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Midlands Air Festival 2019

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"The striking parkland layout made an idyllic backdrop for both a mass Hot Air Balloon launch and a full flying display of aerobatics, barn-storming and historic warbirds."

The Midlands Air festival is, as the name suggests very much a ‘festival’ and offers a family-friendly, relaxed atmosphere that is unique in the UK air-display scene. The event included a Friday evening ‘Night Glow’ show and two full days of action including early morning & evening balloon launches accompanied by traditional air displays in the afternoons. In true festival spirit there is an option to camp on site for anyone not wishing to miss out on any of the action.

For 2019 the Midlands Air Festival, now in its second year relocated to the grounds of the stunning grade 1 listed Arbury Hall in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. The beautiful landscape over looked by the hall itself is the perfect venue for this varied weekend of flying. The striking parkland layout made an idyllic backdrop for both a mass Hot Air Balloon launch and a full flying display of aerobatics, barn-storming and historic warbirds.

Airscene attended on the Sunday morning, arriving at 6am! After a short walk from the car park through the gorgeous landscaped lakes and park we entered the venue and were greeted by the site over 55 Hot-air Balloons taking to the air simultaneously. The still-weather allowed the balloons to glide gently around the airfield, some ambitious pilots opted to take-off outside of the arena and use the gentle breeze and considerable skill to fly-in to the showground.

It was a real-treat to see some vintage balloons and special shapes such as the Coca-cola bottle and Longleat Safai Park ‘skyfari’ animals joining the massed-ascent. Those visitors who had made the effort to set their alarms extra early were able to witness, a wolf, a flying-kiwi (all the way from New Zealand!) and an elephant to name but a few. Getting up early really is a must for this event, the sight of vividly colour balloons drifting over rolling lawns, lakes and winding woodland is not easily forgotten.

After taking advantage of one of the numerous catering vans for a quick breakfast we then took up position along the extensive flight-line to witness a vintage Balloon demonstration. Many semi-retired balloons from the 1980’s advertising heyday now too old and worn for flight were tethered and inflated in the arena. Many special shapes were in attendance over the weekend. We were treated to a large selection of these on the Sunday morning; including the Guinness and Lloyds Bank balloons pictured below.

The morning passed quickly as we were continually entertained by the seemingly endless supply of different special shaped vintage balloons. As the morning turned to the afternoon the balloonists vacated the arena. The smell of propane was still hanging in the air as the ‘Vintage pair’ arrived to kick off the air display. A new team for 2019, the duo operates DHC Chipmunks and performed a number of tail-chases, formations and opposing aerobatics.

The planned flying display was a varied affair which offered something for all tastes. Sadly, a few cancelations, most notably the jet aircraft left a few holes in the afternoon. That said, we were treated to some first class aerobatics by Peter Davies in his Autogyro, the Stampe Display Team and an exquisite solo display of the elliptical winged Twister aircraft. There was also some movement of aircraft in between displays, for example the world’s largest single engine biplane, the Antanov AN2 lurched into the air to collect the Red Devils parachutists for a later drop.

There was also plenty on offer for the lover of historic aviation. The Auster AOP.6 demonstrated its versatile low-speed characteristics in a rarely seen display. Whilst Dr. Terry Martin showed us why the Westland Wasp was such a beloved helicopter and a dependable servant during the Falklands conflict. The South Atlantic camouflage scheme was particularly interesting against the woodland backdrop of Arbury Hall park.

 The varied afternoon saw further aerobatic displays from the Italian SIAI Marchetti F260, Bob Grimstead in his Fournier RF4 with a graceful, relaxing display. We were also treated to some barnstorming antics from O’Brien’s flying circus, an entertaining display of chasing balloons and crackling fireworks from the fuselage of his Piper Cub. The weather started to turn for the 2nd half of the display and the skies really darkened as the 5 RV8’s of team Raven arrived. The highly experienced and skilled team still managed a pristine display of high energy aerobatics.

The Second World War was also well represented with the iconic PBY-Consolidated Catalina and the Norwegian Spitfire Foundations duo of warbirds. This was comprised of the P51 Mustang ‘Sharkmouth’ complete with D-Day invasion stripes ready for the 75th anniversary and fellow stable-mate the newly acquired ‘invincible’ Hawker Sea Fury. The mustang whistled above the crowd, closely followed by the growling Fury in one of the most dynamic demonstrations of the day. The pair performed an impressive tail-chase across the dark, menacing Warwickshire skies.

This really was a great effort by the team, an excellent flying display, well-organised Hot Air Balloon Launch and a unique venue made for an enjoyable day out. The commentary was informative and catered to the wide ranging audience. Although the 11 hours attended by Airscene was blessed, some customers were left frustrated by cancellations over the weekend due to changeable conditions. As with any flying event the weather can really make or break it. Over the course of the weekend the organisers achieved two successful air displays, a ‘night-glow’ and two mass launches of hot-air balloons. A valiant achievement for mid-May in England.

 

Review by Lee Chapman