At home at Cosford
Andrew Bates reports from Cosford's 2004 airshow held on 13 June
Billed as the Midlands' premier air event, the RAF Cosford Airshow made a welcome return to the UK airshow calendar this year following its unfortunate absence during the 2003 season. From later press reports of record crowds, it was evident that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, though no doubt the excellent weather also made a significant contribution to the attendance figures and those who did take the trouble to brave the traffic queues were most certainly rewarded for their efforts. Cosford is just one of three official RAF shows held in the UK, and so benefits from substantial support from the frontline in terms of display acts, ensuring that most current RAF aircraft types are available to perform. In fact these, along with other UK military assets, as well as a good selection of civilian operated jets and warbirds, provided the basis for arguably one of the best flying programmes to be seen at Cosford in recent years. Also, for the first time at Cosford, the display commentary was provided by well-know airshow host, Sean Maffett, who clearly appeared to enjoy the entire afternoon.
After some fairly impressive scale model demonstrations, including an excellent Vulcan display and a very convincing Wellington, the flying programme commenced with the RAF Falcons parachute display team. With an abundance of beautiful blue sky over the airfield, the team was able to fully exploit the conditions, which enabled them to commence their freefall from 12,000 ft. One of the team suffered the indignity of a malfunctioning smoke canister on the way down, necessitating a break away from the rest of the stack for safety reasons. However, this didn't prevent a successful landing on target in time for all the guys to take the customary salute as their Hercules swept along the crowdline. In effect, this was the precursor to another four hours or so of continuous action. There were very few gaps in the flying throughout the afternoon, ensuring that there always seemed to be something performing for the crowds, who barely had time to pause for breath in-between individual displays.
The relative peace and tranquillity of the Falcons' freefall demonstration was quickly dispersed by the first RAF fast jet of the day, a 56(R) Squadron Tornado F3 at full pelt from crowd left. As ever, this was operating from nearby Shawbury, due to Cosford's short runway, which at less than 4,000 ft is not suitable for a number of jet types. Further fast jet displays from the RAF included a Jaguar T4 from 16(R) Squadron, a Hawk T1 from 100 Squadron, and a Harrier GR7 from 20(R) Squadron, the latter obviously coping easily with the short runway length, thanks to its unique abilities. The Harrier is always a perennial favourite with the crowds at Cosford, and this year was no exception. No matter how many times you see a Harrier display, it is virtually impossible to tire of it. If all this jet noise was not enough, there was a further treat in store - making its airshow debut at Cosford was the eagerly anticipated Typhoon from 17(R) Squadron, which demonstrated the very latest in RAF frontline technology. Although the display seemed a little brief when compared to the Tornado or Jaguar, the combination of power and agility was simply awesome. It might have been a long time coming after so many years of development, but it was surely worth the wait.
Unfortunately, due to operational commitments, the customary Nimrod display had to be cancelled, but this had been replaced in the flying programme by a Chinook demonstration from 18 Squadron. According to the commentary, this was the first RAF Chinook display for ten years, simply because of all the various operational deployments during the past decade. However, despite their continually busy schedule, the folks at Odiham have managed to squeeze some airshow appearances into their 2004 itinerary. After witnessing what could best be described as a mesmeric flying routine, I can only say that it's been ten years too long. From a personal point of view, it was the star of the show - welcome back! Also, continuing the theme of tactical support, and another favourite with the audience, was the C-130J, which apart from exhibiting an impossibly short take-off run, seemed equally adept at manoeuvring around the runway after disgorging its load of men and machines.
Rotary-winged machines were to prove quite popular throughout the afternoon. Apart from the Chinook, the RAF had also provided a SAR Sea King earlier in the afternoon which, true to form, had 'rescued' some unfortunate individual marooned out on the airfield. Later on, there were to be two contributions from the Army Air Corps. Firstly, the unique and entertaining AAC Historic Flight, with their unusual combination of fixed and rotary winged types, then later on, the Blue Eagles and their quartet of Gazelles and a solitary Lynx, the latter performing a series of impressive back flips. Not to be outdone, the Royal Navy was also present, with yet another imaginative display from the 'Black Cats' and their Lynx duo.
Any Cosford show would not be complete without an appearance from the Red Arrows, especially in this their 40th display season. So, true to form, and in almost idyllic conditions, the Reds arrived on cue and proceeded to keep the audience spellbound for half an hour. Then, after completion of yet another flawless display, and then recovery to nearby Shawbury, some of the guys took the time and trouble to return to Cosford to meet some of their adoring fans, courtesy of a pair of DHFS Squirrels. On the subject of training, a 1 FTS Tucano would again feature in the flying programme, along with a Tutor later in the afternoon. Completing the military flying participation was the almost mandatory inclusion of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which comprised of Lancaster and Spitfire, and a short while later the Dakota. There was no Hurricane this year, which was understandable given that one example is currently under repair following a recent undercarriage mishap.
Despite mention in some of the pre-show publicity, there were no international participants to complement all the UK military hardware on show. However, with the variety of civilian operated types on offer, it's highly likely that no one really noticed, and highlights were plentiful. Especially enjoyable was the historic jet selection from the stable of Kennet Aviation. Arriving together in loose formation was their immaculate Hunter, along with a pair of Red Arrow liveried Gnats and their rare Jet Provost T1. The aircraft then split to give three separate displays of Hunter, Gnat pair and Jet Provost, the latter readily exhibiting its unmistakable lineage from the original piston Provost, one of which had displayed earlier. Other 'goodies' of note included the Heritage Pair of Vampire and Meteor, (now operated by the Air Atlantique Historic Flight), Rolls Royce owned Spitfire accompanied by a P-51D, Anthony Haig-Thomas's Avenger, and another Cosford stalwart, B-17 'Sally B'. Finally, as the afternoon drew to a close, the flying programme was concluded by the excellent Aerostars display team with their Yak trainers and copious amounts of display smoke.
In flying terms, the organisers had come up trumps and provided a memorable flying display, held in near perfect conditions. Having said all that, if your scribe was to put on his enthusiast's hat for just a minute, there is still just one aspect of the show that continues to disappoint - the ever shrinking static display. Admittedly, the resident 633 VGS had again pulled out all the stops and provided a nicely laid out display of their entire Vigilant fleet, complete with the Cadet TX3 from the local Boulton Paul Association Museum for comparison. However, this year, there was a grand total of just two visitors in the static park, an AAC Apache and Royal Navy Jetstream. Added to this is the continued reluctance to display many of the resident instructional airframes in a manner that befits their important role at Cosford. Apart from an ex-32 Squadron Gazelle and one of the Jaguars, those airframes that did venture outside were simply moved out of the hangars and packed tightly together to make way for some of the other show attractions. There is a wide variety of ground instructional airframes in use at Cosford, including examples of the Tornado, Dominie, Sea King, Harrier, Jet Provost, and aforementioned Jaguar and Gazelle, and it's a great shame that they don't seem to be given the prominence they surely deserve. Obviously, enthusiasts are just a small minority of the average crowd and probably only account for five percent or less of the gate receipts, so most visitors are not likely to be unduly concerned about the static. However, your scribe has been a regular Cosford airshow attendee since 1984, and can still fondly remember many shows with various instructional airframes liberally scattered throughout the static arena, along with other interesting visitors, some from overseas - happy days indeed. Oh well, there's always next year...
comments, it has to be said that the show was undoubtedly a resounding
success, and thanks to all the stalls and other ground based attractions,
continued to keep the majority of people entertained long after the last
flying routine had concluded. The organisers would have surely taken great
satisfaction from the fact that the 2003 absence had done nothing to diminish
the popularity of the show. If this year's attendance is anything to go
by, it's highly likely that the annual Cosford airshow can now be regarded
as the most popular one day summer event of the entire West Midlands region.
The next show is scheduled for 12 June 2005, so I'll see you there, but
without my enthusiast's hat on!