Falklands to the Future
Dave Eade & Roger Cook report on another successful Yeovilton Air Day, held on 07/07/07. Pictures by Dave Eade & Mick Britton
Following as it did the Waddington wash-out by only seven days, the airshow-goer could be forgiven if the thought of a long journey to the South-West raised some trepidation. As it was, after a dull arrivals day, the show-day dawned with clear blue skies, relatively warm conditions and promised to be a good day.
To the constant surprise of your scribes, this airshow gem set in the Somerset countryside remains a very local show with little or no interest from the regular airshow goers. It retains this local feel with an expected crowd of some thirty to forty thousand visitors and, in that way, serves to show the local population what Yeovilton does and why. For some years now the Fleet Air Arm has used the services of an 'events' company to run its show, Ralph Patel and the team from AHA Events once again doing a superb job this year.
The station had a major involvement in the 1982 Falklands War so it was no surprise that with the twenty-fifth anniversary in 2007 it chose to mark it. The theme of 'Falklands to the Future' underscored the whole display, with two Super Etendard naval fighters from the French Navy in a special static display along with an Argentine marked UH-1 Huey (AE-422). Considering the damage inflicted on the British task force with the Exocet missile-equipped Super Etendards of the Argentine Air force in 1982, it was perhaps surprising that the organisers chose to fit one of the fighters with just that weapon for display. This did underline that here was a commemoration and not a celebration - an ethos underlining all the events in the UK having a Falklands factor.
The Falklands static enclosure also included the Canberra B2 nose from Boscombe Down (WH876), Wessex, Wasp, Sea King and Harrier GR3 nose. To make the balance with the Super Etendards was Sea Harrier XZ457, complete with kill marks, in the original Falklands grey/white scheme although it has to be said in a very bent and battered state. This aircraft was the highest-scoring Sea Harrier in the War - in two missions on 21 & 24 May 1982 and it shot down two A-4Q Skyhawks and two Daggers respectively. It certainly deserves a better fate than this.
The 'Future' part of the show was represented by the well-travelled F-35 mock-up and a comprehensive display in a hangar by Lockheed-Martin. Even after two years, it still feels that Yeovilton misses the Sea Harriers - so quickly disposed of - and looks a long way to the future before we can envisage two carriers with a fleet of F-35s aboard.
The flying programme consisted of well-known acts including the Belgian Air Force F-16 in its new paint scheme for 2007. Although this scheme doesn't shock on first-look, it is a step in the right direction, please note MoD! As if to rub it in, the team brought, as a spare, the 1 Squadron '90 years Anniversary' jet, with its superb paint job (and pilot).
Other highlights, in a Navy theme, included the FRA Falcon pair and FRADU Hawks. Now well-known on the scene, this display never fails to please. A combination of display and task explanation, a chance to watch this display must whet the appetite of many a recently retired fast-jet jock as a great way to spend nine-to-five Monday to Friday - and a few non-pilots either.
A reasonably clear sky gave the Red Arrows a chance to show off their 2007 show, although a little imagination was required as this year's Red Three, Flt Lt 'Boomer' Keith, was missing, nursing a broken wrist from a domestic accident. Red One, Wing Commander Jas Hawker, has put together a fine display for 2007, with a nod to the Vulcan which was obviously included expecting her to fly - as did the organisers of Yeovilton 2007!
Stars of the show this year were the Patrouille Suisse with their F-5E Tigers, complete with beautiful paint scheme. Although this paintwork has not changed much over the years since the team adopted its Tigers, it is still one of the best on the airshow circuit. In a show very much akin to that of the Thunderbirds in its style, this team never fails to impress and its flare-filled finale is one of the best around.
Yeovilton's Air Day is mostly famous for its role-demo - for many years now the crowd has been treated to a theatrical drama of kidnap, rescue and the uprising and putting-down of a bunch of nasties that have the sophistication of black painted Hawk 'fighters'. The story is one of rebellion and its spectacular crushing as carried out by the home-team of Sea Kings and Lynxes, with a little help from a Royal Navy Merlin, RAF Chinook, and a pair of Joint Force Harrier GR9s. The scenario also gives the fireworks department at Yeovilton the opportunity to display their skills, with well timed explosions, strafing runs and the ever popular 'Wall of Fire'.
Regulars such as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Typhoon and Tutor, along with Naval veterans such as the beautiful Seafire, Skyraider and Sea Fury plus the home team of the 'Black Cats' helped make this a show to relish and a definite one for the diary next year, but the proposed date clash with Waddington will pose some enthusiasts with a difficult decision. With July now crowded with major events and the end of June bereft of any quality airshows, it's a great shame Yeovilton couldn't have been a weekend earlier.