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RAFA Woodford Airshow, 12 June
Gary Parsons & Dave Eade report that once again, Woodford drew the short straw, being blessed with inclement weather for most of the single show day. This did not stop a good proportion of Greater Manchester turning out to view a good selection of display aircraft, despite the elements not being kind enough for people to fully enjoy the experience.
This event is, traditionally, the only time that a good view of the airfield can be obtained, and previously it has played host to some great surprises, including the giant Russian Beriev 'Mermaid' jet flying boat and even 'aerobatics' in a BAe 146. 1999, however, will not go down as a classic show, if only for the appalling weather, which threatened, then did its worst half-way through the flying display.
As far as shows for the avid spotter go, Woodford is not to be ranked amongst the best. This is not the point, however, as the show is primarily designed to raise funds for the Royal Air Force Association and as such must appeal to the less enlightened, with acts such as the Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Flight being the crowd-pullers. The history of this A.V. Roe flying club base went on to encompass production of some of the most famous British designs in the Lancaster, Tudor, Shackleton before the famous Vulcan. Now "reduced" to more mundane types (BAe 146 and ATP) the magic may have gone, but the profits are probably better!
Nevertheless, there were one or two gems in the small static park, most notably two Turkish F16s, one 'C and a 'D model, from 161 Filo, Dalman. Rare enough at any show, it shows the organisers have not forgotten that shows must contain some variety. Another coup was a lone NAH-64A Apache from 301 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, stealing the thunder from the Army Air Corps who have yet to see the first example from Westland. A big hit in more ways than one; this aircraft seems to have caught the imagination of Joe Public and the enthusiast alike. We look forward to the day that we see one put through its paces at a show, especially with the reputation the Dutch have for aerial involvement in the UK show-scene. Just think the Grasshoppers could be on their way back!
Completing the enthusiast interest in the static were four French Tucanos from 3 EIV, Salon de Provence, on their way for a week's detachment at Linton-on Ouse. With the fliers parked well over the far side, it was a pleasant surprise to see one of the Patrouille de France Alpha Jets on static.
The rest of the static comprised mainly RAF aircraft, plus some German Tornados. Surprisingly the Tornado F3 was in 29 Squadron markings, which disbanded some nine months ago, but has hung on under the control of 56(R) Squadron in its former colours.
Further along, parked on its own, one sight that was very welcome was Vulcan B2 XM603, still marked in the all-white anti-nuclear flash scheme of the Cold War era. It was evident though that the airframe was starting to show signs of neglect, appearing as if it now sits outside permanently. Panel lines were breeding fungi and the paint was peeling from the tail - it was only a few years ago that this particular Vulcan was viewed as the best chance of getting one back in the air, but that would not be the case now. Whether local enthusiasm for the beast has waned is hard to know, but she should be hangared if long term preservation is an aim. BAe would put thousands on the gate if she could perform a thunder run down the taxiway; how about it, Mr Chairman?
Woodford's main role within BAe today is home to the Regional Aircraft company, where small airliners such as the ATP and RJ (nee 146) are produced. Some examples were also present on the static line, but not represented in the flying programme, the sole home representative being a display by the Jetstream J41. Taking to the air towards the end of a five hour flying programme, most of the rest of the bill consisted of RAF types such as the Tornado, Harrier, Jaguar, Nimrod and, of course, nine red Hawks. Airshows have changed of late - with RIAT being relied on as the show for the serious spotter (with its capability of having more gems than the crown jewels), the smaller display organiser is limited to the "cast-iron certainties" in pleasing his audience. So it was that this year, Woodford boasted seven display teams. Jet teams accompanying our own inimitable Red Arrows were the previously mentioned Patrouille de France and the Frecce Tricolori (thankfully back on the scene after withdrawing from all shows in May in deference to President Milosovic). Thoughts went to what might have been, as this was the date previously booked for Kembles birthday party for the Reds. With three national teams in the UK and the Swiss at Waddington, one was left to imagine what an aerobatics extravaganza one would have witnessed. Back to Woodford, and support acts were the Army Air Corps Blue Eagles, Army Historic Flight (bravely taking to the air just as the monsoon struck), the Royal Jordanian Falcons and the now sponsor-less Les Apaches, reduced to two PC7s.
Nimrod XV245 arrived from Kinloss mid-afternoon, but by then nature had done her worst. We were again reminded of the true purposes of that huge delta wing on Vulcan XM603 as the most expensive umbrella ever built in the UK unless of course you include the millennium dome now theres a thought!
The 32nd show to be held at Woodford, it was a success in terms of attendance, the car parks overflowing by mid-afternoon. Unfortunately this then co-incided with the rain, but they seem to be used to it in this neck of the woods...Maybe one year the sun will shine and the umbrellas left in the car; if so, get there early, the car parks will definitely be full!