The 2010 edition of the RAF Leuchars Battle of Britian at home day that also featured the Tornado F3’s farewell celebrations was an excellent line-up, blessed with lovely weather it was always going to be a hard show to beat. Unfortunately, this year did indeed struggle to even come close to its predecessor. The organisers were obviously given a tough time drawing in participants, with the ongoing conflicts and budget cuts worldwide becoming the double edged sword which sliced the participant list a lot shorter than usual.
So with a poor looking participation list in the run up to the show, anticipation wasn’t very high. It was the static that was hit worst – there were no non-UK fighter aircraft present in the static. The Americans provided the largest overseas contingent in the static with a C-130J-30 from Ramstein AB in Germany, the consistent KC-135 participation from New Hampshire’s ANG unit, a pair of F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath’s 48th Fighter Wing and lastly – the highlight to be for many – a LC-130 from the 109th Airlift Wing. It was a great shame that the LC-130 couldn’t make it, apparently a technical fault left it stranded at the Azores transit base, Lajes. The only other foreign static participants were two rarities: A Czech CASA C-295 which brought in support for the JAS-39 Gripen in the flying display and is one of only 4 used by the Czechs wearing a smart olive green, brown and grey camouflage. The other foreign participant being a Norwegian Da20ECM from Rygge AB and is one of 2 used in the ECM role, although a single Da20C-5 is also operated in the VIP role.
Unfortunately, our stretched Royal Air Force wasn’t able to cover all the lost ground but the home team were out in force with six Typhoons from recently reformed 6 ‘The Canopeners’ Squadron which was excellent to see. The presence of the sole other element of the RAF’s frontline jet force was a Tornado GR4 from 15(R) sqn based at RAF Lossiemouth, it was also wearing a special colour scheme to mark the passing of 1,000,000 flying hours on the Tornado GR4 with the Royal Air Force – a milestone which was passed by 617 ‘The Dambusters’ sqn who were out in Afghanistan at the time. A pair of Hawk T.1 aircraft came from 100sqn based at RAF Leeming and the spare display aircraft operated by RAF Valley’s 208(R) sqn. Two Beech King Air 200s were also in the static from Cranwell’s 45(R) sqn completing the RAF’s fixed-wing static element. It was impressive to see that RAF Benson managed to send a Puma HC1 and Merlin HC3 aswell as RAF Odiham sending a Chinook HC2 – impressive because these three types are often used in training and are heavily tasked. Completing the military static was a Griffin and Squirrel from the DHFS (Defence Helicopter Flying School) at RAF Shawbury and a Sea King Mk.5 from nearby Prestwick. The rest of the static was padded out with civilian aircraft which was a bit unfortunate to see.
The weather didn’t start nicely either, as the gates opened so did the heavens and it stayed that way until about 10 in the morning when the persistent rain eased. It stayed grim though, and low cloud dominated the St. Andrews sky preventing us from seeing the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Between 10 and 11 in the morning the schedule featured a section for Radio-Controlled aircraft to be displayed, this ended up going on until around 12 o’clock due to the weather and a shorter flying display than expected. There did not seem like 6 hours worth of flying in the participation list – and finally, at 12.30 the flying kicked off. In grim weather the Pitts Special flown by an ex-111(F) sqn pilot followed by two Vans RV-8 aircraft from the RV8tors performed an excellent close knit display, by which time it was a relief to see some piloted aircraft in the air!
Next up was the first of a few highlights, a PBY-5A Canso A Amphibian, which has had a long illustrious career starting with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Now owned by the Catalina Society at Duxford it is painted in a scheme representing an OA-10A Catalina used by the United States Army Air Force (USAAF), the individual aircraft represented by G-PBYA is 44-33915 which operated from RAF Halesworth, Suffolk during World War II. From warbird to warbird the display continued with the iconic Avro Vulcan B.2 of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, who have kept this bird in the air for over four years now – the display was one of the most aggressive displays she has performed since return to flight and even pulled vapour in the moist sky. Another welcome warbird was the Se5a, which then displayed showing part of Leuchars aviation heritage as it went about the St. Andrew’s sky.
The first aspect of the fast jet element was next with the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16AM demo from Leeuwarden Airbase. Its display appeared to be much better than the one from RIAT earlier in the year. It also benefitted from the addition of flares which added another dimension to the display piloted by Captain Tobias “Hitec” Schutte in the specially painted orange lion aircraft.
Shortly before the Patrouille de France performed their display the Red Arrows arrived early for their slot later in the day. As the Reds taxied back past the waiting Patrouille de France some of the French pilots emphasised the links between the two teams as they made friendly gestures to their British colleagues. The Patrouille de France fly with eight Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet aircraft in a scheme depicting their blue, white and red flag and use smoke of those three colours whilst flying.
Unfortunately the weather closed in shortly after the Patrouille de France had finished their display and the two Norwegian Vampires had just taken off. They flew a synchronised display of aerobatics in matching colour schemes and were flown by the Royal Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron. The pair battled the rain to perform their flat display which was a shame as their full routine at Duxford the week before was extremely impressive. Then the Czech Air Force sent up their JAS-39C Gripen as the rain continued to hammer down making the Gripen barely visible at times, it seemed like an aggressive display but was cut short early as the weather got too much. The Czechs and Norwegians were great helpers in the Battle of Britain and it was excellent to see them both supporting the Battle of Britain show!
The last of the overseas participants in the flying display was the Belgian Air Component’s F16AM solo display which had the best of the afternoon’s weather for its display and gave the crowd plenty to enjoy! There are no doubts that the 2011 Belgian F-16 demo was one of the best displays they’ve done over the years and was extremely dynamic! The colour scheme used over the last couple of years isn’t the best and featured a few corporate logos that it didn’t last year, in celebration of 65 years of the Belgian Air Force. Unfortunately it didn’t use flares like the Dutch but overall it still gave the better of the two F-16 displays!
Finally, the RAF content: first of the home displays was a Tucano T.1 from RAF Linton-On-Ouse which unfortunately wasn’t the shiny silver demo aircraft which looks fantastic! The RAF Hawk display was good this year with a dirty pass and lots of fast manoeuvres – unfortunately the display scheme was a bit mundane compared to the 2010 example. The Red Arrows displayed an 8-ship of RAF Hawk T.1s as well. Normally with nine aircraft, they had recently suffered the tragic loss of Flt Lt Jon Egging (Red 4) after a crash. It was the most emotional aspect of the show. The routine was identical to their 9-ship routine but with the Red 4 position missing and was performed as a tribute to the lost pilot – a fantastic tribute too.
The penultimate display was by two Tornado GR4s of 15(R) squadron from RAF Lossiemouth who performed their mud moving role demo, outlining the actions and manoeuvres carried out in war zones and the reasons why. The Tornado GR4 fleet are currently busy deployed in both Afghanistan and Libya which is why we were very lucky to have the role demo this year! The finalé came from the other half of the UK fast jet fleet with four Typhoon FGR4 aircraft getting airborne in a stream of performance departures. Two of these Typhoons formed up pairs with each of the Tornados to give two Tornado/Typhoon flypasts – one from each direction – symbolising the two types working together in Operation Ellamy over Libya. Then after a long wait, three Typhoons flew over in a ‘V’ formation whilst the fourth ran in and plugged in the afterburners and performed the annual sunset ceremony skyrocketing into the heavens! Shortly after, the four returned to run and break before landing and backtracking the runway to bring the flying display to a close.
Looking back on the show, it was not fantastic. It lacked a lot of participation, however, there were enough gems there to keep everyone interested for the day and after the devastating SDSR news, it was good to hear there was still to be a show at all. After Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton announced there will be three further editions of the RAF Leuchars Battle of Britain at home events to come, it is with anticipation that we look forward to next year’s event.