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Yeovilton Air Day 2017

 

   

"...as it was people were still buzzing from the Rafale’s"

 

The BBC weather app reported cloudy overcast conditions for almost a week ahead of this year’s Air Day, then changed it’s mind in the last 24 hours now saying there would be the occasional break in the clouds with a little sunshine. I decided to have a look at the Bristol and Southampton Metar reports which suggested a lot more sunshine. After last year getting a peeling head I had put a leather Australian Outback Hat on my birthday wish list, which proved to be a good move as the clouds dispersed around midday and it was another scorching afternoon. Traffic was pretty good on arrival with a short queue after coming off the A303, although we could see no reason for it, as it soon dispersed.

Having settled in and drunk my first mug of coffee there was time to have a look around the hangars and static aircraft display. The Royal Navy Historic Flight were originally scheduled to display the Sea Fury just before lunchtime but instead this sat with the static aircraft along with the Flight’s Fairey Swordfish. It was a shame not to see these up in the air again but understandable given the ongoing isues with it’s aircraft in recent years, however Lt Cdr Chris Gotke did give a graceful solo display in the Flight’s Chipmunk later in the day.

Other aircraft on static display included Phantoms, Yak 52’s, Merlin helicopters, a replica F-35B and the USAF C17, which always proves to be very popular with visitors and incidentally was awarded “Best Static Display”. Alongside the aircraft there were also a variety of military vehicles and classic cars, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to these but will put them on my ToDo list for next year.

The show kicked off as it has in recent years with Rich Goodwin’s Pitt’s Muscle Bi-plane display. Kicking off in what is a now “traditional” knife edge take off which quickly got the crowds attention, Rich continued to flip, roll and tumble through his almost gymnastic routine. The kids in the enclosure next door were squeeling with delight and I am certain this aerobatic display won Rich a new legion of fans.

Next up was Andrew Whitehouse in his (West Lift’s) Westland Whirlwind HAR mark10, giving a masterly demonstration of this helicopter’s Search and Rescue capabilites.

The Belgian Air Force were back at Yeovilton with the F-16 in it’s “Blizzard paint scheme, piloted by Tom De Moortel. Tom put the F-16 through it’s paces with an aerobatic display that saw some really tight turns at low level and firing of flares at high level. Later in the afternoon was the Danish Air Force’s turn with their F-16 which performed some really fast passes which must have come close the the speed of sound as we all turned and looked at each other asking “did anyone get that shot?”. It turned out to be “No” as it had already left the airfield perimeter before we even heard it!

Another Yeovilton regular arrived shortly after in the form of the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron’s Mig15, always a delight to see this small but nimble jet fighter perform, and it did so quite admirably again this year.

Another change to the scheduled display came as Kennet Aviation’s North American Texan stood in for the grounded Skyraider, followed up shortly after by Peter Teichmans P-51D Mustang “Tall in the Saddle” which Peter restored to it’s original Tuskegee Red Tail markings a year or so back.

Closing out the first half of the display were the Royal Jordanian Falcons and the Raiders (RN) Parachute Display team. If I am honest it all felt a bit sedate for me at this point so time for another cuppa! Besides taking on fluids started to become the order of the day as the sun was starting to make it’s appearance and to ensure no-one got dehydrated during the day the RN laid on free water at several distribution points and made regular announcements to remind the public – Nice Touch!

The Red Arrows opened the 2nd half of the display and impressed the crowds as they always do, with a new routine for 2017 with “Tornado” now looping in front of the crowd to the return of the ever popular “infinity break”.  Not a lot to else to say about the Reds, except to say they are loved wherever they go and the Yeovilton crowd are no exception, giving them a big cheer as they departed.

Next it was the turn of the heli’s with the Merlin following the Apache’s lead. Lots of pyrotechnics are you can imagine as Major Jim Trayhurn takes us through a ground attack demo with Sgt Mark Bowker. BTW I still haven’t managed to get that now famous shot of the Apache in front of the resulting fireball!

Two appearances from the Czech Air Force helped to fill up the afternoon’s schedule, firstly with a Saab Gripen solo display and later on an L-159 ALCA duo with more pyrotechnics during their CAS demo. Following on from the Gripen came the aforementioned Danish F-16 and then the Wildcat Maritime Role Demo and yet more black smoke ensued.

Now approaching 3 o’clock and it was the turn of the French Navy Rafale Pair, the lead of which was sporting it’s “Snow Tiger” paint job used for this year’s NATO Tiger Meet. Words can’t really do justice to their performance, sure it wasn’t really an aerobatic display but the pilots mixed noise with afterburners and gave an appropriate demonstration of the Rafale’s performance. Everyone I spoke to agreed this was the highlight of the day, and perhaps more memorable because of the black and white stripes!

Having been awarded Best Fixed Wing Display of the day, the Rafale’s proved a difficult act to follow, even for Lt Ryan Lawton in the Typhoon Solo Display. Perhaps if it was moved back a bit then it might have been more interesting, but as it was people were still buzzing from the Rafale’s.

The last hour of the day saw a solo display from the BBMF Spitfire and 3 flypasts from the Lancaster before she departed, then the Czech ALCA duo. This year however there was no “Junglie Assault” finale as unfortunately military duties do tend to be a priority. Instead that went to Patrouille Suisse Display Team who were back at Yeovilton after a 10 year absence. In their Northrop Tiger’s and with a precision display that reminds me of the USAF Thunderbirds, the Swiss team put on a great performance to close this year’s Air Day.

Moving on, I again keep my fingers crossed that Ralph and the team at Yeovilton might consider bringing Fat Albert and the US Navy’s Blue Angels over next year, even if it is just the once. Yeovilton is a very popular military airshow as evidenced by the crowds in attendance which I understand numbered aroujnd 35,000. If you haven’t been yet, do put it in your diary for next year and enjoy what is certainly one of the best on the UK calendar.
 
Review by Airscene
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