Dave Eade/DEltafoto reports on Rougham's main event of the year, held on 19 August 2007. Pictures by the author and Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau
It was only to be expected, I suppose, but Rougham proved to be no exception weather-wise to so many aviation events held in the UK this year. With a weather forecast of heavy rain and squalls, many of the expected crowd obviously turned over and went back to sleep rather than venture to this perennial jewel of the airshow scene.
Now in its tenth year, Air-Scene UK has reported on this event over the years and watched it mature. Once one of the largest USAAF bases in Eastern Europe, Rougham was the home of the 94th Bomb Group from June 1943 to the end of hostilities, its B-17s carrying the letter 'A' on the fin. As one drives through the original airfield on today's A14, various pieces of the old buildings can still be seen, but the true gem is the control tower that has been renovated by the Rougham Tower Association and is open to the public on Sundays (from 1100 to 1600 May to October). However, the tower and the accompanying memorial to the men of the 94th Bomb Group and the preceding 47th and 322nd Medium Bomb Groups, who also flew from Rougham, has been under threat from a new 'enemy' over the past year.
Visitors will be well aware of the seemingly endless encroachment onto the airfield of the housing estate to the west. The new enemy is, however, an industrial estate to the south-west, the developers of which are looking to build a new access road onto the passing A14. The original route chosen was straight through today's Rougham airfield, passing perilously close to the tower and its memorial and would, in fact, slice the airfield in two. Any future flying from the field would, it seems, become impossible if this happened. Dreams of one day having a General Aviation site here and the existing air-events that Rougham puts on annually would become a thing of the past - as so much of Rougham's history already is.
Despite the bad weather that prevented many booked aircraft getting off their home turf, Rougham had the best of a bad deal in a lack of any heavy rain but plenty of heavy clag preventing most from performing their good-weather shows. The geography of the field comprises cross-runways, forming a dog-leg that allows parking of fliers in front of the crowd on runway 03. This gives the pilots a perfect banking display line and allows the crowd to get real close and personal, both in the air and on the ground.
Organiser Peter Eager and the team were playing musical chairs all morning as cancellations followed diverts and pilots called in to say they were grounded, but the news that Rougham had dry weather allowed many to "Give it a try" with few failures.
Star of the show, in your scribe's eyes, was the lovely Spitfire IX MH434, so long the mount of the late-lamented Ray Hanna. Flown by Alistair Kaye in, what can only be described as a flamboyant style, the lack of photogenic sunlight was the only thing missing from the display. When a star-performer like Ray Hanna leaves us one always dreads that the aircraft will be also be lost to a new home, probably in the USA, but it was truly a joy to see it in the air, where it belongs, being flown in the way Ray would have wanted.
Pulling every possible manoeuvre out of their respective Extra 300s were Mark Jeffries and Denny Dobson, although booking both was probably a bit of over-kill. Of differing styles, it is difficult to say who is best out of these two - we should just be thankful that there are companies prepared to sponsor this type of performance. A note for all photographers - Mark called a Mayday just after commencing his show with a loose item in the cockpit that smacked the Perspex canopy in the first loop. A quick landing and inspection revealed a lens-cap loose on the floor. There could be a few words when Mark meets the photographer again!
Rougham has always been able to rely on RAF participation and 2007 was no exception. Both the Tutor (superbly flown by Flt Lt Andy Preece this year) and the Spitfire from the BBMF (with Al Pinner on board) flew excellent displays considering the weather. Other awards for merit would go to the Pitts Special of Peter Borchert who seemed unlimited by weather, the P-51D Mustang of Rob Davies and Peter Teichman's P-40M Kittyhawk. Having seen the Guinot team at several large events this year, where they are not totally at home, the small-scale of Rougham is perfect for them and the pink/white clad ladies of Team Guinot did the Rougham skies proud.
Although local press reports suggested that the show was not considered a success by the organisers due to low-numbers, they would be wrong to draw too many conclusions other than a bad-weather day from this year's attendance. This show is a good day out for the family, has attractions to keep little Johnny amused all day long while big Johnny is amused by the quality of flying display - to say nothing of those pink & white ladies!