A labour of lust
Great Yorkshire Airshow, Elvington, 25/26 August
Gary Parsons and Chris Chambers report from Yorkshire's biggest aviation event.
Elvington is another of those great little secrets that you finally get around to knowing, after many years of saying "Maybe next year..." Well, next year finally came, and a well-organised and interesting show was to be found. Okay, so the static was virtually non-existent, but then this is typical of the newer breed of civilian organised airshow that concentrates on a good flying programme. Set adjacent to the Yorkshire Air Museum, it was a shame that some of the museum residents weren't dragged out for the occasion, as the Halifax, Buccaneer and Lightning would have been much savoured by the photographic enthusiast. Museum visitors did have the opportunity to view progress on latest acquisition Dakota G-AMYJ that arrived earlier this year and is in the process of being restored to taxiing condition.
The closure of RAF Finningley and the downgrading of operations at RAF Church Fenton in the early nineties resulted in the loss of what had been a pair of very popular air shows in the Yorkshire region - a void that wasn't truly filled until 1999 with the first Yorkshire Air Show. The display is now in its fourth year, growing to become the largest display in northern England, a stature the organisers are justifiably proud of.
The airshow utilises the recently disposed MoD emergency landing airfield constructed in the 1950s. A long, long 10,000 ft runway and vast concrete apron were supposed to have been used by the USAF in the Cold War but they never turned up, leaving the acres of concrete to the local trainers from Linton-on-Ouse. One problem with the layout is that there is only one way in, resulting in RIAT-proportion delays is getting out of the airfield, as all cars are parked on the massive apron and funnel towards one exit. As a bumper crowd turned out over the two days, this is definitely an area for the organisers to work on for next year. Space isn't a problem once you're in, the ample grass areas between the runway and the taxiway make for a pleasant crowd-free wander amongst the trade stands.
A surprise is the location of the flightline - the eastern end of the runway! Such is the length available that the flying participants are parked at the far end of the active runway, on the south side, the north side available in the case of any emergency on landing. It was quite an experience to see the Tornado F3 thunder towards a line of parked aircraft before rotating skywards, but the safety margins are considerable and all pilots had no problem with it. Indeed, such is the length of the runway that the airshow only occupies half its length, the western half extending into South Yorkshire and some acts that taxied to the far end were literally out of sight. As arrivals were made on Sunday morning, the first warning many got was when the aircraft taxied past after landing some 6,000 ft further down the runway even after a run and break!
The static park on the airfield is limited, although growing from the humble beginnings of a single Tucano. This year witnessed the first international participation in the form of an AH-64A Apache and a pair of BO-105s from the Netherlands. Monday's visitors were treated to a rare and impromptu display by the Apache as the helicopter was repositioned from the static park to the flight line, the crew taking advantage of the open expanse to demonstrate the type's manoeuvrability with a short series of flypasts and turns.
Planned to open the show both days were taxi runs by two of the museum's residents, namely Buccaneer XN974 and Victor K2 'Lusty Lindy'. However, all didn't quite go to plan for either aircraft with the Buccaneer only performing on the Sunday and a chute fault delaying the Victor's Sunday run by some five hours (see right).
Classic jets featured heavily in the display with the mighty Sea Vixen the undoubted star. Making its Elvington debut, the Sea Vixen fought rain and low cloud en-route from its home at Bournemouth to finally make an appearance just before the start of the Sunday's flying display, leaving the audience once again guessing "will she or won't she?". Once airborne for the display routine the Sea Vixen gave an impressive display of raw power and noise with a number of high speed passes and fast climbs, Dan Griffith throwing the beast around as if it was a fly-by-wire F16. Equally impressive, albeit a little more sedate was a routine by a pair of Red Arrows colour-schemed Gnats from Kennet Aviation. Led by ex-Eurofighter test pilot Keith Hartley, the Gnats performed a close pairs routine before breaking into solo displays.
Further colour under the threatening grey skies came in the form of Hunter G-PSST, otherwise known as 'Miss Demeanour'. Taking full advantage of Elvington's long runway, pilot Jonathon Whaley performed what must have been the most impressive take off of the weekend. Once airborne, the Hunter accelerated to 230 knots before a hard turn to port put the aircraft in-line with the B-axis of the display line, all right on the allowed display hard-deck! Not quite so energetic was a display by 'Golden Apple' Trust's T-33, Cliff Spink bringing the aircraft as literally a last minute substitution for the F-86 which had suffered from a small fault shortly before it was due to leave Duxford.
Military participation was rather limited this year, but fast jet displays were provided by the 16(R) Squadron Jaguar and 56(R) Squadron's Tornado F3. Steve Simpson made the short hop from nearby Linton-on-Ouse in his Tucano and flying down from Kinloss was a Nimrod MR2. Making a rare UK flying appearance was a USAFE C-130E Hercules, flying over especially from Ramstein to perform a couple of flypasts before departing for home. Unfortunately both passes were rather high, but just low enough to make out the 'Let's Roll' nose-art on the port side.
Adding Second World War nostalgia was the BBMF trio of Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. An opportunity was missed by the Yorkshire Air Museum as Halifax 'Friday 13th' remained in the hangar all weekend, when there was an abundance of ramp space that would have allowed the Lancaster and Halifax to sit side by side in scenes reminiscent of 1940s Elvington. Maybe next year? Also flying was the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Fairy Swordfish - named the 'City Of Leeds', the Swordfish made its annual pilgrimage back to Yorkshire having been constructed only a few miles away at Sherburn-In-Elmet. Also representing carrier borne aircraft, although on much larger and robust scale was Tony Haig-Thomas's Grumman Avenger, while Rob Davies's P-51D Mustang 'Big Beautiful Doll' was one of the few types present to be fortunate enough to have some respite from the low cloud which had dogged the flying display as, albeit briefly, blue patches appeared right on cue.
As with previous years, there was an abundance of aerobatic teams on hand, but with the Red Arrows absent en-route to Canada, the role of formation jet aerobatics went to Team Khalifa, making only their third UK appearance as a four-ship in blue and yellow L39s. Although relatively underpowered in comparison to other modern day jet teams, the Khalifa team offered some close formation flying and solo routines. It is planned to increase the team to a six or even seven ship next year, offering even more opportunities for aerobatic routines and formation flying. Not quite so fast were the Yaks of the Yakelov display team who like most teams were limited to a rolling display with the low cloud.
Display pilot Denny Dobson performed his usual act of controlled madness in a routine which included flying under a ribbon which had been suspended only twenty-five feet above the runway, before as a finale he used the prop of his Extra 300 to cut it. Pushing even further were team Alpine, pilot Will Curtiss in his SU-26 performing what was probably the most punishing routine with manoeuvres ranging from -7G to a blood draining +12G (the SU-26 is stressed to a huge +/- 23G, breaking the pilot long before the airframe!).
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