The pursuit of Abi-ness
Andrew Bates reviews the UK's first airshow of note for 2007, Abingdon's Air & Country Show held on 6 May. Pictures by the author and Damien Burke
Held as always during the Sunday of the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, the Abingdon Air & Country Show once again had the distinction of being one of the first UK shows on the 2007 air display calendar. In many ways it was like turning the clock back twelve months, as the weather once again provided a backdrop of grey cloud for most of the day. This was quite frustrating considering how fabulously sunny and warm April had turned out to be, but at least it remained dry and the sun did make a few fleeting appearances in the afternoon.
However, unlike last year, one very unwelcome feature of the weather was the continued prevalence of extremely strong winds, which regrettably curtailed the plans of a number of pilots and so consequently saw a reduction of airborne visitors attending the fly-in when compared to previous shows. Those that did venture out were to be congratulated for landing in what could best be described as a vicious cross-wind that seemed to constantly plague the end of the active runway. It was a real challenge for some of the lighter types and the occasional missed approach and extra circuit was sometimes a necessary but wise precaution. Despite this there was still a varied selection of types that did make it, some actually beating the weather by arriving a day early, and included familiar favourites like Chipmunk, Bulldog, Tiger Moth, C-47 and Jet Provost, as well as Polly Vacher's now famous and well-travelled Piper Dakota.
Polly had been invited over to Abingdon as guest of honour and was also granted the opportunity to promote her latest worthy venture, the 'Wings Around Britain Challenge'. Starting out at Birmingham International Airport on 21 May, this will involve flying around the UK and landing at all of the 206 airfields listed in the Jeppesen VFR Manual, with a target date of 31 July to complete the entire challenge - the objective of the whole exercise being to promote Flying Scholarships for the Disabled.
Sadly, no international participation at Abingdon this year, but once again, support from the UK military was as solid as ever. Most had arrived prior to the show, so there was already a healthy selection of types on display to greet visitors as they proceeded through the entrance gate after 10:00. Already parked on the taxiway was a pair of Hawk T1As from 208(R) Squadron along with a pair of Tucano T1s, one of which was painted in a very attractive 72(R) Squadron 90th Anniversary colour scheme. These were joined by a pair of resident 612 VGS Vigilant T1s, a UAS Tutor, a 28(AC) Squadron Merlin HC3 from nearby RAF Benson and a Royal Navy Lynx HAS3S from 815 NAS. As the morning progressed, the military presence was further boosted by the arrival of an 18 Squadron Chinook HC2 from Odiham and a 33 Squadron Puma HC1, also from Benson. Added to this was a small contribution from the Army Air Corps in the shape of the Beaver AL1 from the AAC Historic Flight and a Gazelle AH1 from the Blue Eagles.
The three-hour flying program was opened up with a fine display by Rob Davies in his immaculate P-51D Mustang 'Big Beautiful Doll', with the magical sound of the Merlin reverberating around the airfield in his wake. In a similar vein, and just as memorable, later in the day it was the turn of Peter Teichman to weave some more Merlin magic in his Spitfire PRXI. There was one other warbird display on offer during the afternoon, this being the Nord built Bf108 G-ETME, which has now forsaken the desert style camouflage and taken on a more traditional-looking Luftwaffe colour scheme.
It was no surprise to once again be treated to a stunning display by Abingdon regular Andy Cubin in the Blue Diamond liveried Hunter T7, always a popular choice with both enthusiasts and 'Joe Public' alike. From a similar era but different league came the Percival Pembroke C1 of Andrew Dixon, demonstrating quite a sprightly performance for a twin engined transport of such vintage. Though not exactly part of the flying display, the Pembroke was also complemented by the sight and sound of the Air Atlantique Twin Pioneer and Prentice as they went about their business taking punters up for joyrides around the locality during the morning.
There were two different aerobatic displays on offer for the audience during the show, one being the RAF Grob Tutor in the very capable hands of Flt Lt Andy Preece and then, of course, an old Abingdon favourite, Denny Dobson in his Extra 300. Denny performed all his usual thrills and spills but, just for a change, without his famous ribbon limbo or ribbon cutting routines. This was quite understandable; it was far too windy for that, even for Denny!
From the previously mentioned selection of military helicopters on show, three were destined to perform for the audience during the course of the afternoon. Firstly, it was the Royal Navy Lynx from 815 NAS with a dynamic demonstration of speed and agility. Next came the RAF Chinook, which thanks to the size and shape of the design, seems to have that extra bit of 'wow' factor that keeps the audience spellbound. From a personal point of view I have to say that this machine is rapidly becoming one of my favourite display acts on the circuit, no matter how many times I've seen it. The final rotary offering came in the shape of the AAC Gazelle AH1 - it had originally been planned for the whole of the Blue Eagles display team to perform at Abingdon, but as it transpired, one of the team was unfortunately taken ill, so a solo example was offered instead. As it turned out, this was just as well received by the crowd and somewhat of a rarity, as solo Gazelle displays have not exactly been a common airshow feature for some years now.
Continuing the modern military theme but of the fixed-wing variety, the remaining display acts consisted of the 72(R) Squadron anniversary schemed Tucano flown by Flt Lt Bobby Moore, whilst rounding off the afternoon's entertainment with a really superb demonstration was Flt Lt Mike Child in one of the 208(R) Squadron Hawk T1As.
And so, that was another successful Abingdon Air & Country Show wrapped up for another year. Despite the best attempts of the weather, Neil Porter and team came up trumps again with another value for money show to start the airshow season off. Now firmly established on the display calendar, it's hard to imagine starting the season without this event to choose from. Next year's show is scheduled for 4 May and the organisers are looking for sponsors to help offset some of the costs, so for all you large multi-nationals out there, please form an orderly queue!