Damien Burke visits a venue reborn on 26 September
Sywell is not a venue that we've seen much mention of here at Air-Scene UK, for the simple reason that they haven't had an airshow since 1999. This, therefore, was a welcome return to past glories because glorious is about the best description I can think of that sums up the show in a single word.
Held in aid of the Warwickshire & Northamptonshire National Air Ambulance, the flying programme was advertised as running from 14:30 'til 16:30 - so from the sounds of it, a rather short and small scale event. Well, as it turned out - not a bit of it. Flying did not finish until past 17:30, and the flying programme was incredibly tightly put together with almost no gaps at all, so the end result was that we actually got more flying than the average Duxford show - and all for a tenner per person. No traffic hassle, a good friendly atmosphere and get this - a free flightline walk (though donations to the Air Ambulance funds were always welcomed). Top it off with an excellent selection of stalls, including that rarest of airshow miracles - decent grub. A mixed grill that was both delicious and reasonably priced puts this show on the culinary map along with the long-lost Mildenhall shows!
Enough of the peripherals, what about the action? Well that was sufficiently varied to keep all but the most hardened afterburner addict happy. We had military classics - HAC's Hurricane, Maurice Hammond's Mustang (a last minute replacement for Anthony Hodgkin's twin-seat Spitfire), the 'Rasta Cat', Twin Pioneer, Harvard duo, Stearman duo, Jungmeister... a classic jet in the shape of Air Atlantique's Vampire T.55... classic civilian types - Mew Gull, Dragon Rapide, Dakota (a rare display appearance from the fascinatingly horrible-looking radar-equipped Air Atlantique example), Wilga... barnstorming from a collection of types - the Utterly Butterly Stearmans with their wingwalking, the ever-excellent Dennis Neville's flying circus (Tiger Moths & Thruxton Jackaroo) carrying out limbos, flour bombing (with real explosions!), balloon bursting and ribbon cutting, plus ribbon pickup from a Chipmunk... (pause for breath)...
... Unlimited aerobatics from the UK's current champion Tom Cassell in his CAP232 plus also Will Curtis in his Su-26, Steve Carver in his Extra 260 and Gary Ferriman in his Pitts Super Stinker... more modern civil types in the shape of four microlights - a weight-shift trike, a more conventional three-axis Skyranger and two others, of which more shortly... and to complete the line-up, a helicopter display... phew!
Well, I say 'a' helicopter display but that's being rather unfair, because it was one of the highlights of an already excellent display line-up - part of Martin Lovell's routine in a Hughes 500 being picking up a traffic cone with the tip of one of the skids, flying across the aerodrome, dropping the cone... and then righting it using the skid once more. Precision flying that you don't often get to see! In total contrast, let's get back to those two microlights I mentioned a moment ago - first off, they're not really microlights. They're hang-gliders. Now you may recall me being fairly unimpressed by a hang-glider display at a Duxford show not so long ago. Well, this pair had a vital extra ingredient. Jet engines. Yes, some crazy bloke decided that hanging a tiny gas turbine underneath a hang-glider would be a good idea! This turns an otherwise mundane aerial contraption into a 'Jetbug' - and something that you cannot take your eyes off, which is probably down to 90% sheer disbelief, and a 10% mixture of emotions that range from horror to amusement. The little wheels that pop into existence when the (clearly mad, or incredibly brave) pilots have had enough are the icing on the cake. Utterly bonkers.
The Air Ambulance itself was based at Sywell for the day, and proved its worth in a very public manner by being called out during the show to attend a serious hit and run incident in a nearby village - arriving within minutes of the initial 999 call. Other attractions on the ground included a few of the airfield owner's sports car collection, the late Paul Morgan's P-51 'Susy' plus a selection of other based aircraft out on static display - including a lovely Miles Messenger and a brand spanking new AT-3, with which the resident Brooklands Flying School hopes to re-equip next year.
I really have to reach deep to find anything to criticise here - but as it happens the bouncy castle that took up a chunk of the limited crowdline will do. Stick it somewhere else next time, please! But otherwise - just do that all again - it was perfect. 2004 has really been the year of the 'small show' - who says airshows are dying? They're just going back to their roots, and are all the better for it.
from the show are available to buy here.