground roles stating that changes such as this invariably create new roles rather than remove them “such as a Canadian exchange that didn’t exist until now so some people are having a whale of a time out there!”.
In order to demonstrate the combined MERT abilities of the Armed Forces the Chinook worked with an Apache to demonstrate an emergency evacuation of injured troops with the Apache providing ‘top cover’ including Captain Harry Wales as the surprise Gunner alongside SSgt Jamie Boakes. With the PA system being used to simulate radio comms, it gave a realistic insight and all in all, was a good demonstration giving people a clearer understanding of the role aircraft and the RAF service personnel have whilst deployed in semi-hostile environments. The display was capped off with a flypast from one of RAF Brize Norton’s C-130Js, ZH883.
The SWIP Team were up next and pilots Peter Wells and Guy Westgate put on a great show with their Silence Twister aircraft. The aircraft are famed for being incredibly fuel efficient and sport the same semi-elliptical wing as the Spitfire.
Cosford was the only second 2013 airshow display of Britain’s best loved aircraft, the Avro Vulcan XH558, with the first being performed earlier in the day at Welshpool. Recently, it has been revealed by VTTS that 2013 may not be her last flying season. Dubbed ‘Project 2015’, they believe they can keep her flying for another two years, depending on finances and completion of a major wing leading edge modification. XH558 came from the right in formation with the RV8tor Display Team, Kevin Rumens then began the Vulcan display which showed off the raw power of the Avro Vulcan’s Olympus engines with wingovers and noisy passes. As the display started to conclude, it was noticeable that XH558 had been a real crowd puller as people were starting to leave.
Due to the Vulcan’s extended display, the RV8tors’ display flown by Alister Kay and Andy Hill was cut short which is unfortunate although having a chance to fly in formation with XH558 may well have made up for any disappointment for the pilots.
The remaining acts included the gorgeous Supermarine Spitfire PR Mk XI. A spirited display, along with that unforgettable soundtrack of the Merlin engine made it a good addition to this year’s flying programme.
Sally B, the last remaining B-17 in Europe who hails from her ‘home base’ at IWM Duxford, gave another unforgettable display to rival that of Duxford’s Spring Air Show. As they are not funded through IWM, Sally B’s operators rely solely on donations to keep her in the air.
Next up was the RAF Tucano Display with the 2013 display pilot Flt Lt Andrew ‘Fyvie’ Fyvie-Rae. The RAF Tucano bridges the gap between the Tutor and the Hawk to provide basic fast jet training. The display aircraft this year is painted to commemorate 70 years since 72 Sqn were on active service in North Africa and the Mediterranean and the pilot gave a good display putting the training aircraft through its paces.
The Finale was the Blades team made up of ex Red Arrow pilots and based at Sywell Aerodrome. Putting on a great display of stunts, formation flying and close proximity passes the aircraft, sporting a new orange and black paint scheme for 2013 harking back to their old livery, closed the show with style.
With the weather helping to attract over 50000 people to the show, along with a good number of air and static displays, the 2013 Cosford airshow was certainly enjoyable. For many people the traffic situation was a big sticking point and it is already evident that the team behind the show are aware of the issue and it will be a big topic of discussion when they plan next years event.
The author would like to thank Fg Off Sam Jewell, Flt Lt Les Wright, Flt Lt Nathaniel Roberts and Sgt Michael ‘Maz’ Maslanka for their time and input into this article.