When I saw Abingdon Airshow was moving back a week, I jumped with joy - hurrah, an airshow on my birthday and the Sea Vixen (my favourite jet) was due to display...then got cancelled... only to be replaced by the beautiful Aces High Dakota; what a birthday treat!
Having arrived early after staying at the luxury Heythrop Park nearby, I sat and enjoyed the gorgeous sunshine and wonderful cloud formations sweep by. The change to the show set up this year did cause some issues for the organisers in terms of getting people in (and allegedly paying, which is annoying for the team who work so hard to put on the event for charity), but in we got and it looked set to be a fine display with a wide variety of aircraft.
What I love most about airshows is the community. It was great to spend the day with Jason Gardner (and Dad, who also shares my birthday!), Mark Rutley (armed with doughnuts!) and a very sunburnt Anton Cook, who was battle weary after spending the week in the Loop. In addition to that, catching up with new friends like Lisa Thorn and Peter Davies was also a treat. It was a shame Peter's display in his wonderful AutoGyro was cancelled but the unfortunate events that happened that day with the Twister team could not have been foreseen.
After being a bit grumpy about having to walk what felt like miles for my obligatory Bacon Sarnie and bottle of Coke, the atmosphere soon perked up with the opening display by the boys of the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Consisting of OC Squadron Leader Andy Millikin in Spitfire PS915 and Wing Commander Stu Smiley in Hurricane LF363 "Waspie", the display took in sweeping manoeuvres amongst the blue sky and fluffy clouds. This was the first time I have seen PS915 display and was interested to learn about her history. She was build too late to see action during World War 2 and was sent to Benson as part of the PR Development Unit.. so in effect, she's a togger! In 1957, she became the founding aircraft of the Historic Aircraft Flight (forerunner of BBMF). Her colours are recent and the new livery depicts one of the Mark 19 Spitfires flown by Flt Lt Edward "Ted" Powles, who famously reached 51,550 feet in Spitfire PS852 and clocked a descent speed of 690 mph, gaining him the record for the highest altitude and fastest speed in a piston-engined aircraft. The fact the descent was uncontrolled doesn't see to matter; thankfully control was regained, else that could be quite a different story!
Next up was Lauren Richardson. Still resplendent in red and white, today Lauren displayed a stunning routine of graceful loops and turns in Bob Grimstead's Fournier RF-4D. The new display line at Abingdon offered sky backdrops of varying forms. Shots to the left offered dramatic greyness and shadow, whilst the right offered sunshine and clarity. But despite this variation, the red and white of the Fournier, with the addition of the trailing orange smoke stood out at all angles and was a firm favourite with the amassed photographers as clicks could be heard all around.
The third act was the Silence Twister Duo. Their display has already been well publicised across the media channels due to the unfortunate engine failure and crash landing of G-Jinx. The pilot is now recovering and absolute kudos must be given to him for his professionalism whilst handling the situation. Also, the team at Abingdon must be congratulated for not only how they dealt with the incident but how they also kept crowds informed and also keeping the show on the road.
What I did find uncomfortable about the incident was how other people thought it was acceptable to take photos and publish back of the camera shots on social media. I found this particular hard to accept as at the time the pilot was still in the cockpit; we didn't know what his condition was and there it was, out in public for all to see. These pilots take time out away from their families for our enjoyment, their families give up their time with their partners so we can see them fly, so I feel we, as supporters and spectators, need to be more considerate in these kind of circumstances. To find out a loved one had "crashed" with no other details via social media would be horrific and of that fact, we must be more mindful. The media is already keen to jump on any incident without facts since the Shoreham disaster and we are potentially feeding the negativity by acting in this way - badly done I say.
That aside, the Twister display was as always action packed and slick. Their arrival always gives me shivers - total class.
After a short break and the go ahead to continue was given, I had to contain Mark's joy, (@reachforthesky9 on IG - check out his work!) as the horizon took on scenes from Apocalypse Now with the arrival of the Huey. A precise display of control and ability was presented by the pilot in a helicopter that is synonymous with the Vietnam War.
However, my attention was somewhat taken during the display by activities occurring at crowd rear, for there holding in the distance, were nine stunning examples of World War One heritage, nine vintage aircraft including the Avro 504 replica, which would later make an emergency landing due to engine failure.
I don't think there are many things more emotive than seeing historic aircraft fly. To envisage what the scene would have looked like in the day; the sounds, smells and tension - it evokes many emotions. The Great War Display Team upped the anti by adding pyros to their display, which even silenced the yappy dogs parked behind us! It is one of those displays where you just don't know where to look and don't want to miss a thing - a display that could provoke me into putting the camera down and just take it all in. Magical and elegant, the Great War Display Team were a pleasant and valuable addition to the Abingdon line up.
From slow and graceful, to fast and dynamic with the Yakovlev Yak-3 and the North American P-51D Mustang "Tall in the Saddle", who is based at North Weald as part of the Hangar 11 Collection. They took to the runway for their displays. It was a stark contrast on how aviation technology had evolved in a very short time and you just can't top the whistle of a fast descending Mustang! Agile, swift and beautifully marked, both aircraft gave a flavour of how fit for purpose the design was.
A change of pace and it was the turn of one of the larger aircraft to take to the sky - The Antonov AN-2TP. For any budding aviation photographer, this aircraft is a brilliant one to practise prop blur in flight on. Larger and slower than the fighters, she offered wonderful opportunities in what was starting to become challenging light conditions.
As the light started to fade and the predicted rain showers started to threaten, a little ray of light started her taxi to the runway. The Aces High Dakota looked glorious with her livery popping against the greying sky. The distinctive sound of Dakota engines whirling raised excitement levels. Fingers were crossed that the weather would hold for decent images of a Dakota in flight and she didn't disappoint.
The show was far from over but with the understandable delays, the rain and my ensuing three hour journey home to Devon meant I had to leave as Richard Goodwin knife edged his way into a dynamic display of control. I enjoyed his display from the car park (we won't talk about the pain of trying to exit... the worse ever for Abingdon) and I made my way home.
Once again, Neil and the team at Abingdon put on a real show despite all the challenges prior to and during the display. I'm disappointed to read that takings are down due to admin errors on entry by a contracted management team and plea that anyone who did enter for free to make an anonymous donation to the chosen charity - Berks, Oxford and Bucks Air Ambulance.
Until Next Time, Smile for the Camera
Love Carly x