Red over Green
Kemble Air Day 2002, 16 June
Gary Parsons was there for once
Red is the colour,...
Red over green...the Red Arrows over the green fields of Kemble...the Spanish beating the Irish in the second round of the World Cup. Sorry, I digress. But, such was the competition Kemble's Air Day had to contend with on this rather grey and blustery 'summer's' day. Nonetheless, a big crowd was drawn despite the penalty of the match on the telly. Mind you, if England had won their group, an early morning match against Senegal may have somewhat dented the morning attendance...
An airshow of two halves
To your scribe, a Kemble virgin, the most notable aspect of this show was the level of professionalism. I had expected more of a 'country fayre' atmosphere, but from the professionally produced entry tickets to the excellent PA system the whole event ran pretty much like clockwork, despite the best attempts of the weather to deny. Low cloud and a stiff crosswind persisted throughout, the day being typical of the poor Junes we seem to have experienced in the last few years. Flying started at 12:30, enabling the first half to be used for statics and roaming the many trade stalls.
Kemble perhaps represents the future for airshows - privately organised events at civilian venues with good support from the military, not particularly cheap to enter (tickets were £15) but ultimately good value for money. Unlike the military, Kemble's organisers must produce a profit at the end of the day - fact, otherwise it wouldn't happen next year. Mention must go to the hundreds of volunteers from the local Lions Club and ATC, without whose help things would be financially impossible.
The home team
As for the home team, Andy Cubin did the biz yet gain in Hunter WV318/G-FFOX, and Dave Roome gave a solo performance in Delta Jets' recently refurbished Gnat XR538/G-RORI, looking superb in its 4 FTS scheme, once the trio had broken up. More of Delta Jets' fleet would have been nice, with newly refurbished Hunter T8 WV322/G-BZSE disappointingly banished to the static line - maybe we were just spoilt with those fifteen Hunters last year!
The away team
Providing superb support was the RAF - credit must go to the service for providing almost all its display aircraft to be seen this season - not just the Red Arrows but also BBMF, Tornado GR4, Harrier, Jaguar, Hawk, Nimrod and Tucano. Supporting cast in the static comprised Tornado F3 and Hercules C4, together with another Hawk. Forming the bulk of the flying display, the RAF contingent was ably supported by a variety of aircraft, including three Gnats, Jonathan Whaley's Hunter 'Miss Demeanour' (bringing some welcome colour to the grey Gloucestershire sky), Martin Willing's venerable Pembroke and a Dragon Rapide. The original plan was for five Gnats, but in the end we had to be content with XR538 and the two Cranfield-based Kennet Aviation examples (XP534/XR993/G-BVPP & XP504/XM693/G-TIMM). Missing was Arnold Glass's XS101/G-GNAT and Kemble Airfield owner Ronan Harvey's recently acquired ex-Dave Gilmour XS102/XR991/G-MOUR, the latter still located at North Weald pending its move to Kemble in the near future. Still, three Gnats was pleasure enough - but how long before we get nine in formation (all red, of course!)? One can but dream.
Highlight for many in the crowd was the only foreign participation, that of the Dutch F-16AM flown by the display pilot Richard Buijs. To acquire such an act is a real feather in Kemble's cap, indicating the growing status of the event in the airshow world. A noisy routine of missed approaches was included in the regular routine of three-sixtys necessitated by the low cloud-base, ensuring the crowd didn't miss out on afterburner-assisted take-offs (as the F-16 was operating out of nearby Lyneham).
Bring on the sub
It was hoped that the Danish T-33 would be present, but last-minute hitches prevented its arrival at Kemble. Ably stepping into the breech at a moment's notice was Golden Apple's T-33, in the capable hands of Rolf Meum. Rolf, Norwegian by birth, has been away from the airshow scene for a couple of years as he has been building his own house, but proved he could still dribble with the best of them.
We wuz robbed!
Disappointment of the day was, sad to say, once again the non-appearance of the dear old Sea Vixen. Bad weather at Hurn prevented G-CVIX from departing at the scheduled time - as it has to operate under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) at least 2,000 ft cloudbase is required (see sidebar). Plus, as only Dan Griffith is cleared to fly the beast, relocating early to airshows isn't always an option (he has a life, you know). At Kemble a will-it, won't-it saga prevailed throughout the day, culminating in the disappointing news shortly after 17:00, despite the support team having made the journey.
Men of the match
A mention must go the 'Matadors' display team - even though the dastardly Spaniards were at that very moment thumping in the penalties. Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones in their Sukhoi Su26 and Su31 respectively gave a superb feast of absolute precision aerobatic flying, looping under the low cloud and side-slipping like Michael Owen against the Danes. I didn't know that aeroplanes could do half the things they did, but just like David Blaine seeing is believing.
At the end of the day
Kemble is in a unique position - an airshow that is growing and has the potential to rival more established events, although it may be a while before it could take on that other airshow down the road at Fairford.
But, if RIAT ever falls out with the American lodgers, Gloucestershire is likely to have one premier event left on the calendar.