Highs and lows at Coventry
Gary Parsons reports on Air Atlantique's weekend at Coventry Airport
It was the first airshow for three years, and probably the last to be held at Baginton. Mike Collett and the Air Atlantique team felt the time was right for one last event before expansion of the airport would preclude holding future airshows, so with uncharacteristic enthusiasm for what is a commercial company pulled out all the stops for a memorable weekend's flying.
Sadly the abiding memory will be the loss of Pierre Hollander and the Ryan 'Spirit of St Louis' replica (see sidebar) late Saturday afternoon - structural failure of the airframe sent the aircraft spinning into a factory area outside of the airfield boundary shortly after take-off. Such events are fortunately rare, but the shock of the incident at the end of what had been an enjoyable and relaxing day's flying overshadowed the whole weekend and inevitably raised the issue of airshow safety in the wider press.
Air Atlantique on show
Air Atlantique's historic aircraft were certainly busy, with pleasure flying in the morning and full participation in the airshow programme throughout the afternoon. Pre-show activities included a demonstration by the local flying club, using no less than five Cessnas in formation, plus many arrivals on Saturday morning as aircraft positioned themselves in the aircraft parking areas.
No less than three DC-3s were flown by Air Atlantique, plus the not-quite-a-Dakota DC2 N39165/PH-AJU of the Dutch Aviation museum, a glorious sight in its all-metal finish. Representing the aircraft nick-named 'Uiver' (meaning 'Stork') that took part in the London - Melbourne air race of 1934 and finished an amazing second, it is the only DC-2 still flying.
Making many smaller and nimbler aircraft work for their money was Air Atlantique's Electra, pilot Paul Sabin performing a fabulous top-side pass to the crowd that would have been a credit to many a jet fighter. The Electra is the civilianised Lockheed P-3 Orion (or is it the other way around? Never mind) and is becoming a rare sight in the UK. Slightly more sedate were the two DC-6s, but again something rarely seen at an airshow.
A highlight of the five-hour flying programme were the anti-pollution spraying demonstrations at the end of the day by both the DC-6 and Electra, the on-crowd breeze giving the crowd a not unpleasant drizzle at the end of a particularly hot day on Saturday. With temperatures well into the mid-twenties centigrade, it was a marvellous day with some equally marvellous flying by a variety of aircraft, most being considerably older than the pilots that flew them.
Not just propjobs
Jets were well represented, headed by De Havilland's Sea Vixen and fellow fifties fighters Hunter, F-86, T-33, Meteor and Vampire. An incident with a loose panel on Saturday curtailed the Sea Vixen's demonstration, Brian Grant performing a series of slow passes as the damage was checked out by the staff in the control tower, but the damage wasn't severe and she should be back to full health in the not-too-distant future. Cliff Spink threw the F-86 around in typical glorious style and mention must go to Dan Griffith and Paul Morris in the Meteor and Vampire respectively who took us back fifty years with their fine routine in what are radically different aeroplanes, in terms of speed and power.
Finest of all was Classic Aviation Projects' own Canberra WJ831/G-BVWC, recently re-sprayed in early fifties Bomber Command camouflage and black undersides. Looking quite superb, one could easily be taken back to the threshold of Binbrook's runway as the first aircraft entered service (not that I'm that old, of course) as Dave Piper performed a gentle but graceful display. Unfortunate that the sun didn't co-operate fully for that topside pass, but a fantastic sight nevertheless.
More RAF sixties nostalgia was performed in the portly shape of no less than two Pembrokes performing a unique flying double-act - even in its RAF heyday it would have been a rare sight to see two in the air together, let alone perform opposition passes! Radial Revelations' more familiar WV740/G-GNPH was joined by Air Atlantique's own lesser-seen XL954/G-BXES, both resplendent in RAF Transport Command colours.
Some historic French airframes were welcome visitors to Coventry, giving the British enthusiasts a rare glimpse of what the continental warbird scene can offer. Largest was Jacques Rambach's Nord Noratlas F-AZVM that performed a highly topical Khe-San approach to runway 23, which must have surprised many motorists on the A45 junction under the threshold, and on a smaller scale were two Morane Saulnier 733s (the French equivalent of the Harvard/Texan) who performed a pleasant two-ship routine with opposition manoeuvres and passes.
Never say never again?
An excellent event then, and well supported by the general public, although there was room for more. Parking was a breeze, straight in at 09:00 and straight out at 18:00, no delays whatsoever - always a crucial part of enjoying an airshow! One hopes that the tragedy isn't Coventry's enduring legacy, as there was much to enjoy and the organisation was generally excellent. One must pay tribute to all the pilots, especially those from Air Atlantique who, despite flying pleasure trips most of the morning, flew three or four aircraft each in the flying display. It cannot have been easy to finish the flying programme on Saturday - we salute them.
With planning issues rumbling on about airport expansion, maybe Mike and the team will be able to squeeze in one more show next year - they certainly deserve better luck than 2003 threw at them.
What was that all about?
One incident on Saturday that went largely un-noticed by the public was the strange antics of an intruder who crashed through the security fence in his car and proceeded to career around the hangar area before crashing and being apprehended by security personnel. Quite what he was trying to protest about isn't known at present but one can only assume he had nothing better to do that afternoon!