International Airport Diamond Jubilee Airshow 5/6 August
Gary Parsons reports: Promised a great deal did this one, when announced some six months ago, with former squadrons of RAF Horsham St. Faith to be invited, together with an example of as many types as possible that served during the forties, fifties and early sixties when the 'boys in blue' were in town. Somehow, it didn't really come together, for a variety of reasons, both self-inflicted and imposed.
To begin with, the proximity of Norwich Airport to the fine city meant severe restrictions on the flying - these were such that none of the current RAF fast jets could sensibly perform a routine, so even though most had been at the airport in the days leading to the show for Lowestoft's event, they left for other commitments on the Saturday morning. A few service aircraft could be found in the static, comprising Tornado GR1, Canberra WJ874 (aka "VN799"), Hawk T1 XX256 from 74(R) Squadron and a brace of Jaguars from nearby Coltishall. What remained of the static park consisted of a variety of civilian types, ranging from an ATR72 to several light aircraft, most of which I'm sorry to say your author is totally ignorant of.
So, the only RAF aircraft to participate in the flying was a lone Jaguar from 41 Squadron, performing a simple flypast, as did two Tornado GR4s and Harriers on Saturday only and a Sea King HAR3A from the 22 Squadron detachment at Wattisham, on Sunday only, but very welcome nonetheless.
Warbirds predominated the flying, the noisiest and most modern being the Hunter F58 of the Scandinavian Historic Aircraft Flight, who was out in force with its example of Hawker's finest jet, A26 Invader, Vampire and Mustang. An impressive formation flypast was a feature of both days, being joined by Challenges Aviation's Meteor NF11 WM167, ex-Jet Heritage. An example of the organiser's inexperience was shown with the listing of 'Gloucester' Meteor in the programme, but despite this inexperience and the restrictions imposed the rest of the line-up included some good items, such as 'Sally B', the Bearcat, P47 Thunderbolt and Mitchell from The Fighter Collection, Carolyn Grace's Spitfire ML407, Radial Revelations' Percival Pembroke and the Blenheim from the Aircraft Restoration Company.
Further heavy metal was provided by the United States Air Force, with flypasts by two Lakenheath F15Es on Saturday and a Mildenhall KC135R on Sunday. As Horsham had been a B24 Liberator base during the war, their presence was poignant, as was Sally B curving her graceful arcs in the Norfolk sky. Display teams were mostly civilian, backing up the Army's Blue Eagles, being Team Apache with their PC7s, a Yak-52 duo and the inimitable Utterly Butterly Stearmans, complete with gorgeous accompaniments.
Flying was mostly spirited, with the star performer of the weekend being the Meteor, with Dan Griffiths giving a superb wing-bending display, well within the confines of the airfield. Aspects of the organisation that were good was the relatively unobstructed crowdline, and the free bus to the active taxiway where the flyers were located; this was some distance from the main arena, but offered superb photographic opportunities with an uncluttered backdrop, if into the sun somewhat. Also, being some distance from the official crowdline, offered top-shots as the displaying aircraft curved overhead in positioning for the next pass.
As for the main arena itself, this was the show's disaster - a vast area had been set aside, as the show was using the northern side of the airport, so as to allow uninterrupted operation of the terminal. Trade stalls and exhibitors were scattered to the far-flung corners of the field, as if dropped from a great height. Several stalls were isolated, with little prospect of any customers, of which there were few anyway...The crowd on Saturday was pitifully thin, but picked up on Sunday, even though the weather wasn't as good. Reasons for the poor turn-out? One can only think that the entrance price of £10 per adult and £5 per child put people off, especially as Lowestoft's bigger event a few days before had been free and attracted over 60,000 each day. A one-day format would have been best, but if hindsight was a marketable commodity we would all be much wealthier.
Overall, the poor turn-out was a shame, as there was much to commend the Norwich event, despite the poor organisation. As a one-off, it is unlikely to happen again in the near future, but the seeds were there for a warbird gathering to make it into something worth travelling for. True, Bernard Matthews had sponsored part of the airshow, but it is a little unfair to make reference to Turkeys...