Over recent years, the line-up at RNAS Yeovilton Air Day has boasted many unique and rare items and 2018 was to be no different. With clear skies, high temperatures and a display both in the air and on the ground that many shows could only dream of, the question was could Yeovilton Air Day 2018 live up to expectations? Adam Duffield reports on the show, with additional images from Duncan Monk.

Following the announcement that RNAS Culdrose Air Day would no longer be held earlier this year, RNAS Yeovilton’s Air Day was to be the only official airshow presenting the capability of the Royal Navy. With a flying display nearing six hours of varied action, there was plenty to see and do around the showground for the 30,000 or so visitors passing through the gates.

The static aircraft display at Air Day 2018 was dominated by larger aircraft, especially when compared with previous editions of the show. Returning once again was a United States Air Force C-17 from Charleston Air Force Base’s 437th/315th Air Wing in South Carolina – by far the largest of the aircraft on display. Demonstrating maritime patrol capabilities was a United States Navy P-8A Poseidon from VP-10 ‘Red Lancers’, an example of its predecessor from the German Navy a P-3C whilst C-130’s of the Canadian and Qatari Air Forces were also present on the ground – the former also providing support to the Canadian CF-18 Demonstration Team. Originally listed to attend were a KDC-10 from the Royal Netherlands Air Force and NATO E-3A however both cancelled last minute due to operational reasons. That said, their absence in the static park was notable with a large space sitting vacant on the day. Also present was a C-27J of the Lithuanian Air Force, one of three different types sent to the show by the country which also provided two incredibly rare machines in the form of a Mi-8UTV Hip and L-39C Albatross.

With the majority of the current Royal Navy assets being of the rotary type, it was fitting to see a wide range of types operated by other forces in attendance. The French Navy, adding to their flying display participation, provided a Lynx HAS4 alongside a rare appearance from one of their NH90 NFH. The Royal Netherlands Navy also participated with an example of the latter from  860 Squadron – a former Fleet Air Arm unit that celebrated its 75th Anniversary in June of this year. With many now retiring the ageing type, it was a welcome appearance to see an Alouette III of the Belgian Air Component in the mix, Yeovilton Air Day more than likely being the last time one is seen in the country as the force looks to retire their three remaining examples sometime next year.

Whilst the Royal Navy may be looking to retire the last of its Sea King variants, a new life has been given to two of its former Search and Rescue (SAR) choppers by HeliOperations based at Portland – the operator providing one of the choppers that are being used to train crews of the German Navy for the static display. Sitting close by to the Sea King was another former SAR asset of Royal Air Force fame in the form of the Westland Whirlwind – the historic helicopter now flying as part of a civilian operation.

An impressive static line-up, all told, however as always with Yeovilton the subject of barriers rears its ugly head. For the photographers out there, the close proximity of the metal fencing to those aircraft on static – with some aircraft tightly boxed in such as the French Navy Lynx – is a reoccurring issue. That said, it is no doubt a trade-off between allowing the public such close access against pleasing a smaller section of the crowd – who knows what will come of it in future editions of the show, but we continue to wish for a less obtrusive barrier arrangement.

Opening the near six hour flying display fell to the ‘home team’ with the Royal Navy starting proceedings with a mixed flypast. Comprised of a Sea King ASaC7, a pair of Westland Wildcats and the Royal Navy Historic Flights Sea Fury T20, the formation carried out a single pass before splitting off into their own respective displays.

In what is very likely the final ever appearance by any Royal Navy operated Sea King at an airshow, the Sea King ASaC7 operated by 849 NAS from nearby RNAS Culdrose was given a very rare chance to display in front of a crowd. With the other variants of the Sea King being withdrawn from service over recent years, the ASaC7 is the last of the Sea King family to see service with United Kingdom’s forces and is due to be retired at the end of September this year.

With the Black Cats display team no longer on the circuit, the teams former mount is another type seldom seen in the air at shows. Thankfully Air Day saw a Wildcat performing a short capability demonstration, complete with flares and pyrotechnics.

Joining up with the RNHF Sea Fury for a pairs display, prior to the latter undertaking its own solo giving, was the MiG-15 operated by the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron. The MiG-15 has been a regular attendee at shows across the UK in recent years, however the pairing gave an opportunity to recount the Korean War story whereby a Fleet Air Arm Sea Fury piloted by Peter Carmichael shot down a MiG on August 9, 1952 during a rare ‘piston vs jet’ encounter.

Although not part of the opening formation, the RNHF Swordfish took to the skies later in the flying display for its own solo routine. Famous for its role in the Battle of Taranto and attack on the German battleship Bismark, the Swordfish once more had a dummy Torpedo slung from underneath (something that had been missing during displays earlier in the season) showing very well the warbirds role as a Torpedo bomber.

Well known for his aerobatic displays, Rich Goodwin and his highly modified Muscle Pitts S-2S is always a display that captures attention. From the side slip on take-off to the numerous tumbles and rolls, very rarely does the aircraft stay in level flight for more than a couple of seconds. Adding to the aerobatic displays of the day were the Royal Jordanian Falcons, another act that is well known in the UK – the team having re-equipped with the 330LX version of the Extra along with a new paint scheme for 2018.

Two rotary assets from Red Bull’s Flying Bulls incredible stable of aircraft gave very different displays, both in the hands of Siegfried Schwarz. The Bölkow Bo105 made its Yeovilton Air Day debut in spectacular fashion introducing the crowd to an incredible display of helicopter aerobatics performing rolls and backflips that defy the rules of conventional helicopters – something that earned it the ‘Best Rotary Flying Display’ award. At the other end of the spectrum was his display in the remarkable Bristol Sycamore. The only flying example in the world, the Sycamore is in the UK for a number of appearances over the summer months. The distinctive, almost agricultural, sound of the Alvis Leonides radial engine really stands out during the display which featured a number of gentle passes combined with various moments of hovering.

Rounding out the rotary displays of the day was a pair of aircraft of the Gazelle Squadron. Although both aircraft used for the display were in schemes representing RAF uses of the type, the Gazelle saw significant service with both the Royal Navy and Royal Marines making it more than fitting to see them once more in the skies above Yeovilton.

Although a Royal Navy show, the RAF contributed no less than four displays to the line-up giving a significant presence during this, their centenary year. Both the Red Arrows and the Chinook, this year using a HC.6a as their display aircraft, are both firm favourites with everyone in the crowd whilst the Eurofighter Typhoon gave a chance to witness the performance expected from a frontline fast jet. The final element of the junior service’s contribution was supposed to have come from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Dakota accompanied by a pair of their Spitfires however, due to technical issues, the fighters were unable to attend therefore leaving the twin engined transport to display on its own. With the cancellation of the fighters leaving a slight gap in the display line-up, a last-minute addition was a Harvard which, unfortunately, also developed a minor technical issue after its first pass leading to the remainder of its slot being cancelled.

With a large number of European forces operating both new and old variants of the F-16, it’s no surprise that they are often seen at shows in the UK and Yeovilton Air Day was no different with a total of three different displays from the type. The Belgian Air Component F-16A display, this year flown by ‘Vador’ in its new Dark Falcon scheme and the Hellenic Air Forces ‘Zeus’ F-16C flew impressive displays, however it was the rarely seen Danish solo display that took the Fighting Falcon display crown. Adorned with a stylised Danish Flag on the tail, it was a routine that stood out as a highlight of the flying display – quite incredible!

An absolute highlight of the flying display, and one that no doubt saw many enthusiasts travel many miles to see was that of the Royal Canadian Air Forces CF-18 Hornet, piloted by Captain Stefan Porteous. The team, well known for their special schemes,  have adorned their primary display jet with a design celebrating the 60th Anniversary of NORAD or the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It’s been many years since the CF-18 display has been seen in the country and it was certainly one to remember, including the Hornet’s signature ‘Square Loop’ and a number of high-g manoeuvres that managed to extract every ounce of moisture from the somewhat dry skies of Yeovilton.

Completing the fast jet line-up in the display was a SAAB JAS-39C Gripen of the Czech Air Force. One of the smallest frontline fast jets currently operated around the globe, it is often one that escapes enthusiasts interest. However, the display performed had to be one of the best seen of the type in recent years demonstrating that size isn’t everything.

Yeovilton Air Day 2018 saw significant and impressive participation from the French Navy including displays not seen at any other show with five participating aircraft representing a large segment of the show. Starting with the Cocardes Marine formation of Morane-Saulnier MS760 Paris, Fouga CM175 Zéphyr, Falcon 50M and a pair of Rafale Ms, the formation split before into three separate display slots.

The Paris and Zéphyr were to start with a pairs display showing of the two bare metal aircraft in formation and solo passes. Following up was an impressive display by the Falcon 50M, another rarely seen type which is used by the French Navy in the Maritime Patrol role. The final display was one that has been a firm favourite for many during at the last two Yeovilton Air Days – the Rafale M pair from the mighty Flottille 11F. With a number of formation passes in various configurations, the pair split for a more tactical demonstration of their capability, it was an impressive display although maybe not as much as in previous years.

The finale of the Yeovilton Air Day has, for many years, seen the Commando Helicopter Force airfield assault take place and its withdrawal from the line-up in 2017 was a great shame. Thankfully, the demonstration returned for 2018 albeit in a much-reduced showing than has been seen in the past. With ‘hostile’ forces overrunning the airfield, it was down to a pair of Wildcats and Merlins, along with their Royal Marine forces, to repel the enemy. Supported by a pair of Hawks as ‘fast air’, the Wildcats performed a vehicle stop followed by a roving cover whilst the Merlins inserted their troops via fast rope before returning with underslung Land Rovers to support the various Jackal armoured vehicles that were already in place on the ground. With the demonstration complete it was time for the pyrotechnics team to once more show their skills as the various assets of the demo lined up for the wall of fire. It has to be said, this really is one of the key draws to the Yeovilton show so its return it very welcome – witnessing a pair of Merlin’s thundering across the airfield at low-level, wheels up really is a sight to behold!

The line-up for the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2018 must go down as one of the finest in recent years and one that will not be seen at other shows in the country. With the display schedule perfectly balanced in a way that saw constant changes in tempo, the whole event seemed to effortlessly flow and capture interest throughout. The ability of the show to attract such standout items such as the Bristol Sycamore, Canadian CF-18, Danish F-16 and Cocardes Marine formation in the flying display along with the Lithuanian Mi-8UTV, USN P-8 and French Navy NH90 and Lynx really demonstrates the commitment to finding something different from other large shows. The return of the Commando Assault to close the show also brings another unique aspect back, one that has been a firm favourite for many years and hopefully will remain. Those with a photographic interest may lament the ‘into sun’ positioning of the runway and the close barrier proximity around the static, but these should not distract from an overall impressive show. RNAS Yeovilton Air Day remains the only show committed to demonstrating the capability of the modern day Royal Navy and long may it continue.