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Apache Territory

Middle Wallop International Airshow, 8 - 10 September

Andrew Bates and Gary Parsons report: No less than five WAH-64D Apache Longbows were present at Middle Wallop for the bi-annual "International Air Show", with three taking part in the TAC demo. Billed as an international show, it is perhaps slightly a misnomer in current times, as very few international participants were in attendance. A heli-meet had been held during the preceding week, which attracted entries from several European Air Forces, but most remained in the static park for the displays over the weekend, only a Super Frelon from the Armée de la Terre providing any foreign military flying participation. Warbirds from the Dutch Duke of Brabant's historic flight could be seen, but this would be a rather tenuous "International" claim for the show.

Another decimated by the terrible summer of 2000, Friday's flying programme was barely so with many items cancelling due to the 400 foot cloudbase and intermittent drizzle. Although not cold, it was another nail in the coffin of 2000 as we will all remember it as the year of clag; so much for global warming.

But, almost as impressive as ever was the massed approach of helicopters, with no less than forty-two lining up just under the leaden cloudbase, a mixture of Sea Kings, Lynxes, Gazelles and Squirrels accompanied by a Chinook and the three Apaches, which prowled around the formation like well-trained sheepdogs. A stiff breeze tested the skills of the pilots, the choppers leaning noticeably, but both rehearsals were successful, although not as spectacular as in recent years - mainly due to the line forming when well in the air, in contrast to past displays where it has risen as one from behind the hills.

Upon early arrival at the airfield on Saturday, at about 8:15 am, the weather looked promising, with areas of blue sky breaking through a relatively high cloud base. However, as cameras were readied, quicker than you can say 100ASA, the blue disappeared, and as if by magic, the cloud base lowered itself to a level reminiscent of RIAT earlier this year. As if that wasn’t enough, this was soon accompanied by mist and drizzle, though remarkably it remained warm and muggy throughout. As the light rapidly faded, the stocks of 400ASA film in the camera bag began to look woefully inadequate.

The drizzle seemed to get heavier as the morning progressed, so that when the Harrier GR7 kicked off proceedings at 11:00, one of a pair from 20(R) Squadron to grace the Wallop turf, most people were to be found watching the display from their car. Despite the mist and prevailing gloom, which obscured the aircraft from time to time, the pilot continued his performance with the usual vigour, but less vertical manoeuvres, (apart from hovering of course). Although the weather prevented the entire V/STOL repertoire, the Harrier display was still impressive to watch, if only for the rare opportunity to witness the aircraft taking off from grass.

As the rain persisted, there followed an unlikely display combination, as the unmistakable silhouettes of a Mirage 2000 and F15 took to the skies. Now before anybody questions this statement, suggesting that it would not be possible for such aircraft to operate from Middle Wallop, and that your scribe is off his trolley, (both of which are of course correct assumptions), it should be pointed out this pairing were actually model aircraft. As if to demonstrate the low visibility at the time, it was not uncommon for either model to disappear into cloud during the display.

Not wishing to appear unkind, but this model demonstration seemed to go on for about three days! It was actually about 30-40 minutes, but possibly due to the weather, along with the early start from home, it just seemed rather lengthy. There were other model aircraft flown during the demonstration, and the skills of the 'pilots' were quite incredible, with remarkable life-like routines being played out. Equipped with real jet engines, producing about twenty pounds of thrust, the F15 was star of the slot. The brave souls on the crowdline certainly seemed to enjoy it, but we would still rather see real aeroplanes at a proper airshow...

Early afternoon saw an improvement in the weather, with the cloud base lifting a little, and an end to the rain. This coincided with the arrival of a Culdrose based Merlin HM1, which was to give a display later in the afternoon. This enabled the crowds to compare the RN’s latest helicopter with its RAF counterpart, the Merlin HC3, which was already parked in the static.

One of the highlights during the afternoon was the display by the French Navy Super Frelon. This rare participant, now in the twilight of its operational career, gave a spirited display that belied its size, as well as its age, and was a welcome sight in the flying programme for many enthusiasts.

Many who had journeyed to Middle Wallop to hopefully catch their first glimpse of the latest addition to the AAC inventory, the awesome AH-64D Longbow Apache, were not to be disappointed, with one put through its paces during the afternoon. Looking at the humble Lynx parked nearby, you can’t help but think that this latest acquisition must be a quantum leap in terms of capability, and must surely be a powerful recruiting aid for the AAC.

Apart from a fairly tame tactical demonstration by Apaches, Chinooks and some enthusiastic Ghurkas, the remainder of the flying display consisted of a fairly eclectic mix of aircraft types, mainly historic, which apart from the AACHF, comprised such types as Meteor NF11, Pembroke C1, DC3, B-25 Mitchell, Saab Safir, Austers, and the Aerostars Yak-52s, amongst others. Despite all the thrill and spectacle of such types as the Harrier and Apache, prize for the most enthralling display went to United Airlines and their Boeing 767. As main sponsors of the event, United provided one of their airliners for a couple of low passes over the airfield, and full marks to the pilot for making it a flypast to remember! The sight of a wide bodied jet transport making a landing approach to a grass strip, and then vigorously waggling the wings at minimal height has to be seen to be believed. In case anybody missed this spectacle, which was highly unlikely, the pilot repeated it on the second pass. Let’s hope he didn’t spill too many gin and tonics in the cabin!

As far as the static was concerned, there were a few gems to be found for the enthusiasts, such as the Austrian OH-58B and Alouette III, French Cougar and Gazelles, Danish Fennecs & H500s, and the pair of AMI 4° Stormo AB212s, but it was a shame the home team were not given more prominence. There was no Islander or Squirrel on static, and the Gazelle was only ground instructional.

On balance, it was worth the trek down to Hampshire, but despite the foreign participation, and the Apache contingent, it will probably not be remembered as a classic Middle Wallop show thanks to the best attentions of the weather.

 

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