Mick Britton takes a day out at Linton-on-Ouse's Families' Day and a Graduation Day
I have attended open days at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, home of 1 FTS, since the days of the venerable Jet Provost. Back then they took the form of November Fayres, held on the closest Saturday to Bonfire Night, ending with a firework display. Whilst there was no flying except for the occasional Provost formation, they provided some interesting static displays with the aircraft being more accessible than was generally the case at airshows. They were well advertised, popular events, often drawing several thousand locals, reaching their zenith on one glorious autumn afternoon in 1993 when there were so many visiting aircraft that they were divided into two static parks, one containing examples of almost every type of trainer in the RAF inventory and the other containing the 'heavy metal' types and helicopters. However, as successive rounds of defence cuts eroded the RAF the static displays became progressively smaller until they featured just a handful of visiting aircraft. The base ceased advertising the events and moved them into the summer so they effectively became Families' Days. The visiting aircraft became less accessible, retreating behind barriers on the jet pan, but there were compensations such as the introduction of a mini flying display with performances by various RAF solo display aircraft in addition to solo and formation aerobatic displays by the resident Tucanos.
2006's event on 4 August brought an interesting collection of visitors, including examples of both Tornado types, Harrier GR9, Hawk and two Pumas, as well as a civilian Jet Provost and Tiger Moth. The fact that two of these visitors (the 25 Squadron F3 and 33 Squadron Puma) were both in ninetieth anniversary markings represented a good return for those enthusiasts in attendance. Despite the paucity of imported display items (the only one programmed was the C-130J, which cancelled) the crowd was treated to some of the mock airfield attacks that are a feature of the regular Graduation Days (mostly by Harriers from 800 NAS, one of which later landed to reinforce the static). As ever the event provided the opportunity to check out changes to the resident Tucanos, particularly those of 72(R) Squadron, which has gone to great pains to promote its historical heritage as one of the first Spitfire squadrons. Whereas last year it started applying the names of its wartime presentation aircraft to around a dozen Tucanos, this year it has begun applying examples of pre-war spear-point fighter badges to the fins of its aircraft, although only one such example (ZF515) was in evidence.
One of the benefits of living near one of the RAF training bases is that when training courses graduate there is an opportunity to see front-line aircraft performing flypasts, and sometimes displays, staged for the benefit of guests and occasional VIPS attending the graduation ceremonies. At 1 FTS the graduation dates leak through to the local aviation enthusiast community well in advance but for anyone not in the know the local press can usually be relied upon for this information as the base Community Liaison Officer tends to post notice when there is unusual air activity in the offing. These events are often worth attending as they offer the opportunity to see RAF hardware both old and new without having travel too far from home. Indeed, they are frequently a good free airshow and consequently it is necessary to arrive early as the public viewing enclosure north of the village, near the western end of the main runway, fills up quickly and there are risks attached to parking on the road (the RAF Police sometimes patrol it and move you on if they see parked vehicles causing a road safety hazard) or in field entrances (one local farmer is even more vigilant than the RAF Police).
I used to be a regular at these events but, having recently moved to North Yorkshire, had lost touch with both sources of information, so I was pleased to meet up with some of the regulars at Linton's Families Day who advised me that the next such event would be on 25 August. Despite it being the eve of the Bank Holiday weekend and a dodgy long-range weather forecast I was very pleased with my decision to attend - for a start the summer made a surprise return and consequently it was a beautiful morning, with the sun shining down from a clear blue sky and perfect visibility. I arrived just as a Spitfire was taxying out to get the proceedings off to a perfect start - now I don't profess to be able to recognise every mark of Spitfire, but this was one of the later marks with the growling Griffon engine and bubble canopy. It was put through its paces well by whoever was flying it (possibly Shiny Simmons of the BBMF, who is based at Linton) and seeing such an iconic aircraft displayed in idyllic weather is about as good as it gets.
Except this was just the start of a procession of aircraft - as the Spitfire landed after its display no less than eleven Tucanos began to taxy from the flightline to form up at the end of the runway (the traditional diamond nine, plus spare and whipper in). With a roar like thunder a Typhoon arrived from the east, performed two fast runs and made a vertical departure with afterburners blazing. The Tucanos then took off, heading east in a gaggle to form up for their grand return around half an hour later. There was then a brief lull whilst a Grob Tutor dropped in to display later. However, the peace was shattered by the fast and furious arrival from the west of a Hawk, which proceeded to treat us to a full display. So punchy was the display that it could have only come from this season's solo display pilot Flt Lt Martin Pert - however, it was not one of the specially marked pair of display aircraft but one in the markings of 208(R) Squadron. After the Hawk landed an unmistakable mechanical buzzing heralded the arrival of the Tucano diamond nine. Usual routine, a couple of runs followed by a five/four split, the former clearing off whilst the four perform a few formation changes before breaking to land. Suddenly Tucanos fill the sky , funnelling into the approach from both left and right hand circuits like worker bees returning to the hive.
After another brief lull a smoking fast jet is seen running in from the east, soon recognised as a Tornado GR4 belonging to RAF Coningsby's Fast Jet Operation and Evaluation Unit, now assigned the 41(R) Squadron number plate, as it streaks overhead. That is the nearest we're going to get today to a mock airfield attack, normally a feature of these events. However it appears that part of the RAF has already gone on leave, including Linton's closest neighbour RAF Leeming, just up the A1. The Grob Tutor takes off and gives his display but the enthusiasts are distracted by more sounds of heavy metal to the north where something is hopefully holding off. The Grob display cannot be over quickly enough but at last it touches down and the unmistakable shape of a Tornado can be seen to the north, curving around into an approach from the west. Oh joy, a Tornado F3, absent from the display circuit this season! As it runs in the red and white checks atop the fin reveal it as a 'Firebird' from Leuchars-based 56(R) Squadron, the F3 OCU. He treats us to a short display and we feel privileged as we know not how long it will be until we get to see one again. Then the undercarriage drops down and he comes in to land, likely stopping for a deserved lunch. At this point I too decide that it is time to leave in search of lunch as my empty stomach reminds me that many hours have passed since my early breakfast of toast and coffee. However, I leave well contented with the morning's entertainment as in the past I've paid my admission to worse airshows!