Andrew Bates crackles at Kemble at the Air Day on 19 June. Pictures by the author and Tony Osborne
This year's Kemble Air Day could probably be described as a show of two extremes - that is extremely hot, and extremely successful. Held coincidentally on Fathers' Day, the event was blessed with some very warm, but long overdue, summer weather. The weather forecast had actually warned of the risk of heavy thundery showers by afternoon, but this failed to deter a record crowd of nearly 25,000 piling through the gates, thankfully the showers never materialising. Instead, it was wall-to-wall sunshine from start to finish, which simply added to the enjoyment of a first class event.
The show itself was a good mix of modern military, classic jets and warbirds. Of the military participation, it is no exaggeration to say that the support from the Royal Air Force for this event was outstanding in these budget conscious times. Clearly the 'boys in blue' were keen to revisit what had previously been RAF Kemble, to the extent that their level of participation was enough to remind your scribe of the traditional RAF 'at home' shows of days gone by.
Dominating the static was a 101 Squadron VC-10K4 from nearby Brize Norton, which remained open to internal inspection for the benefit of the ever-present queue of eager punters. The remaining static participation from the RAF comprised of single examples of the Jaguar, Harrier, Hawk, Tucano, Chinook, Griffin and Squirrel. As if this was not enough for a show of this stature, the RAF presence in the flying programme was equally as impressive.
Thanks to the layout at Kemble, many of the flying participants are parked right in front of the crowd, further enhancing the spectacle of the show. So, it was no surprise to see that the centre of attention, prior to the flying, was a pair of Typhoon T1s from 29(R) Squadron, the Typhoon OCU. Making its Kemble debut, it was clear that the RAF's latest acquisition was attracting considerable interest from the public, who were in for a real treat later in the day, thanks to an impressive display in the capable hands of Flt Lt Matt Elliott during the afternoon. It was a superb demonstration of the performance capabilities of this new jet in near idyllic conditions - marvellous! Further RAF flying displays featured the Harrier, Hawk, Hercules, Tucano and Jaguar, the latter also providing a flypast in formation with one of the Kemble based Hunters. Another rarely seen flying participant was a 216 Squadron Tristar, again from nearby Brize, which completed a couple of sedate flybys in complete contrast to the fast jets. And of course, no Kemble show would be complete without an appearance from the Red Arrows over their former airfield, with the weather providing ideal conditions for their full show.
Continuing the modern military theme, the show could also boast international status, thanks to participation from two different countries - firstly, from the Netherlands, there was a flying display from a PC-7 from the EMVO at Woensdrecht, whilst arriving for static display during mid-morning was a RNZAF C-130H from 40 Squadron, all the way from their home base at Whenuapai (although they had simply repositioned from nearby Lyneham that morning). For many, the sight of a Kiwi Herc was most welcome, but for the hardened enthusiast, there was even more exotica to be found. It's no secret that currently there are three ex-Chilean Army Puma helicopters held in store at Kemble, all for apparent refurbishment and resale on the second hand market. So, the subsequent effort of positioning one of these rare beasts in the static park just for the show was greatly appreciated and applauded by many. Additional to this, for the desperate (scribe included!), tucked away amongst the stalls was a civilian registered Bulldog. For many, it probably didn't even gain a second glance. However, extensive post-show research of the registration (G-RNRS) revealed its previous identity as ex-Swedish AF 61026. Regrettably, it no longer sports its original camouflage and markings...look away now!
Returning to the flying programme, obviously part of the Delta Jets home fleet would feature prominently throughout the day, enabling everyone to savour the sight and sound of the lovely Hawker Hunter at regular intervals. A highlight for many was a superb three-ship Hunter formation display, which featured the latest addition to the fleet, the beautifully restored XL577, resplendent in 92 Squadron 'Blue Diamonds' livery. This flew alongside the familiar all-black WV318 and camouflaged WV372 in a superbly choreographed sequence of formation flying. These two aircraft would return to the skies later in the day to perform an airfield attack demonstration with a little help from some strategically placed pyrotechnics. Additional to all of this, there was also a further Hunter display in the shape of Jonathon Whaley's ex-Swiss Hunter F58A 'Miss Demeanour', along with other classic jet displays from Delta's Jet Provost T5 and Air Atlantique's Vampire T55.
Amongst all the jet noise, there was also the opportunity to sample the delightful noise of classic piston engines. Apart from attendance from the BBMF Dakota, with attendant Spitfire and Hurricane, there were also excellent displays of past naval airpower by the Kennet Aviation AD-4N Skyraider and the RNHF Sea Fury FB11. Plans for the Sea Fury to be accompanied to Kemble by the RNHF Sea Hawk were thwarted by a technical problem, so sadly it remained stuck at Yeovilton. Despite this one disappointment, overall the show was a resounding success, and one which continues to build upon an already impressive reputation. Full marks once again to Glen Moreman and his team for organising such an entertaining and relaxed show. The next Kemble Air Day is scheduled for 18 June 2006 - with the added benefit this year of such glorious weather, it's hard to imagine this event being bettered during 2006, but it's quite likely that the organising committee are already working on that!