The RAFs premier official airshow, Waddington is the first major show of the season in the UK and marks the start of a frantic July for many aviation enthusiasts. After the success that was the 2013 show, and with the promise of some interesting static and flying items, could the 2014 event live up to expectations? Adam Duffield and Duncan Monk spent the weekend in Lincolnshire to find out.
Waddington International Airshow needs little introduction to many as one of the largest shows in the UK. Located just south of Lincoln, the base is home to the RAFs surveillance and reconnaissance assets, a role that is always highlighted both by aircraft displays on the ground and in the air and various non-aircraft related stands and displays. Spread out over two days, the 2014 show was the 20th anniversary of the event and advance ticket sales reached a record high in the build-up to the event.
In line with other years, the static areas are comprised of two main sections linked by a line of aircraft opposite the main taxiway that runs parallel to the display line. At the Northern end of the airfield were two of the static highlights in the form of US Navy P-8A Poseidon operated by VX-1 form NAS Patuxent River and Turkish Navy CN-235M operated by 301 Filo. Both are Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) and their appearances marked a UK airshow debut for both types. A number of rotary assets from the UK were also present including a Puma HC2 (ZJ955) known as ‘Black Peter’ which carries Far East Asia command markings commemorating 230 Squadrons 95th Anniversary. Other military aircraft in this section included German Air Force Eurofighter EF-2000T (30+04), a pair of Royal Danish Air Force F-16s (E-008 & ET-614) and a CH-47D (D-101) from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. A number of the more interesting civilian operated types were also present such as a pair of Gazelles (HT2 XX436/G-ZZLE and HT3 ZB627/G-CBSK) operated by the Gazelle Squadron and the Bell UH-1H Huey (72-21509/G-UHIH) and OH-6A Loach (69-16011/G-OHGA) pairing.
The star of the second main static area was that of T2 Aviation’s Boeing 727 (G-OSRA). Having been recently converted for use as an oil spill dispersal aircraft, the bright orange and white scheme stood out amongst the standard military grey aircraft that surrounded it such as the Italian Air Force KC-767A (MM62228) and C-27J (MM62215) and Slovak Air Force Let L-410 (2718). Locally based at RAF Coningsby, 41(TES) Sqn bought both Tornado GR4 (ZA600) and Typhoon FGR4 (ZJ930) examples to the static along with a range of armaments on show.
Linking the two areas was a rather thinly stretch row of civilian aircraft, most of which representing general light aviation. Looking back just two or three years, this area would have included a number of military aircraft that couldn’t fit within the two main static areas however it is maybe a sign of the times that the static participation from the military is reducing not only due to budgetary constraints but also the high tempo of operations and exercises that they are supporting.
As always at Waddington the station flypast opened the show on both days although early weather conditions impacted the usual streamed fly through. The E-3D Sentry (ZH101) operated by 8 Sqn and Sentinel R1 (ZJ692) operated by 5(AC) Sqn was joined by the RAFs latest aircraft – the RC-135 Rivet Joint (ZZ664) operated by 51 Sqn. Only recently being cleared for flight after its delivery at the end of 2013, this was the first public appearance for the type and the only chance to see it at an airshow this year. Despite the weather, the crews managed to alter plans and perform low approaches to get below the cloud base before disappearing to carry out training missions. On return, and with better weather, the crowds were once again treated to low approaches giving another opportunity to catch them on camera.
Making a return for 2014 is the RAF Tutor (G-BYXZ) display flown for the season by Flt Lt Andy Preece from 16(R) Sqn at nearby RAF Cranwell. Suffering from a number of groundings over the last couple of years, the Tutor returned to the display lineup on Saturday with an improved routine that benefitted heavily from a new, lower display clearance of 300ft that bought the display much more to the crowds attention and no doubt helped with its selection as 2nd place in the flying display awards and the addition of small ‘shark mouth’ to the display aircraft is an amusing touch. In comparison, Flt Lt Dave Kirby showed the increased power and performance available with the follow on trainer type, the Tucano (ZF244). With a minimalist but effective scheme for this year due to budget constraints many may remember Flt Lt Kirby as the voice of the 2013 display commentary and his routine was just as well presented.
In their 50th Display season, the show at Waddington could be considered as the Red Arrows home show given the proximity of their base at RAF Scampton. With new anniversary tails for the year, the team performed with the precision and accuracy that they have become renowned for with both days seeing rolling displays due to limiting weather conditions. Despite this the crowd on both days were visibly impressed by the skills of the pilots and their 2014 routine. Saturday saw a unique flypast as a precursor to their main display with the Red Arrows being joined by three historic jets representing the lineage of the previous RAF display teams – a yellow Gnat representing the Yellowjacks, black Hunter representing the Black Arrows and a red Gnat as an example of the Red Arrows previous airborne steed.
Also somewhat of a home appearance, the Battle of Britain Memorial flight were excellently represented over the weekend. The flights Dakota (ZA947) flew in for a solo display in a year where the importance of the type has been highlighted even further with the numerous D-Day 70th anniversary events. As always, the flights three ship formation was well received with the Avro Lancaster (PA474) being joined by Spitfires LFIXe MK356 and PRXIX PS915 on the Saturday and MkIIa P7350 replacing the photo reconnaissance version on the Sunday. With Squadron Leader Andy Millikin and Flight Lieutenant Antony Parkinson at the controls of the fighters, the crowd were treated to both the tail chase and opposition routines over the course of the weekend.
Following the completion of the fighter display, the invasion marked MK356 split and joined with the RAF Typhoon solo display that was also utilising the invasion marked aircraft (ZK308) for two flypasts in commemoration of the D-day anniversary prior to the Typhoons solo display. Flown by Flight Lieutenant Noel Rees it’s an impressive routine with plentiful usage of reheat and tight turns in front of the crowd.
On a mission to prove that jet noise is boring, the RAF Chinook display team (ZH777) was one of two displays representing the forces rotary assets. Instantly recognisable, the Chinook has once again come to the fore of the public’s eye over recent years with its critical role in Afghanistan and the crew showed just how manoeuvrable the large, twin rotor machine can be with plenty of blade slap thrown in for good measure.
Another recognisable shape was that of the bright yellow RAF Search and Rescue Sea King HAR3 (XZ595). Yet another type on display during the weekend that is rapidly reaching the twilight of its operational career it was a good opportunity to see up close the lifesaving activities that the crews perform every day of the year in all conditions with a SAR demonstration being performed.
Another RAF team celebrating their 50th display season is that of the RAF Falcons parachute display team. Often forgotten by many, their expertise and precision should not be forgotten. Cloud base on the Saturday prevented their jump however a later position in the Sunday programme allowed the team to show their skills, jumping from a Cessna Caravan to perform their low show from 2500ft and still achieving their distinctive stack formation with eight parachutists.
Whilst a lot of focus is rightfully placed on RAF displays, the other branches of the British forces were well represented as well. The Royal Navy returned with their solo Merlin (ZH858) display however utilising an HM1 model rather than an HM2 as intended. Suffering from technical issues that prevented a display on the Saturday, they managed to get airborne on Sunday their performance although much more restrained from the HM2 displays seen previously. Also present was the Royal Navy Black Cats display team which, up until 2012, flew regularly as a two ship formation with only a solo display provided during 2013 due to the drawdown of the Lynx Mk8 fleet. For this year, although only for some of the larger events, the team returns to a pairs display albeit with a major difference thanks to a combination of old and new types – a Lynx Mk8 (XZ719) and its scheduled replacement the AgustaWestland Wildcat HM1 (ZZ381). A welcome return to a pairs display it is much more pleasing than the solo Lynx display of previous years despite the limitations imposed on the display flying of the Wildcat and it will be interesting to see if, in the future, this evolves into a pair’s Wildcat team.
The Army Air Corps were not to be left out of proceedings and provided a pair of display acts. With time also running out for another Lynx variant, the AH7 (XZ184), it was a rare chance to see this display complete with its incredible backflip move. Representing the cutting edge of Army flying at this time was the unmistakable shape of the Apache AH1 and the Attack Helicopter Display Team. Their 2014 routine for major shows has been reworked to represent capability role demonstration, something that has been missing from the circuit since the stand down of the Tornado Role Demo, and the ensuing pyrotechnics were very impressive setting off the display excellently.
Two regular display teams at the show, The Royal Jordanian Falcons and The Blades, returned for providing two very different displays that both utilised the Extra 300 aircraft. The Royal Jordanian Falcons represent their country at shows around the world and had arrived in C-130s in the weeks prior to the show at Coventry airport however this year with a difference in that only three aircraft are being used for the display. Whilst their close formation aerobatics is certainly testament to the skill of the pilots, the display was not a patch on the much more exhilarating routine from The Blades. Made up of former numerous former RAF fast jet, and most cases Red Arrows, pilots the team were constantly in view of the crowd with close passes and some excellent solo aerobatics from Blade 4, Andy Evans, to fill gaps whilst the remaining aircraft repositioned for the next manoeuvre.
Another regular is that of B-17 ‘Sally B’ (124485/G-BEDF) which operated from Waddington for the duration of the weekend. The usual series of flypasts were performed and gave the visitors a good chance to see the difference between the British and American four engine bomber designs.
A welcome return to display flying was that of Tony de Bruyn in his OV-10 Bronco (99+18/G-ONAA). Following his horrific accident at Kemble in 2012, he has recovered and regained his display authorisation to once again show off the unique twin boom turboprop that he is so well known for.
Based at RAF Waddington, the Lincs and Notts Air Ambulance was an interesting addition to the flying programme performing a demonstration of the type of activities it undertakes with its MD902 (G-LNCT). Whilst many enthusiasts may knock a display of this type, it will be a regular sight to many of the crowd who live within the local area and a great opportunity to raise awareness and generate funding to help operate the aircraft. As such, it was a real shame that the Sunday display was sacrificed by the organisers in an attempt to bring the schedule back on time.
Earlier this year, the Gnat Display Team, based at North Weald, successfully managed to return Gnat T.Mk1 (G-MOUR) to the skies in its distinctive Yellowjacks scheme in order to display as a three ship alongside their 4 FTS (G-RORI/XR538) and Red Arrows (G-TIMM/XS111) liveried aircraft. The diminutive size of the Gnat can go against it when displaying at large venues however the addition of the third aircraft adds an extra dynamic that enhances the display although for the majority of the time the three aircraft are distant from the crowds view. Another classic jet, although very different in size and stature, is that of Avro Vulcan XH558. Always a crowd favourite wherever it goes the Sunday display featured plenty of the distinctive ‘Vulcan Howl’ under the controls of Bill Ramsey although both days displays wingovers seemed noticeably tamer than previous years.
A chance to see two different solo Hunter displays was provided in the form of Hunter T7 (G-FFOX) and the Dutch Hunter Foundations F6A (N-294/G-KAXF) however the two displays couldn’t have been more different in approach. Chris Heames displayed the T7 with grace and elegance that unfortunately often resulted in distant repositions however Peter Kuypers in the Dutch F6A put on an amazing display full of high power and tight turns generating multiple opportunities to hear the infamous ‘blue note’ in the skies of Lincolnshire. To many who were there it will be no surprise to hear that Peter won the award for best flying display of the day as voted by the flying control committee, a very worth winner indeed.
Making their UK debut appearance was the Spanish helicopter display team Patrulla Aspa. Equipped with five Eurocopter EC-120 ‘Hummingbird’ aircraft in a distinctive scheme they showed some very well executed precision flying, especially the four ship pirouette and 2v1 line abreast move. However, whilst the first section of the display is full of action it is let down by the final sequence of two breaks that seem to take an eternity for the team to reform and return to the crowd. This wasn’t’ helped by the commentator who spoke infrequently and left everyone wondering what was happening – something that the airshow commentary team noticeably picked up on themselves prompting them to help fill gaps in the Sunday display.
Fast becoming one of the most loved displays on the UK circuit, the Midair Squadron put on two very different displays over the weekend. The Saturday saw a solo display from their Canberra PR9 (XH134/G-OMHD) however it was the Sunday display where is was joined by their Hunter T7 (XL577/G-BXKF) that most impressed. With the sun making an appearance to glisten off the silver paint schemes the pair performed a number of close formation passes before splitting into their own routines that were just as impressive. Reference was made during the commentary to the ‘generic’ silver scheme applied to the aircraft as a possible blank canvas for sponsorship which, if it were to happen, would be a real shame to spoil their sleek looks.
Returning to the show after a brilliant display in 2012 was the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet (J-5005) operated by Fliegerstaffel 17 at Payerne and flown for this year by Capt “Teddy” Meister. Overcoming illness in the week leading up to the show it was great to see a Hornet display back at Waddington with square loops a plenty and some impressive, and almost gravity defying, spins demonstrating the sheer power available.
In recent years, the F-16 display of Solo Turk (91-0011) has become a real favourite of many and, unlike many previous years, as the sole display of the type of the show it had a lot to live up to. Flown by Captain Yusuf Kurt it was once again a stand out act of the show with all the speed, power and high G manoeuvres that have become expected from one of the best F-16 displays on the circuit. Special note should also be given to the commentator for the display who was full of enthusiasm during the routine.
The star of the show for many will have been the return of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. After securing amazing support from them in 2013, their return to this years show was welcomed by all especially due to the aircraft selection that was brought to display. Once again the SAAB AJS37 Viggen (SE-DXN) was present and displayed by Stellan Andersson who even demonstrated its unique ability to taxi backwards using reverse thrust by completing a full reverse 360 on the runway after landing on the Sunday. However, it was its SAAB stablemate, the SK35C Draken (SE-DXP) that stole the show. Returning to the air earlier this year the display was simply sublime with flames spitting from the rear during afterburner engagement and plenty of fast passes and tight turns. Yet one more display to add to the long list of Waddington UK firsts.
Unfortunately the Sunday display programme didn’t run quite to plan with a fairly hefty delay by lunchtime leading to the cancellation of the Air Ambulance and RAF Tutor displays in an attempt to get back on track. This delay, whilst always likely to happen with such tight timings between moves, led to what seemed like a very fragmented running order that lost its natural flow at numerous points. On top of this, the announcement on the Thursday before to the show that, just 48 hours prior to the event, that no tickets would be available on the gate caused issues for many especially those who had planned to travel great distances to attend and had no way of obtaining tickets through the advertised local sales points. Quite why the decision was taken so late in the day is difficult to understand especially with the sites official website offline at that point and online ticket sales already closed.
Despite these issues, and the ever decreasing volume of static aircraft, the Waddington 2014 airshow was a great weekend with some real star items attending that many other shows are surely jealous of. With the announcement that due to scheduled runway works the 2015 show will not be going ahead, there has not as yet been any firm decision on its return in 2016. With constant focus on expenditure it’s easy to be pessimistic about the future but one thing is for certain – the loss of Waddington International Airshow would be a major loss to the UK airshow scene for both general public and enthusiast alike.