Andrew Bates takes a look at RAF Halton's At Home Days, 14-15 June 2008
Whilst taking a casual glance at the airshow listings for June, there was one specific venue that seemed to stand out from the rest - RAF Halton, Bucks. Why? Well, it hasn't been a regular fixture on the airshow calendar for some years now - in fact, after dusting down some of the old log books from the nineties, I was amazed to realise it was back in 1993 that I had last ventured down to this famous airfield, nestling in a picturesque corner of Buckinghamshire. Of course, back then the open days were graced with some of the resident airframes from No.1 School of Technical Training (SoTT), so it was not uncommon to see jets such as the Gnat, Hunter, Jaguar or Jet Provost parked out on the apron of what is after all, an all-grass airfield. With 1 SoTT subsequently moving up to RAF Cosford in the mid-nineties, all the ground instructional airframes moved out, so the chances of seeing any jets at Halton were now pretty slim - or so I thought!
After driving down on a lovely sunny Saturday morning, the first surprise was the admission fee - there wasn't one! In this day and age of high fuel and insurance costs, for an RAF station to be able to hold an open day with free admission is quite remarkable. Visitors were just encouraged, if they so wished, to put some money in the charity buckets, which appeared to be the popular option. And quite right too, as everyone walking through the gate was about to be treated to a fabulous day out. As an added bonus, the open day had been arranged to coincide with the De Havilland Moth Club charity fly-in, so in effect it was two events in one. The open day itself entailed a small number of aircraft on static display with a flying display in the afternoon, whilst the charity fly-in saw a magnificent gathering of De Havilland machines descend upon the airfield, naturally with a heavy emphasis on the Tiger Moth.
On the Saturday only, the second surprise was that the flying display would commence with the majority of the Queen's Birthday Flypast direct from Buckingham Palace, which effectively added a third significant element to the event. Also, throughout the morning, members of the public were provided with the opportunity to go for a spin in a number of privately-owned Tiger Moths and Chipmunks, as well as a very rare De Havilland Dragon, forerunner of the Dragon Rapide. For quite reasonable sums, all for charity of course, visitors could get a bird's eye view of Halton and its beautiful surroundings in a classic flying machine. This ensured that there was plenty of flying activity for all the photographers, pretty much for all of the morning leading up to the flying display.
As mentioned, the flying display was kicked off in spectacular fashion by the appearance of the Queen's Birthday Flypast, heading straight from the Palace after their appointment with Her Majesty. The sight and sound of each wave of aircraft was most impressive and brought memories flooding back of the fiftieth anniversary Battle of Britain flypast at RAF Abingdon in 1990. Watching aircraft like the C-17 and Tristar swooping over the Halton crowd was impressive enough, but the highlight had to be the diamond-sixteen formation of Tornado GR4s. There was also a diamond-nine formation of Tornado F3s, whilst the formation of nine Typhoons appeared to be flying in the shape of a…Typhoon, naturally! Overall, a fabulous start to any flying programme guaranteed to keep all the cameras in overdrive.
Further military participation in the flying was provided by the RAF with displays from the Grob Tutor, Tucano, Super King Air and BBMF Hurricane IIc, whilst the Army Air Corps Historic Flight performed with both Auster AOP9 and Chipmunk T10. Other types performing in the afternoon included Provost T1, Jungmann, and glider towing PA-25 Pawnee, as well as aerobatic displays from Pitts and Extra 300. Interspersed with these came displays from some of the De Havilland types on show, including a number of exciting tail-chase routines involving such antics as flour bombing and balloon bursting, taking the audience way back to the golden age of the barnstorming pilots of yesteryear. The show was brought to a fitting conclusion with a diamond nine formation fly past of Tiger Moths, a sight probably not seen since the disbandment of the popular 'Diamond Nine' team a few years ago.
For the price of a few quid thrown into the charity bucket, this must have been one of the most varied and entertaining events to be held during 2008, not to mention outstanding value for money. With the relaxed atmosphere and superb surroundings, this was one open day that won't be forgotten in a hurry. Full marks to the staff at RAF Halton for arranging a thoroughly enjoyable day out - if it does re-appear on the calendar, there's at least one enthusiast here who'll be eager to return!