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RAF COSFORD AIRSHOW, 13th June
Andrew Bates reports: Unofficially billed as the Midlands largest airshow, this years event at RAF Cosford in Shropshire once again attracted a vast crowd, which, apart from the fine and sunny weather, was probably attributable to the extensive ground displays, stalls, and other attractions (including a Sunday market!). This tried and trusted formula may not be particularly popular with the enthusiasts, but at Cosford this has always ensured a good attendance, a vital necessity in recent times. For those visitors primarily interested in aviation, the show organisers are always proud to highlight a unique triple attraction awaiting the enthusiast, and this year was no exception. In addition to the visiting aircraft, either static or flying, there was as always a large number of aircraft on view from the resident No. 1 School of Technical Training (SoTT), as well as all the preserved aircraft in the RAF Museum reserve collection.
Until recently known as the Aerospace Museum, the RAF Museum at Cosford is home to a unique collection of aircraft, which basically fall into one of three categories; Research and Development, Civil and Military Transports, or Warplanes. Added to this is a superb collection of missiles, engines, and other artefacts, which combine to make Cosford a fascinating museum to visit. For anyone visiting for the first time, it is difficult to do the Museum justice with all the airshow attractions to contend with, so another visit is always recommended, especially if photography is planned. A number of exhibits are always taken out of the hangars and placed outside on static display, this year it included Buccaneer S2B XW547, still resplendent in its Gulf War paint scheme. The static was certainly dominated by one type, thanks to a large section of the 1 SoTT Jet Provost fleet being available for inspection, as there were a grand total of seventeen on display. Of these, fourteen were parked at the same location, though unfortunately three deep in places, proving photography of all not to be possible. Another significant static participant was the Jaguar, with a total of ten on public view. Of these, six were to be found in the SoTT hangar display, with the other four parked outside. Regrettably, photography was again virtually impossible for two of the four, due to poor positioning behind a pair of Jet Provosts. Of all the Jaguars on display, GR1A XX966 was perhaps the most noteworthy as it was the only example to be found in the all-over grey paint scheme, unlike the others which retained the old grey/green camouflage scheme, complete with old squadron markings. Whilst XX966 did not appear significant to most casual observers, it should be noted that this particular Jaguar has been ground instructional for at least twelve years, long before the grey scheme had even been devised. A one-off repaint, or the shape of things to come for the rest of the ground instructional fleet?
Surprisingly, despite the SoTT fleet containing Dominie and Harrier aircraft, neither type was available for public display. All six Dominies could be seen parked over the far side of the airfield, whilst there was no sign at all of the Harriers, one of which would always a popular inclusion in the static. However, completing the SoTT static display was Andover C1PR XS641, still looking smart in its 60 Squadron markings.
As far as visiting aircraft were concerned, Cosford has never been renowned for long lines of static aircraft due to the short runway and limited ramp space. However, the static park did seem a little depleted compared with previous years, especially as it relied solely upon a selection of helicopters. These consisted of Griffin HT1 ZJ235 and Squirrel HT1 ZJ279 from nearby Shawbury, along with Gazelle AH1 XX412 from 847 Squadron at Yeovilton, and Bo105CB B-47 from 299 Squadron, KLu. A little later during the morning, the static display was boosted by the arrival of a sinister black shape hovering over the Shropshire countryside. This was AH-64A Apache 25485 from 301 Squadron KLu, which was given its own parking slot in front of the control tower. One of the machines currently leased from the US Army, this helicopter immediately attracted the attention of the crowds, and was possibly making the first visit of an AH-64 to Cosford.
As far as the flying display was concerned, Cosford was for the first time able to field a total of four major display teams. Apart from the ever popular Red Arrows and Royal Jordanian Falcons, there was also a display from the Patrouille de France and the Frecce Tricolori. All three teams successively thrilled the crowds with their usual finely honed skill and professionalism, though the French team were to suffer a minor drama towards the end of their display. As the Alpha Jets of the PdF were building up to their climax, they inexplicably disappeared over the horizon and recovered back to nearby Shawbury, where they were operating from, as were the Italians. At the time, there were probably not too many in the crowd that realised the display had been curtailed. However, a short while later the show commentator explained that a light aircraft had inadvertently strayed into the edge of the restricted airspace during the display. Although there was never any immediate danger to either pilots, or crowd, the team leader had quite wisely elected to terminate the display.
Thanks to the efforts of the DHFS at Shawbury, it was possible to ferry some of the French and Italian crews over to Cosford so that they could meet their appreciative audience following completion of their displays. There were two other display teams in evidence during the flying. Firstly, the AAC Blue Eagles, who once again thrilled the audience with their usual combination of skill and daring, performing manoeuvres that really shouldnt be possible with a helicopter! In addition, the resident Birmingham University Air Squadron provided a four ship Bulldog formation display. With the pending retirement of the Bulldog from RAF service, this was an unusual but welcome addition to the flying programme.
Another first for Cosford was the inclusion of no less than three different Tornado displays. The crowds were treated to a Hercules, Tornado F3 from 56(R) Squadron, a Tornado GR1 from 15(R) Squadron, and finally a Tornado ECR from JBG32 of the Luftwaffe. Of the other display participants, most notable favourites with the crowd were the Harrier GR7 from 20(R) Squadron, the Nimrod MR2 flown by a crew from 42(R) Squadron, and finally, Canberra B6 WK163/G-BVWC from Bruntingthorpe. The later aircraft put on a spirited display, which really made it hard to believe that this particular type had first flown 50 years ago.
So, once again Cosford attracted a large crowd, the majority of whom would have been treated to an excellent day out. While this show may not find favour with some of the enthusiasts, it is certainly worth a visit for the Museum and School of Technical Training, as well as the possibility of the occasional gem in the static park.