International Airshow, 15 September
Gary Parsons reports
on a sombre event.
At 14:00 a lone piper's lament hung over the Scottish lowlands as Leuchars paid its
respect to those that perished in America. It was a quite moving experience as 50,000
people turned their thoughts to events far away, events that could affect thousands of
Held just four days after the terrible events in New York on 11 September, a melancholy
mood hung over this year's Leuchars International Airshow. Aviation was in the news for
all the wrong reasons, so it was natural that proceeding with an airshow was called in
question. But, as the adage says, 'the show must go on'.
At the press briefing, the Station Commander, Group
Captain Martin Routledge, outlined the reasons for continuing to hold the show in such
dark times. "We join millions worldwide who have condemned the appalling
barbarism of those who perpetrated such horrific acts of terrorism. However, as our Prime
Minister has indicated, terrorists much not be allowed to stop our normal way of life. We
have the deepest sympathy for the victims and their families and for the emergency
services dealing with the aftermath. I understand some people might call into question the
appropriateness of commemorating the Battle of Britain in this country four days after
such an outrage. However, this Show represents a beacon of hope in the fight against
terrorism, and a clear demonstration that our Services stand together to preserve freedom
and democracy. The Battle of Britain Airshow provides a very public opportunity for us
here to stand in solidarity with our American allies in the face of such a terrible
atrocity. As a mark of our respect, flags have been flying at RAF Leuchars at half-mast
since Wednesday and will continue do so throughout the Show."
Naturally the American participants cancelled, this having a huge impact on the static
park as many USAF 'heavies' had been booked. Space previously allowed for the B-52, B-1,
KC-135 et al was now empty and radical re-planning was quickly done to try to plug some of
the holes. A C-17 was arranged at very short notice from Brize Norton, ZZ174 (the newest
of the RAF's fleet of four) arriving early on the show morning and departing for a tasked
mission as soon as the show had finished. The unusual sight of the aircraft being
marshalled through the arriving spectators kept many RAF policemen on their toes,
especially given the heightened state of security on military establishments across the
for the airshow organisers the star attraction had been lost the day before the events of
Tuesday 11th, when confirmation that the Spanish Navy AV-8B would not make it to the show.
Due to take part in the flying display, it would have been a coup not far short of
Waddington's Israeli F-15I and was the reason many enthusiasts made the trip to eastern Scotland. With its
cancellation, and that of the B-1, the flying programme suddenly had a ordinary look, full
of the usual RAF items and ubiquitous French Mirage 2000 and
Dutch F-16 solos. But, all things considered, everyone considered
that we were lucky to have an airshow at all.
Frustrating was the placement of the recently refurbished Lightning F6 and Phantom FG1 in
a hangar display celebrating 90 years of aviation at Leuchars - they would have looked so
much better in the brilliant early morning sunshine! Equally frustrating was the
relative absence of based F3s - the fast jet static line would have benefited immensely
with half a dozen Tornados escaped from their HASs. True, 111 Squadron were away on
detachment, but may would have welcomed the opportunity to see 43's complement, especially
with a variety of weapons fit. It seems churlish to comment in light of the world
situation, but just a little more would have gone a long way to restoring the show's
content and ultimately spectator satisfaction.
But there was much that was good. Despite the cancellations a seven-hour flying programme
was achieved without too many yawning gaps, and the flying was first-class, if a little
distant on occasion. 'Voltage Victor', the French Mirage F-1 duo
performed one of their remarkably close balletic routines, and Swedish Team 60 provided
the variety with their vastly underpowered Saab 105 (aka Sk60)
trainers. Just how they managed to keep up with other, no-one knows...
Craig Penrice with Classic Jets' Hunter 'WB188' was the
biggest culprit in the 'far-off' display category with a lovely display, unfortunately
only noticeable from a dinghy in St Andrews Bay. Dave Roome flew Delta Jets' WV318 with
usual flair, but this time somewhere near the display line, and a lot closer
to the runway than some!
A remarkable display of agility in the stiff
north-westerly breeze was given by the Austers of the AAC's
Historic Flight, manoeuvres that can only be described as 'handbrake turns' were much
in evidence. Similarly afflicted was the FAA's Swordfish that
had a remarkable turn of speed downwind and was almost stationary in the opposite
Closing the show was 56(R) Squadron's F3, climbing skywards as the base band played a
sunset ceremony. The show finished only half an hour early after seven hours of constant
movements, save the minute's silence (which was disrespectfully broken by the fairground
refusing to join in).
So the show, and life, goes on. Leuchars proved that despite the worst that humanity can
inflict upon itself normality must prevail; however trivial such events as airshows may
seem, they represent the enduring human spirit of entertainment and adventure that
terrorism cannot be allowed to stop.