Derek Mason reports from Kemble's Air Day 2007, held on 17 June
Kemble, ICAO Locator EGBP, located near the village of Kemble in Gloucestershire sports light aviation on both grass and hard runways. Originally built as an RAF base, and best known as the home of the Red Arrows aerobatic team until 1983, it is now home to a number of classic ex-military aircraft such as the Hawker Hunter, Jet Provost, Folland Gnat and English Electric Canberra, and is used for the long-term storage and scrapping of retired aircraft - you can see at least one Boeing 747 being chopped up, as well as flying schools, clubs and local industry.
Even though it was mid-June, weather-wise it wasn't a bad day, being mostly overcast with the odd spot of blue sky, but at least it didn't rain and with all it was quite warm and dry underfoot. The static line-up was good, as usual, sporting Typhoons, Tornados, the Meteor NF11, Venom, Merlin and, of course, Hunters. Kemble is no stranger to Hunters, it being the Hunter MU (Maintenance Unit) for many years and now home to the fleet flown and maintained by Delta Jets.
The day had two themes: a Falklands War tribute and a celebration of the anniversary of Sir Frank Whittle's first jet engine. Personally I'd hoped that Avro Vulcan XH558 being restored at Bruntingthorpe would be able to make the flypast over London during the afternoon and might just make a pass for us on the way home. It wasn't to be though.
As usual at Kemble there were a number of other attractions - plenty of large-scale model aircraft, including a C-130 Hercules, which flew a fine display later in the day, as well as a considerable number of vintage and classic cars. In the static display was Gloster E.28/39 'Pioneer', the original airframe to fly Sir Frank's engine, although obviously not a flying exhibit!
But onwards and upwards to the flying programme - in celebration of the jet engine in the RAF over the years, there was a signature formation by the Meteor NF11, piloted by Dan Griffiths, paired with the Typhoon from 29(R) Squadron flown by Flt Lt Jim Walls, representing the first and the latest - very nostalgic! Another old favourite was the Rolls-Royce Griffon-engined Spitfire PRXIX from Filton, always a pleasure to watch and a fine display by Bill Perrins, showing the aircraft off to good advantage. Peter Teichman's P-40M Kittyhawk was there, as were Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Fury FB11 and Kennet Aviation's Douglas Skyraider, all of whom showed the class of these Second World War aircraft.
Also flying was a de Havilland DH112 Venom that was a pleasure to watch, its dark camouflage offsetting well against the grey skies. This was a post-war aircraft used by both the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm in its disguise as a Sea Venom, the sound of the de Havilland Ghost engine making the day for many. Of course the day wouldn't be complete without a display of wing-walking by the boys and girls of the Guinot team flying in (and on) their colourful Stearmans. Kemble was graced with a four-ship display, which while not completely unusual is certainly rarer than the more normal two-ship one.
To my mind one of the most impressive displays was from the Swift S1 high performance glider, flown by Guy Westgate. An aero-tow behind an Extra 300 got him airborne and he virtually threw his aeroplane round the skies over Kemble. Some formation flying with the Extra culminated with a pass showing the two aircraft above each other, and inverted!
At the long-time spiritual home of the Red Arrows, the team performed their 'flat' display, the cloud base not being sufficient for the full vertical one. Another feature for us nostalgic older photographers was the formation of the Reds and a Folland Gnat in the colours of the RAF's earlier 'Yellowjacks' display team, plus a Delta Jets Hunter in the colours of the earlier 'Blue Diamonds' team.
The British Army was represented by the 'Silver Stars' Parachute Display Team from nearby South Cerney, as were local heroes Delta Jets who had a number of their Hunters both flying and on display. A pity that Jonathan Whaley's G-PSST 'Misdemeanour' wasn't in evidence; its colourful paint job would have brightened a greyish day. New for 2007 is North Wales Military Aviation Service's trio of Strikemasters, which gave a good account of themselves.
Probably the finest display of the day was by the RAF, showing off its tactical superiority. This was a fast-paced display with a pair of Tornado F3s flying Combat Air Patrol over some insurgents on the other side of the runway - their sequence with two Hawks from 100 Squadron is particularly noteworthy, along with the airfield attacks by 13 Squadron Tornado GR4s and the excellent pyrotechnics. Everybody was controlled by a patrolling Sentry AEW1, the voices being relayed over the public address system. To round off the display a Hercules C5 dropped in and the Mobile Air Movement Squadron dropped off a couple of Land Rovers, who obviously had huge fun dashing up and down the grass by the crowd line belching green smoke!
The rotary wing department wasn't forgotten either; the Army Air Corps sent its 'Blue Eagles' helicopter display team, while the Royal Navy did the same with its 'Black Cats' display team. They both showed the highest quality of airmanship and left us to wonder how a helicopter can do aerobatics like that!
The day's flying culminated with a flypast to celebrate the anniversary of the Falklands victory - a single VC10 from 101 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton on his way home from London. I only wish that some of the real players in the Falklands could have been represented - the McDonnell Douglas Phantoms of 1435 flight, the Harriers, Victors and of course the Vulcan. What a display that would have been!
All in all a fine day was had by everyone and I for one will certainly be returning for the next one, scheduled for Father's day 2008!