Little Gransden's Big Day
Damien Burke reports from Little Gransden on the annual 'Children in Need' day, 29 August
Tucked away on a farm in Cambridgeshire is a small grass airfield that throws its doors open for one day each year - the annual charity airshow, or 'Families day out air & vintage vehicle show' to give it its full title. This season's weather has not been the kindest, with many a show 'Kembled' with lashing rain and even hail on occasion, and the weather very nearly put paid to Little Gransden this year too. In the weeks leading up to the show, heavy rainfall had left the surrounding fields sodden and unsuitable for their normal job as carparks. Desperate attempts to get hold of steel matting were thwarted at every turn, but heroic efforts by the organisers and local landowners meant that alternative parking was arranged just hours before the show was due to open.
The day itself dawned cold and grey almost everywhere, and it seemed the weather was going to do its worst to put paid to the flying as well. Thankfully on arrival at the airfield, the only bits of blue sky to be found in Cambridgeshire were directly overhead. A strong crosswind and the weather elsewhere meant fly-in visitors were down on normal numbers, but a varied selection of brave souls turned up regardless. No such problem for the vintage vehicle visitors, though this year the dreaded Health & Safety regulations limited numbers to around 250 vehicles (still an impressive number!). Part of this year's theme was a celebration of the Rolls-Royce centenary and no fewer than forty vintage Rolls-Royce vehicles turned up, along with a pair of static Merlin engines which were run up regularly through the day - impressively noisy they were too.
Kicking off the flying was another Rolls-Royce - their PR Spitfire, unfortunately doing its stuff under a solid overcast which had rolled in just half an hour before the flying programme was due to start. This came and went throughout the day so we did get a fair bit of sunshine, and only two very brief (and light) rain showers - elsewhere the weather was atrocious so at least the weather gods were taking some pity on the hard-working volunteers at Little Gransden, though it was pretty cold. Still, at least it meant the guys manning the barbecue were doing well flogging coffee and burgers to the chilly public...not so sure the ice cream vans did so well though.
The whole event at Little Gransden is about more than aeroplanes, with a craft fair, various stalls, model aircraft display, hundreds of vintage vehicles of all shapes and sizes and funfair rides for the kids - yet on top of all that they are putting on an ever larger flying display each year. This year after that opening Spitfire, we were treated to a stunning display from Diana Britten in her CAP 232, the ungainly antics of an An-2, barnstorming from the Tiger Club Turbulent Team, Steve Carver in his Extra 260, Maurice Hammond's Harvard, Air Atlantique's Anson and a pair of Yak-11s (Mark Jefferies and Angie Soper) - all in the first hour and a half.
Next up - Alan Hartfield's Dart Kitten, an RAF Tutor (now I've seen it up close I think it's one of the finest demonstrations of the more graceful style of aerobatics on the airshow circuit), RAF Tucano, more barnstorming from Dennis Neville's mad mob in their Tiger Moth, Jackaroo and Chipmunk; Maurice Hammond's P-51 'Janie', the first airshow appearance of a Slepchev Storch replica (with slow flight performance that clearly matches the real thing - and a wonderful period tableaux arranged around it on the ground), RAFGSA glider duo (excellent as ever despite challenging conditions), Mark Jefferies in his new Extra 300 (which I think needs looking at - it seems incapable of flying in a straight line, or indeed of flying in any predictable way whatsoever - impressive stuff!) and then a first for Little Gransden - the mighty B-17 'Sally B'. Against a dark and stormy backdrop, the final pass with smoke pouring from one engine certainly brought a lump to the throat and no doubt put many minds to thinking of the many young men who flew such aircraft from airfields not too far from Little Gransden.
Honouring the debt we owe is part of the show, with a memorial service held during a break in the flying programme - ended with the arrival of the BBMF Lancaster and one of their Spitfires. Sadly the expected Hurricane couldn't make it - the BBMF haven't had the best of years - but the sun came out in full force so we could enjoy the bomber and fighter duo against a blue sky. Closing the show as usual were the ever-impressive Yak-50/52 display team, the Aerostars. With four solid hours of flying, and no noticeable gaps between acts, this was a better line-up than we have any right to expect at a smaller venue, particularly at a charity show that cannot afford to book much if anything in the way of the more expensive types - despite that, we had plenty of warbirds! At the end of the day not only have you had a damn good day out, you've contributed directly to the coffers of the BBC's Children in Need appeal, and other local charities.
As with Woodchurch, Abingdon and Sywell this is a show to watch for the future - it's getting bigger and better every year, and taking on the big boys at their own game. I can think of at least one venue just a few miles away from Little Gransden that could take some lessons in pacing, for instance!
With thanks to Mark Jefferies, Dave Poile and Barry Tempest.