World of Waddington
Gary Parsons and Dave Eade report on another successful International event. All pictures by the Editor unless stated otherwise.
It was always going to be a worry competing with the World Cup final for attention, especially during the final weeks when it seemed England would make it through to Sapporo. So, just in case, the airshow organisers arranged for a giant screen so that the football fans wouldn't miss the action, intending a 'quiet' period of flying so that their viewing wouldn't be too disrupted - this, of course, was thrown into complete disarray by the 'black' state of the runway caused by the German Tornado (see sidebar). Such was the confidence of the Germans in victory that on arrival F-4F 38+74 was adorned on its fin with the logo "Soccer World Champion 2002" - needless to say that by 14:30 on Sunday it had been hastily erased with the use of a can of light grey spray paint. Brazilian participation was tenuous, with only a Belgian Air Force Embraer ERJ-135 support aircraft on the Friday and Monday, unless you count the RAF Tucano - so the Germans won the participation cup, if nothing else!
The two-seat Gripen and German MiG-29UB were notable debutees for the UK airshow circuit, especially the former as the Gripen is so far still a rarity in itself. No less than three examples attended, one in the flying, one spare and the two-seater for static. Quite a little hot-rod in the air, Captain Martin Birkfeldt threw the diminutive fighter about, but it still doesn't have the 'presence' of the mighty Viggen. The Swedes thoroughly enjoyed their time at the airshow and have vowed to return - how about that red Viggen next time?
Not quite a first cap, but an extremely rare appearance on the pitch was the RAAF P-3 Orion, ready for its attendance at this year's Fincastle competition at RAF Kinloss. The international flavour was continued with its accompanying RNZAF example, also in toned-down markings, but a contrasting shade of grey.
The reluctance of the US to commit to the airshow scene early in the year and the cancellation of the 'Blue Angels European Tour 2002' made it look a thin start to the hunt for the 'specials' so necessary to pull in the crowds. It was always going to be difficult to top last year's superstar of the F-15I but despite the early setbacks spring predictions had been encouraging - lined up was a strike force of great quality, but one-by-one they fell as factors prevented their appearance on the team sheet. FAA restrictions in the USA prevented the Dutch Constellation from departing, a problem dating back to late May; the French Air Force chief said "Non" to the attendance of the Mirage IVP; the Romanian chiefs similarly said so to the IAR.330's participation, and delivery problems prevented the two CH-149 Cormorants from departing the Agusta factory in Italy. So, just like France missed Zinedane Zidane, so Waddington missed its star centre-forward. But, there was a much greater quality in the midfield than before, with over seventy aircraft on static display.
On the bench
Main theme on Alpha dispersal was AEW/Reconnaissance, with centre-piece being the return of the E-8 J-STARS - something very rarely seen at any show. No less than three E-3 Sentrys were open for walk-through inspection, from the RAF AEW1 to the French E-3F, and Saab's AEW Argus was making a first appearance at Waddington. In fact, Alpha was packed as never before - it would have provided credit to any airshow on its own. With such gems as the EC-130H tucked in alongside Mildenhall's 'Let's Roll' KC-135R, it also provided proof that the Americans haven't given up completely on airshows.
Many spectators decried the Turkish F-4 left stranded on the farside of the airfield on Delta dispersal, but this was not a Mildenhall-style attempt at 'one example in the static park only' - in fact it had gone 'tech' on arrival and had started to leak hydraulic oil, so it was deemed that it was best left farside rather than pollute the rest of the airfield. An eight-inch length of hose was replaced in about ten minutes on Monday morning, but it still required a C-160 to deliver the part!
Also a disappointment was the appearance of a plain grey German MiG-29 instead of the colourful 29+20, but the latter is on major service until the end of July (so will possibly miss Fairford as well). Some compensation appeared in the form of Tornado 44+56 which was sporting an anniversary scheme to celebrate 43 years of JbG34 (hey, any excuse is okay by us!).
A welcome expansion of the static park involved the use of Foxtrot dispersal to present aircraft used by the Air Warfare Centre. Comprising a RAF Sentry walk-through, Tornado F3 and GR4s, Harrier and Jaguar it gave many a rare glimpse of OEU aircraft, as well as finding out about the AWC itself. It highlighted the increase in aircraft attending - a sure sign of a successful airshow.
Before leaving the static it would be amiss not to refer to the superbly painted 23 Squadron Phantom FGR2 which is to be installed outside 23's HQ and was included in the line-up, with the rare opportunity for many to sample an F-4's cockpit.
It was definitely a battle of the Falcons on Sunday as the earlier Tornado incident delayed the Dutch F-16 until late in the afternoon, just two slots after the Belgian display. So it was Schoukens versus Buijs, and a jolly fine close competition it was too, the Belgian just sneaking it on penalties (in our humble opinion).
Two F-18 displays were on offer, one Spanish and one Swiss, both using plenty of high-energy manoeuvres and little to choose between them. In contrast were the F-4F and Tornado displays, more power than grace and attempting to squeeze every drop of vapour from the atmosphere. Messrs Stevens and McGregor piloted the RAF F3 and GR4 respectively, while of course Lt Cdr Wulff had his own moment with the German Navy example (see sidebar).
billing for many was Grumman HU-16C Albatross 141262/N7025N
that performed a sedate flypast or two on Saturday, before being unfortunate
to be a victim of the time constraints of Sunday. Not seen down south
for a few years, this ex-US Navy delight flew on Thursday and Saturday
in clear blue skies and looked a true classic. Hearts did jump on landing,
however, in what was seen to be a very cruel crosswind. Propellers were
few and far between, save for the Swiss PC-7s, although of course Squadron
Leader Stu Reid and the BBMF were on hand to display the Lancaster, Dakota,
Spitfire and Hurricane. Becoming a regular performer is the RAF's new
Merlin HC3, with the 28 Squadron machine slotting
in at short notice during Sunday's hiatus. Helicopters normally struggle
to perform with Waddington's 9,000 ft crowdline but the Merlin seemed
to cover the length admirably, although it was not put through its full
paces by any stretch of the imagination, Squadron Leader Mark Beardmore
obviously taking good care of his new machine.
No less than five aerobatic teams attended, although the French Patrouille de France displayed on Saturday only, being committed to the airshow at Colmar on Sunday. It was good to see the French, performing with their usual Gallic expertise in a year marred by tragedy for them - it's amazing to think it will be their own Golden Jubilee next year!
The Red Arrows, complete with new formations for 2002 continue to show that you can change members or leaders but the magic goes on. Alongside the home team both days were the Italian Frecce Tricolori, as spectacular as ever and performing to Pavarotti, and a debut in the form of the nine-strong Swiss PC-7 team, originally named as The Swiss PC-7 Team. Not an official air force team, it is the efforts of a group of instructors led by Major Peter Merz who, in their spare time, like to perform around the world in their standard (albeit brightly) coloured Pilatus PC-7 trainers. Amazingly, they apparently asked to come, having lost their UK debut with the cancellation of Mildenhall's Air Fete. Sounding like a swarm of angry bees, they performed a sprightly routine with solo performers, the PC-7 often reminiscent of the P-51 Mustang from certain angles. All their publicity plays down their expertise and emphasises that they are ONLY part-timers, but this belies their excellence. Brought together for a week's training at the start of the season and then relying on a couple of practices before each show, these pilots come from active units flying F-18C, F-5E or Alouette IIIs. Don't let that fool you though, these guys can really compete with the best as far as formation flying is concerned. Perhaps lacking the effect that smoke generates, the team showed that the relatively lowly powered PC-7 could be a force to be reckoned with in the formation aerobatic stakes. It must be assumed that the formation pee on mounting their aircraft is a bonding thing understood better south of the Alps!
Suffering from a complete lack of dynamism were the Blue Eagles, who have been denied the use of the Lynx AH7 this year due to 'operational commitments'. Just leaving the four Gazelles, the four pilots performed admirably but with such a large amount of sky to fill the loss of the Lynx and its loops and rolls was all too evident. It is hoped that 2003 will see the return of the Lynx, but let's hope the popularity of this hard-working team is not damaged beyond repair at the end of the season.
In the dressing room...
Last year's show made a record £300,000 donation to charities, but 11 September 2001 will make it a lot harder to achieve similar sums in the future. Insurance premiums have increased five-fold, which will inevitably dent the top-line contribution for a few years to come. However, Airshow Organiser Paul Byram is confident that a sum not far short of last year's record will be generated, as pre-show bookings were fifteen percent up on 2001 and traders were queuing for the best slots. It's a reflection on the increased standing of Waddington's airshow in the calendar - in just eight years the team has succeeded in making it the number two show in the country, arguably now being bigger and better than Mildenhall's Air Fete (assuming we'll ever see another one) and second only to RIAT. Next year's show promises to be yet better than before - a physical lack of space seems to be the only obstacle to creating a Tattoo-rivalling event in the future. Run by people that understand our desire to get 'in there' as far as aircraft go, the inclusion of arrivals days, departure days and an excellent rapport with the media make this airshow is now a total must on the calendar. Be ready to book for next year as soon as tickets are available at waddingtonairshow.co.uk!
For a complete log of the Airshow weekend, click here (Adobe .pdf format)