The Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee and the Farnborough trade show have meant that the UK air show scene’s ability to attract acts and attendees has been greatly increased for 2012. This allowed Waddington to attract Team Orliky, the Red Devils, the Frecce Tricolori and most noticeably the Black Eagles. The Black Eagles were making their first appearance in the West and it had taken a large effort on behalf of the South Koreans to get them here. The KAI T-50B Golden Eagles had been stripped down and flown over as freight aboard numerous 747 flights into Manchester Airport. From here they were transported to RAF Leeming where they were reassembled and then test flown. Waddington can’t take the credit for getting them to the West though. RIAT has for many years been attempting to persuade the South Koreans to attend the Air Tattoo and have finally succeeded along with the ability to display the T-50B at Farnborough in a bid to attract export customers. With Waddington having a date before RIAT and Farnborough they ended up with the debut of the Black Eagles.
The display itself from the Black Eagles was well flown and was a blend of European flying style with US showmanship. Parts of their display reminded me of the USA Thunderbirds I had seen the previous year and was expecting to have a ‘sneak pass’ included but it didn’t occur. The commentary also had the distinct US style to it and was backed by some late 80s / early 90s rock (rather worryingly I was quite enjoying by the end of their display). Lasting over 30 minutes but not feeling overly long their display was one of the highlights of the show.
Another display act who had travelled a long way to take part was the Saudi Hawks. Displaying at Waddington for the first time but only as a five ship. Before the show this had been explained as a paperwork issue and then the commentator announced one of the pilots was ill and had not been able to travel with the team. An explanation that didn’t stand up as they had displayed as a six ship the week earlier at Yeovilton. Whatever the reason their display had suffered for the loss of the sixth Hawk and didn’t flow with a number of minutes of dead air which was a shame.
Two fast jet solo acts stood out for me. The first was the Swiss F-18C. I’d not seen the display since RIAT 2009 and it was as good as I had remembered it. The display was carried out in a remarkably small air space and this kept it close to the crowd for a lot of the display (a point I had picked up on whilst watching the Belgium F-16 display at the Duxford Jubilee show). The high alpha pass and the transition from it was first rate and the fast pass was about as fast as you can go.
The second fast jet display that stood out might be a surprise to some as it isn’t the Dutch F-16 or RAF Typhoon (although that’s not to say either are not good displays). It was the Saab 105 in Tiger markings. Like the Meteor display at the Duxford Jubilee show that stood out for me it was the first time I had seen the display and had no expectations. Relatively small aircraft without reheat (or afterburner if you are American) can struggle to make an impact at an air show but the bright scheme, fast acceleration, quick and flowing turns of the Saab made for a great display.
Speaking of the Dutch F-16, despite an aborted take-off (reasons unknown) the display was the usual high standard and as enjoyable as ever. I did note that the touch and go had not become an overshoot to “save tyres”. Dutch defence spending cuts at work! We, in the UK, have been spoilt by them over the last couple of years with lots of displays and I hope the Dutch continue to find the money to keep displaying over here.
The RAF Typhoon back on the circuit for 2012 was an act a lot of people were looking forward to. The display was pulling a lot of vapour and making a lot of noise like a good solo fast jet display act should with a neat and flowing style but still feel it lacks the presence of the best solo display acts. Maybe this is because RAF Typhoons aren’t a rare sight for me or that I’m harder on my home team. The Typhoon display is technically excellent and I’m willing to bet impresses a lot of fighter pilots but this doesn’t translate as well for the public. The speed and the high g of the display forces it to use more airspace and decreases the time it’s close to the public. I actually prefer the flat display (the display they fly where cloud cover reduces visibility and they remove the higher elements of the display) for this reason.
The grey scheme also doesn’t help the Typhoon stand out especially against the overcast weather they had for both their slots. I’m aware that the Typhoon fleet are struggling to get special tails cleared for the Typhoon let alone a full scheme. Hopefully the 3(F) Squadron special Typhoon (which required a lot of work behind the scenes) will clear some of the obstacles for a full scheme and they are allowed to produce a full scheme like the Dutch, Belgium and Germans do with limited corporate branding. I’d be more than happy to keep a good scheme for 2 or 3 years.
Grey schemes and dark clouds have never been a problem for XV(R) Sqn and their Tornado GR4 role demo. The flames from both the explosions and the both engines always make them stand out. Another great show from the guys from RAF Lossiemouth.
One of my favourite displays in the form of the RAF Chinook display was also present again this year. They don’t get to do many displays due to operational commitments but it’s always a great display and this year was no exception.
Opening the show was the traditional flypast from the locals with the E-3D Sentry and the Sentinel R1 but new for this year was a demo from the E-3D which featured an impressive angle of turn for such a large aircraft but unfortunately could only be shot from outside. I hope show organisers keep the E-3D display in for future air shows and include it in the display practices before the show so I get a chance to shoot it from the outside.
Like last year a USAF RC-135 Rivet Joint made a flypast (operating out of RAF Mildenhall and would be used as a static for RIAT). The type will be operated from RAF Waddington in the near future when the RAF take delivery of their own RC-135s. Until this happens the crews from 51 Sqn are jointly operating with the USAF 55th Air Wing. This year the flypast was a much more appropriate height (around 250ft) than the much complained about higher altitude of the previous year. Thanks to the RAF, USAF and Waddington organisers for listening to the feedback from the 2011 show.
Overall, Waddington 2012 was very enjoyable and has built on the success on 2011. The traffic problems of 2011 were addressed and the queuing was minimised as much as you could reasonably expect. My only complaint for this year was the statics for the show were noticeably reduced from 2011 and worse was the layout. Despite the reduced number the aircraft were tightly packed and had metal barriers closely erected around them making photography almost impossible. A particular shame for the Australian Wedgetail which was a great addition but I spoke to many people who had given up trying to get a shot of it. I hope the organisers take notice of this and improve things for 2013. I’d really like to see them take a good look at what RIAT is doing with statics with small blue cones to mark out the statics and FRIAT members being allowed around the statics after the general public have left. Time for a ‘Friends of Waddington’ scheme?