Two seasons in a weekend...
Mick Britton reports from Elvington's Yorkshire Airshow, held over 19/20 August. Pictures by Gareth Horne
The old song by Kiwi group Crowded House about 'four seasons in one day' sprang immediately to mind when reflecting on the recent Yorkshire Airshow, held at Elvington Airfield near York. Rarely can the weather on successive days have been so different - Saturday was positively autumnal, with showers always threatening, culminating with a torrential downpour mid-show, which in true Windmill Theatre tradition continued on. However, it was the type of weather that tests the resolve of of an airshow crowd and sends the faint-hearted early to the exit.
Fortunately Sunday morning dawned clear and bright - the clouds didn't linger but were whisked along on a summer breeze to give something like perfect airshow weather. This show has a perfect opening act in the taxi-run of its resident Victor K2 'Lusty Lindy', which is surely one of the most impressive spectacles of the season. The wave of Avtur from her four Rolls-Royce Conway engines enveloped the crowd immediately, putting it in good airshow mood, maintained immediately after by the resident Buccaneer (obviously not as impressive, but undoubtedly the finest product of Yorkshire's aircraft industry).
After such a noisy opening overture something a little lighter was called for and this was provided by Frenchman Christian Moullec leading a formation of geese in his microlight. This is a unique airshow act that perfectly captures man's dream of flying with the birds and was one of several displays that brought generous applause from an appreciative audience - others included the Spitfire tribute later in the programme when a trio of Merlin-engined machines graced the sky (Charlie Brown in the Duxford-based ex-Chuch Fenton gate-guard Mark V joining a brace from the BBMF) and still later when the breath-taking aerobatics of the 'Blades' team proved them to be an acceptable stand-in for the Red Arrows.
The absence of the Reds this year must have inevitably reduced the gate by several thousands, bad news for a show that does not benefit from massive sponsorship like the seafront shows and thus depends on making a profit in order to finance the next year's show. The organisers suffered further from the absence of either of the RAF's two very fast jets, the Tornado GR4 and Typhoon, which left the Harrier as the hottest ship on the programme, despite the best efforts of Flt Lt Martin Pert in the 4 FTS Hawk (nice anniversary scheme though, RAF Valley!). Other RAF participants were the C-130J Hercules, which gave a most impressive role demo, the Sea King (whose slot on the Sunday was delayed by the small matter of having to carry out a rescue at Skegness), the Chinook on the Saturday (not the usual display ship but an unusually clean example which may have just emerged from servicing in the absence of any squadron markings) and the Falcons on the Sunday.
There was also a rare foreign military participant in the form of the French Air Force Alpha Jet making its sole UK display of the season, following a tradition of French Air Force displays at Elvington that began with the C-160 Transall in 1999, followed by the Mirage F1 'Voltige Victor' team in 2000. The 'French Connection' is due the the fact that Elvington was home to the French heavy bomber wing in the last war which operated the Handley Page Halifax. Befitting the occasion, the Yorkshire Air Museum's unique example was on open view at the edge of the Museum site, providing a rare opportunity to photograph it in the open (another rare exhibit surprisingly incorporated in the static was Tony Agar's Mosquito Night Fighter, which has only recently been completed). It was interesting to compare the graceful pure aerobatics of the Alpha Jet with the Hawk's power display. Which one was best is a matter of personal preference, but the author was forced to agree with the commentator that the French pilot just edged it with a perfectly executed knife-edge pass along the length of the crowd line.
Onto helicopter aerobatics, and this was the first opportunity for a Yorkshire audience to appreciate the Blue Eagles' new routine. Now in their third year at Elvington, the crowd had come to know what to expect, so it was nice to see changes having been rung. The two Gazelles going nose-to-nose in an upward spiral reminded one of the Black Cats, and if it's true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then this was recognition of how stale the Army helicopter display had become compared with that of the Navy. However, the only Navy participant at Elvington was the Sea Fury of the Historic Flight, which was also the only true warbird apart from the Spitfires - jet 'warbirds' included Air Atlantic's Canberra and Elvington's own Hunter T7.
All in all, the organisers are to be commended for producing a satisfying show in the difficult circumstances caused by the forty percent cut in RAF displays - hopefully the show will continue to survive as it serves a huge geographical area stretching from Scotland to the Midlands.