RAF Waddington has been the regular host of the Royal Air Force’s premier airshow for many years. By doing so it attracts many visitors from abroad and is the main venue to celebrate all kinds of anniversaries with the general public. This year’s major theme was the 50th display season of the „Red Arrows“, the RAF jet display team. To do so, the RAF had a special approach to celebrate it.
Where? Waddington, England
RAF Waddington – or “Waddo” as most call it for short – made quite a significant change throughout the years. In the early days it was the home of the Avro Lancaster bombers during WWII, which changed amongst others to the mighty Avro Vulcan around 10 years later during the time of the Cold War. It was thus not uncommon to call this part of Britain “Bomber County Lincolnshire”. With the Vulcan XH558 being back this year, a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress participating and the BBMF Lancaster flying overhead during a display routine, decades of the “Bomber County” era revived with in afternoon that week-end.
Today it is more peaceful at Waddington, though the strong presence of the RAF and the sound of jet engines persists. However the nuclear weapons and shelters for them are a sign of the past, as the fleet of ISTAR aircraft does not spread out to destroy the enemy, but to collect valuable information of any kind.
Of course the new addition to the RAF’s ISTAR fleet, the first of the three RC-135 Rivet Joint to be delivered by the US not long before the show was one of the main attractions of the show. Unfortunately the unfavourable weather on both mornings prevented the planned formation of the AWACS, Rivet Joint and the Sentinel. They thus performed only a low approach and then came in directly to land. Fortunately the Rivet Joint used being in the air for a longer training mission and arrived back home in the afternoon – in nice weather!
Regarding the show and foreign guests Waddington is quite famous for always attracting many interesting aircraft from abroad, and at many times it is a UK first for those special guests. „Quality, not quantity“ seems to be a regular theme of the event.
A special visitor for example was the Turkish Navy Casa C-295 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), which seems to be a very rare sight nearly everywhere… It came as an companionship to the „Turk Solo“, the F-16 solo display team from Turkey, who even had the brand new Turkish Air Force A400M transport aircraft as a support aircraft with him during the arrival days. Unfortunately the “Atlas” left home again before the show. Also in this year the Spanish Air Force helicopter team „Patrulla ASPA“ did have its first visit to the UK at Waddington, and so came also a special painted Slovak AF L-39 to Lincolnshire. Of course it was the one in the colours of Otto Smik’s Spitfire!
The Patrulla Aspa was thus the only international display team to come to the birthday party. Quite sparse compared to other such kinds of events as it is more than common that other display teams do visit the event and celebrate with the „birthday“ team. However, the RAF approach was different.
To celebrate the 50 years long history of the „Red Arrows“ many classic jets were brought together, and a lot of them with a “Red Arrows” related history. Finding such a relation is not difficult, as in the early days there were many different jet teams within the RAF on different types. In 1964 the Royal Air Force thus decided to amalgamate all these teams into one, premier unit, the Red Arrows. The result was a mix of three characteristics of major display teams: the Black “Arrows”, flying the Hunter at that time, the color scheme from the “Red” Pelicans, and finally the Gnat aircraft, which has been used by the Yellowjacks in these days.
At Waddington 2014 the Gnats Display Team represented many of these features. The team of three jets is owned and operated by Heritage Aircraft Limited and features some of the jets originally flown by the Red Arrows and has one coloured in Red Arrows and one in Yellowjacks colours. Quite recently their “Red Arrows” jet was even allowed to wear the 50th anniversary markings of the team.
The “Black Arrows”, or “Les Fleches Noires” as they gained their name during a visit to Paris, were operating the Hawker Hunter from 1955 on in a distinctive black scheme, which was also represented by one aircraft flying during the show. Apart from this one there were two more examples that came to the show that week-end. It was one Dutch example, wearing Royal Netherlands Air Force colors and being based at Leuuwarden, and the silver twin-seater of the “MidAir Squadron”. This new venture wants to bring a formation of two Hunters and Canberra up in the air. Fortunately only one Hunter is still missing, but the splendid silver Hunter and the Canberra also in its silver scheme were already showing a formation flying routine in front of the public on Sunday afternoon.
The Canberra somehow draws the line to the „Cold War“ jets, that formed another (unofficial) theme this weekend. Just imagine seeing Hunters, a Canberra, Viggen, Draken and the famous Avro Vulcan XH588 in the air on one single day. That was also Waddington airshow 2014! Classic and magnificent jet displays at its best, though not always in glorious weather.
Of course Vulcan XH558 was a crowd’s favourite, when it roared into the air powered by its Rolls-Royce Olympus engines. It seemed to please her to be back at one of its former bases RAF Waddington in “bombercountry” Lincolnshire. And as a special treat XH558 was piloted by Flt.Lt. Martin Withers, who was the pilot onboard Vulcan XM607 during operation Black Buck 1 that bombed the the main runway at Port Stanley Airport during the 1982 Falklands War. XM607 is today preserved at RAF Waddington and it must for sure have been a special treat for him to taxi by this historic aircraft once again in a Vulcan – this time XH558.
Talking about RAF Waddington and bomber country one must of course not forget the Avro Lancaster bombers, which were stationed here during WW II. The only airworthy example in Europe is part of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) and was of course also part of the flying display. It arrived in formation with two Spitfires to remember this task of RAF Waddington as well as the 70th anniversary of “D-Day”. “D-Day” obviously was more the part of the Spitfires that flew a spirited display, followed by a formation fly-by with the RAF Eurofighter Typhoon solo display. Appropriately one of their aircraft also wears the distinctive black and white invasion stripes this year.
Jet displays were present with the F-18 Hornet from Switzerland and the Turkish AF F-16 “Soloturk”. “Handsome pilots are back in Europe!”, was the big announcement of his commentator, who also highlighted that the pilot is Soloturk “is not only handsome, but also very attractive”. However, when making his 9g turn “if you can look into his cockpit with your binoculars or your camera, you can see how Soloturk looks 40 years later”. Really funny, entertaining stuff and a noise show! It must have been one of the crowd-pleasers at Waddington, adding to the stunning colour scheme of his display jet.
The Royal Navy’s Black Cats helicopter display team did show up with the Lynx and the Wildcat in formation, and furthermore there were also the RAF Chinook and Apache display teams in the air at Waddington, and to complete the helicopter displays the RAF Rescue Sea King put a splendid end on Sunday evening, when its yellow high-visibility scheme was literally glowing illuminated by the low evening sun..
Unfortunately the flying displays of the ISTAR assets based at Waddington, the RC-135 Rivet Joint, E-3D Sentry and the R1 Sentinel fall victim to the bad weather on each of the two mornings. The take-off, fly-by and final landing was all that was possible.
Amongst the attractions on the ground was the before mentioned Turkish Navy Casa C-295 MPA as well as the Boeing P-8A Poseidon during its airshow debut in the UK. It was currently on deployment for an exercise and would afterwards also attend the airshows at Fairford and Farnborough.
And there were roughly 150.000 visitors during the week-end, watching all the main RAF assets from the past and present that were present in the air and on the ground. It was a stunning event, characterised by quantitiy and quality!
Best of British! – as I am delighted to say, with a sad undertone that in 2015 this show will not happen due to runway repairs, but hopes are high that it will continue in the year after to be the main RAF airshow event.