Dave Eade/DEltafoto reports on Yeovilton's Air Day, 8 July
A mass of pyrotechnics and a Tornado GR4 depositing the largest part of one engine on the pan during run-down led to at least one more bang and certainly more expense than the airshow organisers would have planned.
The change of date from the usual September to July was a total success for the Air-Day Committee at Yeovilton 2006. Although Friday's arrivals and rehearsal day were be-dogged by the odd shower, everyone listed appeared - if not quite on time - and helped to complete a very full static and complement a good list of fliers.
Discussing the show over a cheeseburger at the end of flying, the success of this West of England airshow was felt to be very much down to two things; the total friendliness of the hosts and the involvement of a large element of assets based at Yeovilton. This extravaganza is almost a well-kept secret in that very few of the regular spotters or press seem to bother with it, but it ranks with the best, certainly showing Waddington a thing or two this year! What it does do is make this a very local affair.
Regular attendees will be very aware of the fact that the finale - a massed assault using all of Yeovilton's assets - has been a mirror of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) assets over the last few years. From 'dozens' of helicopters a few years ago, we are now down to a force of around fifteen, combining all FAA types in that number. Nevertheless, the sight of Lynxes and Sea Kings cavorting round the sky with a little help from their new-found friends from the Joint Harrier Force in the guise of two jets from 800 NAS, is a sight to please the entire crowd. Few but the most cynical can have failed to enjoy this year's addition, the Wall of Fire, which clearly signified the end of proceedings to one and all.
Set around the scenario of both the rescue of a damsel in distress and then destroying a naval vessel before retaking the ground of a country in revolt (or something) the forty-five minute performance allows the public to see the Lynx in its Observer and attack role, being re-armed with torpedoes, and the Commando force being lifted in, supported by heavy armour under-slung Sea Kings and, as mentioned, close support and combat air patrols by the Harriers (finally seeing off the bad guys in black - two Hawk T1s). A scene like this needs the addition of pyrotechnics and the Yeovilton explosives experts did it proud.
The unplanned explosion was provided, as stated, by the display Tornado GR4 (surprisingly marked as a 31 Squadron aircraft) which, having performed earlier, had left for the show at Blackpool, later returning to present a further mini-show before landing and taxying to the visiting aircraft pan. While in the switching off process, it is normal to throttle the engine up, so using all the fuel in the system. Unfortunately the run-up was followed by a large, and somewhat loud, thump - audible all over the field and flames were seen billowing from the jet exhausts. The flames were quickly extinguished by the attendant fire units and the Tornado was abandoned by the crew to be left still sitting forlornly in its parking spot at the end of the display.
Foreign participation was impressive (again when compared with Waddington's show the week before). A French enclave slowly built up with the arrival of both Rafale and Super Etendard from the FN base at Landavisiau. These two jets were soon joined by the Alouette III, Lynx and Super Frelon before being somewhat over-zealously fenced off from the public.
The Irish Air Force took the opportunity to display both a newly received EC135 and older Allouette III, while the Belgians provided an SM240 for static with Magister and two F-16s from Florennes for the flying display. Escorted and supervised (?) by the lovely Karen as his wingman, display pilot Mickey Artiges maintains the reputation held by the Belgians for a concise and very watchable F-16 performance. The FAA's colleagues in light blue provided the previously mentioned Tornado GR4, Typhoon and Red Arrows for the flying display and a Nimrod MR2, VC10 and further Tornados for the static. Noticeably absent was the Tornado F3, no example being present, as was the case at Waddington. A repeat viewing for the 45 Squadron King Air in its anniversary colours was also allowed. Germany supplied a Transall from MFG-5 for what must be the last time at Yeovilton with the type's pending dismissal from service, causing somewhat of a traffic jam when taking what appeared to be the wrong turning into the static park necessitating the physical movement of some five aircraft to allow it to move - a feat only surpassed by the RAF Nimrod who did the same!
The static display was completed by various examples of the Lynx and Sea King assets based here and several retired service types in the shape of the Hunter GA11, Sea Hawk and Sea Fury from the FAA Historic Flight (FAAHF), and several privately owned Harvards, Jet Provosts and light aircraft. Star of the static should go to a superbly turned out Sea Harrier - obviously repainted - and carrying the badges of all the Sea Harrier squadrons. This airframe must be for preservation, we assume at the splendid FAA Museum also situated at Yeovilton.
As with the static display, so the flying display featured a varied selection of the types in the FAA inventory with the Lynx Pair of the 'Black Cats' and Merlin, the Merlin and Chinook from the RAF putting the balance of service in place. The C-130J Hercules was forced to cut his programme short due to a technical fault but no such problem encountered the BBMF, with the Spitfire, Hurricane and venerable Lancaster. Civilian demos were provided by the Yakolev Yak team, Folland Gnat, Hunter GA11, Extra and the Rolls-Royce Spitfire PRXIX. If a star had to be chosen the accolade would probably go to the superbly turned out and flown Sea Hawk and Sea Fury from the FAAHF. As well as the Red Arrows, four Yak-52s from the Yakolev team provided great excitement.
The organisers of Yeovilton 2006 can be proud of their efforts this year despite the many changes in the FAA. A re-think on the closeness of barriers to aircraft would make this show perfect for enthusiast, photographer and Joe Public. Well done! Next year's show is 7 July.