Leuchars International Airshow 2002 - 14 September
Gary Parsons looks at the UK's last major military show of the season
For the first time since 1998 the airshow office at Leuchars enjoyed a trouble-free run-up to the day. In '99 the show was cancelled for operational reasons, 2000 came in the week of the petrol tankers' strike and last year's show was immediately post 9/11. More relaxed as a result, the event enjoyed a particularly fine afternoon, a small weather oasis in a period of easterly winds and low cloud.
One year on from 9/11, the intervening twelve months have seen little USAF presence at UK airshows, RIAT excepted. Bucking the trend was Leuchars, with American aircraft dominating the main static park, headed by the B-52 - indeed, had it not been for 'Uncle Sam', the main ASP would have looked pretty deserted. Missing were many RAF types - no C-17, TriStar, Hercules or Sentry, highlighting the enormous strain deployments and taskings are having on our stretched military forces. The home team was also thin on the ground, just a solitary 43 Squadron Tornado F3 could be found, hidden in the fighter line. Many photographers were once again frustrated by 111 Squadron's black-tailed F3, Lightning and Phantom either hidden away in the hangar or used as a cockpit photo-platform. Great photographic opportunities missed once more, but we say this every year!
A great line-up of foreign fighters was to be found - F-4Fs, F-104s, MiG-29, Tiger Italian F3 and German Tornado, plus IV(AC) Squadron's anniversary Harrier GR7 all challenging the lenses of enthusiasts. Just a pity then that the fairground formed the backdrop - as with Waddington, an immense frustration to many! Total aircraft on display may have been down slightly on previous years, but the quality was good for today's airshow scene that suffers late cancellations, low aircraft availability and manpower shortages.
But, let's not dwell on what might have been - except in the case of the elusive Typhoon. For once the airshow team, led by Martin Barnett, had sufficient assurance of its attendance to promote it in advance and centre the flying programme around it, unlike in 2000 when there was just a half-chance it may turn up. Just a couple of days before the show, to the surprise of no-one, news of cancellation came, the reason being its test schedule had 'changed'. It is a poor reflection on Eurofighter GmbH, which shows little commitment to a struggling airshow industry.
Despite the absence of any 'star' turns the flying programme was full and varied, giving the Scottish taxpayer an excellent opportunity to see where some of his hard-earned cash goes. RAF participation formed the bulk of the day - Tutor, Tucano, Hawk, Jaguar, Merlin, Tornados GR4 and F3, Harrier, Nimrod and, of course, the Red Arrows all displayed to perfection, reflecting it's the end of the season and routines are finely honed. Special mention must go to Squadron Leader Roly Sharman in the Harrier, having stepped in at short notice after Tony Cann's ducking at Lowestoft - it can't be easy to compress a winter's training into a couple of weeks, but his display proved otherwise. We were actually quite lucky to get the RAF fast jets - the crews had been stuck in Jersey until Saturday morning as their hotel had burnt down after the island's airshow, along with most of their kit!
Ably assisting the RAF was the Fleet Air Arm, and the welcome return of the Sea Harrier duo that romped home with the flying trophies at RIAT. Foreign fast jets packed the intervals between the British items, with F-16 displays from Belgium and the Netherlands (otherwise known as the Rudy and Tomba show), a solo French Alpha Jet flown immaculately by Captain Christophe Delarche, and from Germany a Tornado and F-4F (Captains Herda and Albrechet respectively).
Most unique was the Atlantique from the French Navy (Aeronavale). It was the first time in recent memory one has displayed in the UK, Lt Frederic Daubresse turning in a performance that contrasted nicely with the Nimrod. Standing in for Typhoon was Chris Hudson and Kennet Aviation's Gnat 'XR993'/G-BVPP, giving a smooth if somewhat distant display and Andy Cubin once more flawlessly displayed Delta Jets' Hunter T7 WV318/G-FFOX, a regular at Leuchars.
A large crowd underlined the importance of this event north of the border - long delays leaving the airfield were caused by two separate accidents on the A91, but let's hope that this won't deter the Scots returning next year. Leuchars is a good show and deserves a solid future; it's just that a little imagination could make it into a really great one.