Cosford Airshow 2019 attracts European acts
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.
It seems to have been such a long time since I last saw the sun that I can hardly remember what the skies look like when they are not grey clad and completely depressing. This definitely calls for some serious remedial blog action, so this latest edition of Aerodrome will be looking back at one of the summer’s most enjoyable Airshow events and the show which can now claim to be the only remaining UK Airshow organised and managed directly by the Royal Air Force. We will be heading for RAF Cosford to see how they managed to follow up their widely acclaimed 2018 RAF Centenary Airshow.
Before I begin, could I please just take a moment to sincerely thank all the Avro Vulcan fans who kindly responded to my request for pictures of this iconic aircraft in the previous edition of the blog – we were absolutely inundated! It is clear that I am not the only one who has been missing the ‘Mighty Delta’ of late, although some readers were quick to point out that the legacy of this magnificent aircraft does extend beyond XH558. I look forward to compiling a very special Vulcan readers pictures edition of Aerodrome in the near future and continuing our infatuation with this distinctive aircraft.
The RAF’s Airshow with a museum thrown in
Members of the Lytham Spitfire Ground Display Team prepare to welcome thousands of visitors to the cockpit of their replica Spitfire at Cosford Airshow
One of the most unpalatable developments to hit the UK Airshow scene over the past thirty years has been the steady decline in the RAF air display, a situation which has brought us to a point where the only remaining show organised by the Royal Air Force is now the annual event at Cosford. Taking place on the same airfield site which is home to the RAF museum’s collection, this West Midlands show can claim to be one of the most accessible Airshow locations in the UK and with local people always enthusiastic about supporting their ‘home’ event, organisers can be confident of benefitting from large crowd numbers on show day.
Now firmly established as a training facility, Cosford is steeped in Royal Air Force history and is a fascinating place to visit, for those with even a passing interest in aviation. Helping to maintain the future development of the force, flying operations are still carried out here under the control of No.6 Flying Training School, whilst the various disciplines of the Defence College of Technical Training prepare engineers and technicians for a future career in Britain’s armed services. Cosford is now home to an impressive collection of former RAF SEPECAT Jaguars and on show days, it is possible to see several of these beautifully maintained aircraft at various positions around the airfield and in the No.1 School of Technical Training hangars.
Without doubt, the biggest draw to Cosford airfield is the magnificent aircraft collection of the Royal Air Force Museum, which occupies three large hangars across the site, as well as the cavernous interior of the impressive National Cold War Exhibition building. Over recent years, Cosford’s collection of exhibits has been greatly enhanced by the addition of several historic aircraft which have re-located from the museum’s Hendon site, making an annual visit to Cosford and absolute must for many thousands of people living a little further north. On Airshow day, a unique aviation benefit of taking your place amongst the crowds at Cosford is the appealing prospect that one or two of the collections incredibly rare aircraft many be temporarily moved out of their hangar to take their place in the static display, allowing enthusiasts the opportunity to take some highly prized photographic records.
RAF Museum Gladiator enjoys a day in the sun
With Cosford’s RAF Centenary Airshow enjoying rave reviews in 2018, many enthusiasts were wondering how on earth the organisers intended to follow such a spectacle and would probably admit to being a little worried about what the latest event would bring. Thankfully, the Cosford team are made of the right stuff and we all worried unnecessarily – well in advance of the show, it became clear that we were in for another classic, with strong RAF support and a number of international acts which would not be appearing at any other UK Airshow (other than RIAT). For a show which featured so many highlights, it can be incredibly challenging to include everything in a single blog review, so I have no intention of trying. Instead, I am going to select two static aircraft highlights and two from the flying display programme, leaving the option to re-visit the show as we get a little deeper into the closed season.
Even though I live 100 miles further north, Cosford is now my local Airshow and as such, I always plan to attend the show whenever I can. This year, however, I was especially keen to be at the show for a specific aviation reason - one of my favourite aircraft was being displayed outside the ‘War in the Air’ hangar for one glorious day. The Gloster Gladiator is without doubt one of the most attractive aircraft produced by the British aviation industry and one which holds an important place in the history of the Royal Air Force. A truly innovative aeroplane, the Gloster Gladiator is often described as the pinnacle of biplane fighter design and was certainly the pride of the Royal Air Force when the first examples were delivered to No.72 Squadron at Tangmere in February 1937. Unfortunately, aviation history dictated that the undoubted qualities possessed by the Gladiator would be largely forgotten, as both the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire had both made their first flights by the time of its squadron introduction and indeed, the first RAF Hurricanes were delivered to No.111 Squadron later in 1937.
The personal highlight of my Cosford 2019 attendance, the chance to see the Museum’s Gladiator outside the protection of its hangar was an opportunity I simply could not miss
The Museum’s Gladiator Mk.I K8042 is one of several classic aircraft which transferred to the Cosford site during 2016, having previously spent many years in the Battle of Britain Hall at Hendon. Its move north was rather fitting, when considering the history of this aircraft – following its deliver to No.1 Aircraft Storage Unit in August 1937, it would go on to spend time at Shawbury, Ternhill and Rednal, all airfields in the Shropshire area. Selected for display and future preservation at the end of the Second World War, the aircraft was refurbished in 1967 and repainted in its current colour scheme, that of the Commanding Officer’s aircraft of No.87 Squadron at Debden in 1938.
The Cosford show organisers definitely stumbled across a winning formula with their RAF Centenary Airshow planning in 2018, as they displayed several of the Museum’s classic aircraft outside the protection of their hangars, on a grass section of the airfield, to the absolute delight of aviation enthusiasts. Temporarily housed in substantial marquee to protect against inclement weather, the aircraft were pulled forward into the open air once conditions allowed, enabling some memorable photographs to be taken. Unfortunately for me, I was only able to catch the Gladiator during the early morning, as other duties kept me busy for the rest of the day, however, I did manage to take one or two early morning images for the record.
An RAF jet trainer of distinction
One of the most eye-catching aircraft to take its place in the static display at this year’s Cosford Airshow, Jet Provost T.1 XD674 marks a period in Royal Air Force history when the pilot training programme was changing from piston to jet power. Building on their highly successful (piston) Percival Provost T.1, the company attempted to satisfy the RAF’s requirement for a jet powered trainer by basically fitting a jet engine into the existing airframe. Retaining the successful side-by side cockpit arrangement of the piston-powered Provost, the rather modest diameter of the Armstrong Siddeley Viper 101 turbojet engine allowed the powerplant to be utilised, allowing the basic external appearance of its piston powered predecessor to be maintained.
In June 1954, the prototype Jet Provost T.1 XD674 made its maiden flight from the Hunting Percival factory at Luton Airport, in the hands of chief test pilot Dick Wheldon. Although the aircraft bears a striking resemblance to its piston powered predecessor, the radial engine was now replaced by a sleek, rounded nose and the fixed main undercarriage traded for an unusual, slightly stalky tricycle arrangement, which was now fully retractable. This strange undercarriage arrangement gave the new jet powered Provost T.1 trainer an extremely elegant appearance and with its smart silver paint finish, it really was an attractive looking aeroplane.
A truly distinctive aircraft, the Jet Provost T.1 represents the genesis of Britain’s search for a basic jet trainer type for the modern Royal Air Force
Training lineage. The Piston Provost provided the initial design inspiration for Britain’s early jet trainer
Provost heaven – this magnificent line-up illustrates the development of the Provost aircraft line, from piston power to standard RAF Jet trainer
From this low angle, the Jet Provost T.1 trainer may appear rather ungainly, but is also extremely attractive
Occupying a significant position in the history of the Royal Air Force, the Jet Provost T.1 was used to train the first batch of RAF flight instructors, who would go on to establish Britain’s jet powered student pilot training programme in the 1950s, a role at which this pretty little aircraft excelled. They would also go on to see the aircraft through demanding acceptance trials, in advance of widespread RAF service and a long career for the various incarnations of the Jet Provost design. Only 12 of these distinctive Provost T.1 jets were produced, with the first production versions of Britain’s early jet trainer going on to adopt a much shorter undercarriage and looking distinctly different to their predecessors. When photographed from this low angle, it really does accentuate the length of the aircraft’s undercarriage, giving it an almost ungainly appearance. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think this looks absolutely stunning.
Undoubtedly one of the most impressive features of recent Cosford Airshows has been the organisers ability to produce a varied and interesting flying display programme, ones which often include several appealing contributions from overseas air arms. Without doubt, one of the most dynamic display highlights of this year’s show was the appearance of a Swiss Air Force McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet fighter, an extremely agile multi-role combat aircraft, which can trace its history back to the 1970s and the US Navy’s requirement for a capable, cost effective replacement for their F-14 Tomcat fleet defender. Operated by the Swiss in an air defence role, this aircraft came from Fliegerstaffel 17 ‘The Falcons’, flying out of Payerne air base and is one of just 30 F/A-18 Hornet’s they currently have in service.
Sharing the same display programme as the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role aircraft, the huge Cosford crowd were able to make a direct comparison between the agility of both aircraft and would have enjoyed every minute of this friendly contest. For many people, the rarity value of seeing a Hornet display at an Airshow other than the massive Royal International Air Tattoo event would have swayed the contest in favour of the F-18, but with both aircraft blasting around the Shropshire skies in spectacular fashion, everyone fortunate enough to witness the spectacle could claim to be the ultimate winners.
Unfortunately, over recent months, the Swiss Air Force have been having significant difficulties with their F/A-18 Hornet force, as routine inspections uncovered fatigue cracks in the landing flaps of several aircraft. This development proved serious enough to see some aircraft grounded until they could undergo further detailed inspection and whilst a small number of aircraft are still performing the vital air defence role for the Swiss nation, many of the aircraft’s air display commitments were immediately cancelled. As enthusiasts became aware of this development, those who enjoyed the Hornet’s appearance at Cosford will count themselves particularly fortunate and it still remains to be seen if the show will ever be able to boast another Swiss Air Force F/A-18 Hornet display in the years to come.
Clearly illustrating the strong naval heritage of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, several of these Cosford display pictures above show the robust undercarriage employed on the aircraft, as well as the arrestor hook at the rear of the fuselage. Despite having the ability to operate from an aircraft carrier, all the Hornets of the Swiss Air Force are operated exclusively from land bases and have served the nation effectively in the air defence role for over 20 years.
German Navy Orion steals the show
One of the largest aircraft to display at this year’s show and arguably the most exotic, the Lockheed P-3C Orion was an extremely welcome contribution from the German Navy and an example of an aircraft which has seen quite extensive service in Europe over the years. An aircraft which was developed from the classic Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop airliner, the P-3C is a dedicated maritime surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft which was produced initially for the US Navy, but went on to secure many overseas orders, due to the effectiveness of the design. Able to mount long range maritime patrols from bases all over the world, the P-3 Orion has been patrolling our oceans for over 50 years and seems certain to continue in this role for many years to come.
With the demise of Britain’s Nimrod programme and the loss of our own maritime surveillance capability, the UK have been reliant on our European partners to perform this vital role for the past few years, however, help is finally on the way. RAF Lossiemouth will soon be the home base for a new fleet of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon multi-role maritime patrol aircraft, as Britain finally restores her autonomous surveillance force, meaning Soviet submarine captains will soon be finding life much more interesting.
As far as the German Navy’s operation of the P-3C Orion is concerned, their hard working fleet of eight aircraft were all purchased second-hand from the Royal Netherlands Navy and entered service in 2006. Operated by Marinefliegergeschwader 3 ‘Graf Zeppelin’ and flying from their base at Nordholz in Northern Germany, the aircraft regularly participate in multi-national collaborative operations, scouring the oceans for signs of submarine movement and recently, illegal drugs and piracy activities. It has recently been announced that the German P-3C Orion fleet will benefit from a major upgrade programme, equipping the aircraft with more capable surveillance equipment and ensuring these venerable old aircraft can remain in service for at least the next fifteen years.
German Navy Orion’s rarely appear on the flying programmes of UK Airshows and knowing they would be enjoying star billing, it appears that the crew of 60+01 were determined to make the most of their time in the spotlight. In what would be the highlight act of this year’s show for many, the Orion gave the crowd a full demonstration of this beautiful aircraft’s capabilities, from high-speed passes to a slow approach with flaps and undercarriage down, with the glossy grey scheme of the aircraft blending perfectly into the slightly angry looking Shropshire skies. As far as the aviation enthusiast is concerned, it is not always the latest aviation technology which gets our blood flowing a little quicker and the Orion proved to be just the ticket at Cosford 2019. Well done to the display organisers for securing such an unusual and appealing aircraft and to the German Navy for their extremely spirited display.
It has to be said that the most recent Cosford Airshows have been some of the most memorable events I have ever attended and the current display committee seem determined to restore the fortunes of this always well attended show. With so many 2019 highlights, Aerodrome looks forward to bringing readers a further review of this year’s show in a future blog, but for now, may I just remind people that tickets for the 2020 (Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary) show have just gone on sale and Christmas is just around the corner. If I didn’t already have mine secured, I could think of nothing more exciting to find under the tree on Christmas morning.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our firstname.lastname@example.org address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 13th December, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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