Cotswolds' Classic Air Show
Andrew Bates reports on Kemble's Air Day, held on 18 June. Pictures by the author and Damien Burke
Also dubbed as the 'Cotswold Classic Air Show', the 2006 Kemble Air Day was once again held during mid-June.
In comparison to last year's superb event, there were a number of similarities - firstly, the show was held on Fathers' Day, so a great excuse to get Dad out of the house. Secondly, aircraft participation was again nicely balanced between classic and modern types, with strong support from the UK military (specifically the RAF along with the Royal Navy). Thirdly, there was welcome support from three different overseas air arms, ensuring an international flavour to proceedings. And finally, it was again warm enough (just) for shorts and tee-shirt to be the preferred attire for most visitors. In actual fact, the weather was perhaps the one major disappointment, simply because the forecasted sunshine and blue skies never actually materialised. Instead the entire show took place under what could best be described as a mass of grey clag. With no discernible wind, the clag just sat over the airfield all day with the cloud base at about 5,000 ft, but this did little to detract from an exciting flying programme.
Prior to the flying, there was plenty to see in the static park. This was perhaps a little smaller than usual, but there were still a few gems to be found within. Once again, it was dominated by a 101 Squadron VC10 K3 from nearby Brize Norton, which was open for inspection from the public. Also from the RAF came static examples of the Griffin, Hawk, and Tucano, along with a pair of Tutors, and even a 625 VGS Viking from just down the road at Hullavington. Meanwhile the Royal Navy had contributed a Merlin HM1 and Lynx HMA8, along with possibly the first public outing of an 800 Squadron Harrier GR7A. Another first for Kemble was the appearance in the static of a Polish Navy M28 Bryza from 29EL at Cewice/Siemirowice. All of the military hardware was complimented by a number of privately owned ex-military machines, which included Delta's familiar all yellow Gnat (surprisingly not flying that day), a pair of Jet Provosts, a pair of Strikemasters, and an ex-Royal Hong Kong AAF Bulldog, which was still resplendent in its original livery and was also (sadly) the star of the static for your scribe. Yes, I do need to get out more often!
The flying itself was split into two parts. There was a relatively short, hour-long slot during late morning, then after a lunch break, part two would consist of another three hours of action. Overall, variety was the order of the day, with everything from modern military jets to warbirds, with classic jets, helicopters, aerobatics and even a large airliner to add to the spectacle. The last mentioned item was the contribution from the RNZAF, courtesy of a Boeing 757 from 40 Squadron at Whenuapai. This was the second year running that the squadron had been able to attend Kemble, having had a C-130 on static last year, so it was great to see the Kiwis back again, but this time in the flying programme. Their display slot was not scheduled until mid-afternoon, but it was definitely worth the wait, as you really shouldn't be able to do manoeuvres like that with a jet transport of that size! An incredible display that was clearly a highlight for many - let's just hope they can return again next year. In complete contrast, the other international participant was a return visit of a Belgian Air Force Magister, sadly for the last time as retirement finally beckons for these venerable aircraft in 2006. Sporting some additional markings commemorating 249,000+ hours 1960 to 2006, the aircraft was again expertly flown by Lt Col Paul Rorive.
From the RAF, there were displays from the Hawk, Harrier, C-130J Hercules and Merlin. The Harrier was as popular as ever with the audience, thanks to its unique capabilities but from a personal point of view, the Merlin display was simply outstanding, with the huge chopper being thrown around with great gusto. Sadly, the equivalent display from the RAF Chinook was scrubbed from the itinerary when the assigned aircraft apparently went u/s at Manston, whilst the Tornado GR4 was destined to suffer the indignity of an aborted take-off due to a warning light illuminating in the cockpit, leading to a further last minute cancellation. If that wasn't enough to contend with, there was worse to follow for the Red Arrows. Halfway through their display slot, scheduled as the customary climax to the flying, they were forced to curtail their show thanks to an airspace incursion from another aircraft. Clearly a great disappointment for the audience, but with safety being of paramount importance, this was a perfectly understandable course of action.
Despite these few disappointments, there was still a great variety of acts to keep everyone entertained throughout the show. From the Royal Navy we had the Lynx duo from the Black Cats team, as well as a very welcome appearance of the RNHF Sea Hawk. Complimenting the Sea Hawk, there were other classic jets to be found performing during the day, including Meteor, Jet Provost and, of course, the Hunter. For all the Hunter fans out there, Kemble was the place to be, with four examples taking to the skies during the day. This included the welcome return of Hunter GA11 XE685/G-GAII from Exeter, which has recently been returned to flight and still wears the markings of FRADU, the last military operator of the aircraft.
There were three historic pistons to be found flying during the show, which comprised of Peter Teichmann's P-40M Kittyhawk, the Rolls Royce-owned Spitfire PRXIX and a Provost T1. Aerobatics were firstly provided by the Kemble based Ultimate High team, who after flying a formation of two Bulldogs and two Extra 300s, left pilot John Taylor to complete a superb solo routine in his Extra 300. Then later on, it was the turn of Denny Dobson in his Extra 300 for another dose of amazing aerobatics, complete with the now legendary limbo and ribbon cutting sequence. Also hugely entertaining for the crowd was a return visit from the Utterly Butterly wing-walking team. Last but not least, though they were actually the first display item, was the Silver Stars parachute display team from the Royal Logistic Corps, jumping with precision from their Islander.
Despite a couple of unfortunate unserviceabilities, along with a shortened display for the Red Arrows, the crowds at the show were provided with yet another entertaining and action packed display, so congratulations once again to Glen Moreman and his team. This show is now well established on the airshow calendar, and with its relaxed atmosphere and idyllic setting, long may it continue.