RAF Chinook in Duxford display debut
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.
After what has been an extremely hectic period of UK Airshow activity, we are taking something of a retrospective view of the 2019 season in this latest blog, as we head back to the first Duxford show of the year, to see how the show’s organisers did their level best to serve up something a little different for the UK enthusiast.
Our main area of interest will be the first 2019 appearance of the hugely popular RAF Chinook Display Team, including a photographic display walk around of this magnificent machine and a look at why this impressive helicopter has not only become a firm Airshow favourite, but also one of the most useful aircraft in current RAF inventory. We will also see how the Imperial War Museum ensured this show would be remembered for an extremely adventurous static aircraft display and how this afforded enthusiasts some unique photographic opportunities over the show weekend.
Without further ado, let’s head down to Duxford and an eclectic collection of magnificent aeroplanes, both old and new.
The wonderful ‘Wokka’
As one of the premier Airshow venues in the country, IWM Duxford’s series of annual events always attract large crowd numbers, as this historic airfield continues to be a magnet for enthusiasts and people with a slightly more casual interest in aviation. Over recent years, their season opening Air Festival has been seen as an opportunity for the new organising team to try something a little different for Duxford shows, breaking away from the traditional display format and introducing an exciting and innovative new programme. This year’s event was certainly no exception, with the crowds treated to a varied display which featured the welcome return of some popular display items, as well as including several participants and display pairings which were definitely out of the ordinary. In addition to these, some of the museum’s aviation exhibits were brought outside the protection of their hangar for the duration of the show, allowing visitors to obtain a valuable photographic record of the occasion. In essence, the new team have transformed what may have been viewed in the past as a rather predictable and somewhat pedestrian opening to each new Airshow season, into an exciting celebration of all things aviation. Duxford’s first show of the year is now a major event in the display calendar and as such, has earned a significant increase in attendance numbers along the way, in no small part down to the foresight and ambitions of the current organising team.
The main theme of this year’s show was the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the jet engine into RAF service, with the famous Gloster Meteor fighter taking the honour of being Britain’s first jet powered aircraft and whilst jet power is usually associated with the speed of fighter aircraft, organisers were keen to draw our attention to the fact that derivatives of the jet engine are also used to power some of the world’s most versatile aircraft, helicopters. With examples of both current and classic rotary types taking part in the display, the show would also mark the inaugural 2019 appearance of the popular RAF Chinook Display Team and their mighty twin bladed helicopter, a highlight attraction at any Airshow event.
Since the end of the Second World War and reflecting the ever evolving nature of aviation, the helicopter has developed into arguably the most versatile aviation asset across the world, with these impressive aircraft becoming increasingly prominent in many military and civilian applications. Equally effective in delivering troops and supplies into areas which are inaccessible to other aircraft types, as they are at plucking grateful holiday makers from the sea when they may have misjudged the tide, the helicopter is now also arguably the aircraft type which comes into contact with the general population more regularly than any other.
Dominating the Duxford flight line, RAF Chinook ZA708 would be performing the Chinook Display Team’s first two displays of the 2019 season
On a rather grey morning at Duxford, the chance to get close to the Chinook shows just how big this impressive helicopter actually is
Featuring a distinctive tandem twin rotor configuration, the mighty Chinook heavy lift helicopter counteracts the effects of engine torque by having each of its rotors rotating in opposite directions and thus negating the need for a traditional tail rotor. An extremely impressive machine, the Chinook made its first flight back in 1961 and would go on to become one of the most effective aircraft designs of the post war era, one which was capable of operating in almost any environmental situation, no matter how inhospitable the terrain and therefore used in a multitude of military and civilian applications. The unrivalled versatility and load carrying capabilities of the Boeing Chinook helicopter has ensured that this mighty twin rotor heavy lift machine is now one of the most famous aircraft to see post war Royal Air Force service. Equally at home on the battlefields of the Middle East as it is dropping ballast sacks to prevent a dam burst a little closer to home, the Chinook has now been in RAF service since 1980, with the latest variant of this magnificent machine enhancing its already legendary operational flexibility still further. As well as being one of the most important aircraft currently in service, the Chinook is a consummate Airshow performer and a real crowd favourite wherever it performs, with the RAF’s Chinook Display Team having the privilege of demonstrating the aircraft’s power and manoeuvrability to tens of thousands of people every summer. Retaining their fully operational status at all times, the team must balance normal training requirements with practicing for their dynamic display routine and even though a Chinook is scheduled to take part in an Airshow near you, it could be called away on deployment at a moment’s notice. If it does display, there is nothing quite like the experience of seeing this huge helicopter being hurled around the sky, with a Chinook’s iconic ‘blade slap’ being a definite Airshow highlight.
With the 2019 RAF Chinook Display Team keen to get their busy season off and running, Duxford’s May Air Festival would have the honour of hosting this magnificent machine at their first event of the year and there is one thing that is absolutely certain, if there is a Chinook on your flight line, it will always be the centre of attention. Any aviation enthusiasts will tell you that every individual aircraft will have a fascinating history all of its own, but few could claim to have the operational provenance of the Chinook HC-6A which was resident at Duxford for the duration of the show. Constructed during 1981, CH-47c Chinook 6-838 was originally registered N37042 and was operated by Boeing Helicopters Royal Air Force. Delivered to the RAF at the end of December 1981, she was allocated the serial ZA708 and embarked on a service career which has seen the aircraft operating on many overseas deployments during the past 38 years and even suffering combat damage as a result. Successively upgraded from its original HC.1 configuration to the very latest variant of this exceptional aircraft, the Chinook has to represent exceptional value for money for the ministry of defence, as despite the fact this aircraft is something of an aviation workhorse, it is still going strong and looks set to continue in a similar vein for many years to come. As one of the world’s largest operators of the Chinook helicopter, the RAF have come to rely on the unique attributes of this magnificent machine, from actions to reclaim the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, to anti-Islamic State operations in Afghanistan and with this latest incarnation of the helicopter being one of the most versatile aircraft ever to see RAF service in its 101 year history, the legacy of the RAF Chinook is certain to be further enhanced in the years to come.
As the Duxford Air Festival was going to mark the year’s first public appearance for the 2019 RAF Chinook Display Team, there was much for team members to discuss during a very early start on Saturday. Thankfully, the rear loading ramp of this mighty helicopter makes an ideal venue for any impromptu meeting.
There can be no denying that a Chinook helicopter display is a thing of aviation beauty. How a machine of that size manages to do the things it does is quite breath-taking and combining that with the sound of the massive rotor blades as they slap the air during its routine makes for a heady cocktail of aviation delights. With the Chinook Display Team demonstrating the astonishing agility of this very large aeroplane with no little style, it is easy to see why this mighty helicopter has become so important to Britain’s military over the past 38 years – it is clear that the only thing that can match the performance of an RAF Chinook is another RAF Chinook. In my humble opinion, despite the fact that a Chinook display is undoubtedly one of the most popular features of the UK Airshow circuit, these latest aircraft are possible not flown quite as aggressively as they were in years past, clearly to avoid placing undue stresses on the airframe and therefore potentially impacting on their operational serviceability. Having said that, the current RAF Chinook display is a credit to the team behind it and perfectly illustrates why this helicopter is such a crucial aviation asset in today’s Royal Air Force and allows us all to have some idea of the duties it performs in some of the worlds most demanding theatres of operation.
Apache AH1 – Chinook chaperone
It isn’t difficult to see why the Apache Attack Helicopter display is a highlight act of any air display, but for the photographer, positioning is critical. I have to come clean with this image and admit that it was taken at last year’s Cosford Airshow, where I managed to engineer the right location on the crowd line
Even though the Chinook is more than capable of defending itself against small arms attack, often when it is operating over terrain contested by hostile forces, it calls upon the support of a hard-hitting aviation chaperone and another rotary heavyweight performer, in the shape of the Apache attack helicopter. The Apache is yet another example of why the helicopter now occupies such a prominent role on the modern battlefield, possessing awesome offensive firepower and the ability to acquire and engage multiple targets in the fraction of a second. The two man Apache is quite simply a rotary powered killing machine, designed and manufactured specifically to dominate the battlefield, destroying enemy armoured fighting vehicles and supporting friendly ground troops wherever they deploy, wielding fearsome firepower from an impressive array of offensive armament and aided by a suite of highly effective targeting sensors. Typically, a fully armed Apache could be wielding air to ground and air to air missiles, Hellfire guided missiles and a sinister 30mm chain gun, which can bring withering fire down on a target over great distances. Possessing exceptional loiter capability, the Apache can be used to suppress enemy activity in advance of the arrival of a Chinook for casualty evacuation or troop extraction, remaining on station should its services be required again.
As impressive as a Chinook display is from the point of view of its size and manoeuvrability, an Apache display is all about the aircraft’s sinister profile and destructive potential and as it features plenty of bangs and a spectacular wall of fire finale, it ensures that the aircraft does great things for future military recruitment and has become a firm favourite of every young person in the crowd. Despite the flames of the finale, perhaps the most disturbing feature of an Apache display is when the aircraft slowly flies sideways along the crowd-line, facing the crowd, with the helmet controlled gun seemingly targeting individual members of the audience – if it ends up pointing at you, you can’t help worrying that the weapons operator might just loose off a round or two! You most certainly would not want to be on the receiving end of an Apache attack. The British Army’s Agusta Westland Apache is a licence built version of the Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter, with the first AAC unit achieving operational status in May 2005. With the latest AH-64E variant of the aircraft due to enter British service in 2022, this highly effective machine is scheduled to remain in service for many years to come, performing its invaluable role as an airborne ‘angel on the shoulders’ of Britain’s ground forces. Although the Chinook and Apache were never in the Duxford skies at the same time, both aircraft effectively demonstrated why the helicopter is such an important asset to Britain’s modern military forces and how both can be used simultaneously in a live combat situation.
Martin Baker’s Black Beauty
With this year’s show commemorating 75 years of the jet engine in British service, the display organisers pulled off a real coup in arranging for the attendance of one of Britain’s most exotic classic jet aircraft and one which is an example of the first jet powered aircraft to enter RAF service, the Gloster Meteor. An aircraft which for many people, the chance to get close to was worth the ticket price alone, Gloster Meteor T.7 WA638 is one of only two airworthy examples of this classic aircraft still flying in Britain today and has been owned and operated by the ejection seat manufacturing company Martin-Baker since 1962. Used extensively in the development and testing of their world leading seat designs since that date, WA638 is actually a hybrid T.7/F.8 Meteor, marrying a T.7 airframe with the addition of a fin and rudder from an F.8 variant of this classic British aircraft. With the canopy and rear seat area modified for use in ejection seat trials, this particular aircraft also sports an extremely smart all-over black livery, with gold cheat lines, a scheme which now also includes a badge marking this aircraft’s involvement in trials for the seats used in the new F-35 Lightning II, one of the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft.
Amongst aviation enthusiast community, this magnificent aeroplane has to be one of the most interesting jet aircraft still flying in Britain today and its appearance was a major highlight of this year’s Duxford show. Arriving on the Friday before the first day of the show, the Meteor was situated on the hardstanding between hangars 3 and 4, but for those who did managed to see it landing and taxying in, they will have been present at quite a historic occasion and one which may never be seen at Duxford again. Gloster Meteor WA638 has been in service with Martin-Baker since 1962, although it did spend long periods preserved in storage between 1977 and 1997. Despite these periods of inactivity, the aircraft has been used to facilitate over 500 ejection tests, including both rocket and non-rocket fired seat tests. The aircraft was repainted in this extremely smart black scheme for its first post storage test flight back in May 2001 and at one stage could claim to be the oldest flying military jet still in operational service. Recent changes in CAA regulations resulted in WA638 being placed on the civilian register as G-JWMA, even though it is still operated from its usual home at the Martin-Baker owned airfield at Chalgrove, in Oxfordshire. Arguably, this was the most appropriate aircraft the organisers could have secured to mark the 75th anniversary of the jet engine entering British service and it was a real treat to be allowed close to this aviation classic. Having had the opportunity to speak with the crew members who were guarding this beautiful aeroplane over the weekend, we are hoping that there may be a possibility of visiting the Chalgrove site at some point in the future to produce an article specifically on the two historic Gloster Meteor’s which are based there, so please keep an eye out for that.
Image selection from the Duxford Air Festival
Airshow regulars will attest to the fact that there is usually so much going on at any such event, that producing a single blog to cover all of the show highlights is completely impractical and may overlook some of the fascinating, yet perhaps less obvious features of the show, both on the ground and in the air. As such, we will certainly be re-visiting this year’s Duxford Air Festival in a future edition of Aerodrome, probably when this year’s Airshow season is but a distant memory and we have all replaced our t-shirts with jumpers and jackets. In anticipation of this, please enjoy this final photographic record of this initial review, which includes more of the static display highlights and a pair of naval fighters which are usually more at home within the security of one of Duxford’s historic hangars.
Regular visitors to Duxford will have immediately noticed that two of the museum’s classic Fleet Air Arm exhibits had been allowed outside their hangars for the duration of the show. Hawker Sea Hawk FB.5 is an example of the company’s first jet aircraft design and one of the prettiest aircraft ever produced by Britain’s aviation industry – Duxford’s preserved example is presented in 898 NAS colours.
De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 XS576 looked absolutely magnificent out in the open air and was used as the backdrop for a really enjoyable interactive presentation over the two days of the show. This mighty fleet fighter was one of the most advanced aircraft of its kind in the world when it first entered service and is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive naval aircraft to ever see service. It was ultimately superseded by the Rolls Royce Spey engined McDonnell Douglas Phantom, another aviation classic.
Another example of early jet powered British aviation, the Hunting Percival Jet Provost holds an important position within the annuls of RAF history, as it was the aircraft which allowed Britain to introduce the first all jet pilot training programme in the world, and thus retain their position as one of the most influential aviation nations on the planet at that time. The relatively broad fuselage of the aircraft is a result of the relatively radical decision to sit student pilot and instructor side by side in the cockpit, as opposed to the more conventional tandem arrangement to which the RAF have now returned for fast jet training and conversion.
A later development of the Jet Provost, the BAC 167 Strikemaster was a training and light attack variant of the most powerful version of this aircraft family, which earned limited export success for the company, with around 140 aircraft finding homes with several air forces around the world. A graceful aeroplane, the Strikemaster has gone on to be a popular aircraft on the Airshow circuit, with the Duxford show boasting two attractive examples, one in the colours of the Royal Saudi Air Force and the other representing the Royal Air Force of Oman.
In this final image selection, we begin by looking at an attempt by the Royal Air Force to make one of their most student friendly aircraft appear a little more aggressive than it actually is. The Grob Tutor T.1 is an extremely capable aeroplane in the role of elementary pilot training and as such, has to have something of a forgiving nature. Providing training support for Army, Navy and Air Force Pilots, the Tutor also equips University Air Squadrons and Air Experience Flights around the country and for many future front line pilots, will provide their first experience of time at the controls of an aircraft.
We began this review with classic helicopters and that is where we will also end. The Westland Scout is one aircraft which most certainly qualifies for the title ‘Classic Helicopter’ and despite its age, can still remind Airshow audiences of its impressive capabilities. A veteran of the Falklands War, the Scout is a light battlefield helicopter which could be used in many roles, from SAS troop deployment, to casualty evacuation and helped to establish the importance of the helicopter on the modern battlefield. This example is operated by the Historic Army Aircraft Flight.
The opportunity to get up close to a Chinook leaves you even more impressed by the size of this awesome machine and the sheer power it must take to haul this monster into the air. Clearly a highly complex machine, we should also spare a thought for the engineers and technicians who must be behind every Chinook display, without whose expertise this magnificent machine would not be able to perform – without doubt, they are unsung Chinook Display Team heroes. Proving that trouble comes in twos, the end of the show saw the display Apache joined by the example which had been part of the impressive ground display at Duxford, for their journey home. Always a huge attraction, it was never possible to get a clear picture of this aircraft, as it was always swamped by people desperate to get a closer look at an aircraft which has earned a proud and rather fearsome reputation since it entered Army service in 2004.
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. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 6th September, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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