Damien Burke gets his Woodchurch Wings at last on 1 August
Woodchurch was - and I stress was - one of those shows I'd never bothered with previously, foolishly thinking it was too far to travel (somewhere around three hours away from home) for a small scale event. This was, with hindsight, an assumption of such idiotic wrongness that I should, by rights, be instantly elevated to high political office.
Anyway, this year was different. This year I was combining it with a trip to see relatives, so it was a twenty-minute drive instead of a three-hour one. Traffic was a little heavy coming in, but once in and relieved of a tenner, it was time to wander around and see what was what. Well, first off this is no small show - it might not be Duxford, but it was busy enough - plenty of stalls to keep the family happy, lots of vintage vehicles too. And a crowdline that was getting busier and busier as more and more aircraft piled in to this challenging grass strip.
The show is put on in, effectively, Rob Davies's back yard - he first laid a short strip for his microlight, and as his aircraft collection grew, so did the strip. He now owns three bits of heavy metal in the shape of a Harvard, Mustang and Yak-11, all of which are regularly seen on the airshow circuit. The show itself is put on in aid of two local charities - the Woodchurch Museum Trust and 305 (Ashford) Squadron, ATC. As a charity show it therefore benefits from the generosity of a great many aircraft operators - which, as with the Little Gransden shows, means a rich and varied line-up that you will not often see at a single show.
Having cornered the commentator - Stratton Richey - and therefore bagged a good spot to watch from next to the commentary position, I was set for the day, which was looking just fantastic - blazing blue skies for once. The show was opened with a banner towed behind a Cub, proclaiming 'WELCOME TO WINGS AND THINGS 2004' - once the banner had actually been picked up that is, which took a few attempts. As these attempts were carried out in a field beyond a clump of trees, there was a certain air of drama to even this relatively sedate bit of flying!
Next up was Will Curtis in his Su-26; the flying speaks for itself and does not need the self-congratulatory commentary though. Far more sedate aerobatics followed from a glider, including a fast pass that would put some powered types to shame. After that it was time for some combat - the World War I Display Team's Junkers pair being soundly whipped by their Nieuport, though half the reason for that is probably that the Junkers pair spent more time formating on each other than looking out for the guy intent on shooting them down!
Highlights are difficult to pick out - because there were so many - but over the next few hours we saw displays from Breighton's Magister, some locally based Jungmanns, a Stearman (not an Utterly Butterly one - for once!), three Harvards (all displaying together - superb), Peter Teichmann's lovely Staggerwing, a super-rare Stinson Reliant, Diana Britten in her CAP 232, the ever-watchable Tiger Club Turbulent Team and then an act that, as the civilian equivalent of the Red Arrows, so often means the show is over - the Aerostars. But no - we had plenty more to come!
At this point, though, the only mildly worried-looking young lady being strapped to the top wing of a Tiger Moth became a focal point for the proceedings. For this was Rob's daughter - and he'd volunteered her for a bit of wing walking. One can only imagine the amount of wrong-doing that is necessary in the Davies household for such a punishment to be meted out, but she seemed to enjoy it so as a punishment it didn't seem to work.
After that, it was warbird time. Fairly leaping into the air to start with was HAC's Hurricane, followed quickly by Breighton's all-black night-fighter example. They displayed together, initially in formation but soon breaking off to perform on their own and in opposition - glorious stuff. The PRU Spitfire (then still owned by Breighton, now of course owned by Peter Teichmann) was next, and there's not much that can beat a Spitfire display on a beautiful summer's day in Kent - 'nuff said.
Rob's own Mustang - 'Big Beautiful Doll' - plus Maurice Hammond's 'Janie' were next into the air, and while they cleared away to form up with B-17 'Sally B', the OFMC's Corsair was put through its paces in one of the most dynamic and powerful outings I have seen from the type. Sally B gave us a couple of passes with her 'little friends' before displaying herself, followed by a good bit of roaring up and down the display line from the two Mustangs. Once done, they didn't land, but instead disappeared into the distance - to join up with the next display act - Golden Apple's F-86 Sabre. We were treated to no fewer than three passes with the trio in formation - absolutely brilliant flying and a real privilege to capture on film (or memory card!).
The Sabre then displayed on its own - and no matter how many times you see it, silver against a blue sky is just fantastic - and finally the Red Arrows closed the show. Actually no that's a lie, there was just one of them - a civilian-owned Gnat out of North Weald in Red Arrows colours. The next hour or so was worth hanging around for while the impressive collection of (often historic) visitors cleared out too - all in all a show that really surprised me for its quality, scale and value. This one's worth that three hour drive - hell, it's worth more than that. It's certainly worth more than a tenner!
There have been four events this year that have really stood out for me, combining good value, great flying, excellent line-ups and that most elusive of qualities - atmosphere. Woodchurch was one of them (the others were Abingdon's Fayre, Little Gransden and Sywell). When it comes to airshows, David clearly has Goliath firmly in his sights. With thanks to Stratton and John for the hospitality!