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Bucking the trend (1)

Mick Britton reports on Leeming's Families' Day 2008, 13 September

On the whole, RAF Families' Days provide pretty frugal fare for aircraft enthusiasts these days, what with fewer aircraft in RAF markings and many of those either engaged in, or sustaining, overseas operations.

Leeming's line-up

Most station Families' Days tend to be homespun affairs, with only based aircraft on display and perhaps a flying display by one of the RAF (or Navy, in the case of Cottesmore - home of the Joint Force Harrier) display teams as the star turn if they're lucky.

It was therefore rewarding to attend RAF Leeming's Families Day and see that it had managed to buck the trend, providing a respectable air display that included two of the RAF's premier display teams, as well as a most worthy static display, boasting a very notable foreign visitor in the shape of a Tornado from the Luftwaffe's Jabo 43 (Boelcke) in a special fiftieth anniversary colour scheme. Based at Norvenich near Cologne, Jabo 43 is one of only a handful of 'tradition' units in the Luftwaffe to be named after famous German aces of the First World War, in this case Oswald Boelcke, whose portrait adorns the port side air intake and whose Fokker DIII adorns the starboard tailfin. The reverse side of the fin depicts the pictorial history of the Wing by showing the aircraft types operated since its formation in 1958 with the dates. The aircraft have been painted in bands of every shade of grey from the artist's pallet and the overall effect is most striking - as befits an artwork, the trio of artists responsible for its design and painting are credited on the fuselage below the starboard air intake and are believed to be the same trio who produced the 'Blue Lightning' scheme on another of the unit's aircraft five years ago, which won an award at that year's Fairford RIAT. According to the pilot this was the aircraft's first visit to the UK in the new scheme, which was only applied three months ago. Also it could turn out to be one the last Luftwaffe aircraft to be seen in anniversary colours as the Inspector General has apparently issued orders stopping the practice - it will certainly be the last seen on a Jabo 43 Tornado now that the unit has commenced conversion onto the Typhoon.

Other visitors came from closer to home and it was nice to see that the neighbouring air bases of Dishforth and Linton-on-Ouse had sent a Lynx and Tucano respectively. Despite its recent disbandment, the presence of XXV Squadron was still evident in the form of two of its erstwhile aircraft, the flagship 'XXV' and also 'FD'. Against the latter was parked the locally-based Isaacs Fury, providing a feeling of déjà vu, as an almost identical scene was witnessed at the 'Friends of XXV Day' earlier in 2008. Another replica making a return visit was the Poppy appeal Spitfire.

As the only flying unit now based at Leeming, 100 Squadron (The Ton) pulled its weight in style providing a pair of Hawks for the static display and a four-ship for the flying display. These made four passes in formation, followed by a box break and then a spectacular mock attack on the airfield, the spirit of which was testimony to the considerable mud-moving experience of the pilots involved (no names, no pack drill - Leeming knows who they are). A little later the Northumberland Universities Air Squadron provided a four-ship of Grobs, but inbetween we were treated to a spectacular display by the Beech King Air, fresh from its appearance at the Leuchars show. Speaking to the display organiser Sqn Ldr Bob Simpson that morning he had been hopeful of attracting other Leuchars display aircraft with the promise of better weather than they were experiencing north of the Border, but to no avail. Indeed, even the programmed Chinook did not appear. However, the bad weather that deprived Leuchars of the Falcons Parachute Team display ensured that they arrived with their C-130 added to the static display. It also ensured that the BBMF stayed down south and after giving a full display they landed, adding their aircraft to what was by now a very healthy looking static indeed. The Falcons provided the show's finale dropping in out of what was by now a clear blue sky. I left feeling for once well satisfied with a Families' Day experience - I know many enthusiasts would have paid good money to witness a show like Leeming put on for free.


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