We were planning to go, but the great fuel protest of September 2000 scuppered our plans. It seems as though we missed the best Leuchars Airshow for many a year, both in terms of content and weather - however, Bill Millar managed to find some fuel and kindly sends us this report. All photographs courtesy of Michael Hall.
Leuchars air show has for some time now been the major show north of the border, and while the traditional mid-September 'Battle of Britain' slot always poses questions about the likely Scottish weather at this time, the main problem for Airshow 2000 was the on-going fuel crisis. The airshow's web site had confirmed prior to the show that Leuchars had adequate supplies to support the event, but the size of the attendance must have been a major worry for the organisers. However, on arrival on the eve of the show, the enthusiasts group had its largest attendance despite these problems. Indeed the main topic of discussion seemed to be the many ways fuel had been saved, and if anyone had been unwell or had insufficient petrol to get to work, in order that the vital supplies could be saved to make it to the show!
Thankfully the weather was better than forecast with clear skies on Saturday allowing the major national display teams to show the crowds their full display sequences and illustrate the different approaches and strengths of their routines. The fears of a low attendance were also unfounded and the main car parks reached capacity and the base had to be closed to further traffic. Unfortunately this meant that a number of people were unable to see an excellent display, and the organisers have made arrangements to offer refunds to some ticket holders (see the official website at www.airshow.co.uk).
Friday's schedule involved the arrival of most of the participating aircraft and, in the afternoon, practice displays by a number of the solo performers, the Patrouille de France and the Frecce Tricolori. Early arrivals already in place on the flight line were the now familiar Austrian display Draken and two Swedish Viggens. A standard grey Draken and another Viggen were also in place at the start of the normal line for static aircraft on the taxi way in front of the tower. Both types are new to the Leuchars show. The former QRA sheds at the west end of the runway are the enthusiasts' base for the Friday and the air show Saturday, and some viewing sites are made available on the south side of the runway during arrivals. A welcome bonus was the arrival of a Belgian C-130 which was duly parked for refuelling in front of the QRA sheds. Of course, before leaving, a trail of visitors had toured the aircraft while the bemused crew looked on.
During the course of the day, the emphasis was on fighters and more fighters. The flight line added a German F4F and MIG-29, two Belgian F16As, two Dutch F16AMs, two Norwegian F16As, and three French Jaguar Es (one of which surprised everyone by taxiing into the ramp in front of the QRA sheds and then out onto the 'normal line' giving the thumbs up to the crowd - Gallic flair!). Elsewhere the build up of fighters continued with the static line including the most photographed aircraft of 2000 - the 'Indian'-Italian AMX along with a two seater, two USAF F-16s, two Italian F104s, two more Dutch F16s and a further example of each of the German aircraft. The RAF contributed Tornado F3s/Tornado GR4s/Harrier T10 to the static area while the area by the end of the runway was allocated to the display Jaguar and Tornado aircraft along with the French Mirage 2000s.
The main static display area around the hangars is traditionally the large aircraft static park and this contained a good selection of aircraft to balance the number of fighters, with the US forces providing an example of the B-52, B-1B, KC-10, C-9 and a pair of KC-135s. From elsewhere, the Dutch and Norwegians provided P-3s and the RAF displayed a Nimrod and one of its new C-130J Hercules which provided a comparison with the earlier Belgian visitor (especially those prop blades). Unusually, the Transall support aircraft for the Patrouille de France was parked in the public area rather than away from view.
Photography of aircraft in the static display was only hindered by the usual barriers, and it was possible to get the sun behind you for the majority of shots, particularly on the main line along the northern taxi-way. As one of the stars of the static display, it was unfortunate that the Austrian Draken was tightly enclosed meaning there was no way of a photograph without barriers. For the flying display and also some static exhibits such as the helicopters parked in front of the crowd line, the photographer is set the problem of facing the sun.
On airshow day, the flying programme lasted from 10:00 to 17:30 and the action was seldom broken during this time. The three main formation teams of Red Arrows, Patrouille de France, and Frecce Tricolori were spaced through the afternoon period with the French Jaguar duo and The Blue Eagles providing the other main highlights. The solo performances by the fighters appeared to be a competition as one up-staged the other, especially the three F-16 displays during the course of the day. The MIG-29, another type making its debut at a Leuchars show, and the surprise appearance and brief display by a Eurofighter, added to the star-performers on display. The Royal Navy provided the first of two Harrier displays using a black T8, to be followed later by the RAF with a GR7. As these aircraft, plus the spare GR7 were parked directly in front of the QRA sheds, the use of ear defenders must have doubled during the day! Larger aircraft in the flying display were the Nimrod providing its customary noisy exit and the USAF C-17 showing the UK public why the RAF had to have some!
For a few years now, the resident Tornado aircraft have been largely missing from the display. The Phantom scramble and displays of previous years appeared to have been forgotten. Top marks to the organisers as Airshow 2000 provided a return of the tactical display with a VC10 C1K tanker, Hawk T1 'bandits', and Tornado 'interceptors' displaying a routine which really did give the impression of the power of the Tornados as they closed in on the Hawks.
If there had to be a prize for best display, this would have to go to the Mirage 2000, whose display on both practice and airshow day surpassed anything else on view. Eurofighter was there, DA2 plus a mock up you could crawl all over.
The finale to the show was provided by the BBMF's Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane, bringing a different sound and atmosphere to the event, and the sunset ceremony as a tribute the the RAF's finest hour.
A lot has been written lately about the lack of coverage given to the show at Leuchars, but the organisers have shown that they can consistently provide an excellent show which is well worth visiting. The public's response illustrates that the show continues to be a major attraction as a good day out for the family as well as those who are more interested in the aircraft on show. Special mention should be made of Neil Matson and all the other team of RAF volunteers who run the 'enthusiasts' package, as every attempt is made to accommodate that photographer's 'essential' visit to the flight line if at all possible.
The show had the biggest crowd Leuchars has seen - some 70,000 turned up and many were turned away. Even though the static was too close together, enthusiasts were lucky to get so many aircraft considering the general feeling around the country - one comment heard was "they shouldn't waste the fuel on an airshow" - but many were very glad they did! So, next year stock up on petrol and head for Fife on 15 September!