The Royal Navy’s premier airshow, the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2015 in Somerset, opened its gates to nigh on 37,000 visitors on Saturday 11th July 2015. With over five hours of spectacular flying displays, pyrotechnics, ground displays and aircraft a plenty to admire, the Senior Service yet again pulled off another gem of a show. Duncan Monk reports.
The RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2015 which won the South West Tourism 2013 Gold award continues to go from strength to strength. Back in its traditional early July slot this year, the pre show participant list was as inspirational as it was mouth watering.
The initial lineup included the Avro Vulcan XH558 in her last display season, a UK display first for the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron’s MiG-15UTI, a French Navy Role Demonstration with Dassault Rafales and Super Etendards, Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team The Red Arrows, the Army Air Corps’ Attack Helicopter Display team flying two Apache AH1s and of course the stunning and world renowned “Commando Assault” finale. On static we were promised the return of the A-10C Thunderbolt II to UK shores, something that had looked very unlikely to happen given its withdrawal from USAFE last year, and some rare heavies including a USAF C-17 Globemaster and NATO E-3A Sentry. One of the highlights promised to be the UK debut of the AgustaWestland AW609 Tilt Rotor aircraft, a truly stunning addition.
2015 is RNAS Yeovilton’s 75th Anniversary since being commissioned on the 18th June 1940. Since the days of World War Two the airfield has grown and become one of the busiest military airfields in the United Kingdom and amongst the largest in Europe. In the early 2000s daily movements exceeded that of Heathrow with twelve Squadrons and over 150 aircraft operating from the dual runways, those being 702, 750, 800, 801,815, 845, 846, 847, 848 and 899 Naval Air Squadrons, the Naval Fixed Wing Standards Flight and Royal Navy Historic Flight.
RNAS Yeovilton’s squadrons have been involved in some of our country’s most pivotal campaigns over the years. In the 1950’s they were involved in operations during the Korean war and Suez crisis, operating Sea Furys, Sea Hawks and Sea Venoms and, in 1982 during the Falklands war, the station played a key role in the campaign deploying over 1,400 personnel and 126 aircraft including Sea Harrier FRS.1s and Sea King Mk.4s, helping to reclaim the Falkland Islands from Argentinean forces.
The iconic Sea Harrier (SHAR) played a massive part in regaining the Falkland Islands and although it may be long gone from the skies of Somerset, it’s history and heartbeat remains at RNAS Yeovilton. On static this year were two examples of the mighty SHAR FA.2 along with the Gate Guard ZD578. The aircraft are in immaculate condition and it is heartwarming to see that the legendary Sea Harrier lives on.
RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2015 was very much an international show, and a credit to the organisers who managed to source aircraft from Belgium, France, Norway, Germany, Spain, Poland, United States of America, Czech Republic and Jordan.
The ‘home’ team provided a significant chunk of the static and flying display. With hangar displays a plenty, the Royal Navy aircraft were dispersed across the site with the aircraft displayed in different ‘fits’ and demonstrated in the air in various roles. There was an array of excellent ground shows with one particular favourite at Air Day being the Field Gun run demonstrations, which always draws a huge crowd.
With over 37,000 people ensconced within the airfield, the flying display itself kicked off at bang on 1100 with a flypast of the Royal Navy ensign, hung proudly beneath a 771 Naval Air Squadron Search and Rescue (SAR) Seaking from RNAS Culdrose. It was a very apt way to start proceedings, given the type is entering its final few months in service before retirement and the end of military SAR Operations in the United Kingdom.
The Naval theme continued straight after with Lt Cdr Chris Gotke AFC flying Kennett Aviation’s Seafire F.XVII SX336/G-KASX around the Somerset countryside with style and panache. The air-craft is resplendent in her naval colour scheme – and is a treasured asset with only four flying examples in the world today, with two in the UK and two in the USA (N47SF and N503PR).
Richard Goodwin took advantage of his colourful and highly modified Muscle Biplane by taking a short run off the opposite runway with a tailwind, as he performed his trademark eye opening take off low and sideways, much to the glee of the crowd. His performance is a credit to his ability, strength and fitness as his aircraft spins, tumbles and falls through the air in apparent complete control!
The Royal Navy Black Cats display team this year has a new steed, and are performing with two AgustaWestland Wildcat (AW159) HMA.2 aircraft. The aircraft looks fantastic and is very photogenic and although more powerful, updated and capable than its predecessor the Westland Lynx HMA.8, it is presently limited in the flight envelope and the display lacks the dynamic abilities that had been seen in previous years. However the Wildcat and display is still in its infancy and will without doubt grow and remain a firm air show favourite.
The Norwegian Air Force Historic Flight were due to display three aircraft at Air Day, but due to unforeseen circumstances the much anticipated appearance and display of the MiG15-UTI was sadly cancelled, however both De Havilland Vampires (FB.52 and T.55) were there to thrill the crowds with an exemplary display of pairs flying.
What followed was a unique jaw dropping once in a lifetime “V-Jet” formation featuring Avro Vulcan XH558, both Norwegian Air Force Historic Flight Vampires and the Fly Navy Heritage Trust’s Sea Vixen. This was an experience that is unlikely to be repeated due to the retirement of the Vulcan at the end of this year’s display season, and it will live long in the mind, perhaps even surpassing the 2014 formation of both Lancasters, which in itself was a truly emotional and breathtaking sight.
The Royal Navy Parachute display team was next to perform dropping into the airfield from Shorts Skyvan G-PIGY (which was also used for a photo shoot with the “V-Jet” formation) and landing on their marks with exemplary accuracy.
The Royal Air Force was notable by its absence in the static park, with not a single aircraft example to be seen, bar a Royal Navy Merlin still in its old RAF markings! With the armed forces ever stretched, and cutbacks continuing it is sad but inevitable. However, there were a number of Royal Air Force flying displays on offer with the Typhoon, Chinook, and a pair of Spitfires from the BBMF Spitfire pairs who were joined by the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows.
The Red Arrows have a new team leader this year with the Red 1 seat now occupied by Squadron Leader David Montenegro. This year’s Hawk aircraft sport another cracking tail design which make the aircraft stand out and their display in 2015 is as polished as ever. Due to the cloud cover, it was a rolling display that was performed at Yeovilton and included this years “new” move, the Whirlwind, in which all 9 aircraft perform a simultaneous roll.
Avro Anson XIX G-AHKX is more commonly seen at Old Warden but was certainly a crowd pleaser at this larger show with a number of lovely low passes, which showed all her best sides – along with the beautiful sound of those two Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah V engines purring along in unison.
A privately owned Bell UH-1 ‘Huey’ Iroquois was next to display and gave an incredible close and vigorous display along the display line, with its distinctive blade slap as it turned sharply reverberating around the airfield, it was a yet another well received display.
The RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2015 organisers had secured a great selection of naval aircraft and the next two aircraft were both stunning on the eye and ear, one piston and one jet. The Shuttleworth Collection’s Sea Hurricane Mk.IB Z7015/G-BKTH looked wonderful in its naval colours and performed effortlessly. The de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 XP924/G-CVIX – aka ‘Foxy Lady’ – then took over the display arena, with a display that showed just how much power this immense aircraft has at its disposal. A dirty slow pass with undercarriage, flaps and hook down was quickly followed by a stonking fast pass by Royal Naval Reserve pilot Commander Simon Hargreaves OBE.
Royal Navy Historic Flight Fairey Swordfish I W5856 only returned to the skies for the first time since 2003 in the first week of July and it was brilliant to see this aircraft back up where she belongs. First flown on Trafalgar Day in 1941, the aircraft was restored and gifted to the Royal Navy from BAe Systems in 1990, but had to have new wings built after corrosion was found in the wing spars back in 2003. The aircraft was adopted by the ‘City of Leeds’ in 1996 as a tribute to the local companies that built Swordfish components during World War Two.
The next aircraft couldn’t be more different or more complex than the Swordfish and was a UK air show first with the display of the AgustaWestland AW609 Tilt Rotor. The aircraft is a smaller yet similar version of the Bell/Boeing V-22 Osprey. Aimed at the civilian market for VIPs or offshore gas and oil platforms, the AW609 is surprisingly quiet in normal flight mode, compared to when in helicopter mode and hovering. A remarkable aeroplane, it performed flawlessly and was another unique first for the Yeovilton Air Day.
The second offering from the Royal Air Force was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who supplied two of their Spitfires in this, the 75th year since the Battle Of Britain. The aircraft initial per-formed together before splitting into opposition passes.
The Czech Air Forces single inclusion was an Aero Vodochody L-159 ALCA. The Advanced Light Combat Aircraft (ALCA) in its two tone grey scheme is a training aircraft of which the Czechs ordered 19 from Aero Vodochody. Flown immaculately as ever, the Czechs are now regular contributors at the Yeovilton Air Day.
The Apache Helicopter Display Team in 2015 consists of two AH-64D Apache AH.1 helicopters, callsigns Gunship 1 & 2, from AAC Wattisham. The display is a huge improvement from last year, with the addition of pyrotechnics and a second aircraft. The further addition of a good scenario and added script makes this a must watch display.
Two national display teams from Spain and Jordan made up the 1500 display slot split by the Royal Air Force Chinook display. The Spanish Patrulla Aguila returned to the UK with a much tighter display than has been seen in previous years and still flying seven Casa C-101 Aviojets. The ‘Eagle Patrol’ team’s display culminates in a unique formation landing of all seven aircraft – something not replicated by any other display team in the world.
The Royal Jordanian Falcons are very well known in this country, and traditionally display annually at the bigger shows in their Extra 300 highly manoeuvrable aircraft. Formed in 1976 at the initiative of His Majesty the late King Hussein Bin Talal, they represent precision and professionalism and are ambassadors for their beautiful country.
This year’s RAF Chinook display based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire is utilising the Boeing Chinook HC.4 for the first time in a display sequence. The 2015 display pilot is Flt Lieutenant Brett Jones and he certainly has put together a flowing and entertaining display. Featuring all the classic Chinook moves, the display seems more dynamic with plenty of ‘Wokka’ blade slap and by the end of a mesmerising display it drew a worthy round of applause from the crowd.
The Royal Navy Maritime Role Demo is another unique set piece that Yeovilton puts on. Featuring two Lynx HMA.8 and two Wildcat HMA.2 aircraft, they played out a scenario chasing pirates onboard a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) being towed by a yellow aircraft tug around the airfield. With an entertaining commentary and pyrotechnics it clearly demonstrated just one of the capabilities of these valuable naval assets to the thousands watching, and received a deserved round of applause also.
With the loss of the Norwegian Air Force Historic Flight MiG-15 from the flying display, the scene was set for a very anticipated and rare display, that of the French Navy Super Etendard and Rafale pairs. After a streamed take off, the four aircraft formed up and flew past in close formation with arrestor hooks down, which in itself would have been enough for most people but the aircraft then split. Whilst the Rafales held off, the two “Super Es” performed together with a series of passes including an opposition pass. The Rafales returned as a pair but then split as one performed a solo display tearing up the airfield with plenty of afterburner. With the Super Etendards scheduled to retire next year, this will probably be the last time we see these legendary aircraft display in the United Kingdom.
The final Royal Air Force display and the penultimate act of the day came from a 29 Squadron Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 based at RAF Coningsby. With the choice of four specially marked jets in 2015, it was the ‘Hurriphoon’ camouflage Typhoon that displayed at Yeovilton. This year’s display pilot is Flt Lieutenant Jonny Dowen, whose normal day job is a Qualified Pilot Instructor on 29 Squadron as well as contributing towards defending the United Kingdom on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). It has to be said that the 2015 Typhoon display appears more aggressive and tighter, which in turn provides plenty of noise from the two Eurojet EJ200 afterburning engines.
The scene was then set for the traditional and most anticipated display of the day – the Commando Assault Role Demonstration. With the venerable Sea King HC4 slowly being retired the display this year consisted of just four of these trusty unsung workhorses working alongside Royal Marines and vehicles during the assault scenario before the expectant crowd. However the display was augmented by the inclusion of their replacement aircraft, the AgustaWestland Merlin, also with four examples. The size difference is quite notable between these two examples and the Merlin is a more competent aircraft all round and will soon be completely taking the helm as the Royal Navy’s heavy lift aircraft.
Not content with just these eight huge helicopters, the Role Demo also utilised the two Army Air Corps Apache AH.1’s seen earlier in the day, now flying under the callsign ‘Ugly’ to provide some fire support to the Royal Marines who were assaulting the airfield. In addition to this were a number of Lynx HMA.8s and Wildcat HMA.2s providing over watch with door gunners, together with a single Hawk T.1 providing top cover, running in for some strafing and bombing runs. With the sound of gunfire, lots of smoke, huge explosions and with helicopter noise filling the sky the crowd was kept up to date and looking in the correct direction by a very clear and concise commentary.
The Royal Marines soon overwhelmed their enemy and it was time for the helicopters to come in for their finale. With over a dozen helicopters forming up from left and right in front of the crowd they turned to face the massed public. The single Hawk thundered over the top of the formation and what followed was a huge wall of flame erupting from behind the helicopters – a truly fantastic end to the display and a fitting send off to the Sea King HC.4s at the end of their illustrious service to Queen and country. As the helicopters turned and filed away the crowd erupted with another huge round of applause to what they had just witnessed.
You come away from the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2015 show with a huge smile on your face and thinking how on earth can they better that next year. Yet time and time again Yeovilton continues to surpass the previous year by putting on an amazing family day out, and is incredible value for money. The show buzzes and you get a sense of happiness in a relaxed atmosphere, while the aircrew and maintainers make themselves available to chat and go out of their way to show children and families around their aircraft, happily posing for photos and making their day just an extra bit special. It is a credit to all the Armed Forces personnel who give up their precious down time to attend this show in order to give the public a brief glimpse of how they protect and serve, especially those who travelled from overseas. You really could not wish for a better day out and once again the Senior Service have excelled themselves.
A big thank you has to go out to all the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day team who have again delivered an incredible line up of aircraft and formations. A truly outstanding show. BZ.