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Sywell Airshow 2010

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We British are obsessed with the weather and no-one more so than aviation photographers! This summer has seen display after display suffer from rain and poor light. I chose the right day for Eastbourne so, I was certain that, with National Severe Weather Warnings in place, Sywell would be a “wash out”!

I couldn’t have been more wrong – as half of Britain tried to keep dry, the sun streamed down in Northamptonshire, with clear blue skies and light winds. The prospect of a full day’s program was going to be an event to enjoy.

The crowds started arriving at 8.30 even though the gates were not due to open until 10.00am and with flying not starting until 2.00pm, the Sywell organisers seemed to be struggling under the weight of thousands of cars and visitors. The show, held every two years, attracted around 6,000 visitors in 2008 – no doubt this year’s attendance figures were much higher. The show also needs to extend the range of food and trade stands in order to grow and expand. I am certain that the organisers will have this in hand by 2012!

There was plenty to occupy photographers for the hours prior to the display flying program. With continual air traffic arriving at the show, flight line walks and impromptu flying displays, including a dogfight with WW1 replicas, there were good photo opportunities amongst the many aircraft parked around the airfield.

The flight line at Sywell is almost adjacent to the grass runway used by most of the display aircraft – the only exceptions being the heavier types, the Spitfire and the Blades. The other one exception was the Vampire. Sywell was once used for the maintenance of Vampires and the display aircraft celebrated the first landing at the airfield, by a Vampire, since the very early 1960’s.
The close proximity of the flight line puts the aircraft within reach of the most modest lenses so, away went the 150 – 500 Sigma OS, replaced by the 18-270 Tamron with VC. I am a great advocate of optical stabilisation systems. Having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, some 5 years ago, and with increasing tremor, OS has extended the life of my hobby. All the OS systems seem to work well so, if you know any PD sufferers who are contemplating giving up photography, please point out the benefits of these systems to them.

The flying display was first class. With one display following quickly on the heels of the previous one, there were no frustrating gaps – in fact the ATC staff seemed to have more air traffic around than the average airshow!

The Vampire display seemed a little brief again. This was commented upon by another reviewer recently and extending the time on display would be well received. The Spitfire and Hurricane gave their usual faultless performance with numerous passes in different attitudes and at various altitudes. The P51 added to the program with its impressive high speed low level runs and breathless rate of climb.

One of the highlights, as usual, was the arrival of the Lancaster. In the glorious sunshine and bright light, it was child’s play to capture the full colour and detail of her camouflage – and not just the silhouette. For once, photographers didn’t have to check their LCD screens in the hope that they may have captured more than the dark outline of Mr Chadwick’s wartime creation!

Something different – ever seen Tiger Moths playing football, bursting balloons and low flying under bunting? You will at Sywell – a regular event at the show and reminiscent of the competitive spirit amongst the early aviators!

The Blades, based at Sywell, go from strength to strength. Impressive with their formation flying, even when performing the most difficult of manoeuvres, their program seems to get better with every superlative display.

The Brietling Wing Walkers gave their usual faultless display. My only criticism is the over use of smoke. I noticed at Eastbourne that the air was heavy for much of the display and at Sywell, where the crowd are far closer, I found the man-made smog was a real problem and I would prefer a “cleaner air policy” to be implemented! Well, you have to complain about something, I suppose!

The whole air display was slick and well orchestrated – there were only two disappointments. The Red Arrows flypast didn’t materialise, though this was not mentioned by the commentator. The Vulcan was also a “no show” – apparently a victim of the inclement weather down south. Always the star of any airshow, she was sorely missed by the crowd.

Can I recommend a visit to the Sywell Show in 2012? Yes, most certainly – if you want a great day out and some good photo opportunities, then make a note to attend in 2 years time. At £15, it has to be one of the best value shows on the circuit. See you there!
Review by Dave Briers