After the poor weather in early June that caused me to cancel my plans to attend the RAF Cosford Air Show I finally started my air show season with the RAF Waddington Air Show. This year’s show was the first year with Paul Sall in charge. The retired Squadron Leader takes over the role of Air Show Director from Colin Reeves and he has a tough act to follow after the success of the 2010 show where Colin Reeves had managed to respond to the criticisms aimed at the 2009 show by producing a very enjoyable line up both in the air and with almost 120 aircraft on the static line.
A lot had changed since the 2010 show with the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) withdrawing the Harrier and Nimrod MRA4 from service along with the Dominie, Tornado F3, Nimrod MR2 and Nimrod R1 being retired. The last of those being based at RAF Waddington and flew along with the E-3D and Sentry R1 as part of the station flight that opened the show last year. The Typhoon fleet and the Sentry R1s are deployed to the Mediterranean as part of Op ELLAMY (the United Kingdom’s contribution to coalition operations in support of UN Security Council Resolution 1973) meaning neither were able to take part in the show. This had left just the E-3D Sentry to take part in a much depleted station flight to open the show followed by a flypast by the RC-135V Rivet Joint (that will join the RAF’s ISTAR fleet at RAF Waddington in 2014). The reduction of military spending and other countries contribution to collation operations in the Mediterranean had meant the static line was also looking rather thin, especially compared with last year, but there was a few noticeable highlights in the form of the Italian and German Typhoons, the Belgian NATO Tiger F-16 and the 41(R) Sqn special tail Tornado GR4. Both recently retired Nimrod R1s were also on static display but I couldn’t help feeling that at least one could have been kept flying an extra week to allow it to bow out in style at its home air show when I saw them.
The flying programme was headlined by the USAF Thunderbirds with their only UK appearance as part of a European tour. Much has been said about the Thunderbirds and especially their pre-show synchronised performance by the ground crew on the build-up to the show and I feared the worse. Due to their location at the other end of the display line I wouldn’t get to see any of it and was expecting to be stood around for 15 or 20 minutes before I saw any action but I was pleasantly surprised to see the first F-16 took to the air after only 8 minutes and had me quickly applying my ear plugs. Through my ear plugs I could still hear the Thunderbird’s commentator and as of course it was very American in delivery but not as over done as some of the solo USAF demo teams I’ve heard, I’m very much thinking back to RIAT 2010 and the Raptor team as I write this! Their flying display consisted of tight formations and a series of opposing passes. The two sneak passes where one of the solos attempts to surprise the crowd by appearing unannounced at high speed was a good addition but the display was less dynamic than what the European teams produce but still a good addition to the flying programme.
The full range of RAF displays in the form of the Tutor, Hawk, Tucano, King Air and Tornado role demo were again booked to display; the Typhoon being the noticeable admission due to their deployment. The King Air display maybe the last year for Leon Crease and he put on another enjoyable display, although without his trademark music (Mr Blue Sky by ELO) on the Sunday thanks to a technical fault. The Chinook returning again, as part of one of the few displays they are doing this season, and returning to the dynamic flying display from 2009 rather than the role demo used in 2010. The Chinook used for the display was also sporting a ’30 years of the Chinook’ on the rear rotor hub and as expected was a HC2 rather than a HC3 model. I’m a big fan of the Chinook and whilst it wasn’t thrown around as much as the 2009 display (which I believe is the benchmark to aim for) I was very happy to see it displayed and I would be even happier to see it do more shows next year. The commentary from the Chinook team was also top notch and on the final ‘blade slap pass’ to let the crowd hear the distinctive noise made by the Chinook the commentator signed off with “…so you can hear the Wokka noise, because jet noise is boring!”.
The Royal Navy continued to support the show well with both the Black Cats and the solo Merlin display. The display from the Black Cats stood out for me with a very slick performance. Due to availability only one of the Lynx was marked up with the trade mark paint scheme.
Another helicopter on the flying programme was the Apache from the Army Air Corp. Like the Chinook they are doing a limited number of shows this season and if the feedback is good they could be appearing at more shows next year with the possibility of two helicopters taking part in the display. Now, that does sound interesting to me!
The cuts to military budgets aren’t just isolated to the UK and rather than the three foreign air arms solo fast jet displays we had for the 2010 show only the Belgians had made it back for 2011 with the their fast and flowing F-16 display.
The gaps in the flying display that have been left by the reduction of military attendance have been filled with civilian display teams, classic aircraft and warbirds but unlike 2009 where they did a similar thing the choice of aircraft couldn’t have been much better and delivered some of the best bits of the flying programme (meaning a big fan of modern military I’m surprised I ended up thinking that). The Blades put on their usual polished performance and the BBMF with the Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire rather than just getting a flypast were able to put on a small display. The Hurricane and Spitfire flew a mirror display on the Saturday and a tail chase on the Sunday. The mirror display looked similar to the Typhoon and Spitfire display presented in previous years and I suspect that was the original plan before the Typhoon was withdrawn from the display circuit. Adding the Hurricane in its place was a stroke of genius and I thoroughly enjoyed the display.
Team Viper with their mix of Hunters (flying five on the Saturday and four on the Sunday after the Raspberry Ripple painted Hunter developed a fault) but on a good show with plenty of ‘blue note’ high speed passes. I’ll admit to not being the biggest Hunter fan but it would be hard not to like their display.
Sally B, the US B-17, was also a good addition to the flying programme but it was the OV-10 Bronco G-BZGK that stood out and not just because of its paint scheme! A unique looking aircraft and a good display, I hope it isn’t the only time I see it this air show season.
And last but not least the Vulcan, the display looking the best it has yet with a double circular climb added for 2011(conducted with the air brakes on to stop the Vulcan from climb too fast) and two very impressive wing overs. At the controls was Martin Withers, the man who flew the famous Black Buck mission in the Vulcan that is now a gate guardian at RAF Waddington. Hopefully the spirited display will help the ever on-going fund drive to keep it flying. I’m looking forward to seeing that display a few more times this season!
All in all a very enjoyable show and a good start for Paul Sall especially when you consider the challenges of he would have faced trying to put the show together in the current climate. Roll on RAF Waddington Air Show 2012!