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RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2019

 

 
 

With the entire Royal Navy currently enjoying something of a renaissance it seems like a superb time to visit the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton (aka HMS Heron). It’s exciting times for all involved in the Royal Navy with the sea trials of the new headline grabbing Aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and the eager anticipation of HMS Prince of Wales. Not surprisingly there is excitement in the Fleet Air Arm too, as they welcome impressive new aircraft to populate these craft. Naval pilots are currently familiarising themselves with the Lockheed Martin F35B, whilst helicopter pilots are enjoying the continued renaissance of the Merlin and Wildcat.

As with all major air shows in the UK, ground entertainment seems to be ever expanding. Today at Yeovilton, visitors could enjoy a wide range of attractions without ever looking up. There were interactive areas within the STEM zone where children of all ages could meet Titan the Robot or learn some new engineering skills. Eager future recruits could also find out what it takes to design, build and test aircraft. The HMS Heron Field gun competition was also taking place whilst the Yeovilton Military Wives Choir and the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines provided the music for the day.

The static aircraft & vehicle display was also impressive. The Fleet Air Arm Museum on site provided support and wheeled out some of its major exhibits such as the Sea Hawk GFA6 and famous Westland Sea King. It was also fascinating to be able to see the ongoing restoration work on what will become the only surviving Fairey Barracuda. This is a project that was recently given a lift by the recent discovery and raising of a wreck from the English Channel. The wreck's remains are surprisingly well-preserved, but it will still take some impressive restoration work to bring her back to her former glory.

Navy Wings, the organisation now in charge of preserving UK Naval aviation history through flying memorials also lined up an impressive contingent. Today we saw the de Haviland Sea Vixen, looking forlorn in its state of suspended repair as it awaits much needed funding. The bright yellow Stinson Reliant looked magnificent parked next to the remarkable Fairey Swordfish. Whilst the Phantom and Sea Harrier provided a nod to the former glory of Naval fast jets. Great to see this line-up on the ground, but also sad that the Sea Vixen and Swordfish were not able to fly today.

There was also a great range of international support at the show. The static park was dominated by the impressive C-17 Globemaster’s from both Qatar and the United States. The German Navy and Canadian Air Force also brought in some heavy weights in the form of the P-3C Orion (uprated and known as ‘Aurora’ in Canada). The Italian Piaggio P.180AM ad Lithuanian Spartan also impressed, providing some unusual sights on the ground. Elsewhere on the showground visits could enjoy a unique line up of Austers, a display of ultra-light aircraft and an impressive range of ground vehicles from tanks to fast sports cars.

The weather held for a flawless 5 hour flying display. Again, international participants making up a large percentage of the show. The French ‘Cocardes Marine’ flypast of Fouga Zephyr, Breguet Alize and Morane-Saulnier was certainly a unique sight in the somerset skies. Whilst the Royal Canadians C-130 cast an impressive shadow over the local countryside. Both the Greek Texan and Belgian F16’s gave incredible, energetic and dynamic displays in their own way. Most impressive of all was the mighty Harrier’s return to HMS Heron - the Spanish Navy kindly brought their show-stopping repertoire of hovering, rotational and re-directional manoeuvres of their uprated Harrier Plus.

   

Unsurprisingly it was the Royal Navy who took centre stage for the majority of the flying. We were treated to several superb demonstrations from the agile and impressive Helicopter force, including several variants of Wildcats and Merlin’s in the skies. With impressive aerobatics from the Black Cats team, a maritime role model demonstration and of course the famous Commando Assault. The grand finale was complete with explosions, winch demonstrations, ground vehicles and two BAE System Hawks as the troops were deployed to neutralise a mock threat to the base.

   

Despite some set-backs to the Navy Wings Fleet over the last few years, the history of the Fleet Air Arm was not neglected. The impressive Hawker Sea Fury was flicked around the skies by Navy Wings pilot Chris Gotke and the US Navy North American Texan also got a rare solo display slot. We also saw an old and new helicopter flypast before the newly restored Westland Wessex was able to break off for its debut display. Of course, the Battle of Britain Memorial flight and Army Historic flight were also on hand to complete the heritage segment of the show. It’s always a pleasure to hear the sound of Merlin and Griffon engines in the air, and a real treat to see the RAF’s Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane trio break to land at close quarters following another flawless tribute to the service men and women of the past.

   
   
Elsewhere in the jam-packed show we saw a 3-ship performance from the Blades, who were sadly one missing on their usual display. The three former Red Arrows including new-recruit, record breaking Sqn Ldr Mike Ling put in a spirited performance. Unfortunately, some of the moves lost a little impact and symmetry without the full compliment. As ever, Rich Goodwin gave an impressive, gravity-defying display in his Pitts Special. We look forward to seeing his new Jet Pitts very soon!
The hollowing sound of classic British jet engines was provided by a pair of BAE Strikemasters, the team from North Wales now have a slick, well-oiled and crowd-pleasing routine. We also saw one of the last hurrahs of the RAF Tucano before its imminent retirement. The explosive Apache of the Army Air Corp was as imposing as ever, and the Red Arrows were looking especially sharp on the eve of their trip to America.
One of the more memorable moments of the day for myself, was the sudden arrival of the Royal Navy’s most recent acquisition; the much discussed F35 Lightning 2 - it was limited to only a few flypasts and quick hover, but the dramatic entrance, deafening roar and impossible low speed pass will certainly do much to silence its critics. It was interesting to compare its performance to the UK’s other front line fast jet, the Eurofighter Typhoon. Once again, flt lt Jim Peterson demonstrated its agility in a breath-taking display, I lost count of how many rolls he performed.
Overall, another impressive show. There was much to enjoy on the ground and in the air, the weather was kind and allowed a well-organised operation to run smoothly. The Royal Navy International Air Day is a stand out show in the UK air show calendar. It is the only show organised by the Royal Navy and is certainly one of the biggest and best opportunities to catch some impressive modern aircraft from home and abroad in action. Look out for the show in 2020.
 

Review by Lee Chapman