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Midlands Air Festival 2021

 

 
 

"The first traditional air show of 2021"

For 2021 the Midlands Air festival returned to its original home on Ragley Hall estate in Warwickshire, a beautiful countryside setting. The striking parkland layout made an idyllic backdrop for both a mass Hot Air Balloon launch, model aircraft flying and a full flying display of aerobatics, barn-storming and historic warbirds.

The event ran through the whole weekend of the 4th – 6th of June, starting with a hot air balloon night glow, evening air show and fireworks display on the Friday. Unlike any other UK air show this is a true festival and offers a full weekend of aerial activity celebrating all aspects of flight from dawn until dusk. Visitors can even camp at the event to get the full experience at this ‘Glastonbury’ of air shows.

Airscene have been lucky to be able to attend every Midlands Air Festival since it first took place in 2018. The 2020 event was cancelled due to Covid-19 but with some restrictions still in place such as social distancing and proof of a negative test being required on entrance, the organisers were able to bring the event back to life. Aside from the smaller flying days at Duxford and the Drive-in shows at Old Warden this was the first traditional air show of 2021.

Apart from a brief period of light rain on Sunday morning, Ragley Hall was blessed with near perfect weather for flying – light winds and clear skies for most of the event. Airscene attended both Saturday and Sunday at this year’s event, enjoying the full air display on Saturday afternoon and arriving at 5am on Sunday for the Hot Air Balloon Launch – we couldn’t resist staying to watch the air display again!

There were two options for parking this year, which included a premium car park which was closer to the venue than the standard parking – either option involved a short walk from through the gorgeous landscaped lakes and park land before entering the show area. The sell-out crowd (numbers reduced due to Covid-19) was mostly families with a smaller number of hardened aviation enthusiasts present too. The Flying displays and ground entertainment provided a good mix to please both parties.

This year ground entertainment was more limited due to the ongoing restrictions, but it was great to see a nice range of stalls, catering facilities and displays from the likes of the Balloon Museum, History Aircraft Army Flight and the RAF Typhoon Display Team. There were also several displaying aircraft available to view onsite including an impressive number of vintage biplanes curtsey of the Stampe and Tiger Nine teams. There was also an Airbus Juno on display for a while whilst Red 10, the Red Arrows commentator was on site. The crowd were very respectful of social distancing when setting up and moving around the site.

The location is blessed with an abundance of space and a natural sloping amphitheatre allowing good views of the display line from anywhere onsite. The only downside being the unfortunate position of the sun during the afternoon which left us squinting to see the higher altitude aerobatic manoeuvres.

Sadly, we choose the wrong day for our early morning visit as the inclement weather was a challenge for the Hot Air Balloon Pilots, the previous days had seen launches of over 100 Balloons. Although, that said, over 30 Balloons took to the skies on Sunday and were able to remain in and around the arena due to the very low winds. Some balloonists even opted to land behind the crowd lines for a chat with some lucky members of the audience. This event is also largest gathering of special-shaped Balloons in Europe, during our visit a few pilots risked their vintage and special-shapes. Today, we were able to witness flights of two ‘frogs’, ‘Wallace & Gromit’ and the balloon from the movie ‘Up’.

Following the mass-balloon launch the entertainment continued with the vintage balloon displays; where 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 classic balloons were in attendance over the weekend, but not all were inflated each day. Despite the weather we were treated to a large selection of these on the Sunday morning; including the Ordnance Survey and Shell Oil Balloons, we were also lucky to catch a whiskey and a beer bottle on display on Saturday morning too.

The Warbird and Jet Display Team from TJD models also provided some specular entertainment prior to the main air display with a wonderful pyrotechnic display simulating an airfield attack from the Second World War. The team brought along their realistic looking large scale-models of a range of warbirds from Stukas to Thunderbolts, they flew them with considerable skill through the fireworks providing an explosive beginning to the afternoon.

The star attraction of the weekend for many was the RAF Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows who were performing their first public displays in the UK for almost two years. They appeared as an 8-ship on both Friday and Saturday as one of the jets was unserviceable. Of course, they still managed an immaculate display featuring some new moves for 2021 including a blue smoke tribute to the NHS. The brilliant clear skies allowed for a full flying display on Saturday. The traditional crowd-rear entrance surprised many visitors before the 8 jets performed a series of slick formations and dynamic aerobatics. Although the missing jet affected symmetry in some manoeuvres it was great to see them back in action and the performance was first class as usual. Commitments to the D-day events in Normandy meant they were limited to single flypast on Sunday but this time with the full complement of nine jets.

   

The RAF provided a considerable presence at the air festival, in addition to the Red Arrows they also sent two Spitfires from the Battle of Britain Memorial flight and their parachute display team, the RAF Falcons to drop in at the end of each day. Perhaps the most striking RAF participant was the freshly painted Eurofighter Typhoon flown brilliantly by Flight Lieutenant James Sainty in his first ever public displays. This years display Typhoon is based around one of the all black ‘aggressor’ jets and features a patriotic union-jack design which together with the jets impressive performance provides an assault on all the senses. Bring on the noise!

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 alongside a DHC Chipmunk calling themselves the Gipsy pair in tribute to the engines used to power both aircraft. Also flying was the ‘Vintage pair’ operating two other DHC Chipmunks. They performed several tail-chases, formations and opposition passes and even a tribute to the late Prince Phillip who learned to fly in a Chipmunk in the 1940s. The impressive Historic Army Aircraft flight also provided two classic helicopters; the Westland Scout and Bell Sioux, the only other rotary display was Brendan O’Brien’s OTTO, performing his unique brand of ‘chopobatics’
   

The Tiger Nines made sure there was no shortage of vintage biplanes as they flew no less than eight de Havilland Tiger Moths and one Moth Major in their superb display. Other than the Red Arrows they are the only nine-ship display team in the UK and the only team to perform a synchronised shut-down at the end of their routine. The impressive sound of nine 1930s biplanes echoed around the arena – their nine-aircraft combined produce similar power to one Spitfire. The sight & sound together with the smell of burnt oil in the air transported the crowd back to the golden age of aviation.

The Second World War was also well represented with the iconic flying boat, the PBY-Consolidated Catalina and its Duxford stable-mate, Europe’s only airworthy Boeing B-17 known fondly as Sally B. The two largest aircraft in the show performed several flypasts, casting imposing shadows over the lush parkland of Ragley Hall. We were also treated to three spitfires including two from the BBMF and the debut of Peter Teichmann’s newly restored ‘Russian’ Spitfire – a very rare survivor from the Anglo-soviet lend-lease programme.
   
Despite tragic set-backs earlier on in the year it was fantastic to see the Stampe Display Team out performing. They started their show with a moving missing man tribute to their fourth pilot Angus Buchanan, who lost his life in a training accident in May this year. The team were here today flying formations and aerobatics with their Stampe SV-4 biplane aircraft. Pilot Richard Ford also flew a solo display earlier on in the show as an introduction to basic aerobatic manoeuvres that the crowd could expect to see in other displays – a useful guide to those new to air displays.
Claiming to be the oldest display team in the World, the exciting Turbulent Display Team offered a daring display of barnstorming in their diminutive Turbulent aircraft. The three brightly coloured tiny monoplanes performed flour-bombing, limbo flights and low opposition passes – a wonderful display for the families to enjoy. Elsewhere in the display Steve Carr ran his radio-controlled Yak-54 through some gravity defying moves. It may be a model but it was almost as big as the Turbulent aircraft and was certainly more agile.
The varied afternoon saw further displays from the Italian SIAI Marchetti F260, a Grob Motor Glider (paying tribute to the NHS) and five RV8’s of team Raven whose highly experienced and skilled team performed a pristine display of high energy aerobatics. It was also fantastic to see Rich Goodwin’s high energy aerobatics in his new aircraft the ‘Jet-Pitts’, although he has not yet sealed the approval for the jet engines he made excellent use of the extra horse-power in his new mount.
   
This really was a great effort by the team; an excellent flying display, well-organised Hot Air Balloon Launch and an impressive line-up of model aircraft. All this achieved under the clouds of Covid-19, I cannot wait to see what the organisers do for 2022 – I have already packed my tent, I am going all weekend!
 

Review by Lee Chapman