2018 was an interesting air-show season to say the least. I saw some absolute brilliant displays but also saw cancellations and delays due to horrible weather.
My journey began in June and a trip to Cosford, however with the Queen’s Birthday Flypast the day before I added an extra day onto my trip in London. I spent the first day at Myrtle Avenue, watching take off’s at Heathrow airport and getting to see the likes of a Boeing 787, Boeing 777 and Airbus A380 up close for the first time.
The next morning I walked from my Heathrow hotel to Hatton Cross with a short stop again at Myrtle Avenue and spent some time watching departures once again as well as having a lovely view of the iconic Concorde parked up on 27L.
Getting the tube into the Centre of London I made my way through Green park with thousands of other people and got a spot along the Mall. We were treated to a fantastic flypast consisting of the A400, 2 Typhoons, an A330 Voyager, a C17, The BBMF Lancaster Spitfire & Hurricane as well as the Red Arrows and other RAF Aircraft on a delightfully warm day. But the highlight for me was a formation of FOUR Tornado GR4 aircraft. Sadly flypast’s end so soon after they begin but it was a fantastic 10 minutes or so.
I left Buckingham Palace and began a journey up to Birmingham where I got a top floor bedroom at a hotel overlooking the Birmingham Airport runway. I sat for hours by the window just watching the aircraft come and go. However as I lay on the bed watching TV I heard a familiar noise, I looked out the window to see a C130 Herc come into land and park up almost right under my bedroom window. Later that evening I took a walk to the multi story car-park and watched the massive A380 come into land.
The next day I took the short trip up to Cosford on a rather packed to the rafters train. Blue skies with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures upwards of 30 degrees greeted me, and guess who had forgotten their sun-cream? Yup, me!! I got a seat in the front row of the Cosford club and the lady beside me was kind enough to let me use some of hers, burning crisis averted!
The morning started with the RAF Dogs displaying a series of exercises in a competition and it was lovely to watch them, they seemed like they were having fun! A winner was declared and soon after the air-show got started!
First up was the RAF Falcons who put on a fantastic opening display with one of the Falcon’s carrying the RAF 100 Rely Baton. When landed the Falcon’s lined up for a handing over ceremony to an RAF commander who took the Baton. Much to my surprise the RAF Commander walked over to me and asked me if I wanted to hold the baton and of course I had to say yes! I got my photo taken with him by the RAF Photographer and it was an incredible experience just to be a small part of the #RAF100 celebrations.
Then the flying got started!!
Cosford provided a wonderful rnge of flying. Starting with aircraft such as the great War Display team and Tiger 9 it showcased the early years of the RAF. Fitting in between early years displays we got a fantastic display from an F16 which came from the Belgium air force.
Moving on to the WWII era we were treated to a magnificent display from the BBMF showcasing their Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota in formation flying as well as the incredible Bristol Blenheim. A salute to the Polish men and women who took part in WWII featured a Mig 29 flying alongside a Hurricane before the Mig 29 roared into a brilliant solo display.
Sadly the age of uncertainty didn’t feature quite as much flying as many Cold War era jets are now grounded however this is where the static display shined, a massive collection of jets was on show, Hunters, F4 Phantoms, Lightning’s, Jaguars, Tornados and Harriers were all on the static line walk.
We did however get flying for this era, The BAC Jet Provost T5 showcased the trainer aircraft used by the RAF in this era as well as a magnificent helicopter displays from the worlds only flying Bristol 171 Sycamore, The Gazelle Squadron and a Westland Whirlwind HAR10.
Moving into the new era was quite a treat, opening this was the brilliant RAF Red Arrows who put on a stunning full display in the blue skies of Cosford. We also got a massive flypast section consisting of 4 Hawk T2 trainers, a Belfast built Shorts Tucano, the Grob Tutor and their replacement in the Grob Prefect. Also in the flypast was the new A400M from the RAF which is a fantastic aircraft, but the highlight of the flypast’s was the final ever appearance at Cosford of the RAF Tornado which did one slow flypast and came around for one last swept wing fast flypast. The sound rumbled on long after it disappeared!
The Chinook put on a great display and closing the show was the mighty RAF Typhoon which roared through the skies putting on one of the best displays I have seen in a long time.
International partners included the Royal New Zealand Air Force who showcased their incredible Boeing 757, the Belgian Air Force A109, a Bolkow Bo-105 and the French Rafele which in many peoples opinion stole the show!
Overall the Cosford 2018 Airshow wad one heck of an experience! A well organised and very fitting tribute to the RAF over the last 100 years.
I took a month long break after that, my next trip was once again to London and the RAF 100 Flypast. 100 Aircraft over the skies of London, and what an incredible experience this was indeed!
Making my way to the same spot as I had for the Queen’s Birthday flypast I arrived a bit earlier and got to see the parade. Once it had finished the gates were open and a selection of the crowd were allowed onto the Mall. I got a spot between Buckingham Palace and the Fountain with a view right down the mall.
While we waited, Prince George kept the crowd entertained with a game of ‘hide and seek’ behind the curtains of the one of the rooms in the Palace.
Just before the flypast started The Queen, along with the rest of the Royal Family, including Meghan Markle making her first public appearance as a member of the Royal Family.
Starting the flypast was 6 Chinoooks and 3 Puma Helicopters, following this was the new Trainer Juno and Jupiter training helicopters that have entered service recently.
Up next was the historic aircraft and what a treat this was, the BBMF Dakota flew first and this was magnificent to see having not seen her since 2013 in Newcastle. Next up was the Lancaster, alongside 3 Spitfires and 2 Hurricanes that drew massive applause from the crowd and seemed to really please the Queen who no doubt would have seen Lancaster’s in mass during the 1940s.
Next up was the new Prefect aircraft that will replace the Grob Tutor and 3 of them flew past.
Following that was something really special for us Northern Irish folk, 9 Belfast built Shorts Tucano in a Diamond 9 formation. This was very special due to the Tucano being retired from service next year. What a way to send them off, with 9 over the city of London. Hopefully we will get a ‘farewell tour’ from the Tucano in 2019 in NI.
Shadow RI aircraft were up next, only the 2nd time they had flown over Buckingham. Following them was the unmistakeable noise of the C130 Herc aircraft with 2 of them droning over the City, close behind them was the A400 Atlas, which has fast become one of my favourite heavy aircraft.
The C17 Globemaster was next alongside the BAE146 which is used to transport the Royal Family, the Sentinel from 5 Squadron followed.
Up next was the Airbus A330 Voyager, the biggest aircraft on show which is used for air to air refuel as well as troop transport.
An RC135 was next, I quite like this aircraft having seen it at RIAT last summer. Always nice to see it, right behind it was the AWAC E3D Sentry. My first time seeing the aircraft.
Then came the jets! Starting the procession was 9 Hawk T1 in Arrow formation, these were not the Red Arrows however, these were training aircraft out of RAF Valley. Following them in Diamond 9 formation was 9 Hawk T2 Aircraft which is the more advanced version of the T1.
Up next was something amazing, NINE Tornado GR4 in formation over the centre of London. This will no doubt be my final time ever seeing the RAF Tornado as they will be out of service in early 2019, so to see 9 of them together was an incredible sight that will live with me forever. I don’t know what else to say about this… this was just fantastic.
Following them was another aircraft I was seeing for the first time, the brand new F35 Lightning aircraft. 3 of them side by side flew. There is a lovely howl to these aircraft. This was also the very first public appearance of the F35 aircraft. At this time the RAF only had 4 F35 aircraft and 3 were tasked to London for the flypast. I really look forward to seeing what this aircraft can do in the future!
The next was the centrepiece of RAF 100…. An almighty roar as 22 (Yes, you read that right, TWENTY TWO!) of the RAFs front line Aircraft, the mighty Euro-fighter Typhoon with the aircraft forming up to form a 100 in the skies to celebrate the 100 years of the RAF. This was the biggest gathering of Typhoons ever, and what an amazing experience this was.
Closing the flypast was the world famous RAF Red Arrows coming down the mall with their Red White and Blue smoke to massive cheers. That was a remarkable experience. I decided to take in the RAF 100 Flypast instead of RIAT and I do not regret it one bit.
I made my way to the newly re-opened and re-designed RAF Hendon museum, where the BBMF Lancaster, Spitfires, Hurricanes and Dakota had just flown over on their way home. I do have to say, I prefer the old layout to Hendon however it was fantastic to once again walk around a Vulcan Bomber as well as a Lancaster.
Another highlight was the Tornado and F4 Phantom side by side.
August saw the Newcastle Festival of Flight with a revamped line up, a new STEM Village and an RAF 100 Static aircraft tour. On Wednesday the first two aircraft arrived in the Typhoon and Red Arrows Hawk T1..The following day an amazing sight appeared…. A Harrier in Donard Park.
On the Friday the site opened and the STEM tent was a great experience. A highlight for me was the VR display. Starting off in a WWI Aircraft it moved to a Spitfire flying over the White cliffs of Dover before moving onto a Harrier landing on an aircraft carrier, finally a Typhoon roaring through a mountain range. Members of the RAF were on hand to talk to everyone and explain the various displays.
Outside the full RAF 100 National Aircraft Tour was open. A Sopwith Snipe a in a large tent flanked by historical re-enactors. the UAS Spitfire parked across from the magnificent Harrier under the Mourne Mountains and the Hawk and Typhoon proved to be very popular with the crowds.
Sadly Saturday did not go too well. Bright blue skies right up until moments before the first air display was due, suddenly horrible conditions set in. Heavy rain and poor visibility forced the Typhoon to abort his display after doing a quick roar past to check conditions. Rich Goodwin came to say hi but again conditions were too bad for a display.
Word started to filter through other displays had cancelled before the news the Red Arrows had also cancelled. While the council were hopeful for some flying, they were soon forced to announce a complete cancellation of the air displays, and that was the 2018 Festival of Flight. What would have been a great day of flying turned into a wet, miserable day. I’ve been going to air-shows for 37 years, this was not the first time weather has forced a show to be cancelled, and it won’t be the last. It happens. But rest assured the council are already working hard on the 2019 Festival of Flight.
My airshow season came to a close with Airwaves Portrush, I only did the Saturday but again weather caused serious issues. Before even arriving it was announced the Sea Fury would not be displaying, the Huey and loach posted on social media they were stuck in England with weather. The MIG 15 soon followed as did the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Sadly it got worse, the Irish Coast Guard, advertised for the Saturday also did not appear nor did the RAF Tutor display. What we were left with was a lot of standing around between displays, sometimes gaps of up to an hour.
What flying we saw though was excellent. The Aerobatic Glider kicked off the display followed by a beach landing. Wildcat Aerobatics arrived with a very high energy display in their 2 Pitts Special Aircraft showing why they have became a favourite UK wide.
Up next was by far the star of the show in many peoples eyes. The Swiss Classic Formation displaying their 3 Beech 18 aircraft alongside their DC3 Dakota. The low passes of the graceful Dakota along the beach made the 7 hour round trip worth it. Such a brilliant display. Following after that was an Autogyro display. I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. It can do quite a lot with such a low powered aircraft.
The Global Stars made their debut next and put on a brilliant display of team Aerobatics as well as a fantastic solo display from Mark Jefferies. It’s always great to see them as they put on quite a show with their ‘dotted’ smoke system.
Following on from Global Stars was the Fantastic Catalina flying boat which did a very graceful low display. Only my 2nd time seeing the Catalina display and it didn’t disappoint.
Closing the days action was the RAF Typhoon who roared around the East Strand injecting some much needed noise to the air-show. While the Dakota was my personal favourite, there was no doubt this was the most anticipated display that day with many looking forward to seeing it, and the Typhoon did not disappoint!
Overall it was a mixed year for me at air-shows. Cosford and London provided fantastic displays however weather played a massive part in disrupting displays in Northern Ireland.
I look forward to 2019 with great anticipation. I already have plans to go to RIAT, Duxford’s May airshow & Portrush. Newcastle being my home-town show is a a guarantee, and I hope to go down to Bray also. Lets hope the weather behaves better here next year!