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Luvverlee Jubilee

Mike Hall looks back thirty years (!) to the Queen's Silver Jubilee review, held at Robin Hood Airport - sorry, RAF Finningley - in 1977

On parade

In 1977, the Silver Jubilee celebrations took place in what now seems like a very different age. As the year dawned there appeared to be no end to the Cold War; Elvis was still alive; Apple had yet to sell their first computer; the Concorde service from London to New York had still to be introduced. Come the summer, Jubilee fever gripped the nation - many parties were held in towns across the country where roads were shut, bunting hung from lamp posts and rows of tables erected. Her Majesty attended the Royal review of the fleet that took place at Spithead in less than ideal conditions in June, and 29 July saw the Royal Air Force's turn to impress the Queen. There was also a second public display on the 30th, which is the day I attended.

Vulcan scramble
Foreign flyers
Fabulous flypasts

On arrival at Finningley the first impression was the size of the static display - no less than seventy-five aircraft were present in total, representing every front line Squadron (the exceptions being 51 Squadron, which was still cloaked in secrecy and 28 Squadron, which was at the time based in Hong Kong). Also present were one of each type from the training units, although some of the Operational Conversion Units (OCU) were not represented. There must have been a bit of a competition between the units to see who could turn out the cleanest looking aircraft, as every aircraft had been thoroughly valeted, including on some what looked like black paint on the tyres! (An old car showroom trick!) The sight of smartly dressed airmen cleaning condensation off the canopies at 08:00 under a clear blue sky is an image that I can still picture. A bonus for the enthusiast was a chance to see some of the aircraft of RAF Germany that rarely visited UK shows. A new-fangled Tornado appeared for the review, but was nowhere to be seen come the public day.

There were three notable visitors from the Commonwealth; a New Zealand Hercules from 40 Squadron that delighted later in the day by displaying the All Blacks latest victory (some things don't change!), a Canadian CF-104G from Baden Söllingen in Germany and one of the undoubted stars of the flying display, the Australian F-111C from 6 Squadron.

One of the talking points of the day was that the then Minister for Defence, Fred Mulley, was pictured in the morning papers asleep during the previous day's display. Private Eye, the well known satirical magazine, said at the time he should have been tried for treason for sleeping with the Queen! The main flypast was initiated by a Wessex displaying an underslung RAF ensign flanked by a pair of Gazelles. These were followed by the Historic Flight of Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire, then twenty-two Jet Provosts in the shape of a number 25, followed by a mass flypast of large formations evenly spaced with precision timing represented by training aircraft, helicopters, air defence, maritime, strike and RAF Germany. This amazing spectacle, where the sight of every front-line unit represented in the air at the same time, impressive though it was, was eclipsed by the four-ship Vulcan scramble. The earth shaking experience is confined to history but remains for me a most vivid memory, the giant bat-like planes leaving the sky just a little bit sootier.

There was a tactical display by six Harriers which performed an airfield attack. The Australian F-111C performed an amazingly agile display. If you've not witnessed the 'dump and burn' at close quarters, it's a bit of a shock when you're not expecting it! Personally, I thought something had gone horribly wrong, but remember almost laughing out loud when I realised the plane was okay and it was part of the display. I don't think they do it as close to the crowd nowadays, as the heat was a bit oppressive!

The public day included a flypast of aircraft from the USAF; an RF-4C of the 10th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing and an F-5E of the 527th Aggressor Squadron, both from Alconbury, and an F-111E of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing. The Italian Frecce Tricolori team put on their usual entertaining display in their G91PANs, ably matched by the finale of our own Red Arrows in their Gnats.

Overall it was a memorable day that made you proud to have experienced. All who attended would, like me, have been disappointed to see the lack of a similar event for the Golden Jubilee in 2002, but times have changed…


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