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The X-files: A review of 2000

Dave Eade, Andrew Bates & Gary Parsons reflect on the year gone by...

So another season is under our belts, and it’s time to reflect on the positives and negatives of what has been an...um, non-event to start the millennium. Being the start of a new era in history, one would have thought that massed celebratory flypasts, airshows predicting the future of aviation and other dome-inspired events would have happened. But no, it was a relatively quiet year, dominated by poor weather.

As Mulder & Scully would agree, that certain x-factor was missing, something different and imaginative to inspire and amuse. RIAT tried it with its wartime scenarios and set-pieces, but the reality was a disjointed couple of hours that, if you weren’t paying attention to the video screens, meant time to ponder over the many trade stalls. A brave effort, but not enough aeroplanes and some dubious casting (a DC4 acting as a Heinkel 111) left the action thin and too dispersed. More effective was Biggin Hill’s end-of-season bash in September, which captured the spirit of 1940 and left many a spectator with misty eyes during the playing of the ‘Last Post’ towards the end.

The promised ‘Millennium Airshow’ x-perience of RIAT and Farnborough back-to-back didn’t work, as the SBAC placed too many restrictions on arrivals so that both events could share the acts. So, Cottesmore lost the F/A18F and display by the C27J, as sales were more important than entertainment. The V22 Osprey had been lost months before after a tragic accident, which now may have been its only opportunity to come to the UK - this is one programme that will surely quietly die after the two fatal crashes of this year. As for Farnborough, it was a pale shadow of its former glories, with less flying and static exhibits than ever before. But, as the PR machine would have it, things have never been better, with $50bn worth of orders over the week. Just how much of this was agreed during the five trade days? Very little, one would suspect. It is hard to see how a showcase such as Farnborough can survive if the showcase itself is empty.

Then there were the high x-pectations - RIAT continued to occupy the minds of the enthusiast and the headlines of the media before, during and after the dates allotted. Most preamble was, to say the least, cautious about the enforced move from Fairford to Cottesmore but it appears from most reports that both the RAF and the RIAT staff came up trumps again this year. An award for x-cellence is deserved by the RIAT organisers, who succeeded in moving the Fairford operation to deepest Rutland and making it work better than normal. Traffic was no problem, the park-and-view on runway 23 was vastly superior to the normal facility, and all the doubters who said it would never fit in were proved wrong. All they have to do this year is ensure some Fairford-like weather, and we’ll all be happy...if only the prices weren’t so x-horbitant, according to some! Although not a vintage year as far as participants were concerned, with most types if not versions having been seen before, the line-up - provided on such a small piece of real estate - was very impressive. For once it has been good to see those quick to cast doom and gloom on the event before the day at least having the grace to eat their words in public and congratulate those involved. The success of 2000 has ensured that next year’s event will be at the same location, which if for no other reason than the lack of traffic chaos, will be a success, for sure. In addition to the RIAT team, a bouquet should go to the RAF for showing such interest and enthusiasm – without which it would not have worked. As so often during the year, though, the weather played havoc with the flying display causing many cancellations and flat shows to be flown.

Waddington tried to inject the x-factor with the only UK appearance this year of the USAF demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, but this was affected by the appalling weather that dominated much of the summer. Low cloud and a stiff breeze prevented the full routine, but at least we saw some of that American flair and precision. For many the star items of the whole year were the pair of Singapore AF Skyhawks, a real coup by the organising team.

The x-treme weather was to affect Mildenhall more than most, which gale-force winds and pounding rain throughout the weekend forcing many traders to abandon ship. But, such is the appeal of this event that it didn’t stop the crowds appearing in their thousands, proving that this show is perhaps the most popular in Europe.The accolade of the worst downpour of the year probably goes to the RAFA display at Woodford – while the sunniest was possibly the day at Cosford. Both these shows manage somehow to maintain a thoroughly professional, but somehow low-key, atmosphere – which is to their credit.

Ironically, the weather smiled on Leuchars for once, with one of those Indian summer days in mid-September that seem so rare, but we couldn’t make it due to the petrol crisis of that week. Scotland turned out in force, and the x-citement for them was that they were finally treated to a display from Eurofighter, after several years of trying by the organisers. A beautiful part of the country for an air display, it’s one that everyone should do at least once, just to sample the Scottish hospitality.

Leuchars almost got them off the hook, but x-cuse of the year was again won by Eurofighter GmbH, who failed to produce even a static example for Waddington and RIAT. That the aircraft has still failed to appear at the RAF’s premier event, in the county that it will be based first, despite the best endeavours of the organisers, is very sad. The Lincolnshire populace should be shown what they will be living with for the next thirty years or so, and the taxpayers should be able to see just what they are eventually paying for. Okay, so it was at Farnborough, but that was very much a sales pitch and the public days saw little of it. The appearance at Leuchars was welcome, but only because ZH588 was working with 43 Squadron on operational evaluation. A small step forward, but how about a full flying routine over the Waddington 2001 weekend?

With less military organised shows available, it's good to see a fairly comprehensive selection of civilian shows still available to fill in for a few of the summer weekends. Old favourites such as Old Warden, Biggin Hill and Duxford are always worth a visit, but new events such as the Delta Jets open days at Kemble are very worthy of support, and may prove to be the basis of the airshow scene of the future. Ironically, the Air Atlantique day at Coventry, which seemed to be growing in stature with each year, probably won't happen again. This is not to say that the enthusiasm for putting 'new' shows on is far from lacking in the country. One is reminded of the line from the second of Mike Myers "Wayne's World" films – "if you invite them – they will come!" This is true of the airshow-going public most of the time, but x-aggeration of the year must be awarded to the organisers at Norwich Airport, who wildly over-estimated the interest in their anniversary airshow in August. Following the successful Lowestoft event in the week, the turn-out was poor, to say the least. A 10 per head charge may have had something to do with it, as no-one could have foreseen the poor organisation of the trade stalls. A shame, because buried very deeply there were the roots of a good warbird event, but the traders' experiences may mean that it never happens again.

If we had to choose one event from the year that x-celed, it would have to be the photo day at Coltishall. The photo-call is becoming ever more popular, but it has seen both high accolades and severe criticism this year. On the positive side, the "How to do it" rule book has been surely written by the team from Coltishall - the trust displayed in allowing the public free access to the continued workings of a busy fighter station, while providing a superb photo line-up (including Su22s) has to be congratulated and again, weather excepted, a great time was had by all. Hopefully the praise will encourage the team at Coltishall to do it again – soon! Everyone concerned should be given an almighty pat on the back - and many other stations could take note! With RAF organised shows and open days becoming a rarity, this type of event must surely be the ideal way for a station to at least allow some members of the public the opportunity to visit, thus generating funds for worthy charities without much in the way of operating costs. In a similar vein, it was good to see the Brize Norton photocall back on the agenda. Although some enthusiasts thought there should have been more RAF fast jets, the guys at Brize certainly know how to organise such an event. Their timing was perfect as well, just before the season got into full swing, and just to demonstrate value for money, the price was the same as the first photocall way back in 1990. No rise in ten years, not bad. Brize had the best of weathers and the photographic evidence of the day showed it. Complaints lodged at the organiser regarding the failure of 'indicated' visitors to turn up were, to say the least, unfair. Valley? Well what can you say? For the second year running the organisers appeared to get it wrong – upsetting more visitors than before.

Although there are less shows in general than ten years ago, and despite the huge costs associated, we can still count ourselves lucky that there is still a large selection of airshows in the UK to choose from, especially when compared to some of our European neighbours. Added to this, we have a fairly comprehensive collection of historic warbirds and classic jets to supplement any military participation. So, although it's lamentable that the last decade has seen a decline in venues, we believe that we must put that behind us, accept what is available to us now, and support them in the best way possible; by continuing to attend whichever shows we can. Some may argue that admission charges are too high, but when you see how much it is to go watch grown men kick a leather bladder around a pitch for a mere ninety minutes, we know which is the greater value for money.

And so to next year - let’s wish for some sun, plus those unusual items to bring a bit of variety to rows of F16s, Tornados et al, but most of all that it’s a safe one.

 

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