Damien Burke reflects on a scorching Kemble Classic Jet Airshow, 15 June. All photography by the author unless stated otherwise - additional pictures by Gary Parsons
After the fabulous Hunter 50th airshow at Kemble in 2001, many had suggested that this was the perfect venue for a classic jets show and 2003 saw that dream come to fruition.
Bucking the trend for shows to become smaller, less varied and higher-priced, the Classic Jet Airshow managed to pull in a mouth-watering collection of jets plus a few other items to keep the less discerning airshow-goer happy too. And all at the same price as last year, despite the insurance hikes forced upon everybody by the blood sucking leeches at the insurance companies.
"From Meteor to F-16"...er, make that Tornado
Sadly in the last few days before the show the organisers were hit with a string of cancellations - this would particularly impact the static line-up and the finale but we'll get to that shortly. One high profile loss to the display line-up was the Belgian F-16; the Belgians having helpfully required no less than £5,000 as an insurance fee on top of the appearance fee - only weeks before the show date!
More bunking off
Some civilian-owned jets dropped out for various reasons (including the very popular Miss Demeanour - with an engine that wasn't behaving itself), and the Royal Naval Historic Flight's Sea Hawk didn't make it either, with work on the jetpipe not yet complete after its well-publicised problems of a few years ago. They did at least send along their Firefly as a substitute. RAF participation was down a little on the last show here, with no flying Harrier or Tornado GR4, and the VC10 and C-130 booked for the static line-up both failed to show - the VC10 possibly being needed for the Queen's birthday flypast. The BBMF also turned up a lot thinner than expected - the Dakota and Hurricane both missing because of unserviceability, leaving us with just a Spitfire - well at least it's a classic, if not a jet!
Another prop job had kicked off the full-sized flying display with a pair of Extra 300s from Extreme Team/Ultimate High based here at Kemble, being flown in a tight pairs routine by Andy Cubin and Dave Roome. Later in the day they would repeat it, but in Gnats instead of Extra 300s. But what was that about 'full-sized'?
Ah, well, now we get to the bit many visitors didn't expect - or at least didn't expect to enjoy! Before the main flying display began we were treated to some large scale models being put through their paces - this being, after all, the only way you'll get to see a Vulcan and a Victor at any airshow! Lacking the elephantine roar of the real thing, the Vulcan nevertheless brought back some memories as it did its best to replicate the old Vulcan Display Flight's routine and was soon joined by Gordon Nichol's fantastic Victor. After that we had a tiny little F-15, flown with far more gusto than any USAF demonstration pilot can ever manage, and then the same F-15 again when its buddy failed to get off the ground.
Gentlemen, man your jets
But back to the 'real' display and we were soon being hit with jet after jet roaring around the skies over Kemble - Meteor (a fantastic display from Dan Griffiths, a man who clearly laughs at G-meters), Venom pair (both in RAF markings - the first show appearance for G-GONE in its new markings, a welcome change from the assorted schemes worn by most Venoms on the display circuit in the past), Strikemaster (Tom Moloney showing off G-UPPI's new Ecuadorian markings to good effect), Gnat pair, Hunter pair (both based Kemble aircraft - carrying out a suitably explosive airfield attack with the assistance of the Gnats), Jaguar (a rare airshow appearance from a T-bird, beginning as at Southend with an unexpected arrival at high speed in full reheat - top class stuff), Hawk (Steve Kenworthy going through his graceful routine), Tornado F3 (blasting around with copious amounts of reheat - very much a brute force demo and all the more enjoyable for it).
Fresh from a repair job after its mishap at Coventry, de Havilland's Sea Vixen (flown by Brian Grant) looked great in the sunshine but again frustrated photographers by spending most of the display showing only the underside of the aircraft - but thankfully using a bit more power than at Southend. Still, the commentators had been banging on about how noisy it was going to be and it wasn't much noisier than the Hawk, except when taking off. The limits on G for airframe life I can understand, but the loss of the topside passes? Please bring 'em back guys! And next time you've got a Vampire and two Venoms handy, stick em up in formation with the Vixen - what a picture that would make!
Still, we at least again had the F-86 (flown by Cliff Spink) which does present itself nicely for the camera - a cracking display, but wouldn't it be nice in RAF colours (yes I know it's an A variant and it'd be far from authentic - humour me!). Well and truly in RAF colours was Air Atlantique/ CAP's Canberra, which just looks outrageously gorgeous in the old black/grey bomber scheme. It really is good to see so many of these classic types being displayed in colours representing the squadrons who operated the types in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The Belgians joined in with their Magister in authentic Red Devils team markings. Thankfully they hadn't asked quite so much for insurance for the Magister, so we were treated to the usual display from Major Paul Rorive. The Buccaneer style take-off of 'wheels up, now stay at this height' is always a joy to watch.
A bit of a cock-up on the parking front meant we were denied the chance of seeing the Vampire display - it was hemmed in by a Jet Provost that had arrived after the Vampire. We had quite a few Jet Provosts on the ground, but sadly none took part in the display though we did get to see some arrive, and one went up as a photo ship on Sunday morning. A second logistical cock-up was evident when aircraft began taking off to form up for the show's set-piece finale - a balbo of as many classic jets as could be managed - the Vixen was stranded without enough fuel to take part! As for the other aircraft remaining on the ground - well sadly not all could take part, but we still got a unique formation of seven aircraft split into a leading section of Hunter and two Gnats with a trailing section of Canberra, T-33, Meteor and F-86. Sadly we didn't get to see the T-33 do a full display - just a nice arrival and the flypast.
While the balbo broke up to land individually, the Hunter and Gnats that had made up its leading section kept us entertained haring up and down the airfield before the Reds closed the show with their usual immaculate display of formation aeros.
All in all a brilliant day out, helped by the usual relaxed Kemble atmosphere and fantastic weather. Plenty of trade stalls (and good to see many aviation related stalls, unlike some shows which are beginning to resemble flea markets or car boot sales), unusually high quality toilets (though a bit sparse as you went further to the West of the crowdline), no serious traffic delays... all the mundane stuff worked just as well as the flying. Clearly there were a few disappointments for serious enthusiasts what with the cancellations and the odd logistical problem on the ground but I've had to work hard to find anything to criticise really, and it's doubtful the public thought of the show as anything less than perfect - Kemble continues to go from strength to strength. Plans are already afoot for Classic Jet Airshow 2004. Bigger and better? Well fingers crossed... and in the mean time, Kemble is now a fully licensed airfield so feel free to pop in for a visit - the new Avi8 restaurant is definitely worth a look for a start.
to Glen Moreman and all at Kemble Air Services for their assistance.