Spirit of Elvington
Mick Britton reports from the Yorkshire Airshow as a 'Show must go on' spirit shines through over the weekend of 18-19 August
The recent highly publicised problems faced by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in selecting a team for the opening Premier League fixture from an injury-hit squad were as nothing compared with those faced by the organisers of the Yorkshire Airshow, who by a combination of circumstances were deprived of the services of aircraft that were to have made up about half of the flying programme.
First omission was the headline act of the Vulcan, for valid and known reasons, so a reserve was brought in in the shape of the Exeter-based Hunter pair of Jonathan Whaley and Andy Thorne. These comprised half of a planned quartet of Hunters, which would have been a spectacular routine but the other two were trapped down south by the weather that was sadly to become a recurring story as the weekend unfolded. The Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Fury was another loss, but at least a more than adequate replacement was found in the shape of Kennett Aviation's Seafire, which the RNHF is currently operating from Yeovilton as all of its own aircraft are currently out of action (this was actually a welcome addition to the display programme as it was the first time this type has been seen in Yorkshire skies since 1951 when an example participated in a show at York's former aerodrome at Clifton, which is now a business park and housing estate).
No replacements could be found for Air Atlantique's Meteor and Vampire, however, which were withdrawn at very short notice apparently owing to a lack of pilots! Next casualty was another star turn, B-17G 'Sally B' as she was stranded at Duxford owing to unfinished runway re-surfacing work there and the adjacent grass strip unusable due to the wet weather. With commendable improvisation the organisers pressed the one spare aircraft on the flightline into service as a substitute - the Beech 18 support aircraft of the Hunter team, which gave a spirited performance recalling its earlier display career when it performed with Gary Numan's Japanese-painted Harvard and had to simulate the indignity of being shot down on numerous occasions.
Other absentees were caused by the weather front that passed down the length of the country over the weekend, depriving the show of the programmed BBMF trio of Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota. Fortunately they did manage to make a token appearance, one of the Spitfire XIX's being sent over specially by Coningsby's CO in very marginal conditions to give a brief display. Thus by such improvisation, press on spirit and making the maximum use of the aircraft already in attendance a full three and a half hour programme was delivered on each of the two days, but as the Duke of Wellington is reputed to said of the Battle of the Waterloo, "It was a damned close run thing."
As usual the show opened in fine style with a fast taxy-run by the Yorkshire Air Museum resident Victor tanker 'Lusty Lindy', which was not followed by the Museum's Buccaneer this year due to the small matter of hugely inflated insurance premiums (which also put paid to any static display of museum aircraft). It is understood that Lindy's owner made a significant contribution to the insurance premium, thereby enabling him to give Lindy her annual outing - more power to his elbow for that. This was followed on Saturday by the RAF Falcons dropping in, whose line-up this year includes a local lad, Sgt Steve Spencer, thereby generating more media interest than usual for this event. Possibly this also inspired the Hercules crew, who treated the crowd to a second extra fast, extra low run upon their departure to Eastbourne (or maybe it was by way of a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the type's introduction to RAF service).
Other RAF participants, in addition to the aforementioned Spitfire, were the Tucano from nearby 1 FTS at Linton on Ouse, flown by F/L Bobby Moore, and the Red Arrows who were making a welcome return after last year's absence. Deprived of any RAF fast jets, solo performers' punch was provided by the country's two most colourful Hunters, Jonathan Whaley's psychedelic-painted 'Miss Demeanour' and its raspberry-rippled ex-ETPS stablemate from Exeter. The former was another display act making a welcome return to Elvington, whilst the latter was making its debut here. These two took the limelight in the show's pyrotechnic set-piece by destroying a target, which seemed to be a fuel dump, in a mock ground attack. So impressive was the explosion that there were residents in the locality who thought they were under attack!
Although international participation had been particularly hard to come by this year it appeared in the shape of the RNLAF's colourful AB-412 SAR helicopter from Leeuwarden, making a most unusual display entrance on the Sunday with the winchman performing circus trapeze-type acrobatics whilst holding a flare - you'd never see such showmanship during a similar RAF role demo! A less colourful, though more exotic helicopter was UH-1H G-HUEY of MSS Holdings, a genuine Vietnam war veteran accompanied by one of the pilots who flew her in that conflict, complete with realistic sounding waist machine gun. The only other item on the programme was the Team Guinot wing-walkers who had featured on Robbie Coltrane's 'B Road Britain' TV show just a few days previously.
All in all then, despite the least favourable of circumstances, the Yorkshire public were treated to a most entertaining display featuring a wide variety of aircraft. It is understood that approximately 30,000 people attended over the two days, Saturday in particular being very busy with the crowd up by about one third on last year's show. Hopefully this will encourage the organisers to plan for next year, although they will doubtless be hoping for some better fortune with both weather and aircraft availability.