Gary Parsons battens down the hatches at this year's Leuchars International Airshow held on 11 September
Expectations were high for this year's Leuchars International Airshow - a change of management within the organising office was expected to breathe new life into a show that had perhaps become unoriginal over the last few years. Originality is understandably difficult in these post 9-11 days, and the show's date made it all the more noticeable.
Searching for stars wasn't easy, but undoubtedly the single highlight of Leuchars 2004 was Typhoon, with no less than four examples on show in the static and flying. Making its first public appearance was the recently reformed 29(R) Squadron, which brought along a brace of aircraft to accompany a pair from 17(R) Squadron. The current boss of 29(R) Squadron, Wing Commander Jon Hitchcock, performed two flying demonstrations during the day in Typhoon T1 ZJ806/BE, the routine being further refined from the early season displays flown at Cosford and Waddington in June. It would seem that the pilots' confidence and faith in their new mount grows with every month, boding well for a full-blown display sequence in 2005.
A fifth Typhoon of sorts present for the airshow day was the weather - a stiff breeze, sometimes developing into a gale, combined with low cloud presented challenging conditions for all the display pilots. Cancellations were inevitable, principal casualties being the Battle of Britain Flight, unable to make the trip north from Southport, and the Yakolev team. Together with the loss of the RAF Falcons free-fall team and the Nimrod for operational reasons the flying programme began to look like a rusty colander, but the gaps in the seven-hour display were filled by repeating some acts, most notably Typhoon, Gnat, F-86 Sabre and Hunter (the last three all civilian acts). While being somewhat repetitious, Display Director Colin McDermott should be congratulated in attempting to keep some action in the air. Mention must go to the Utterly Butterly team who took to the air despite the vicious cross-wind, the two Stearmans and their rather attractive wing-walkers being liberally beaten-up during their ten-minute sequence.
Plenty of action was provided early in the day by an airfield attack by a quartet of Lossiemouth-based Tornado GR4s, with accompanying pyrotechnics. Part of a bigger 'role demo' including four home-based Tornado F3s from 43 and 111 Squadrons, the plan was originally for the F3s and GR4s to 'mix-it' across the airfield in a spectacular chase-and-burn sequence. Sadly Friday's dismal weather prevented the necessary practice to take place, so a watered-down version involving the F3s playing a CAP role overhead with the GR4s running in to 'attack' independently. It was a welcome return of station involvement in the airshow, something that has been lacking in recent years and should be applauded - more in future, please!
International acts were few this year - Dutch F-16 and Lynx, Belgian F-16 and Magister, plus a Luftwaffe C-160 made up the full content of foreign participation in the flying. Otherwise it was the RAF display circus and a handful of civilian acts, emphasising just how difficult times have become. But at least the Americans were there - on this poignant date B-52H 61-021 appropriately wore the 'Spirit of 9-11'/'Let's Roll' artwork.
Elsewhere the static parks were thin - no TriStar, VC-10 or C-17A from Brize Norton, as they were all busy around the world. A few gems could be found - a Luftwaffe F-4F, Armee de l'Air Mirage 2000D and tiger-scheme Portuguese Alpha Jet mingled in amongst the home-based F3s. It was also one of the last opportunities to catch a Dutch P-3C Orion before the fleet is sold to Germany.
There was a definite feel of an old 'Battle of Britain At Home' day about this year's airshow, which is no bad thing, all things considered. With international participation becoming so difficult to obtain, the show may do well to go back to its roots of demonstrating what the Scottish taxpayer is getting from his military services - more role-demos and airfield attacks from our home-grown forces would certainly entertain, as well as educate.
Maybe it's time to drop the 'International' tag and return to the title of yore?