Airshow in Need? No!
Damien Burke reports from one of the smaller events this year - Little Gransden's 'Children in Need' Charity Air & Car Show, 1 September
As Little Gransden's yearly 'Children In Need' airshow had always previously committed the crime of being scheduled on the same date as the September Cold War Jets Open Days at Bruntingthorpe, I'd never been to it. However, with the Bruntingthorpe event having changed its normal date, suddenly the option to attend Little Gransden was open...and while Spitfires don't quite have the same draw as Lightnings, it was for a good cause and the sun was shining, so off I went!
Set in pastoral surroundings just to the left of the Middle of Nowhere, Little Gransden airfield requires a certain amount of navigational skill to find, but when I could see a constant trail of light aircraft arrowing down over a large number of parked cars, I was pretty sure I was getting close. Parked up just outside the airfield (and almost directly under final approach!), a short walk across the road found what really appeared to be a village fete in progress - only with aircraft piling in at an impressive rate. A quick wander round the various stalls backed up the fete impression, and the array of classic cars and other vehicles was clearly drawing just as many people as the aviation element.
But here at Air-Scene UK we care not for immaculate Rolls Royces, unless they happen to have words like 'Spey' or 'Avon' attached to them...nor do we think much of C-5s when they have 'Sinclair' in front instead of 'Lockheed', so I quickly settled myself down near the crowdline. This seemed to be of a rather oddly-shaped 'L' configuration, with most of the line perpendicular to the main runway. I soon found out - when a Spitfire made a remarkably low and fast arrival - that views down the runway were blocked by a Police helicopter, so repositioned myself so I had a clearer view, with the bonus of being just next to the taxiway between the main parking area and the runway.
it turned out this was a rather good move, as the display axis is also
perpendicular to the main runway! Unusual, but it worked fairly well and
is probably the only option available to the organisers given the small
Little Gransden is the base for Yak-UK, a company run by the Jefferies brothers that specialises in the importing, sale and maintenance of Eastern Block Yaks of all shapes and sizes, so it was no surprise to find the next item was Mark Jefferies himself, in a real monster of an aeroplane - the Yak-11. Take one Yak-3, whack in a huge radial engine, add an extra seat, and you have yourself a fighter/attack trainer... oh, and a fairly cheap 'warbird'. It may not have the performance of a Spitfire or Mustang, but I'm sure it's rather more affordable! I suppose it was the Russian equivalent of the Harvard, but with a bit more bite. Anyway, in Mark's hands it's a capable airshow performer, with a routine consisting mostly of gorgeous topside passes, loops and climbing turns.
A change of engine note soon followed, with Extra 260 (the aptly registered G-EXTR) taking to the air for scintillating, if rather distant, display of aerobatics. Flown by Diana Britten, which was the source of some amazement to an old chap seated near to me - "By God, that's a filly in that one!" he exclaimed as she taxied back after her display. I'm sure Diana would appreciate the shock applied to the chap's firm belief in the superiority of male pilotage!
After the sheer power of the Extra's routine, contrast was provided in the form of the RAF Gliding & Soaring Association's glider routine, holding the crowd spellbound to the quietest display of the day (though when it got low enough, you could hear it swishing through the air - thankfully the commentator, FlyPast magazine's Ken Ellis, knew when to keep quiet and let us enjoy the flying). This was not the only act to be greeted with a round of applause on landing.
Changing pace for a bit of 1920s style barnstorming, a trio of Turbulents from the Tiger Club Turbulent Team took to the air - tied together! Unfortunately the red one of the trio disgraced itself by becoming detached from the other two, but kept on flying in close formation regardless, until it became time to break away into their barnstorming routine, which consists of limbo dancing - flying under a goal-like arrangement held aloft by fearless ground crew, balloon bursting (mostly unsuccessful but with each 'pop' greeted by roars of approval from the crowd) and flour bombing! For small venues that can keep the aircraft within viewing distance of most of the crowd this sort of entertainment is just perfect and a good antidote to the more serious business of competition-standard aerobatics and warbird displays.
Ah, did I say competion-standard aerobatics? Well, up went Mark Jefferies again (who had recently placed third in the World Aerobatic Championships), this time in a Yak-50. Just as we'd finished enjoying that, he hopped out of the Yak and into his very own Laser Z200 - he built it himself - for his third display of the day, and the best yet in terms of sheer jaw-dropping "That isn't possible" flying. However once on the ground (and presumably tied to a chair to stop him from flying another routine in something else), it was back to the gentler side of things, with four Tiger Moths puttering away into the blue sky.
Having 'retired' a few years ago, the ex-Diamond Nine team seem to be creeping back with ever larger formations of Tiger Moths every time I see them. All very civilised (and when you're sat next to people quaffing champagne and eating smoke salmon out of the back of their Rolls Royces, it's difficult to stop yourself shouting "Oh well done chaps, smashing display, what!"). Final act before a break for a memorial service was Martin Willing in his Pembroke, flying in from Duxford - Little Gransden is a bit tight for this big twin. Lots of roaring up and down the display line, and plenty of opportunities for a nice photo.
Unique I think to the Little Gransden show is a break in proceedings for a memorial service, dedicated to a different person or group each year. This year it was Transport Command's turn, with the service performed in front of a Hurricane. Moving and very appropriate I thought, and followed up with several passes from the BBMF Dakota. With lunch also taken care of, the next prop noise was from a pair of Mustangs arriving in the circuit with a classic fighter break. As the Hurricane started up and taxied out, the Mustangs taxied in, and four Yak-50s of the Aerostars team arrived too - returning from a performance at Southport earlier in the day.
With the Hurricane (like the Spitfire and Chipmunk, this was Historic Aircraft Collection's example) now airborne, it was all eyes on the skies again, to watch one of the best Hurricane displays I've ever seen. None of the straight lines and gentle turns Hurricanes so often seem to be restricted too - no - this was a truly graceful demonstration of the Hurricane's excellent performance, putting many a Spitfire routine to shame. Roaring into the sky straight afterwards were the two Mustangs - Maurice Hammond's P-51D 'Janie' and the Historic Aircraft Collection's CAC A68-192 'Big Beautiful Doll'. This pair seem to be getting around quite a bit this year, and put on their usual excellent display, beginning with close formation work then splitting away to leave one of them to do much of the solo routine.
Martin Willing had obviously been busy back at Duxford, hopping out of his Pembroke and into his T-28, for it was the next performer, trailing smoke from its newly-installed smoke generating system. This really helps with the T-28 display, which is enjoyable enough but definitely enhanced by the smoke. Now I had been trying desperately to ignore the low battery warning on my camera up to this point... but the camera went into a sulk, so I had to do something about it. Thankfully it appears that taking the battery out, swearing at it, and putting it back in IS actually effective - so I managed to squeeze another ten or so shots out of it even though it was supposedly exhausted.
That meant, to my utter disgust, that I got barely any photos of Clive Denney's performance in the HAC Spitfire, and had to run back to the car for my smaller digi camera in order to catch any of the Aerostars' finale. Six assorted Yaks don't half make a lot of noise - they initially flew off to form up, and when they came back in formation it was noisy enough to have me briefly wondering which jet team was kindly flying through as a bonus!
in all, a fantastic day out. The flying is a little distant at times -
big lenses needed - but most things taxi right past you, the atmosphere
is great, it's all for a good cause - and unlike certain other shows supposedly
run for charity, it's clear the money raised here really is going to charity
- Children In Need. Mind you, we were repeatedly begged for money all
day by the commentator team, so it's hardly surprising it raises so much.
In the words of Arnie, "I'll be back!"...