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NORTH WEALD, 16 May
Andrew Bates reports that despite the indifferent weather forecast, visitors to North Weald's Air Display 99, organised by the Intrepid Aviation Company, were rewarded with clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine on arrival, which lasted until early afternoon. When finally the clouds started to roll in, this did not detract from a well-organised display, with an emphasis on privately owned warbirds and classic jets.
This was the second such display to be organised by Intrepid, following the demise of "Fighter Meet" in 1997, which traditionally occupied a two-day slot at this time of year. However, judging by the number and variety of participants, this one-day show is definitely a successor worthy of support. As it is one of the first airshows of the year, it was a showcase for many warbird display debutantes and new colour schemes, with many aircraft being on close static display, as well as flying, thanks to the layout of the main operating ramp. Always popular, it allows the public to see at first hand start-up procedures, followed by aircraft taxying close enough to make you feel part of the action.
Of all the aircraft present, possibly the most notable, not to mention topical, was G-2A Galeb 23170/YU-YAB, which had reportedly only departed Yugoslavia just days before the NATO bombing campaign had commenced. Now privately owned and based at Biggin Hill, it certainly turned a few heads during the day. Other aircraft of interest included the French based OV-10 Bronco (99+24/F-AZKM), ex-Swiss Air Force C-3605 Schlepp (C-552/G-DORN), and ex-Libyan Air Force L-39 Albatros (8201/N158JC), the latter two now both being North Weald residents. Another North Weald local was Avenger 53319, which took to the air later in the day.
Amongst the piston warbirds, two types dominated proceedings in the Mustang and Spitfire, with four of each type in attendance. Of the Mustangs, two were sporting new colour schemes; P-51D 44-72773/G-SUSY and P-51D 44-73149/G-BTCD as "463221", which, as part of the OFMC fleet, was displaying the new markings of the Breitling Fighters Team, in deference to their sponsors.
Of the four Spitfires in evidence, resident TE184/G-MXVI was sporting a very smart USAAF colour scheme, which represented an aircraft from the 308th FS and was named "Fargo Express". Apparently, this is just a temporary scheme, applied especially for a calendar photo session. With no visible serial number, this Spitfire certainly had a number of enthusiasts guessing as to its true identity.
Whether intentional or otherwise, the four Spitfires represented a good selection of different marks. Apart from Mk. XVI TE184, the three others were T.9 PT462/G-CTIX, VB BM597/G-MKVB and finally, from the BBMF, IIA P7350.It was especially welcome to see the BBMF Spitfire accompanied not only by Lancaster PA474 but also by Hurricane LF363, which has finally returned to flying duties following its long rebuild. Looking at the standard of workmanship on this aircraft, it was hard to imagine how badly damaged it was after the forced landing at Wittering in September 1991.
Other warbirds on display included Sea Fury FB.11 WH588/G-EEMV, resplendent in a Royal Australian Navy scheme, parked alongside a pair of P-40s; 'M 49/G-KITT and 'E NZ3009/ZK-RMH, the latter also displaying Breitling markings as part of the OFMC Breitling Fighters Team.
Despite the continued operations over Kosovo, there was still some military participation at the show, apart from the BBMF and RNHF Swordfish W5856. A pair of 20(R) Squadron Harrier GR7s, a 15(R) Squadron Tornado GR1, a 1 FTS Tucano T1, the Gazelles and Lynx of the AAC Blue Eagles display team, and, of course, the Red Arrows, paraded today's British Armed Forces. The Tucano was still wearing the old red and white training scheme, which made a nice change from the now more familiar all black scheme.
Another notable military participant in the static park was Italian Air Force MB339A MM54463/61-17 from the 61° Stormo. This aircraft had been accompanied into North Weald on the Friday before the show by stable-mate MM54484/61-101. Unfortunately, whilst "61-17" enjoyed a prime position, "61-101" remained parked on the far side of the airfield for the duration of the show, away from even the longest camera lens, causing a few murmurs of discontent amongst the enthusiasts. In a similar vein, it was noticeable that despite the large number of civilian owned Jet Provosts being based at North Weald, not a single example had ventured into the airshow, all remaining stubbornly parked over the far side. Only a minor gripe, but a great shame nonetheless.
As the morning progressed, other visiting aircraft began to arrive, including T-28S Fennec 51-7545/N14113, Air Atlantique Historic Flight's Twin Pioneer XT610/G-APRS and a trio of Hunters from Kemble, comprising the familiar all black T7B WV318/G-FFOX, recently refurbished T7 WV372/G-BXFI in RAF 2 Squadron markings, and finally, another newcomer on the display circuit, ex-Swiss Air Force F58A J-4104/G-PSST in an exotic, multi-coloured paint scheme. Probably not popular with the purists, but extremely photogenic nevertheless.
Once the flying began in earnest, spectators were treated to a variety of displays, with most of the civilian owned warbirds taking their turn. For the enthusiasts, possibly the ex-GAF Bronco and the ex-Swiss Air Force C-3605 were notable highlights, mainly because of their rarity value. The latter aircraft certainly demonstrated a unique sound as it manoeuvred around the airfield with that huge turboprop clawing through the sky.
Obvious favourites with the crowd were the Red Arrows, who gave their usual polished display, the BBMF, and the Blue Eagles. However, there were two display items that possibly stood out for the general public. Firstly, the Harrier, which held the crowd spellbound as it performed its usual repertoire of hovering, pirouetting, and bowing, which earned a standing ovation once the display was over. For many, it was with mixed feelings when it finally landed, as although it had been an impressive display, it was a great relief to the ears! Once everything had been shut down, the Harrier was towed from the flightline, and into the main static area, so that man and machine could meet the public. Judging by the throng of people around it, this was a popular move.
Despite all the thrill and spectacle of the Harrier, it was the Yak-52 which drew the most audible gasp of astonishment from the audience. Within a second or two of take-off, the pilot deftly performed an audacious flick roll of such rapidity enough to take your breath away. The pilot then continued to delight the crowds with an aerobatic display that demonstrated exceptional skill, which on completion was rewarded by another round of applause as the aircraft returned to the static park.
For those visitors who were looking for a good day out, there were the usual variety of attractions such as trade stands, aviation stalls, fairground rides, and ground displays, including an excellent display of vintage military vehicles. Towards the end of the flying, some of the warbirds performed an airfield attack, which enabled the use of some impressive pyrotechnics to add to the spectacle.
All in all, Intrepid Aviation are to be congratulated on organising a display of such quality and variety, certainly providing enthusiasts with a few surprises, as well as ensuring there was enough to keep all visitors entertained.