Dave Eade sums up the triumphs and tragedy of a strange year. All photos by the author.
At about 15:00 on 11 September, as I sat watching events on the Internet unfold in front of my eyes, I said that things would never be the same. Within a few weeks of that horrific event, another, albeit insignificant by comparison, continued to unfurl itself painfully slowly in Greece. The thought that aircraft spotters, however na´ve, could be incarcerated for five or six weeks for doing what we all do would have been unimaginable before that fateful day in September.
So, in our area of interest as in many others, a shadow of uncertainty hangs over us. It is difficult to see how Mildenhall or, yes, even Fairford can go ahead in the current circumstances where the host nation and its transatlantic partner are openly stating that they are at war. The utter carnage that could be caused by a suicide bomber in the crowd at RIAT is so unlikely to beggar belief - but the Israelis probably feel the same. Certainly nothing should be taken for granted as far as 2002 is concerned.
2001 contained its fair portion of tragedy, of course. The events at Biggin Hill Air Fair will stay in the mind of spectators for years, I am sure. It is to be sincerely hoped that, other than a safety review, nothing has to change at this stalwart of the aviation calendar.
After the classic show of 2000, it is probably true that Air Fete was on a bit of a loser. Better weather, however, meant that spectators and aircrew had an easier show than the previous year. Stars were hard to find but reflection leads your scribe to the opinion that this is a clear case of us being spoilt - because, in truth, everything was good about this year's event. The shame is when a participant has one chance to show off and his kite goes 'tech', it rains, or, in the case of the Golden Knights, it clouds over so nobody can see you. Viewers of the rehearsal on the Practise Day know what a great spectacle was missed on show days. The sight of that static, as you walk from the car at some in-Godly hour of the Saturday morning - almost orgasmic at the thought that it's Mildenhall again, is surely one of the best feelings of the whole season.
The star event of the military calendar this year has to be Waddington. Never before, and unlikely ever again, have the skies reverberated with what is probably one of the best F-15 displays ever seen in the UK - and this time courtesy of none other than the Israeli Air Force. I would suggest that many a hardened spotter found not one but their first four new entries in his Israeli log over that weekend, with three F-15s and Hercules - assuming you missed the 707s that accompanied them over. All day, one felt that you wanted to walk up to these guys and shake their hand - thanking them for coming (a feeling not felt since my first Stealth at the 'hall). The same was true for the Hungarian Mig-29 crew, who having given the OK sat (in awe) on Bravo dispersal watching the Lancaster perform as I photographed their aircraft.
So to RIAT - of which so much is always expected. After last year's wintery effort, this year's extravaganza had no complaints - choosing the best weekend of the year. No-shows by the Hong-5 and Sea Vixen or the total prima-donna attitude of the F-117 security guards paled into insignificance compared to the roasting dealt out to those runway spotters by the B-1 - another case of getting what you deserve (where have I heard that since?). I have written long about my experiences at this year's RIAT and can add nothing more than to say I still relive parts of it. The sheer number of aircraft that you can get onto Cottesmore, the Hungarian Mig-29 display, the F-18s - where do you stop? It just has to be done. And Fairford promises to be twice the size next year...
Like RIAT the organisers of the 'Spottersdag' at Kleine Brogel know exactly what their audience want - and give it to them and plenty. One was left with the impression that it HAD to be organised by spotters and the feeling all day that wherever you were, you wanted to be somewhere else. A better selection of colour schemes and, yes, the odd surprise, would be hard to find.
So the days loomed when the annual trek to Northern climes was upon us - time for Leuchars's Battle of Britain show. Again, nobody would have guessed that either the Americans would be forced to call off or that we would start with two minutes silence for, what was then thought to be, 5 - 6,000 people senselessly wiped out in New York. Most enthusiasts today are probably too young to even begin to comprehend what the loss of life in World War II was like and the thought that one act, other than nuclear, could claim so many innocents was totally incomprehensible. All credit to the powers at Leuchars who decided to show a comprehensive two-fingered salute to those that would seek to control our lives by violence. A complete show in every way was presented at very short notice to a totally appreciative audience - we will not be moved!
Surprises - the autumn display at Duxford. Disappointments .That I missed the Delta show at Kemble. Regrets - the fact that I STILL haven't seen that b****y Sea Vixen and the Editor will hardly use any of the 1,264 slides I took in 2001 (Ouch - hope I've addressed that one now!- Ed). Roll on 2002 I can't wait!