Abingdon Fayre Air & Country Show, 1 May 2005
Andrew Bates visited the first proper airshow of the season. Pictures courtesy Damien Burke
The arrival of May is likely to be welcomed with open arms by most aviation enthusiasts, as generally this heralds the start of the new airshow season. And for those looking for an early season event that's guaranteed to disperse any remaining winter blues, they should look no further than the 'Abingdon Fayre Air & Country Show'. Held at the former RAF Abingdon, now also known as Dalton Barracks, this was the sixth consecutive year for an event that just seems to get better every year. There's something for everyone at this show. Apart from the customary fly-in of classic aircraft during the day, as well as the air display in the afternoon, there's vintage cars, historic military vehicles, an impressive collection of police vehicles, plenty of trade stalls with a good mix of aviation and non-aviation related products, and a myriad of other attractions to keep the kids happy. With a totally relaxed atmosphere, a mere £6 adult admission charge, and on the day, copious amounts of warm sunshine, it would be difficult to imagine a better means of whiling away a Sunday afternoon.
As with previous shows, shortly after gates opening, the airfield comes alive with an almost constant stream of arrivals for the fly-in. Multiple types such as the Chipmunk, Cub or Tiger Moth vie for the attentions of the crowds along with a variety of singletons such as the Provost, T-67 Firefly and P-51D Mustang. Variety has always been a prevalent feature - one minute there's Delta Jets' beautiful, black Hunter breaking into the circuit, the next there's the rare sight of a Pietenpol Air Camper taxiing in (which had even been christened after my own dear mother - Edna May).
Whilst some aircraft were just in attendance for the fly-in, other arrivals were destined for the air display later in the day. These included some modern military participation in the shape of a Merlin HC3 from nearby Benson, along with a Chinook HC2 from Odiham. Clearly a few aircraft had already arrived a day or so previously, with a RN Lynx HMA8, a Jet Provost and a Pembroke already parked on the airfield waiting to greet the first visitors through the gates. Also included in the pre-show arrivals, and representing a real coup for the organisers, was a Polish Navy PZL M28 Bryza. A most welcome addition to the static, and a means of providing the event with deserved international status for the first time.
It was quite fitting that the flying programme in the afternoon was opened by the last remaining RAF unit at Abingdon; 612 VGS with one of their Vigilant T1s. Then transferring from one side of the performance envelope to another, this was swiftly followed by an excellent performance from a 100 Squadron Hawk T1, which subsequently landed afterwards to take up a prime position in the static line-up. Aerobatics were certainly a prominent feature of the afternoon's activities. Firstly, representing military training aircraft from two eras was the Percival Provost T1, followed by an immaculate former Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force T-67 Firefly. Complementing these two types were two very different civilian aerobatic displays with a Pitts Special flown by Pete Metcalfe and the Extra 300S flown by Denny Dobson. It was difficult to determine which was the crowd's favourite, both seemed to attract enthusiastic applause from the appreciative audience.
There were three military helicopter demonstrations to savour throughout the afternoon, with the aforementioned Lynx, Chinook and Merlin all being put through their paces at various intervals in the display. Of this trio, it was certainly the Chinook crew who provided the most dramatic spectacle of the day. Having already performed most of their demo in the truly spirited fashion we have all become accustomed to, the guys from Odiham were performing their customary reverse 'wheelie' landing when the starboard real wheel decided to part company with the aircraft! Without any further ado, the crew terminated their display and immediately diverted back to Odiham where no doubt the appropriate equipment and procedures would have been utilised to facilitate a safe landing.
The remainder of the display comprised of the P-51D Mustang 'Jumpin' Jacques' and the BBMF Lancaster, with a 41 Squadron Jaguar GR3A closing the show in fine style. Now firmly established on the airshow calendar, this event is clearly going from strength to strength. As an 'opener' to lead you into the airshow season, it's hard to imagine a better event on a similar scale. Full marks once again to Neil Porter and his team at Abingdon for another first class event. Looking at the number of cars parked on the airfield, hopefully their efforts this year were rewarded with record attendance, and deservedly so. See you there in 2006.
Prints from the show are available here