Abingdon Air and Country Show has always been a traditional season opener taking place at the very start of May. However, as comes with the territory of being ‘the first’ it has also suffered in previous years from a number of display acts cancelling last minute due to not being ready for various reasons. In an attempt to counter this, the organisers moved the show back two weeks in the hope that this could be avoided. Jamie Ewan made the trip to the Oxfordshire show where the later date wasn’t the only significant change to proceedings.
Having raised significant sums of money for local charities, most significantly the Thames Valley Air Ambulance receiving over £68,000 of the nearly £85,000 to date, the Abingdon Air and Country show is now in its 18th year. Although it may not longer hold the title of season opener this year, for many it is still the first event of the year and a chance to catch up with friends, old and new. Despite the change in date, the show still suffered a number of last minute cancellations to the display lineup – something that will likely be disproportionate when compared with others during the year. The mighty de Havilland Sea Vixen operated by Navy Wings and the Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) both fell foul to delays during their winter maintenance schedules whilst one of the first display acts to confirm, the planned UK mainland debut of the Dutch based Commonwealth CA-13 Boomerang was also cancelled after a mix up in the pilots Display Authorisation. The planned return of Dr Terry Martin’s Westland Wasp XT787 to the show following its excellent display in 2016 was not possible with the airframe undergoing repairs following damage sustained during a forced landing in September 2016. Undeterred by this, organiser Neil Porter pulled out all the stops to find replacements, at short notice resulting in a lengthy 3.5 hour planned flying display of various types.
As well as a move in the calendar, for those who had attended the event before another major change would have been immediately visible. This year saw the entire show turned through 180 degrees as if the show layout had simply been spun around a central point on the main runway. This switch was made due to recent changes in display rules and a re-evaluation of the area directly underneath the display box – the new layout avoiding all but a small number of buildings. The end result saw the show having to be practically ‘rebuilt’ from the ground up – a huge effort by all involved to make it happen.
With aviation becoming the heart and soul of the event, the static aircraft park (which you could walk on both sides of given the new format) was filled with a wide array of types ranging from warbirds and yesteryear tourers to classic jets and modern day trainers. Making use of Abingdon’s cross-runway, many of the aircraft arriving were parked alongside those taking part in the flying display.
The undoubted star of the static display was one of Martin-Baker’s seldom seen Gloster Meteor 7½S’s, WL419 being the jet in question. The ninth Meteor to be used by the ejection seat manufacturer, the jet has been used in over 200 ‘live’ ejection tests – an incredible feat for a 65 year old airframe. Other highlights included Steve Carter’s gleaming Ryan SCW-145 (one of just 11 built), the blue nosed North American P-51D Mustang ‘Miss Helen’ from the Goodwood stable, most of the Biggin Hill based Shipping and Airlines fleet including their delightful 1936-built Rearwin Sportster and Sword Aviation’s combat veteran BAC Jet Provost T.52. Once more, those familiar with shows at Abingdon would have noticed that the Meteor and Jet Provost signified a welcome return to the showground of jet powered aircraft along with hopes and dreams of what this could mean for future shows.
The Royal Air Force were also on hand with two Shorts Tucano T1’s from 72(R) Squadron out of RAF Linton-on-Ouse and a single example of a the Grob Tutor T1 from RAF Benson. Sadly, the planned appearance by a C-130J Hercules from nearby RAF Brize Norton and a 32(TR) Squadron Agusta A109E Power were cancelled due to operational commitments – quite understandable given how ‘stretched’ the RAF are at present around the world.
Not to be outdone by the fixed-wing types, a number of rotary types were on show including an ex-Swiss Air Force Aerospatiale SE.3130 Alouette II and a Westland Gazelle HT2 from the Gazelle Squadron wearing its distinctive Royal Navy markings of the Sharks display team.
Although the flying display itself was not due to start until 2pm, the crowd were entertained before hand with a number of large scale radio controlled jet aircraft. Featuring a Lightning, Hunter, F-16, F-104 Starfighter, Vampire and T-2 Buckeye in the lineup, each was powered by an impressive miniature jet engine which gave a great sound alongside the nimble handling on display. With aircraft displaying as pairs, and most returning to the skies for a second demonstration flight after a quick refuel, this was a great addition to the days events and a perfect warm up to the full scale action that was to follow.
Whilst the flying display was originally planned for 3.5 hours, the show took an unfortunate turn during the display item on the lineup. Just a few minutes in to the Twister Duo display, the pilot of Twister 2 was forced to make a somewhat hard wheels up landing on the grass in Silence Twister G-JINX. With emergency services dealing with the incident, the show was rightfully stopped whilst the situation was assessed. Despite the very hard impact, it has since been said that the pilot is expected to make a full recovery and all of us at AeroResource wish him well.
With the Flying Control Committee working hard to re-jig the programme to ensure as many displays as possible could still fly, the show restarted just over an hour later albeit with the loss of Peter Davies in his Autogyro, Andy Gent in his Pitts S-2B and solo Breitling Wing Walker displays.
Unfortunatley, only two displays later, Dan Griffith in the Sywell-based replica Avro 504K displaying with the Great War Display Team was also forced to make a unscheduled landing after its Rotec engine failed. Following their own Standard Operating Procedure or SOP, the team paused while the pilot put the machine down safely at the end of the runway – an event which went unnoticed by many in attendance until the emergency services rushed to ensure all was well.
Opening the days flying fell to the Royal Air Force’s BBMF with Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363 and Supermarine Spitfire PR MK XIX PS915 – the latter making a welcome return to airshow duties with an eye-catching silver scheme following a full ‘major plus’ refurbishment with the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARCo) at Duxford. Arriving from their home of RAF Coningsby, the two fighters flew a relatively sedate pairs display before splitting up for solo efforts in the hands of Wing Commander Stu Smiley and Officer Commanding BBMF, Squadron Leader Andy ‘Milli’ Millikin respectively – these two evocative machines cavorting through the skies is a sight and sound truly missed during the winter months.
Not to be outdone by their British counterparts, both American and Russian Second World War fighters were on show in the form of Hangar 11’s North American P-51D Mustang flown by warbird maestro Peter Teichman and a replica Yakovlev Yak-3UPW from Holland making its UK debut with Rick van der Graaf doing the honours in this 1,200hp machine.
Flying his 332nd Fighter Group – better known as the ‘Red Tails’ – schemed Mustang, Peter Teichman flew his usual energetic display with his characteristic topsides down the display line, ‘Tall in the Saddle’ producing a spine tingling whistling howl throughout. During the display, which is flown at maximum power pretty much throughout, the thirsty Merlin engine drinks a litre of Avgas a minute.
When compared to both the BBMF and Mustang, the Yak, operated by the Yak Association out of Lelystad, was quite literally in a league of its own. The sheer power this machine possesses gives it an almost unlimited performance, something quite apparent while climbing to height after take-off during its ‘battle climb’. It was also to be the star of the annual pre-airshow nightshoot (this year organised by Threshold.aero) with a very much unexpected nocturnal engine run. Sat next to Will Greenwood’s Allison powered Yak-3M on static, the difference between the two machines profiles could be seen – the Dutch example utiilising a Pratt & Whitney radial engine against the Yak-3M’s Allison V-1710 V12.
Further radial action during the day came from two Antonov An-2 Colts – one taking part in the flying display while the other acting as the ‘jump ship’ for the Royal British Legion Extreme Human Flight Team, Jump4Heroes. The team themselves are made up of both serving and former members of the British Army and are focused on supporting charities that support and help the Armed Forces by both fund raising and increasing public awareness of their aims. Despite the weather closing in as they departed, the team managed to get all 14 jumpers out before swooping into the ‘DZ’ with both the Union and Royal British Legion flags fluttering under their various canopies.
Making a very welcome return to the UK airshow circuit after a number of years away was the second ‘Mighty Annie’. Based out of Popham with the An-2 Club, it showed off its numerous party tricks with the lumbering Russian biplane flying the days shortest take-off roll and slowest flypast, a true STOL legend! Andrew Dixon and Pete Kynsey were on hand to put the days only Second World War ‘heavy’ through its paces with a a stunning display, including a number of low passes, in Aces High’s D-Day marked Douglas C-47 Skytrain. Seeing a machine as iconic as the C-47 and of that size low is something else. Having been home to RAF Transport Command after hostilities ended in 1945, Abingdon was host to numerous C-47 Squadrons using the RAF variant of the type, the Dakota and the display provided a nice link back to the past.
Flown by Ray Corstin, Grouppe Fennec’s North American T-28A Trojan has recently undergone an overhaul that now sees it finished in the original markings it wore whilst serving with the USAF Training Command in March 1953 and Abingdon was to be its first public outing in the marks. Built in 1951, the aeroplane was thrown around with gusto as its Wright Aeronautical radial dragged it through the ever-darkening skies as showers enveloped the airfield – a superb sound accompanying it as it did.
The Great War Team were on hand with eight of their unique machines – all of which are replicas – giving an insight into aviation during World War One. Arriving from their staging base at White Waltham, many couldn’t but help but notice a new shape joining the team’s medley of types – that of the Avro 504K replica making its public debut with the team. As previously mentioned, the machine developed a problem during its segment, which saw it chased down by one of the Junkers CL.1s as it performed ‘observation duties’ over the lines. Once the team resumed their display, which included pyrotechnics, the seven other machines – two SE5as, two Junkers CL1s and single examples of the Sopwith triplane, Fokker DR.1 and Be2c – went through their routine of dogfights and strafing runs, giving a real sense of the chaos and opportunistic approach to air warfare seen in the early days of aerial combat.
Two of the top names British aerobatics were on hand with displays that were very much at the opposite ends of the spectrum – Rich Goodwin in his highly modified Pitts S-2S ‘Muscle Biplane’ wearing its Union Jack scheme and Lauren Richardson swapping her usual Pitts mount for her first public display in Bob Grimstead’s delightful Fournier RF4D. As many have come to expect from Rich, the Pitts was pulled about the sky in an incredible stomach-churning display of unlimited aerobatics which had the crowd gasping and clapping in delight from start to finish, especially as he hung the biplane on its prop while ‘hovering’. More usually pulled through the sky by an 180hp Lycoming engine, Lauren Richardson made great use of the Fournier’s ample 40hp unit as she flew a ballet of loops and rolls traced by aeroplane’s simple wingtip smoke – a superb example of height and energy management. Here is hoping the combination of pilot and machine is one we see again in the future.
The Twister Duo team, before the aforementioned incident with Twister 2, were on hand with both solo and formation aerobatics. Unlike the fast pace of Pitts, the Twisters performed a slow, elegant ballet through the blue skies with the use of a smoke system really making the display stand out as the aircraft looped and rolled serenely both in unison and opposition.
When it comes to helicopter displays in the UK, there are not many available so to have no less than two at the same show is a rarity – even more so when one of them is a pairs display with a fixed wing machine!
Flying up from its home base of North Weald, Mark Fitzgerald could be heard before he was seen as he approached in Bell UH-1H Iroquois G-HUEY with its incredible iconic noise as it beat the air into submission. Despite being on the display circuit for a number of years, this particular airframe is very seldom seen and flew a very well thought out display showing it both on the move and hovering at show centre.
The second of the rotary display acts came from the Historic Aircraft Flight Trust and their collection of ex-Army types. After a well received return to the display scene at the same event the year prior, this years display was a much more dynamic affair which saw a Westland Scout AH.1 alongside a De Havilland Beaver. After a formation takeoff the pair, flown by Major Matt Roberts and Major (Retd) George Bacon respectively, went on to demonstrate a ‘Find, Fix, Strike’ mission the likes of which would have been carried out by the types during their operational service in Ireland. With the Beaver performing a reconnaissance sweep to locate and track the (imaginary) hostiles the Scout then arrived to insert troops as part of the strike package. Like the T-28 which displayed before them, the pair were met with some of the toughest weather conditions of the day but still put on a very engaging display.
As has already been mentioned, the Abingdon Air and Country Show 2017 saw some significant changes to the layout and general operation of the day therefore it is understandable that, having lost 17 years of knowledge on the old layout, some issues would arise. For many, this was in the form of long queues to enter and leave the airfield but, whilst this may have caused frustration at the time, it was soon forgotten after the event and is something the organisers have already acknowledged and are looking in to. Despite this, and the unfortunate incident involving the Silence Twister, both the flying and static displays provided something different from previous years with the Yak-3U and Meteor particularly standing out as real highlights especially given their rarity. With advance tickets available for just £12 an adult, the equivalent of just three pints in many pubs nowadays, it is a show that has a history of delivering top quality display items with 2017 being no exception – it is certainly more than worth the entrance fee and an early season ‘must’ for many.