Alan Warnes reports from the annual airshow at RAF Waddington, Lincs.
THE INTERNATIONAL Airshow at RAF Waddington on June 26 and 27 celebrated a record attendance on the Sunday… but there was a catch. Most of the event’s estimated 125.000 total turnout was down to some judicious planning on behalf of the general public — they’d heard the weekend weather forecast and scheduled their visit for what promised to be the less wet day.
As you would expect for the RAF’s main recce and warfare base, Waddington plays host to a number of interesting units. The higher profile units are those operating aircraft, the Sentry AEW.1 AWACS (8 and 23 Sqns) and Nimrod R.I (51 Sqn). These types are to be joined next year by the first of five Bombardier Global Express ASTORs (Airborne Stand Off Radar) that are to be delivered to 5 Sqn, which is still awaiting its aircraft having recently moved to the base. However, most of the people at RAF Waddington work at the very secretive Air Warfare Centre (AWC), where RAF operational doctrine and procedures are formulated. The AWC has various operational evaluation units (OEUs) within its organisation, and the line-up of a Tornado GR.4 and F.3, Harrier GR.7 and Jaguar GR. 3 showed off the public face of the Fast Jet Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit (FJWOEU). The unit was created on March 29 this year from the amalgamation of the Strike Attack Operational Evaluation Unit (SAOEU) then based at Boscombe Down and the F.3 OEU at RAF Coningsby where the FJWOEU now resides. It will be joined there next year by the first Typhoon T.1s of the Typhoon OEU, which is why one of these state-of-the-art air defence fighters (serialled ZJ800/’AC’) was parked in the static.
The AWC organises a display marquee for the airshow, to give the public an idea of what goes on there. So I was delighted to find that it was making public details of its latest unit, the Joint Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Experimentation Programme (although it was referred to as the JUAV Evaluation Programme). The JUAVEP, which began operations at RAF Waddington on April 1, has been designed to consider the UK armed services’ requirements for the future, beyond the Watchkeeper programme — so at least this proves that the UK is at last getting serious about UAVs.
Although I admire airshows trying to cater for all the family, the fairground and trade tents (that are a regular feature at RAF Waddington) are in danger of overshadowing the aircraft in the static display. Of course this is probably due to the airshow’s success and the fact that RAF Mildenhall no longer hosts its Air Fete, however it is an issue that the organisers should be made aware of.
While the static display lacked any form of US military presence — due to the Pentagon’s decision that US aircraft would attend only a limited number of overseas airshows — the organisers still managed to attract some fascinating alternatives.
Those interested in modern military aviation were probably aware that the Turkish Air Force F-4E Phantoms were among the rarest visitors. The two shark-mouthed examples on display were from the 172 Filo at Erhac and it was good to see the Turkish aircrews getting into the spirit of the event by having their photographs taken with members of the public.
Further down the line was a German Air Force F-4F Phantom from Jadgerschwader 71 (JG-71) based at Wittmundhafen. So the Phantom buffs would have been pleased, particularly with the presence of a former RAF Phantom FGR.2 serialled XV497/’D’, preserved outside the buildings of 23 Sqn, which once operated the type.
There were a number of unusual sights in the static line-up, with a Latvian Air Force LET 410 and a Polish Navy Aviation M28 Bryza-IR among them. Both aircraft won prizes — the Bryza taking the Best Presented Static Display award and the LET being named as runner-up.
I was pretty impressed by the versatility of the Chinook during Sunday morning’s flying display and admired the pilot’s skill at flying the helicopter through an excellent routine, despite rather windy conditions. While all this was going on, some guy sitting on the Chinook’s ramp, who I presumed was the loadmaster, waved manically to all those below.
It was with some delight that I learnt the aircrew from the Chinook Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) had won the Airshow Organisers’ Award For Best Presented Flying Display. Gaining the runner-up spot was a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion, with a worthy display. The Orion had been deployed from its home base at Whenuapai to RAF Kinloss in Scotland for a Joint Maritime Course (JMC) and had decided to head south for the show.
Other notable performances in the flying display came from the Typhoon, Austrian Saab 1050E and the Tornado GR.4 from 15 Sqn.
I suspect most of the general public had come to see the Red Arrows, which are celebrating their 40th display season. To mark this anniversary, they arrived at RAF Waddington on both days, with a Gnat T.1 in formation. The Gnat was the team’s mount when the Red Arrows started their first display season and continued until 1979 when the Hawk T.1 took over. On the Sunday, the ten aircraft appeared over the base as the sun re-emerged from behind the clouds just minutes after torrential downpour, which provided a spectacular backdrop. The Gnat broke off and gave a five-minute display, then the Red Arrows did their slick party piece. They were the third of three international aerobatic teams at the show, as the Italian Air Force Frecce Tricolori and Spanish Patrulla Aguila had also given fine performances earlier in the day.
The entrance fee was £15 for an adult (or £12 in advance) and £5 for a child (aged 5-16), which in my view was a fair price when you look at it against other comparable events. Next year’s event is scheduled to take place on July 2-3. Let’s hope the weather improves by then!