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RAF Cosford Air Show 2023
‘The RAF open’s its gates and welcomes the public to its only remaining air show with a family friendly ‘at home’ feel’’
On Sunday 11th June 2023, 55,000 people descended on RAF Cosford to attend the RAF’s only official air show. The show was billed as a chance to get behind the fence and see what the RAF do on a day-to-day basis and on that front the show really delivered. Of course, all the RAF’s core display teams were present and correct, but in addition to this, there were also a range of ground exhibits which included a large ‘RAF Zone’ where the public could meet with serving RAF personnel and find out more about what they do. It was also a chance to meet some of the pilots and crew who were involved in the day’s flying display, including the Red Arrows and Typhoon Display Team.
Visitors to Cosford Air Show can not only expect a 6-hour flying display, but also an excellent range of ground attractions including a fun fair, a range of stalls and the vintage village. The village was packed with historic aircraft, vehicles, and numerous re-enactment groups, topped off with regular musical performances throughout the day by the likes of vintage musical trio, the Bluebird Belles. There was also a whole hangar dedicated to STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths looking to inspire the next generation of RAF personnel.
Cosford is uniquely placed to offer a fantastic display of static aircraft. The adjoining RAF Museum branch has a superb collection of significant and priceless aircraft which were on show to the visitors today – nowhere else in the world has all three V-bombers! The museum always lends their support to the show and wheel out plenty of aircraft into the sunshine for the day. This year, we were treated to some of the unique experimental test flight aircraft including the Hunting 126 and Meteor F8. The matching pair of de Haviland Devon & Percival Pembroke also looked splendid out in the sunshine in Transport Command colours.

RAF Cosford itself, is currently celebrating its 85th anniversary having opened in 1938. It is still very much an active base that concentrates on engineering & training activities and hosts several units including the No 1 School of Technical Training and the Defence School of Photography. Its appeal aviation enthusiasts is it’s use of recently retired aircraft to train its engineers. The base has several Jaguars, Tornadoes, Harriers and Hawks onsite of which a selection are usually put on external display for the show. This year was no exception, and several iconic aircraft were dotted around the site, it was especially pleasing to see a line up of three Empire Test Pilot School Jaguars in their ‘Raspberry Ripple’ scheme.
All tickets were sold out well in advanced and although there was a possible risk of a few thundery showers, the weather turned out to be perfect for flying. If not, a little hot for those sitting on the ground. The flying display was however affected by several serviceability issues. The Consolidated Catalina and Boeing B17 (Sally B) had already cancelled following ongoing issues this year but the Royal Navy Black Cats, de Havilland Vampire and Belgian Air Force NH90 left very large holes in the schedule. The organisers were forced to work exceptionally hard to put on a show, fortunately they prevailed and delivered an excellent day of flying.

The air show itself started with a wonderful partnering of the RAF Falcons parachute display team with their French counterparts, the Ambassadeurs Parachutistes. The French team opened the show, with a precise and colourful entrance, closely followed by the Falcons, who used the Hercules as their jump platform. This was especially poignant as the RAF was imminently retiring its fleet after 56 years of service. This will be the last time we will see an RAF Hercules flying in an air show. We were treated to a low pass of the jump platform over the combined French and British salute.
Next came a trio of RAF display teams. First up was the Boeing Chinook, the Chinook display team flew straight in and delivered a flawless performance in the surprisingly agile tandem-rotor helicopter. The team from RAF Odiham demonstrated the capabilities of this highly versatile helicopter to its limits. The crew perfectly positioned the impressive helicopter to give the crowd the full blade slap sound that the Chinook is so famous for.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight followed, but sadly due to further technical issues the Avro Lancaster was left on the ground at Coningsby whilst the Spitfire and Hurricane made the journey without the BBMF’s flagship. It will always be hard to fill a gap left by the iconic Lancaster, but the duo of Second World War fighters put on a spirited display, and the iconic sound of Rolls Royce Merlin engines are always welcome over any air show. We were thrilled to hear two, but six would have been better!

Flight Lieutenant Matt Brighty completed the section with an outstanding display in the Eurofighter Typhoon. This year’s display pilot has built on the previous routines and really pushes the Typhoon around the sky with a seemingly infinite number of manoeuvres, you could practically feel the G-force on the pilot as he flicked the aircraft around the sky abruptly. As is now tradition, the spectacular 10-minute routine was closed with a vertical climb up and out of the arena.
Next up was the recently restored Lynx Mk7 helicopter from Historic Helicopters in Chard, Somerset. Their impressive fleet of helicopters is ever growing, and it was especially pleasing to see the Lynx back in UK skies. Later in the show the Westland Wasp from Navy Wings also performed a similar display of rotary nostalgia. The unique sound of the classic Rolls-Royce Nimbus engine filled the airfield as the gangly looking helicopter danced around the sky. Both aircraft were last minute replacements for unserviceable aircraft, and it goes to show the depth of classic helicopters that are currently around on the UK circuit. They were very welcome additions to the show indeed.
There was also an excellent mix of aerobatic performances throughout the day. Ranging from the serene Ask 21 Glider from RAF Shawbury to the frantic muscle biplane of Rich Goodwin. A welcome addition to the show was two international aerobatic teams; The Royal Jordanian Falcons performed precision aerobatics with their 4 ship team of Extra 330LX aircraft. They performed several team formations before breaking off for some more dynamic solo opposition passes and rolling manoeuvres. The Patroille Suisse from the Swiss Air Force flew six Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighters in National colours in another dynamic display of flawless aerobatics. Towards the end of the show, we were also able to witness a newcomer to the circuit; Christophe Simon flew a Tiger Club owned Mudry CAP 10 in a well-planned routine that was ever twisting, turning and rolling. We felt dizzy just watching!
The Royal Air Forces official aerobatics team, better known as the Red Arrows, are always crowd pleasers, especially at a family orientated show like Cosford. This year, they are flying an 8-ship formation as they work their way back up to the traditional 9 ship following a difficult season last year. The new display routine is well designed to showcase the performance of the BAE Systems Hawk at it’s best. The weather allowed the Red’s to perform their full display which meant we could see the famous Red Arrow heart and spectacular moves like the infinity break which closed the performance in style. The applause from appreciative the crowd almost drowned out the noise of from the Rolls Royce Adour engines.
As the afternoon wore on the temperature on the airfield increased and became a little uncomfortable for many of the spectators. Some were about to pack up and head home for cover, but then the news came over from the commentators that the BBMF engineers had fixed the snag on the Lancaster and that it was heading over to close the show. Worth hanging on in the heat a little longer. Of course, the show still had more to offer in the meantime including flypasts from two more modern RAF aircraft. The A400M conducted two passes of the airfield to let us know that the RAF’s transport needs would be well catered for without the Hercules. Also, the latest frontline fighter, the F35 Lightning II zipped in at break-neck speed for its first pass, before demonstrating a brief hover on it’s second.
There were plenty of other historic aircraft in the line up too. The Rolls Royce heritage flight sent both their P51 Mustang and Griffon engine Spitfire and a nice pairing of an Auster and bird dog demonstrated the observational aircraft roll that has proved so crucial in many conflicts over the years. We also got to see a very attractive looking Boeing Stearman in US Navy colours and of course, the iconic Lancaster did make an appearance. The suspense created by an earlier cancellation made the unmistakable silhouette of the four-engine bomber on the horizon a very welcome sight indeed. A fantastic way to close a good day of flying.
As ever, Cosford Air Show had something to offer for everyone. The ground attractions are very family friendly with enough static aircraft to keep the aviation enthusiast excited too. The air display also follows this model and mixed in with the impressive warbirds, historic aircraft and modern jets are also crowd-pleasing aerobatics. This is also one of the few air shows where you can see some of the more unusual aircraft in the RAF fleet in the air and on the ground. The show will return next year on June Sunday 9th June 2023 – save the date!

Review by Lee Chapman