A Personal Farewell Tour, Part Two: New Airshow, Old Favourites (incorporating Yeovilton Air Day review)

I had always wanted to go to Yeovilton: the thought of seeing a Sea Harrier out in the open again, some lovely helicopter displays and guaranteed Swordfish meant it was worth arranging when I found out Waddington would not be on this year.  I also knew the Vulcan would appear there if it could, so it was worth the trip!

And what a trip!  Five hours because of traffic, and my poor friend I went with had already has a three-hour journey to pick me up.  We did not want to hang in the traffic on the M5 so diverted ourselves through Bristol.  It was a much nicer drive, with some very pretty buildings, especially Temple Meads station!  Stunning!

As we drove into the car park of our hotel, the cars lined up out the front were proudly displaying Vulcan silhouette stickers and the like: we were certainly in  the right place!  it transpired that the Vulcan Support Team stayed there last year and liked it so much they decided to do so again.  That meant breakfast was scheduled early: super bonus!  We were shown to our ‘twin’ room: actually two separate rooms in a family suite (even more of a bonus!) and then had steak for dinner in the pub bit.

We were up early for our cooked breakfast (yum yum!) and left well on time after suncreaming up.  The drive was smooth until we were in sight of the field carpark: never have I been to an airshow so quiet that early!  We duly parked and sat in the pedestrian queue with our programme, perusing the displays and adverts and reviews.  The map didn’t mean much at this stage as I had no idea where we were.  After a short while, we were let into the staging point before finally being allowed in to the airfield itself.  We came in right at the exhibition hangers and allowed ourselves some time to look around, as it’s rare I manage these normally.  I bought a Lockheed Martin ‘Remove Before Flight’ tshirt.

I had a date with the #twitterVforce team, 10:30am outside the Vulcan Village, so we squeezed in a 10min look around the two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs where I also bought three patches (expensive American stuff!).

Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II 'Warthog'

D’aww, I love a Warthog

Post-Twitter meetup, we ambled off to the crowd line for a good view, setting up shop just to the left of the grandstand.  First down was an orange and black SAR Sea King towing a White Ensign to open the show, followed swiftly by a Seafire.

This was followed by a show-star: a Pitts Special.  This particular example is a highly-modified one.  It put on a cracking display, completely over the top and beautifully mental.

Pitts Special stunt biplane

The Pitts Special was particularly spectacular this year

Other show standards included the Chinook, whose display was even more high-octane than before: it was the same 270° turns, high-speed passes and fancy moves, just with extra power and speed.  The Black Cats were also back but this time with the new Wildcat, showing it is as capable an airshow performer as the Lynx.

Chinook and waving person

Some dude always waves out the back of the Chinook with The Massive Red Hand

Another ‘stalwart’ of airshows for me is the Sea Vixen: I remember seeing it year in, year out at Southend in the early 2000s, in its stunning but divisive Red Bull colours.  Now back with the Fleet Air Arm (as part of Fly Navy Heritage trust, like the Swordfish), it is in authentic colours and cannot always put on the most spectacular display due to its age.  It was still a fantastic effort though.

DeHavilland Sea Vixen

Rather more sedate these days, in more ways than one!

New, for me, was the Swordfish.  For someone who’s been to many airshows (admittedly most of them Southend year on year, seafront and airport), I don’t recall ever seeing a Swordfish, and I certainly haven’t seen one in recent years (since 2000).  It was a joy to watch.

Fairey Swordfish

A lovely salute, doubly so!

New to the UK circuit in general was the AW609, a civilian tiltrotor.  It put on an energetic display and was rather ominous in its all-black scheme.  We certainly enjoyed it!

AW609 TiltRotor

An ominous sight!

Being a Naval show, there was a lot of rotary action: aside from their individual displays, 14 helicopters took part in a role demo at the end of the day.  There were lots of explosions, gunfire, people running around and general (organised) mayhem!  I tried to get pictures of the explosions (or at least their smoky aftermath) with some of the participants.

Westland Sea King

Codename: Jungly

I also learnt a new term: some helicopters are called ‘Junglies’.  I think this relates to the Sea Kings operated as troop carriers etc. in camo green, but it might also relate to Merlins operating in the same capacity.

The Apache Longbows were out in force too: two of them storming up the airfield, cannon sweeping from side to side…

Beoing AH-64D Longbow Apache

Codename: Ugly

The Lynxes and Wildcats weren’t to be outdone either: here’s a Lynx from earlier in the display popping flares during their own demo with the Wildcats, although both performed excellent demos in the final showdown.

Westland Lynx (HAS)

Pretty fireworks!

Junglies were also deploying flares in response to a SAM (actually a rocket, I think): the grey Somerset skies make a good backdrop (and, if you read my previous post about Southend, I’ve got good at cloudy shots!).

Sea King deploying flares

They always seemed to do it when I was actually watching, not camera-ready!

While I had to vote in Yeovilton’s poll that the Commando Role Demo was the best thing I saw (because it was, it really was), I was there for the Vulcan, and my second favourite display was the four-ship V-Jet Formation.  This involved the Sea Vixen (a longtime love of mine), two Vampires (always a hit) and the Vulcan (no words needed).

Avro Vulcan B2, 2x DeHavilland Vampires, DeHavilland Sea Vixen

A fantastic four-ship flypast.

The sun didn’t come out for it which was a shame, and I do have a few blue-sky shots, but this one is my favourite: I really like a further-on shot too but you’ve seen enough of other people’s heads!  The noise was awesome: not loud as such, but commanding.  Some time after this formation the Vulcan returned from Wales to conduct its own solo display.  Again, the sun wasn’t kind enough to put in an appearance and I never saw a topside pass this time around, but everything is forgiven for the unmistakeable howl that emanated from those Olympus engines in such an inimical way.

Avro Vulcan B2

::howls::

We had many, many seconds of howling: the weather conditions must have been just right, and almost every time power was applied, she roared and howled like an angry beast but performed beautifully, gracefully and to the edge of her CAA-approved envelope*.  Just perfect.

*Of course, her CAA-approved envelope is nothing like her performance capability, but like we saw with the Sea Vixen, it’s all about airframe life and public etc. safety.

Traffic to get out at the end of the show wasn’t too bad: we hung around sweeping the static display for the things we’d missed and so most of it had left, although according to a fellow #twitterVforce participant, we must have been in the right car park!

We went to nearby Ilchester for food (mmm, more steak) which was lovely and drove back the following day, making a stop-off for lunch at the Gloucester (Gloster) Jet Age Museum at Staverton/Gloucester Airport.  It was my second visit and my friend’s first, and if you’re in the area or driving on the M5 and need a stop-off, I highly recommend it!  Had a great chat with the guy in the cafe, another lovely milkshake, an icecream and a second lovely tour of the Vulcan.  It was a shame the Trident wasn’t open but it was at least no longer under scaffolding!

Further on the M5/M42 junction was iffy, so we diverted through Droitwich Spa and Bromsgrove and caught a classic hill climb in action.  And passed a place called Smite.  At least each of our diversions were interesting!

So, with the third of my viewings of XH558’s final season over with, what’s next?  Probably Clacton now it’s been confirmed, but she’s also due at Leicestershire’s Victory Show on her last scheduled flying day so I might try and get somewhere en-route if not the site itself.

A Personal Farewell Tour, Part One: Three Vulcans in Eight Days

It was announced earlier in 2015 that this year would be the last time anyone would see a flying Vulcan again. Let’s face it, that’s still eight more years than many expected, although we all hoped otherwise. I decided I would, without putting myself out TOO much, try and see XH558 as much as possible. With my local airshow being off this year (Waddington having the runway rebuilt), I made plans to go to one I always wanted to go to: Yeovilton. I also kept an eye out for other local participation: local to wherever I happened to be at the time! This has led me to seeing three different Vulcans in eight days.

Day One: Sunday 21st June, Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield, Warwickshire.

Wellesbourne is an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Nottingham, so I thought it would be daft not to go and see another Vulcan doing a fast-taxi followed by a flypast. Especially for the measly sum of £5. The weather was due good so I got up reasonably early and set off for Wellesbourne Wings and Wheels.

Vulcan XM655

XM655 among the throng

For a small event at a small airfield, there were plenty of vehicles and aircraft around. I was surprised by the business of the airport: it being under threat from housing construction, I was expecting a quiet airfield with a few coming-and-going flights for the day, but much of the traffic seemed to be normal, everyday movements! There was also a huge line-up of TVRs: I’ve never seen so many! The event also attracted two DeLoreans, a beautiful motorbike and sidecar, some fire engines and a floatplane!

The main reason for going was to see XM655 have a bit of exercise: she’s the one (fully) powered Vulcan I’ve never seen move. She’s also the most powerful Vulcan, with bigger engines, and it does make a difference to the sound! I’m no expert on Vulcan engines, but I’ve seen XL426 fast-taxi many times at Southend and XH558 both fast-taxi at Waddington and take-off from a few places, and the initial whine is completely different: a shriller sound with more whistle, I thought. She paraded up and down for photographs both times before full power-on and then a nosewheel lift to slow down (wing drag). It was beautiful. There were two full-power runs and then ‘558 put on a mini-display in wonderful sunshine at the end of the day.

Vulcan XH558

Up where she belongs!

That led to the other ‘Vulcan Effect’, where everyone leaves once they’ve seen the Vulcan. This was compounded by the fact that it was over anyway so there wasn’t anything else to do.  I aired the car out and sat with Russian power metal on full blast, singing my lungs out, until things started moving and then it was a smooth if sometimes slow trip home.  All in daylight, mostly on known roads.  A great day!

Day Two: Sunday 28th June, London Southend Airport, Essex

Essex is my home county and London Southend Airport is home to my original ‘local’ Vulcan, XL426.  The occasion this time was twofold: I was back in Essex for a best mate’s birthday, and the Salute to the V Force Tour was happening across the country, where XH558 visited all the complete airframes of Vulcans, Victors and Valiants.  If I had not been in Essex, I don’t know whether I would have seen XH558 at East Midlands Airport (Vulcan XM575) or Newark Air Museum (Vulcan XM594) on the Saturday and no idea what I would have done for the Sunday: maybe even travelled to Essex for the day!

I was actually staying at my mate’s house in Braintree rather than my parents’ in Shenfield.  Logistically, it was a complicated affair: my parents were invited to the afternoon do at my mate’s house, so they went by train the Southend Airport (so much easier than when I used to go!) where I met them and then took them back with me afterwards.  It was wet at Southend: I arrived at the ‘426 end of the airport with about 5mins remaining, having not really struggled through traffic until it was very busy at the retail park!  I managed to get a space in the retail park, having smiled at all the cars parked round the airfield boundary, but I wanted to get close to ‘426 as she really started me off on my Cold War Jets interest.  Also, I knew there would be people with radios and so be well-prepared.

And there she was, coming up from the South through the classic gloom: I attended many a Southend Airshow (seafront and airport) that was wet and grey and drizzly, and this was a real dose of nostalgia.  She came round, heading over the railway to fly down the runway.  A whistle, a howl and she was past, before turning a looping circle to return back up the runway and then out and away to the West, on her way to Norwich.  It was all too brief, but all the best things are ethereal.

Vulcan XH558 overflies Vulcan XL426

A typical Essex Vulcan view!