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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…
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.
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!).
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).
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.
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.