Wings Over Walney
Chris Gurney reports on the North-West's newest event
Walney Island is better known for its feathered variety of flying creatures, but on Saturday 16 July 2005 the first full-size airshow to be held at Walney Airfield took place and the organisers should be congratulated on a great first effort. The show ran fairly smoothly and there were some fantastic displays combined with knowledgeable commentator Ken Ellis, a really close display axis that seemed to be appreciated by a large crowd, estimated to be around 30,000 despite having to put up with a brisk on-crowd wind at this coastal airfield.
Walney's relatively short runway did mean that not all of the airshow aircraft could land, but despite that the airfield was still rather busy - a small fighter pan had been set up into which Rob Davies's and Maurice Hammond's P-51D Mustangs were placed, along with Carolyn Grace's and Anthony Hodgson's Spitfire T9s and the RAC's Hurricane XII. Further along were the pair of Utterly Butterly Stearmans and the Skyhawk Aerobatics Extra 300 of John Taylor. On the other side of the fighters were Barry Tempest's Steen Skybolt, a pair of RAF Grob Tutors, the Catalina (looking fantastic in its new colour scheme) and a rarely seen Beech 18, now owned by Skyblue Aviation, which was used as an air taxi to ferry pilots to and from Blackpool where most of the other airshow aircraft were based. About half a dozen light aircraft made up the rest of the aircraft on static including a Chipmunk, Pitts Special and a Luton Minor, plus some 'spam cans'.
Onto the show itself - flying actually started at 10:00 with the Large Model Association putting a variety of models through their paces, ranging from a Bleriot to a rather large Vulcan, all of which were enjoyed by the crowd, especially the skillful landings in the crosswind. The full-size airshow began at 12:45 with a low drop from a C-130J Hercules by the RAF Falcons who, despite still not being able to use smoke, put on a good show with the fly-by at the end by the C-130 being as impressive as ever. That wasn't the only contribution by the RAF to the days proceedings - later on followed the sprightly Grob Tutor display and the aggressively flown 100 Squadron Hawk display from RAF Leeming, and closing the show were the BBMF with the DC-3 Dakota and two Spitfires, AB910 and MK356.
There were plenty of warbirds on show - the two P-51D Mustangs, 'Janie' and 'Big Beautiful Doll', formed up with B-17G 'Sally B' for a couple of flypasts before the B-17 went into its routine, the Mustangs performing later on as a duo. Peter Teichmann's rare Spitfire PR XI also flew in the display, along with solo routines from the two T9s already mentioned. Air Atlantique's Avro Anson also made the trip 'up north' as well as a couple of RAC types, the Hurricane and their Miles Magister, the latter filling in for the Westland Sea King which had been called out to an emergency.
There were not many jets about at Walney, but the three that displayed were top draw - the RAF Hawk has already been mentioned, but the other two were Golden Apple's T-33 and a Hawker Hunter. The Hunter was XE601 and was making its airshow debut and what a debut it was! Flown by Brian Grant, this FGA9 in its 'Raspberry Ripple' colour scheme was star of the show for many, producing an awesome 'blue note' that seemed to stay in the air long after its departure.
On a slightly lighter note aerobatic interludes were provided by the ever popular 'Utterly Butterly' Barnstormers, a master class by Barry Tempest in the Skybolt, stomach churning by John Taylor in the Skyhawk Extra 300L and the art of formation aerobatics by the Yakovlevs four-ship.
In this airshow-starved North-West of England it was good to see a new airshow burst onto the scene with a variety of types that are rarely seen in this part of the world. The only criticism would be getting in - although due to open at 10:00 it was about 10:15 before the gates were opened and a large crowd of at least 500 people were stood at the gates waiting to be let in, but overall a very impressive debut for the Walney show, which should be back in 2007 as the organisers plan to make it a biannual event.