RAF Waddington is the day to day home of the RAF’s ISTAR assets but over the weekend of the 6-7th July is opened its gates to the public as it hosts the forces largest annual airshow. Adam Duffield and Duncan Monk attended for AeroResource.

With the 2012 show attracting a range of very good displays including the Swiss F-18 and Cougar along with the UK debut of the South Korean Black Eagles this years show already had a lot to live up to. The themes for this year were mostly based around anniversary celebrations – 95th Anniversary of the RAF, 70th Anniversary of the Dambusters raid and the 100th Anniversary of 5(AC) Squadron who are based at RAF Waddington along with a forth theme of ISTAR – Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance. A number of the flying and static aircraft displays along with other ground based displays in the hangars and around the show were based around these including the RAF on Air exhibition held in hangar 3 and numerous stands form local societies and groups in hangar 5. Around the airfield the usual array of stalls selling everything from aviation prints to mobility scooters, a funfair at the southern end of the area and a range of cockpits for viewing including a Nimrod example that had travelled down from Scotland.

The static aircraft area was split into three distinct sections as per previous years. At the northern end of the airfield, next to the A15, was the larger aircraft area. The usual E-3 Sentry walkthrough (ZH106) was available to the public along with a second example (ZH102) on static display. An additional aircraft walkthrough in the guise of a 101 Sqn VC-10 (ZR808) from RAF Brize Norton was also available and a surprise visitor for many. The area also hosted a number of helicopters including a Navy Sea King HU5 from 771 Sqn (XV673), Royal Netherlands Air Force Chinook (D-101) and Bell 412 (R-03) in SAR configuration, Belgian A109 (H-20) and the wonderfully presented Loach OH-6A (69-16011/G-OHGA) and Huey UH-1H (72-21509/G-UHIH). Representing fixed wing aircraft were three different examples of special tail foreign participants. The Belgian Air Component brought two static examples (FA-95) with one (FA-110) commemorating the 70th anniversary of 349 Squadron with a lovely spitfire motif. The Czech Air Force bought their psychedelic tiger meet special Gripen (9238) along with an L-159 Alca (6067) with a tail scheme marking 10 years of the type in service. Also of note were a Czech Casa 295 (0453) and Polish Navy Bryza (1008) with the latter being a different example of the aircraft normally seen in the UK.

At the Southern end of the airfield, close to the mid-point of the runway, was the second main area of static. The UK’s armed forces were well represented in this area with Typhoons from 3, 6 and 41 Sqns (ZK309, ZK343 and ZJ914), a Sea King ASaC7 (XV707). a pair of Hawk T1’s including the special 95 year Squadron Anniversary jet (XX246), King Air (ZK460), a Royal Navy Avenger (ZZ501) and Army Air Corps Defender (ZG846). As one of the sponsors of the airshow, SAAB provided three examples of their aircraft comprising a SAAB 2000 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (SE-LRA), a SAAB 340 Maritime Security Aircraft (SE-MCG) and a Swedish Air Force SAAB TP-1000 AEW & C example (100004). One of the stars of this area though must be the return of the Algerian C-130H (7T-WHE) complete with camouflage paint scheme.

Linking these two areas and parallel to the majority of the stalls and stands at the show was a line of smaller aircraft. Ranging from an L-29 Delphin (G-DLFN) which is part of the Red Star Rebels team to a Morane-Saulnier MS733 Alcyon (G-MSAL), there were various types shown that were privately owned and operated. At the northern area of this row was also the Vulcan village, giving the public a chance to get up close to one of the crowd favourites prior to its display for which it was towed onto the taxiway. Next to this was one of 617Sqn’s Dambusters special tail marked aircraft (ZA412) painted to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the infamous attack. Whilst brilliant to have an example in the static lineup it really demonstrated one of the main annoyances of the static areas.

It was clear to see for anyone who has been to previous Waddington shows that the number of aircraft on static had reduced. Whilst not the fault of the organisers, who no doubt tried their hardest to attract as many aircraft as possible, it is a sign of the times that these items are difficult to secure. However, it wasn’t the lack of aircraft that was the main problem, it was the seemingly overzealous cordoning of them that took place. For obvious reasons these bollards and ropes are put in place but over the last few years the positioning seems to have got closer and closer to the aircraft resulting in significant reduction in the ability to photograph any of the static without having to include the cordon itself. Around a number of aircraft, including the typhoons the cordons were so close that you could simply reach up and touch the wingtips ultimately defeating their purpose. The Tornado in question being a perfect example of an aircraft many will have wanted to photograph but was penned in so tightly by fencing it was impossible to get a clear shot even with the widest lens.

Moving onto the flying display, the organisers had lined up 7 hours of flying covering a wide variety of aircraft. Viewing was easily available towards the front of the fence line thanks, in part, to the sheer length of the area allocated however, as expected at many shows of this size, the prime viewpoints were taken by the VIP and paid enclosures. On both days the show was opened by the now familiar station flypast comprising this year of an E-3 Sentry (ZH104) and 5(AC) Sqn Sentinel (ZJ692). With 5(AC) Sqn celebrating their centenary this year, it was fitting that the aircraft used was a new special tail example that was revealed in the week leading up to the show.

The show lineup didn’t leave much room for smaller aerobatic aircraft displays instead focusing heavily on display teams, the UK’s armed forces and fast jets however three different acts were present. Rod Dean, in his Scottish Aviation Bulldog (XX543/G-CBAB) put on a typically polished display keeping the small prop trainer close to the crowd whilst Mikaël Brageot put on an amazing display of ultimate aerobatics tumbling through the sky in his Breitling sponsored Xtreme XA41 (D-EMKF). Another Breitling act, this time in the form of crowd favourites the Wingwalkers in their Boeing Stearman’s (SE-BOG and N707TJ) were also present although only displaying on the Sunday.

Fans of historic jets were not to be disappointed. The North Weald based Gnat Pair (XR538/G-RORI and XS111/G-TIMM) flown by Chris Heames and Mark Fitzgerald put on a display that showed both close formation flying and solo sections. The new paint scheme on G-TIMM, representing the 1967 Red Arrows scheme shone brightly in the sun and the display itself is certainly works better than the single ship display. Chris was also on display duty for the Hawker Hunter T7 (WV372/G-BXFI) on Sunday with another well thought out display. Of course, the historic jet that most people may have  been waiting for was the Avro Vulcan (XH558). The crowd were noticeably in awe of the display on both days however with Kev Rumens in the captain seat on Sunday it was clearly a much more aggressive and entertaining show with multiple high angle wingovers.

As can be expected of a show of this size and nature, the UK’s armed forces display teams were very well represented. The Army Air Corps Apache (ZJ218) flown by SSgt Jamie Boakes and Capt Phil Wilson was brilliantly executed and gave a rare opportunity to see it put through its paces especially with the level of operations the Apache squadrons are undertaking in Afghanistan. The Navy weren’t to be outdone and sent two of their own rotary displays in the form of the Blackcats Lynx display (XZ719) and Merlin HM1 (ZH850). The Blackcats this year are down to a single aircraft due to the Squadron working up on the new Wildcat and, unfortunately, the solo display just doesn’t seem to work as well as the pairs routine of years past and the relatively small Lynx looked somewhat lost on the large display line. The larger Melin fared better and put on an agile display for a helicopter of its size and included a brief winching demo to display its versatility.

Being an RAF base however, the home team were out in force with some top quality displays. The worlds premier parachute display team, the RAF Falcons jumped from their Cessna Super Caravan (G-OAFF) showing their signature 10 man stack from a height of 12000ft. The Tucano display (ZF239), this year flow by Flight Lieutenant Andrew Fyvie-Rae, and resplendent in its desert camouflage scheme, showed what the RAFs advanced trainer aircraft is capable of whilst Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris in a 29(R) Sqn Typhoon (ZK344) put on possibly the best typhoon display sequence of recent years proving that it really is possible to throw it around with tight, high G turns and plenty of burner. The final RAF display was that of the Chinook HC2 (ZA674) which always a display that always goes down well. With its distinctive blade slapping sound echoing around the airfield and manoeuvres that a helicopter of that size simply shouldn’t be capable of it demonstrated just why it has become the modern workhorse and critical element in any battlefield.

With this year being the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raids, it was more than appropriate for the Battle of Britain Memorial flight to display with rounds of applause from the crowd both at the start and finish of the displays on both days. The formation for Saturday was the Avro Lancaster (PA474), Hawker Hurricane Mk2 (PZ865) and Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX (PM631) with the Spitfire being replaced by the Mk LFIXe example (MK356) on the Sunday. The fighter displays on the Saturday consisted of solo aircraft routines however the Sunday gave an opportunity to see a much more flowing tail chase routine followed by opposing passes. On completion of their display, the Lancaster formed up with the 2nd Special tail Tornado GR4 from 617 Sqn (ZA492) and performed a single formation flypast in a fitting tribute to those lost during the raids. An unexpected but welcome bonus on the Sunday was a single flypast by the BBMF Dakota (ZA947) flown by Mr Blue Sky himself, ex-King Air display pilot Flight Lieutenant Leon Crease, as it routed back to its local home base at RAF Coningsby.

The Czech Air Force, as well as sending aircraft for static, also sent two flying displays. The first, an L-159 Alca (6063) flown by First Lieutenant Pavel ‘ŜvÍcko’ Ŝvec, was a very long display demonstrating the capabilities of the aircraft which is based on the L-59 Super Albatross. With some of the moves it was clear that the display was designed for flares and is a real shame that, without them, it lacked a little punch. The JAS-39C Gripen (9240) display however, flown by First Lieutenant Martin Ŝpaček, was the opposite and despite being a small jet it more than made enough noise during its tight display.

Flying in from France during the Saturday morning, the Patrouille de France displayed on that day only due to other display commitments in their home country. Celebrating their 60th year in 2013, the 8 Alpha Jets in their distinctive paint schemes performed a well thought out and perfectly executed routine as always with the inclusion of a smoke ‘60’ manoeuvre for this year as a unique way of celebrating their history.

The 4 bright red Extra 300’s of the Royal Jordanian Falcons were present on both days but, due to a technical issue, only 3 were serviceable on the Sunday. This showed a real gap in the routine with the missing aircraft being that of the solo pilot thereby leaving a fair amount of time with no action. Whilst a polished routine, it was blown out of the water by another Extra 300 team in the shape of  the Blades Aerobatic team. The aircraft, all flown by ex-Red Arrows pilots, are in a new orange and black paint scheme that stands out much better than their older blue scheme and their display is possibly one of the best civilian formation displays that is available on the circuit.

Whilst the Blades may have been ex-Reds pilots, the current Red Arrows were obviously one of the highlights. Prior to their main display the team formed with the 5(AC) Sqn special tail Sentinel that was previously part of the station flypast and performed a single flypast down the main display line in celebration of the squadrons centenary. Following the Sentinel landing, the team proceeded to show just why they are considered one of the best display teams in the world and a crowd puller wherever they go with their usual precision and dynamic display routine. The Reds also reached a milestone on Saturday as they performed their 4500th public display since their first in 1965.

A trio of F-16 displays was a brilliant addition to the flying programme and something that not many other shows can boast. The Royal Netherlands Air Force display (J-015) is a regular in the UK and flown by Captain Stefan ‘Stitch’ Hutten for the second year. This year, the display has been changed to give ‘less ballet, more power’ and that was certainly evident and led to him coming third in the Boeing best display act award for his Saturday display. The Belgian Air Component F-16 display (FA-84) is also a common sight at UK shows and Captain Renaud ‘Grat’ Thys, also in his second year as display pilot, put on a very similar display with just as much skill as his Dutch counterpart. It was however the Turkish Air Force F-16 display (91-0011), Solo Turk, flown by Captain S Yalin Ahbab that stole the crown of best F-16 display. From the immense take off to the corkscrew climb and descent it was a non-stop display of aggressive full burner action that was simply stunning.

For many enthusiast though, the real draw was the only English appearance of three jets from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. Comprising the SAAB SK60 (SE-DXG), J-29 Tunnan (SE-DXR) and AJS-37 Viggen (SE-DXN). These aircraft are very rare to see around the UK mainland and, with the Viggen only being restored to flight last year, possibly the first time for many to see one flying. On the Saturday both the Tunnan and Viggen suffered technical snags that delayed their displays but luckily these were quickly overcome to ensure they could participate. The SK60 and Tunnan displays were graceful whilst still showing the ability of the aircraft but it was the highly anticipated Viggen that wowed the crowds even though a lot of the public may not have been previously aware of the aircraft type. Despite these aircraft being one of the major headlines of the show, it was a real shame that they were kept at the far side of the airfield well out of the way of public view. Given the Vulcan was on static display and towed out ready for its display it has to be asked why the same couldn’t have been done for the Swedish or why they could not have been positioned on the old cross runway where the Thunderbirds were kept during their visit in 2011.

With the weather for the show weekend being almost perfect, the show stands to be possibly one of the best in the UK this year with a recorded attendance of close to 150,000. Whilst the static items may have been sparse and affected by the previously mentioned cordoning issues, the selection of aircraft for the flying display was of the highest quality. Some real thought also went into the scheduling of the acts with the majority of the big name displays being given afternoon slots on at least one of the two days when the sun is in a much more favourable position for photography. Booking the Swedish Historic Flight aircraft for their only display in England this year was a stroke of brilliance by the organisers that will have drawn in many an enthusiast whilst the displays from the UK forces also gave a focus for the less aviation minded. In a year where the bigger shows appear to be struggling for quality displays, Waddington have set the bar for all others to follow.