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Museum exhibits on showIt must be love...

Cosford 2002, 9 June

Catherine Adams, long-suffering partner of regular contributor Damien Burke, gives us a girlfriend's point of view

My mother has always had much to say on the subject of true love. But strangely enough, she has never (so far at least) mentioned occasions where my beloved and I would be huddled in a very small canvas shelter, trying to keep ourselves (plus some pricey photographic gear) vaguely dry, whilst waiting for things with wings to entertain us. And yet here I was, braving the elements to watch the Cosford 2002 Airshow.

On any given weekend, the mere scheduling of an airshow appears to have almost cataclysmic effects on our weather system and Cosford proved to be no exception. However, the threatening grey skies and bouts of rain did not deter what seemed like most of the population of Birmingham from attending the show. From a practical point of view, the organisation behind getting all of the cars parked up was superb! We ended up being a short hop from the crowdline, which is very important when it feels like you are lugging around most of the contents of your house. Even though we were among the early birds, there was still a bit of a crush in the open hangar displays and the indoor craft fair. So, after checking that there was enough shopping potential to keep yours truly happy, we returned to our little shelter on the crowdline to await the start of the display.

Cosford is always a good chance to catch those Jaguars kept in storage - often some are dragged out (literally) to make up the numbers in the static parkThe first on the list of displays was the RAF Falcons. An eager flick through my souvenir programme informed me that these are the RAF's parachute display team. "Cool!" I thought, with a vague memory of seeing them perform last year. However, "the ability of team members to adapt to the varying weather conditions all around the world" (quote from said Souvenir Programme) was defeated by the grim skies over Cosford, and they chose - perhaps wisely - to stay in the shelter of their Hercules transport plane.

Right. It was now up to the mighty Merlin helicopter to save the dignity of our armed forces and the large, grey-green blob that terrorised the crowdline for the next few minutes was by no means a disappointment. In fact, it almost seemed to be a Harrier in disguise with its sideways and reversing manoeuvres. Sadly, all too soon, it decided that we had had enough excitement and came in for a rather plane-like landing, rolling happily down the runway on its wheels rather than opting for a simple vertical landing.

Next, we were to be treated to a demonstration of helicopter abseiling courtesy of the Royal Marines Commando Display Team. Right on cue, the Lynx helicopter arrived and took up its position 200 feet above the ground. The commentator took the opportunity to introduce the squad and explained that the four droplines spiralling down from the Lynx would be held by chaps on the ground whilst their colleagues made the quick trip down. I briefly wondered if I would ever jump from that height, or be willing to hold on to a rope attached to a large, hovering machine, and Going commandorapidly came to the conclusion of "Not a chance!" Fortunately, the Commandos were not so faint-hearted and rapidly came zooming down the ropes. All but one unfortunate soul reached the ground in seconds. The remaining man was stuck about a third of the way down for a few moments - a little embarrassing I thought, considering that the commentator was currently singing their praises. Perhaps it was the unfortunately named "John Thomas"? This name caused much sniggering amongst those in the crowd old enough to have a dirty mind when the announcer read it, I can tell you! I believe I knew who would be getting the drinks in for the rest of the boys that evening once he was reunited with the ground.

For the big finale, the Lynx came in for a landing, windscreen wipers clearing away the rain that was now falling. The four Commandos attached themselves to clips on the outside before being swung up into the air again and were asked to repeat the abseiling manoeuvre. Sadly, two of them fell prey to "Sticky Rope Syndrome" this time!

At this time, we were starting to pray in earnest for some sunny weather. The little boy next to us started to pray for something other than helicopters, and his wish was granted in a form that I could only describe as 'Harrier Surprise'. To our delight, two Harriers of 20(R) Squadron sped in unannounced, complete with airfield explosions! They made a couple more passes before hovering side-by-side to peer at us. I could feel the vibration of the engines through the soles of my feet before they treated us to a most genteel bow. Now things were really looking up, I thought! And I was glad to see the solo Hawk follow this up with a very spirited display - which was abruptly cut short as the nasty weather closed in again.

Next up in an effort to lift our spirits was the Sea King helicopter. We hoped that the aircraft would live up to its rugged reputation and put on a good show, in spite of the clouds and rain, however, he only seemed to be interested in giving a private display to about twenty people at the far left of the airfield. Still, he did redeem himself slightly at the end by making a good pass along the length of the field, flying the Blue Ensign beneath him.

At this point, "Long Gap Syndrome" was starting to appear between the acts. Amidst promises of better weather, we huddled in our little canvas shelter, peering out only to try and get good shots of the Lynx pair (light grey helos against a light grey sky do not a good picture make!) then doing the same for the following Nimrod and Tucano displays. Following an altercation with someone who seemed to resent us arriving three-and-a-half hours early to get ourselves a good spot for photos, and a huge gap in the display, we actually packed up and went to sit in the car to get some relief from the rain!

Alpha JetThe next display from the Belgian Alpha Jet was rather marred by the walk to the car and the discussion as to whether or not we were going to stick it out for the rest of the day. Damien had never given up on an airshow before, but he and I were getting darn close to starting up the trusty old Rover and driving off! The fact that the Alpha Jet's pilot appeared to be enjoying himself immensely persuaded us to stay a little longer. Now, I don't actually know much about aircraft, but I did think that the Alpha Jet looked like a nice bit of kit - a sort of Hawk/Gnat lovechild, as it were. When this act was over, we decided to take the commentator's advice and do a bit of shopping whilst they waited for the good weather that they had been promising all day to finally make an
appearance.

Well, someone must have been working on a mighty mo-jo, as the weather managed to turn itself around from grey-on-grey to dazzling blue with little fluffy clouds in about ten minutes flat! Of course, we were right away from the display at the time and so missed the flight of the Swordfish despite ploughing back through the crowds at a spanking trot. We then lost most of the Blue Eagles display trying to find a place that would give Damien's pictures a fighting chance of featuring aircraft rather than the back of someone's head. However, we did manage to find a workable spot just in time to enjoy the solo Jaguar display: 'The Saint' was strutting his stuff - low, fast and loud! At last, we were getting the show we had been hoping for.

Nimrod braves the weatherDuring the Jag's display, I became aware of a radio conversation between the tower and an incoming aircraft. The pilot had a gentle voice and a dry sense of humour - and I couldn't wait to see what he was bringing to meet us! When asked if he could adapt his display to work around the changing schedule, he said something to the effect that he'd do his best, but that he "wasn't much of an ad-libber". Well, a few moments later, this modest chap turned up in an immaculate Hunter that was wearing the colours of prototype WB188. And didn't she look marvellous sparkling in the sunshine? I could only wish that my curves were as good as hers were as she was put through her elegant paces (they are! - Damien). She certainly put her more youthful cousins to shame with a gentle - yet impressive - display. I particularly liked her long, slow roll with the gear down: whoever the pilot was, he certainly Hunter 'WB188'knew how to show her off. All too soon though, the Hunter pointed her nose away from us and made her departure. "It's nice to see a proper aircraft," said a voice from the control tower. I believe that quite a few of us on the ground were thinking the same thing.

Well, after the lull came the storm - in the form of the solo Harrier making his usual attention-seeking noisy take-off, before haring past us upside-down. Determined to keep the decibel levels well above comfortable listening parameters, we were treated to a rumbling low pass before he came back to show us all that he could hover better than any old helicopter! After a smooth 180 turn and climb, he went for a well controlled touch-and-go, as he was obviously concerned that the runway had received too much rain earlier, and was in need of a damn good blow-dry. Not content any longer to merely Harrier blow-jobhover, he decided to go backwards, and he was so close I could see his visor as he looked from side to side! Then of course came the trademark Harrier bow, and he was treated to a well-deserved round of applause as he set neatly back down.

It seemed that the day was just going to get better as the Tornado pilot also decided to give it his all, screaming in very low, trailing vapour on tight turns with the burners very much up and cooking. After a while, the wings were swept forward to give us a (slightly) more sedate display, including a slow pass that appeared to be completely effortless. However, Vampirehis slow roll with the gear down wasn't quite as elegant as the Hunter's, but he made up for it in his final manoeuvre when he sent the Tornado skywards in a powerful vertical goodbye.

At this point, Damien seemed to be trying to tell me something, but it was coming out all garbled. It appeared to be connected with a couple of dots that had appeared in the sky and was obviously something very exciting. And then, in swept Foxy Lady - the mighty Sea Vixen herself - with the smaller Vampire dancing attendance at the rear. All I could think Venom G-GONEat this point was "WOW!" All eyes were definitely on the Lady as she powered past us, leaving the stage to the Vampire for his solo display. Just as the Vampire finished, we were all surprised by the Venom swinging in from the left to perform his own show. What a marvellous return to form!

And then it was time for Foxy Lady to entertain us. Oh my. Curving around in large loops, it seemed that she swung down in "whisper mode" before turning on the power to lift her effortlessly upwards again. Her twin booms made an amazing silhouette in the beautiful blue sky, which now also provided a wonderful backdrop for her bold yellow and red colours. As she turned her belly towards us, we could clearly see that her red coat was flaking and patchy, but it somehow did nothing to detract from her beauty. Despite her age, the pilot seemed almost able to turn her on a knife-edge, and as his grand finale he French Jag duosent her straight up in a fashion that surely made the Tornado envious. I was suddenly very glad that the rain had not succeeded in chasing us away.

The Sea Vixen's departure definitely left a lull that could not quite be filled by a nifty show from an Agusta 109 chopper (poor thing!). Damien suddenly stopped using rolls of film at a time and I had an irresistible urge to hunt down the nearest ice cream van. The Agusta soon left the field to a friendly invasion by the French Jaguar duo, who had us all firmly convinced that they were actually welded together. Until of course they split apart and did a stunning head-on cross, following this up with another left to right cross. These boys were certainly a hard act to follow, and sadly the solo Hawk display couldn't quite compete with them. The pilot seemed to be intent on keeping a gentlemanly distance from his audience and did not live up to the promise shown during his brief stint earlier in the day. Ah well. Fortunately the lads from the Royal Jordanian Falcons were on hand in their prop-jobs-with-attitude (Extra 300s according to the programme) to save the day. They showed the crowd that propeller aircraft could be just as thrilling as jets.

I could sense that the crowd was waiting for something as the day began to draw to a close. Then as the Red Arrows blasted across the sky to be welcomed by much applause, I had the feeling that many people had come to Cosford, waiting out the weather and gaps in the display, just to see the RAF's ambassadors in action. Well they weren't to be disappointed. Fresh from the glorious flypast for the Queen's Jubilee, the Reds flew a seamless and energetic display, to the obvious delight of the audience. I had never seen such a reaction to them before. The members of the crowd were happy to applaud their heroes and to gasp in response to daring crosses and intricate manoeuvres. However, I would swear that when the Concorde formation was announced, more than one person was scanning the skies for BA's flagship! The final split trailing the trademark red, white and blue smoke was greeted with cheers and a last swell of applause before the Reds headed for home. They could be justly proud of themselves.

Well, all in all it had been an amazing day, not least from the weather's total about-face. Damien was on a definite high from seeing the Sea Vixen soar and I had been completely charmed by the elegant old Hunter. However, by the end of the day I was more than ready to assume my duties as chauffeur and head for home. The thought of a change of clothes, plus grabbing a cup of tea that wouldn't require taking out an overdraft to afford it was absolute heaven! Actually, aeroplanes aren't really my thing, but I am still happy to pack up my car and head out with Damien for yet another show.

So, why do I go to all this trouble, do I hear you ask? Didn't I mention that it was true love?

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