After an absence from the airshow scene of twenty-one years, Church Fenton – now Leeds East Airport – opened its doors to the public once again for the revival of the Yorkshire Airshow. Jamie Ewan made the journey up north for a look at the days action.
Mention the name RAF Church Fenton and those of a certain age will instantly think back to the days of the SSAFA International Airshow and, going back further, some may even remember the station’s ‘Battle of Britain’ days. After closing its doors to the public for the last time in 1994, many thought that the days of an airshow at the the North Yorkshire base were all but distant memories. However, fast-forward 21 years, add a change of ownership and name plus the lifelong dream of the new owner and the skies above Leeds East Airport were once more graced by a collection of types – the Yorshire Airshow was back!
In the weeks leading up to the show, it was quite clear that the planned line up was one of the strongest of the season with twenty display acts including no less than seven classic jets. Headlining the day was Avro Vulcan B.2 XH558 with one of the last public displays before the final curtain is drawn on her second coming.
As is becoming the norm for many shows, the majority of the aircraft taking part in the display arrived in the morning and parked on the end of the tightly packed static park. Given the layout of the airfield, this allowed the crowds a glimpse into the display world as the pilots went through their various rituals and ‘wing counting ceremonies’ as they prepared for their displays.
Joining the arriving display aircraft was no less than a hundred general aviation types – many of which you only caught a glimpse of before they disappeared into the medley of machines parked on the grass. Kudos must be given to the hard working ground team who worked tirelessly to keep things running smoothly – some of whom had been out on the airfield since before dawn!
Unlike the majority of shows where the display axis runs in line with the active runway, the organisers made use of the airfields dual runways – 06/24 being used for the departures and recoveries while the display axis ran in line with 34/16. In doing so this allowed the sun to move behind the crowd in time for the afternoon’s four-hour flying display – a huge plus for the photographers in the crowd.
The honour of opening the day’s display fell to The Royal British Legion Extreme Human Flight Team, Jump4Heroes. Made up of both serving and former members of the British Army, the team are focused on supporting charities that support and help the Armed Forces by both fund raising and increasing public awareness of them and and their aims. Made up of six jumpers, the team departed their jump ship at around 4,000ft, before swooping into the ‘DZ’ with both the Union and Royal British Legion flags fluttering under their various canopies.
As the team prepared for the jump, the eagle eyed in the crowd spotted a yellow dot on the horizon to the south – one of the very last Westland Sea King HAR.3s of the RAF’s now defunct Search and Rescue fleet. Despite many hoping for a ‘final farewell’ and wishing for it to drop in to the airfield, the aircraft flew on and into history.
The UK’s newest civilian team, Team Raven, were on hand to perform the first of the days fixed-wing displays with their mix of four Vans RV8s and one RV4 aircraft with a smart medley of formation aerobatic and opposition work. Led by Raven 1, Simon ‘Sid’ Shirley, the team were formed in 2014 from the ashes of two teams that were once prominent on the UK circuit, Teams Osprey and Viper, and are entirely self-funded.
Further formation aerobatics were on show with the Global Stars and the two Pitts S2Bs of Wildcat Aerobatics taking to the Yorkshire skies. Compared to the sedate and elegant display of the Ravens, both teams are in a league of their own – the Global Stars quite literally.
Having returned to a formation pair’s display for the 2015 season following the tragic loss of Wildcat 3 David Jenkins, Al Coutts (Wildcat 1) and Willie Cruickshank (Wildcat 2) flew a superbly choreographed display. The display brought the two iconic Pitts Specials together for some unbelievably close formation aerobatics, with a mix of both precision pairs synchronised flying and a mixture of unlimited aerobatics thrown in for good measure.
The Global Stars, made up of five pilots – Mark Jefferies, Steve Carver, Tom Cassells, Chris Burkett, and Michael Pickin – are all British aerobatic champions either past and present and are exactly that… Global stars – in the aerobatic world at least! It was quite clear to the crowds why as Tom Cassells lead a three-ship formation in an all-white Murdy CAP 232 through a very dynamic and well thought out routine of formation, synchro and solo flying – the use of a pulsating smoke system adding to the overall effect and spectacle. Flying on his wings were Michael Pickin and Chris Burkett in another CAP 232 and an Extra 330SC respectively who flew an incredibly close mirror pass to the delight of the crowd.
Aidan Grimley and Taff Smith of the Real Aeroplane Company (RAC) were on hand with the collections 1958-built Yakovlev Yak-18A and 1934 built Bücker Bü 131 Jungmann for two polished displays in the art of aerobatics with ample amounts of flick manoeuvres – a fine contrast. Based down the road at the picturesque Breighton aerodrome, the RAC were also out in force with the majority of the company’s exquisite machines filling the static park including their 1937 Dart Kitten II, Taylor Monoplane J.T1, Ryan ST3KR, along with replica Fokker Dr.1 Triplane and Comper C.L.A 7 Swift.
Joining the static park from nearby RAF Linton-on-Ouse were a Shorts Tucano T.1 of 72(R) Squadron and a Grob G115E Tutor of the Yorkshire University Air Squadron. Both types being cemented in the airfields history with Church Fenton being the first RAF Station to base the Tucano and the Tutor being the the final type to reside there before its closure in 2013.
Warbirds were aplenty with displays from four of the most famous fighters of the Second World War filling the skies with their snarl – the Supermarine Spitfire, the North American P-51D Mustang, the Hawker Hurricane and a rare appearance from a Curtiss P-40F Warhawk.
With three different examples of Supermarine Spitfire on show, the crowds were given many opportunities to take in the sight and sound of probably the most successful and charismatic fighter design of all time as their Merlin’s beat the air into submission.
Up first was Hangar 11’s stunning PR Mk XI in the hands of owner Peter Teichman with a superb example of energetic warbird flying including his usual topside passes. One of the few surviving Mk XIs, PL965 is the only one still flying with its original engine – the very same one that carried her aloft for more than 40 sorties between October 1944 and VE day.
The Fighter Collections (TFC) clipped wing Spitfire LF Mk Vb was up next in the hands of Alan Wade and accompanied by the collections Curtiss P-40F Warhawk with Dave Southwood in the cockpit – the latter making a rare appearance away from its Duxford home. Starting with a number of formations passes the two machines soon broke and performed a superb tail chase around the blue skies blessing the show.
Charlie Brown completed the trio of ‘Spits’ on show with the the Historic Aircrafts Collection’s (HAC) beautiful Mk Vb (BM579) in an evocative pairs display followed by a spine tingling tail chase with HAC stablemate Hawker Hurricane XIIa. Of all of the aircraft, it was BM579 which has the most history relating to the the base having been the stations gate guardian for 29 years! With 2015 being the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain it was quite apt to see these two machines honouring ‘The Few’ but even more so that both wear the colours of two Royal Air Force (Polish) Squadrons 303 Kościuszko and 317 Wilno as Church Fenton was in fact the home to the very first all-Polish Squadron – 306 Toruński – when it formed in August 1940 with Hurricanes Is.
The Old Flying Machine Company’s stunning North American P-51D Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’ produced her well known whistling howl throughout a blistering solo display at the command of Allister Kay to round out the historic fighters.
A look into Second World War heavy metal was provided by Aces High D-Day marked Douglas C-47 Skytrain with a stunning display including a number of low passes – seeing a machine of that size that low is something else!
The Huey Helicopter Display brought both their Bell UH-1H Huey and Hughes OH-6A Cayuse – or Loach as its better known – for the day’s rotary action with a well-received solo effort from each. The Huey was particularly popular with the crowds with copious amounts of blade slap reverberating through the skies as Phil Connolley threw it around with gusto, while Dick Barton showed of the sheer nimbleness of the Loach. Both Helicopters are in fact veterans of the Vietnam War – the Huey having flown 559 combat hours over 108 flights with the 129th Assault Helicopter Company and the Loach flying some 250 hours with the 20th Transport Company before it was damaged beyond economical repair in combat.
With seven classic jets on display the majority of the afternoon saw the air filled with the roar of turbojet engines ranging from the humble Rolls Royce Viper of the Jet Provost to the four ground shaking Rolls Royce Olympus of the Vulcan. Church Fenton itself entered the jet age in April 1946 when 263 Squadron began operating the Gloster Meteor F.3 and, in doing so, the base was in fact one of the very first in the UK to house this new breed of aircraft. Therefore, it was somewhat fitting to see Jon Corley fly a a curving topside from the east in Classic Air Force’s beautiful Meteor NF.11 almost 60 years after the last of the type departed the station and even more so to see the rarely seen De Havilland Venom FB.4 from the same operator tucked in tightly on his wing flown by John Dodd. Both jets flew a number of splendid formation passes before breaking for a spell of tail chasing in the wild blue yonder – a sight and sound to behold.
Like the Meteor, the Jet Provost holds a special place in the history of the airfield with various incarnations of the jet having been based there in the types near three-decades of RAF service. That said, Ollie Suckling was on hand to show the crowds the world’s only genuine airworthy Jet Provost T.3. Ollie, who flies the Panavia Tornado GR4 for his day job, flew a somewhat energetic and flowing display with numerous sweeping wingovers and plenty of noise thrown in – here is hoping that both he and this rather fetching jet are seen at more events up and down the UK in the future.
The appearance of a true Cold War icon in the form of a MiG-15UTI – actually a 1952 Polish licence built SB Lim-2 – was by far one of the highlights of the day. Operated by the Flyvåpnets Historiske Skvadron (Norweigian Air Force Historical Squadron) the aircraft wears an all-over silver scheme, accentuated by a deep red nose trim and a simple ‘18’ representing a Fagot (the NATO code name for the aircraft) flown by famed Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin before he became a household name in 1961. Kenneth Aarkvisla hurled the aircraft around the Yorkshire sky with numerous fast passes and a very welcome number of topsides thrown in for good measure.
Chris Heames and Mark Fitzgerald added some colour to the jet scene with the two beautiful Folland Gnat T.1s of the Gnat Display Team – one adorned in the captivating Yellowjacks scheme and the the other in the striking colours of number 4 Flight Training School at RAF Valley. Making their last appearance of the year, the team showed of the small stature of the jet to great effect with clouds of white smoke billowing from the rear as they worked their way through a demo of formation and opposition work – the commentary from fellow pilot Oliver Wheeldon adding to the display.
With the headlining act following the team, the two jets soon disappeared in the direction of the holding XH558. Before long the three jets – the Gnats looking somewhat diminutive compared to the Vulcan – swept in from the east for a number of formation passes. Sadly, the team were hit by tragedy earlier this year when Kevin Whyman and the Gnat he was flying were lost during a display. During the trio’s last pass, the aircraft performed a ‘Missing Man’ tribute to their friend and colleague over a near silent crowd, an incredible spectacle in itself, before a rapturous applause broke out in salute to the fallen aviator.
As October approaches, so does the end of the second coming of Avro Vulcan B.2 XH558 after eight glorious years on the display circuit. As has been seen at pretty much any event the aircraft has appeared at, the so called ‘Vulcan Effect’ was more than evident as people strained to catch the first glimpse of the aircraft – many of whom did so as the jet was seen holding over the Yorkshire Air Museum 12 miles away! Crewed by Martin Withers, Kev Rumens, Bill Ramsey and Jonathan Lazzari they howled and danced their way through the deep blue skies before flying a rather spectacular ground-shaking climb out and bank before heading back to her home at Doncaster – closing the day’s spectacular flying display in style!
Despite some significant teething problems with the traffic – or was that the ‘Vulcan Effect?’ – and more facilities needed for the near 30,000 people that were on the airfield it is fair to say that the Yorkshire Airshow is back!