Blessed with sunshine and celebrating the imminent retirement of the Tornado F.3 and introduction of the Typhoon, coupled a whole host of other dynamic displays, it made for a fantastic day in Fife. Chris Milne Reports for AeroResource on the Leuchars Airshow 2010.
On the second weekend of September, St. Andrews’ nearby air station RAF Leuchars hosts a single day international airshow to celebrate the Battle of Britain ‘at home.’ In the past few years the show has attracted a tasty variety of exotica such as the unusual American E-8C JSTARS, German Navy Atlantic, Czech Gripen, the iconic Vulcan B2 restored bomber and the highly ferocious display of the Polish Air Force MiG-29B Fulcrum to the Fife skies. This year, however, saw the attention become focussed on the home team and the Tornado F-3’s imminent retiring.
In the run up to the show there were various aircraft added to the flying display, but it was the Tornado F-3 that was becoming a main focus for enthusiasts, given its impending retirement. At first there was a formation display of F-3s added as well as the sunset ceremony, which got everyone’s hopes sky high. A few weeks later, all that was to show from the home team was the ‘sunset ceremony’ in the flying display, which provoked an amassed outrage amongst enthusiasts and veterans and ended up in a campaign to give the F-3 a proper send off. Within a week there was a Facebook page, a website and several high profile pleas to voice people’s opinions to the organisers. With less than a month till the show a new display item was added – ‘RAF F3 x4 – Sunset Ceremony Flypast – 111(F) Sqn.’
I was pretty doubtful that it would happen in its entirety but I set off on Saturday morning full of hope and enthusiasm. On arrival the ground was soaking after five or so hours of torrential rain, which had caused havoc in the traffic department! Luckily, just before ten, as the flying was beginning, the sky cleared and stayed quite clear for most of the morning.
The static was filled with quite a few gems, a French Air Force C-130H-30 Hercules, a specially marked Czech Gripen, a RAF VC-10 along with the usual B-52H Stratofortress from ‘across the pond’. Also, there was a Tornado F3 next to a 6 sqn Typhoon bringing in the new. Which was also how the flying display started.
Getting the program underway was a unique formation which involved the home team’s – 111(F) Sqn – finest, Juliet Uniform, the 90th anniversary jet and current flagship of the squadron which formatted with a Eurofighter Typhoon and a Spitfire to commemorate past, present and future. The aircraft launched and held while the Se5a and RAF Shorts Tucano T.1 performed their display, the latter in a stunning Battle of Britain colour scheme! The historic trio then performed a single flypast before the F3 climbed out the formation and the Spitfire/Typhoon synchro pair returned and entered into their display.
Next up was a Harvard from the Real Aeroplane Company which provided a small neat display and was followed shortly after by the black 111(F)sqn Hunter from Team Viper performing a solo display which involved a series nice low, fast passes and high looping manoeuvres. After this was the first real heavy metal, reheat-packed display of the day and came from the Belgian Air Force’s F-16AM which carries a very unique colour scheme which led to it being renamed ‘vortex.’
Keeping the display line alive with vapour and afterburners were the Tornado GR4 pair from RAF Lossiemouth who performed a superb display with the inclusion of pyrotechnics to add that extra little ‘bang!’ to the routine. Continuing with the RAF items were the RAF Falcons who jumped from a Puma and the 19(R)sqn Hawk role demo which replaced the 208(R)sqn demo team after a large controversy in which the team was ‘grounded.’ Furthermore, the Beech King Air 200 from 45(R)Sqn which was thrown about ferociously for a large aircraft trainer. Classic jets were next, for which Leuchars had spoiled the punters for choice.
First up came G-SABR, the F-86A Sabre owned by Golden Apple which is the oldest jet aircraft in the world but certainly still has the power to wow the crowds and was followed by the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s historic flight Vampire which had a lovely silver colour scheme. Another pair of interesting classics involved was the Swedish Historic Flight’s SAAB J29F Tunnan ‘The flying barrel’ and SAAB 105, the first UK mainland appearance of both. At first they flew a very tight formation display before the SAAB105 split off to hold as the Tunnan entertained us with a very energetic solo and ripped vapour from the air. Immediately after the Swedish pair, the iconic shape and howl of the Vulcan XH558 which had been fixed of the snag which led to its late arrival. The final section of the classic jet selection came from Team Viper, a team who previously flew a quartet of Strikemasters and had now traded them in for the more powerful Hunter jets. It was their first time with Hunters and they did look a bit sloppy at times but they also gave us a superb ‘blue note’ pass from the Raspberry Ripple Hunter XE601 (G-ETPS.)
Also on display, was the French Air Force Alpha Jet, which was – for a pretty underpowered type –very impressive, containing a variation of looping manoeuvres and tight turns to impress the crowd. All the way from the Czech Republic came the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen display, the Gripen is a small and highly impressive machine, and it demonstrated this during its display by executing a series of high looping and high-G turns in full burner distributing a lot of noise across the display line. Completing off the foreign display was the Dutch ‘Orange lion’ F-16, a highly regarded demo team seen throughout the UK in the airshow season on a regular basis. The unique inclusion of flares incorporated into the display captured the eyes of many as the vibrantly coloured F-16 dominated the skies of Leuchars.
In the afternoon, we saw a multitude of displays from the RAF starting with the Red Arrows who later went on to transit in evening to Italy, on their way to the Freece Tricolore 50th anniversary show. Next up came the Typhoon that performs a display I found pretty dull for the aircrafts capabilities, I find that it lacks imagination, however it is a still an enjoyable aggressive display! The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also made it up for the weekend with their silver Spitfire, a Hurricane and the Lancaster before the RAF demos concluded with the Harrier role demo which ended with a Harrier bowing for the crowd – something that had been missed for years, what a racket, but such an enjoyable racket!
The Blades also gave us an entertaining display of scarily close manoeuvres and intricate formations followed by the Historic Aircraft Company’s Spitfire and Hurricane displays as we awaited the finale. Soon calling Air Traffic Control were Export 11 flight, of 4 aircraft to taxi for take-off followed by Turbo 1 – who then changed to Export 15 – a lone 6sqn Typhoon. The conditions were perfect with clear blue skies, the deafening roar of Export 11-13 putting on their afterburners could be heard all the way from the other end of the runway and they were closely followed by Export 14 and finally Turbo 1 who went vertical into the heavens.
A few minutes later and the quartet of F-3s came back for a flypast along the display line and disappearing, the next element was a three ship of Tornados in a V formation followed by the final Tornado F3 sunset ceremony. In from the sea, over the trees thundered a Typhoon, and a Tornado F-3 – ‘ZE961’ which was one of the first two F3s to arrive to 43sqn back during the 1989 show as GA of 43(F)sqn – which plugged in the burners and zoomed into the darkened blue sky while the Typhoon continued on straight and level. The Typhoon broke and landed before the F-3s appeared for their break, running in with their wings swept, before landing and taxi-ing back up the runway to their HAS for the night. History had been made.
The RAF Leuchars Air Show is held in high regard by veterans, enthusiasts and locals as one of the premier public events in Scotland, if not the UK. Once again Team Leuchars pulled out all the stops to produce a diverse and imaginative display, both on the ground , and in the air. It was particularly pleasing to see that the public finally got their wish to see the Tornado F-3 bow out in style, so a big thank you to those who made it happen, it was certainly appreciated by those that were lucky enough to attend this annual feast of flying.