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Summer engagement

Andrew Beaumont look back at Kemble's 2008 Air Day, held on Sunday 15 June. Pictures by the author and Bob Franklin

Summer sights

Kemble Air Day is an airshow highly rated among the airshow enthusiasts. From its humble beginnings this show has grown stronger with each passing year.

Kemble airfield, a former RAF and USAF station, is situated in the heart of the Cotswolds, south-west of Cirencester and was once home to the Royal Air Force's Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. Since being acquired from the Ministry of Defence in 2001 by Ronan Harvey and his team, the airfield has grown tremendously, and is now being marketed as an airport. Now home to a diverse range of aircraft and facilities, it hosts a range of events during the year, the Air Day being the main airshow, traditionally held over the Fathers' Day weekend.

This would be my first attendance, but I knew what to expect before I arrived. Arriving around 09:00 with relative ease I was greeted with the magnificent sight of a C-17 from 99 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton. As the newest aircraft to the RAF's transport fleet, the C-17 is in heavy use moving equipment and troops around the world and therefore is a rare sight during the airshow season. After parking the car, it was a very short walk to the static display and you get the feeling of the history of this place when you see the line of Hunters belonging to Kemble's current inhabitants, the classic jet operator, Delta Jets. Delta Jets is famous for its Hunter operations, but also maintains and operates a number of other aircraft.

The static display was situated close to where I parked the car and to my delight included some very rarely seen aircraft; the first I spotted was a RAF Griffon HAR2 from 84 Squadron, usually based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, so therefore not often seen on these shores - sporting a light grey scheme with the Squadron's signature scorpion emblem on the pilot door this was an excellent start. Alongside the Griffon were a pair of Gloster Meteor T7 1/2's from Martin Barker, the ejection seat manufacturer. These aircraft are used for testing ejection seats in flight and not usually seen outside of their home base at Chalgrove, near Oxford.

Accompanying the C-17 from Brize Norton was another rare sight, a Vickers VC-10 from 101 Squadron - this aircraft was parked at the back of the static park, in a position where a clear photo was impossible to take, but nonetheless a welcome addition to any airshow. Also in the static were two ex-RAF English Electric Canberra PR9s; the Canberras have been based at Kemble since their retirement in 2006 and Delta Jets has been looking after them on behalf of the owner. It was hoped that both aircraft would fly again, although no further details on their future has come forth.

The flying display started at 11:00 with the Rolls Royce MkXIX Spitfire displayed beautifully by Rolls-Royce Chief Test Pilot Phil O'Dell. Marking his first display in the De Havilland Hornet Moth was Steve Roberts, commemorating the hard-working pilots of the RAF Service Ferry Pool, which was headquartered at Kemble during the Second World War. The job of the ferry pool was to distribute new or repaired aircraft from Kemble from No. 5 Maintenance Unit to the active squadrons all over the UK - the Hornet Moth was one of the aircraft used by the pilots to fly back to Kemble. The Hornet Moth display was followed by a re-enactment of an incident during the war were two Messerschmitt Me108s attacked Kemble after seeing a Hornet Moth operating close to the airfield - this airfield attack was performed by two Nord 1002 Pengouins (aka Me108s) and even included some pyrotechnics! To chase away the Me108s, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight sent up its Hurricane Mk IIc and Spitfire Mk IIa.

As you would expect from the home of numerous classic jets, there was no shortage of these vintage flyers in the flying programme. In addition to Delta Jets' two Hunters, Folland Gnat and Jet Provost, Golden Apple's F-86A Sabre was present as was Air Atlantique Classic Flight's De Havilland Venom and Meteor NF11. In addition to the solo displays a special flypast with Delta Jets' two Hunters and two RAF Tornado F3s from RAF Leuchars was flown to celebrate a special anniversary; 111(F) Squadron's twenty-two Hunter loop at Farnborough fifty years ago. Another Kemble-only display!

All three UK armed services were well represented at Kemble. The Army Air Corps display team, the Blue Eagles, debuted its new-look team combining the UK's attack helicopter, the mighty Apache, with the Lynx and the classic helicopters, the Alouette II, Gazelle and Scout. The Royal Navy's Black Cats display team, featuring the Lynx HAS3, also performed another faultless display but the highlight of the day and the very reason I attended Kemble Air Day was the Royal Air Force's much talked about Role Demonstration: 'Operation Summer Lightning'.

The Role Demonstration showcased a range of RAF capabilities through the rescue of two friendly troops captured by enemy forces and is carried out by a range of aircraft, from the Tornado GR4 bombers and F3 Interceptors to the E-3D Sentry coordinating the rescue, to the Chinook and Apache conducting the rescue operation. With fast, low passes and lots of pyrotechnics simulating a multitude of weapons and explosions, this display certainly grabbed your attention. It was said to me that the best place to see the Role Demo was at Kemble and they weren't wrong - this display did not disappoint!

The RAF also brought along the majority of its solo display teams to Kemble with the Tucano, Hawk, Chinook, Typhoon and the most recent addition, the King Air B200 of 45(R) Squadron, RAF Cranwell. As an added bonus a Tristar from 216 Squadron, RAF Brize Norton made two passes during the afternoon and a Hercules C-130K from RAF Lyneham also made an appearance. Although Kemble was once home to the Red Arrows, they unfortunately couldn't make an appearance because they were conducting a North American tour at the time of the show. I suspect that it is always a special occasion when the Red Arrows come back to Kemble; hopefully in 2009 the team will be back.

With a record crowd at the 2008 Air Day, it was recently announced that the 2009 Air Day would in fact become Air Days with the show being held on both days of the weekend of 20 & 21 June. Unfortunately, it has come to light that the RAF will not be displaying the Role Demonstration in 2009 as it did during the 2007 and 2008 seasons - this will be massively disappointing to many. The reasons behind the scrapping of the Demonstration are understood to be many and complex, but in my opinion is a huge mistake in terms of the RAF's public engagement and recruitment endeavours.

However, Kemble will carry on and will undoubtedly include a diverse range of display's celebrating the airfield's history and those aircraft based there. I enjoyed my first Kemble Air Day so much that I have already booked my accommodation for the 2009 Air Day!


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