Gary Parsons looks back at Waddington's International Airshow 2005, held over the weekend of 2/3 July. Pictures by the author unless credited otherwise
There was an eastern flavour to this year's Waddington International Airshow as aircraft from former Eastern Bloc communist countries swelled the ranks of static aeroplanes and provided arguably the highlight of the flying display. No less than four Romanian Air Force MiG-21s arrived in force on Thursday afternoon, taking in the airshow while en-route to RAF Lossiemouth for a squadron exchange with 15(R) Squadron - it was the first time that this former Cold War fighter had visited Waddington, but now that Romania is a fully-signed up member of NATO, such things are possible. Complementing the four Lancers was another of Mikoyan's finest, a MiG-29 Fulcrum from the Hungarian Air Force that performed displays to rival the RAF's Typhoon in flair, if not with the same agility - how times have changed when we can say that a Fulcrum can be outclassed! Captain Zoltan 'Topl' Szabo performed with panache over no less than four days, performing five displays in all, two early on Friday as the flying committee took a close look at some of the more aggressive manoeuvres - as well as the customary tail slide, the Su-27 Flanker's trademark 'Cobra' was also part of the show.
Alongside the handful of MiGs, more East European flavour was provided by the Polish Air Force, represented by Team Orlik flying a nine-ship display of PZL-130 Orliks (Spotted Eaglet) for the first time. This 'bitsa' aircraft (that definitely is a Sea Harrier tail!) is the PAF's primary trainer, first delivered to the air force in 1994. The team made its first display at RIAT in 1998 as a four-ship, increasing the number to seven in 2000, but has since decided that the customary nine-ship offers a more dynamic display. Turkish delight was the appearance of a brace of F-4Es from the Turkish Air Force, now becoming Waddington regulars, while providing Mediterranean balance was a sole F-16 from the Greek Air Force, although in the interest of diplomacy it was parked some way from the Phantoms… Together with their support aircraft, these EastEnders made the 2005 event for many enthusiasts, but photographers groaned when they saw the location of them in and around the funfair and ice cream vans. To rub salt in the wound, the photogenic Alpha ramp was filled with private Cessnas, Austers and Jet Provosts, much more suitable material for padding out the area between the dodgems and bouncy castles!
In contrast to the East Europeans, many former NATO allies were conspicuous by their absence - where were the Italians, the Spanish, the Germans or the Dutch? Usually near-neighbours could be relied upon to bolster the static parks, but this year it just didn't happen. Was it high-level politics coming into play? Does the Iraqi invasion still rankle with our European cousins? It wasn't that they weren't invited, far from it - the airshow office believes the perceived cost of crew accommodation is the issue, something that is unfounded as the airshow covers the cost. This message will be made clear for next year, so we'll hope for a return to more normal levels of participation. It was a welcome return though for the Americans after their 2004 absence, two F-15Es from Lakenheath being joined by a KC-135R from Mildenhall. Stateside aircraft still seem reserved for RIAT, but it was a move in the right direction.
Another American aircraft, B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B, was back in the air at last, having been given help from insurers, supporters and Sir Richard Branson. On 17 June, Lloyd's of London underwriters came up with an affordable solution to comply with the new EU regulation EC 785/2004 on third-party insurance by offering a three-month policy, instead of the full twelve months. Sir Richard Branson has generously offered to pay the three-month's third party liability premium - commenting on Virgin Atlantic's involvement, Sir Richard said "When we were told about the plight of Sally B everyone at Virgin Atlantic felt we ought to do something to help keep this amazing aircraft flying. I am honoured that Virgin Atlantic has helped ensure that the Sally B will take pride of place in the 60th anniversary flypast over Buckingham Palace this summer." Help has also come from Lloyd's brokers Marsh, Sally B's broker Arthur I Gallagher (UK) and other London insurance companies and Lloyds Underwriters. Sally B's hull insurance underwriters also wished to help and generously stepped forward with a special deal to extend the aircraft's cover to the end of the 2005 season. Sally B will now join the London flypast on 10 July, marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.
A strong showing by the 'home' team of the Royal Air Force was evident after recent years of indifference, with the entire official flying display items present and correct, from the diminutive Tutor to the home-based Sentry AEW1, including both types of Nimrod - it was especially god to see resident 51 Squadron play a full role in the station flypast in one of its newly-painted R1s, despite the unit's hectic operational schedule. Most types were represented in the static parks, with the exception of the TriStar and C-17A, the latter proving to be just too reliable - it is always the preferred choice for any heavy-lift tasking, so is constantly in demand. The imminent acquisition of a fifth Globemaster should ease the situation, but there's no guarantee you'll see one next year either!
Star of the flying was always going to be Typhoon, released from its demonstration shackles for the first year. Flying the Typhoon's first full season as an official display aircraft is Sqn Ldr Matt Elliott, OC Standards with 29(R) Squadron at RAF Coningsby. Friday 1 July saw 29(R) Squadron officially move to Coningsby, 'Case White' atWarton now complete, although Matt has actually been at Coningsby for a couple of months, preparing the station facilities in order to begin instructor training in the next few weeks. "We plan to run the first course proper towards the end of the year" he informed Air-Scene UK, "with the view to supplying the first pilots for 3 Squadron in May." Matt will also transfer to 3 Squadron, preparing the unit to become the first fully operational squadron. In the meantime he will be flying the Typhoon at about fifteen events in the summer, giving a display of power and agility not seen in the RAF before. In some ways it's reminiscent of the Lightning as it spears skywards with power to spare, and English Electric's sixties fighter is commonly seen as Typhoon's spiritual ancestor. With so much power available, what is it like to fly? "Enjoyable!" is Matt's reply. "I keep the speed around 300 knots for the majority of the display, pulling up to 8G." It's certainly a high work-rate for the seven-minute display, especially with the flat show seen on the Saturday. "We have clearance to use the full envelope of the entry-to-service flight control software in the display, which is about three-quarters towards what the development aircraft can use in displays at Paris and Farnborough."
Competition was stiff this year - as well as competing for the public's attention against the Wimbledon tennis finals, the organising team's shoulders must have dropped a little when Bob Geldof announced the 'Live 8' concerts for Saturday 2 July. Would the weekend's attendance be seriously dented? Advance ticket sales were, once again, up on the previous year so the signs were good for a reasonable crowd, but many leave the decision to attend to the last minute, with one eye on the weather and the other on alternative attractions. The weather forecast was mixed, with Saturday looking the better day - in the event the forecasts were meaningless, as Sunday contrasted Saturday's overcast clag with a brilliantly sunny day, something that has been in short supply over the past ten years. In the end, the airshow team needed have worried - an estimated crowd of 135,000 attended over the two days, well in line with best estimates. A full seven-hours of flying was on offer both days, providing a varied programme of modern fast jets, historic propellers and display teams - this is what Waddington is good at, and will try to repeat next year over the weekend of 1/2 July.