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Biggin Hill International Air Fair, 2/3 June

Damien Burke reports on Saturday's events

De Havilland's Venom's mishap on landingWith most participants already on the airfield on Saturday morning, all eyes were scanning the skies for the arrival of the Sea Vixen, without a doubt the show's most eagerly Stars & stripesawaited addition. Shortly before 11:00 'Vixen Formation' swept in for a run and break, with the Sea Vixen touching down first. Ex-Swiss Vampire U-1234 was next down, and then...Venom G-GONE. But G-GONE did not make an appearance at the southern end of the airfield. It soon became clear that the Venom had suffered some sort of mishap, and indeed it turned out that its undercarriage had collapsed on landing. Thankfully the pilot, Clive Rustin, was okay and damage to the aircraft was apparently limited to crushed drop tanks and a scratched fuselage underside.

With the runway blocked as a result of the Venom's unfortunate arrival, the display schedule was thrown into disarray right away. The organisers pulled out the stops to make a commendable last-minute re-arrangement, scheduling items that did not need the full runway length to go on early. So it was that the show opened with the Blue Eagles performing their usual faultless display of agility, and this year including the UK's first female military display pilot, Sergeant Julie Wiles. Julie was not only born at Middle Wallop, her father flew in the Blue Eagles in the number two and leader slots in times past!

DC-10 from Ugandan-based DAS-AirThe oft-dreaded Utterly Butterly Stearmans were up next, using the half of the runway that wasn't blocked by the unfortunate Venom, which was by now surrounded by emergency vehicles and the subject of an effort to lift it onto a trailer. Immediately following the wingwalking antics of the Stearman pair, one of the pair took to the air again with a parachutist who dropped in moments later with a large US flag - this year's theme being very much US-oriented - A Gathering of Eagles. After another short gap we had three passes from a DAS-Air DC-10, a Ugandan airliner and therefore quite an unusual sight at a UK show.

The Red Arrows had been scheduled to land at Biggin earlier in the day in order to display at 14:00, happily though the Reds' plans had changed with the result that were operating from elsewhere and were therefore not trapped on the ground by the blocked runway. Accordingly, dead on time - as usual - they swept in in spectacular fashion and performed the usual impeccable display. The stand-in commentator (as their team manager obviously had been unable to fly in) managed very well, giving us a bit more of a chance to listen to the team leader on the radio than usual, which was very welcome. He did appear somewhat surprised to be told that there was a real Vixen at the airfield when they changed to their 'Big Vixen' formation, though!

Rob Lamplough's beautiful P-51D 'Miss Helen'HarrierThe RNHF Swordfish was up next, still using a restricted runway length, and performed with gusto. Just as comments were being made about the Harrier surely not needing a full runway, the deep throated whine of a Pegasus engine could be heard and sure enough the next item was the RAF Harrier display ship. Sadly this year it seems the Harrier display doesn't concentrate quite as much on the aircraft's hovering ability, so it spends a little too long carrying out fast passes and not enough on deafening the crowd. A pair of Extra 300s - the Microlease team - attempted to demonstrate their own hovering characteristics shortly afterwards, and at times seemed to almost manage it!

During these two acts the Venom recovery operation had proceeded to a successful conclusion - so successful, in fact, that instead of being loaded on a trailer, the aircraft was towed, on its wheels, back to the jet ramp by the side of runway 03, and parked next to De Havilland's Vampire. So, with the runway clear, the show's centre-piece, the Gathering of Eagles itself, could take place. The TFC had flown practically everything they had down to Biggin, so were now treated to a fantastic display from their Skyraider, Thunderbolt, Kingcobra, Hellcat, Tigercat, Avenger, Mitchell and also the OFMC's Breitling fighters - Spitfire, Mustang, Tomahawk and Corsair. With a Beech 18 joining in it was a magical half hour of pure piston enjoyment, a mini Flying Legends show.

Alpha Jet AT-26 from the Belgian Air Force in yet another Flemish paint jobSadly 'Sally B' stayed on the ground during all this, and the rumour was that it would not be flying because of yet more engine problems. Happily this proved not to be the case, and after the TFC's aircraft recovered one by one (excepting their Mustang), 'Sally B' took to the air, joined by Rob Lamplough's Mustang, 'Miss Helen'. A 'little friends' flypast then took place, with the B-17 escorted by two P-51s. The Lufthansa Ju-52 that had taken to the air before the Venom incident in the morning arrived back around this time too - surely the best value pleasure flight in history, having lasted over 4 hours - though presumably they did land elsewhere and wait for the runway at Biggin to clear. The Tornado GR1 display scheduled for the morning was thankfully not lost, and we were therefore treated to its routine of very fast passes and mucho afterburner usage.

With the show now pretty much on schedule the Nimrod was the next performer, giving us a good blast of jet noise. We can only hope the new Nimrod MRA4 will be half as good an airshow performer. Keeping the volume level up was a Belgian F16, flying in from Manston, and thankfully managing to find Biggin without a problem - unlike the Danish pair last year!

G-CVIX at restWith 2001 being the Hunter's 50th anniversary, a unique Hawker formation had been laid on - a Hunter with a Sea Fury. The RNHF's newly restored Sea Fury made its first public re-appearance at Biggin, joining up with Hunter G-PSST (after that colourful aircraft had put on a smooth display of its own) for a flypast, then carrying out a full display after G-PSST had touched down. Sadly the Belgian Alpha Jet and Danish F16 demos, scheduled for the morning, had been cancelled by now, but the Sea Vixen, Vampire and Venom display had been moved to later in the day - minus the Venom of course.

While the Aerostars Yak team performed, the Vixen and Vampire were starting up. The Vixen folded its wings so it could taxi with more clearance past the line-up of jets by the side of the runway 03 threshold, and the Vampire followed it to the runway threshold. Sea Vixens are LOUD - anyone used to Vampires and Hunters won't know what hits them when a Vixen throttles up. Sweeping the runway well and truly clear of grit, and removing earwax from many an onlooker, the Vixen positively leapt forward when her brakes were released, and screamed into the air followed in much gentler fashion by the Vampire. The following events can be read here.


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