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RNAS Yeovilton/HMS Heron 60th Anniversary Air Day, Saturday July 15th

Tom McGhee & Andrew Bates report that after a thoroughly miserable and drab early part to the season, which seemed to drag on even longer than usual for an inclement English summer, the warm weather and blue skies shone for Yeovilton's 60th Anniversary Air Day. The first major UK shows of 2000 at Mildenhall and Waddington had suffered from less than ideal weather conditions, but the numerous West Country holidaymakers and enthusiasts who attended this event were treated to glorious heat, and a pretty decent show.

For the dedicated enthusiast there were less exotic foreign types than expected, but for many the two Turkish Air Force F-4E Phantoms, including 67-0210, would have been worth the trip alone. Although not as rare to these shores as once was the case the presence of these jets wearing the South-East Asia camouflage scheme made a great change to the drab grey schemes that are much too prevalent these days.

Talking of unusual colour schemes, Yeovilton was blessed with a variety of aircraft in the static park which stood out from the crowd. An RAF Hawk T1 from RAF Valley, XX235, wore a smart yellow go-faster stripe on top of the all-black fuselage that looked pretty slick. One of the resident Sea King HC4s, ZA297 of 846 NAS, was wearing its Arctic striping and SFOR markings for operations in the former Yugoslavia. The test units at Boscombe Down sent a couple of aircraft including the VAAC Harrier XW175, which is heavily involved in trials and tests to support the new JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) that the Royal Navy hopes to procure as a Sea Harrier replacement. Whilst the Harrier selection was excellent, with the DERA VAAC being the highlight, our NATO neighbours put on a very poor showing - obviously times are hard for some air arms, but this was the first show in a long while not to feature a F16.

As would be expected, Royal Navy aircraft dominated the flying display and the static park, but at times you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had time-ported back many decades as the flying display filled with the sounds of Swordfish, Hellcat, Avenger, Venom, Meteor and Hunter amongst others, including a ex-New Zealand Navy Wasp NZ3907, now civil-owned in the UK. The Navy's newer hardware was on show of course, including Merlin HM1 ZH839 from Culdrose, as well as copious examples of resident Sea Harriers and Lynxes plus a couple of all-black training twin-seat Harrier T8s, including ZB604.

For anyone who cared to take a stroll through the small static of light private aircraft, there was a real gem to be found, which many enthusiasts may have missed. A Fuerza Aerea Boliviana (FAB/Bolivian AF) SF260M. Although now retired from military service, its civilian owner has retained it in its original markings. It now carries a French civil registration, so presumably the new owner is fond of garlic and onions...

Nearby at GKN Westlands at Yeovil, production of EH-101 Merlins for both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force is well underway, whilst the Army Air Corps are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the WAH-64 Apache, which has just commenced production at the Somerset facility. Westlands exhibited ZJ173 to mark the first major public appearance of this awesome attack helicopter, and once in service will make a radical improvement to British Army's Anti-tank capability compared to the current Lynx TOW. British aircrew converting to the Longbow Apache have remarked that the transition from AH-64 to Longbow is actually more involved than that from Lynx to AH-64. This is in part due to the all electronic cockpit in the Longbow which, compared to the many hundreds of switches in the AH-64, only has a handful of conventional switches for operations such as main rotor brake, and crypto reset for example.

The flying included another excellent display from the 15(R) Squadron Tornado (the anniversary one), along with Canberra WK163/G-BVWC, 20(R) Squadron Harrier GR7, and a couple of flypasts from a Minot based B-52H. An unusual formation saw the Swordfish, flanked by two Lynx, with a Merlin at the rear. Arguably the unlikeliest diamond formation one will see this year.

All-in all Yeovilton was a great success, with a friendly relaxed attitude from all the servicemen and women involved, and great weather too, let's hope it lasts!

All pictures by Tom McGhee.

 

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