The Abingdon Air and Country Show is one of the traditional season opening events. Returning to its usual slot over the May Bank Holiday weekend, Abingdon is a really fun way to start the season. The year saw a varied mix of flying displays supported by a fly-in themed around the Royal Air Force centenary, the country fayre style arena and showground plus many other attractions.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Abingdon Air and Country Show is one of those great volunteer run shows that prove to be great days out. Abingdon’s mix of country fair and air display means this is always one of the more relaxed shows. For once, the Bank Holiday weather was glorious and as a result, Abingdon attracted a bumper audience.
As the event name suggests, the ground shows feel very much like a local town show or country fair. Throughout the day there was live music from local bands and choirs, classic vehicles on show, pony rides, falconry, daleks and other sci-fi characters, a Williams F1 show car, stunt shows and steam engines.
The aviation element of Abingdon Air & Country Show is split between a reasonably large fly-in during the morning and a three and half hour afternoon flying display. Like many events up and down the country in 2018, Abingdon took the RAF Centenary as its major theme. Abingdon is a perfect place for an event marking RAF100 as so much of its history is tied to the Royal Air Force. 50 years ago it held the RAF’s 50th Anniversary celebrations and Royal Review and throughout its lift was an important maintenance and transport base.
Amongst the highlights of the RAF100 fly-in were a de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, Fairchild Argus, Westland Gazelle HT3, BAC Jet Provost T3A, Beagle Husky, Slingsby Venture and Sedburgh gliders plus the Hurricane Heritage North American Harvard. The only current Royal Air Force type to be on show at Abingdon was a 47 Squadron Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules C4 from nearby RAF Brize Norton. The aircraft arrived on the morning of the show and was open to visitors throughout the afternoon. At the end of the flying displays the aircraft departed for home, but no before performing a circuit and touch and go.
The fly-in did not just involve historic RAF aircraft. There was a small collection of Austers, a type which this year is celebrating its own 80th Anniversary. The Army co-operation theme also included a pair of Sud-Aviation Alouette IIs in Army Air Corps and Swiss Air Force markings plus a Max-Holste Broussard. Other fly-in highlights included a pair of Supermarine Spitfire Mk26 home-builts and a pair of Boeing Stearman PT17 Kaydets as well as Terry Martin’s Westland Wasp HAS1.
The afternoon flying display was opened by the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flying three formation passes in front of the crowds. The formation consisted of Avro Lancaster B1 PA474, Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363 and Supermarine Spitfire XVI TE311 which appeared precisely on time having joined up to the north of the airfield. To complete their flypasts they performed a lovely curved pass just about showing the top surfaces of their wings.
The first debut of the afternoon came from Peter Borchet with his new Pitts Model 12 dubbed “The Super Pitts.” The Pitts Model 12 is perhaps the ultimate development of the Pitts family of aerobatic biplanes. It was the last aircraft designed by Curtis Pitts and combines the classic aerobatic biplane forumula with the brutish Russian made Vedeneyev M14 radial engine usually found in Sukhoi aerobatic aircraft. Peter only completed his aircraft last year and Abingdon was its first airshow appearance.
The Army Air Corps Historic Aircraft Flight Trust made a welcome return to Abingdon with the de Havilland Canada Beaver AL1 and the Taylorcraft Auster AOP9. Flown by George Bacon and Julian Hickman respectively, both aircraft demonstrated their abilities to operate out of short strips and to flying within very small areas.
More aerobatics followed with a display of a former military training aircraft, the Slingsby T67M Firefly. The Firefly is part of the RAF100 story having been used by all three services as an elementary trainer operated by Hunting and then Babcock. The aircraft, from a Redhill based syndicate, was flown through a very elegant sequence of aerobatics by Rod Dean who had also flown as part of the RAF 50th Anniversary celebrations held at Abingdon in 1968.
The Royal British Legion’s Jump4Heroes Parachute Display Team provided a short break from the aircraft displays jumping from an Antonov An-2. The team were joined by members of the Royal Air Forces Association parachute team and even included a wingsuit demonstration during their jump.
The only jet aircraft in the flying display was Mark Petrie’s BAC Strikemaster Mk82a G-SOAF. ‘AF is a firm favourite on the display circuit representing the ultimate development of the Jet Provost design. Over the winter Mark has repainted ‘AF into the distinctive two-tone camouflage scheme worn by Sultan of Oman Air Force Strikemasters. It was a significant display for the UK air display circuit too as it was probably the first public aerobatic display by a civilian owned ex-military jet over land since late 2015. Restrictions on straight wing jets were lifted by the Civil Aviation Authority earlier this year.
The Cold War theme was continued later in the flying programme was the Gazelle Squadron’s solo Westland Gazelle HT2 flown by Andy Moorhouse. For airshow goers, the sight of a red and white Royal Navy Gazelle is a nostalgic one with memories of some great display teams such as Pusser’s Pair and the Sharks.
Rich Goodwin returned to Abingdon with his amazing highly modified Pitts S-2S Special G-EWIZ. Rich opened and closed his display with some really incredible low passes in formation with a Jaguar F-Pace driven by Chris Woodward, the chief executive of Rich’s main sponsor Anana. As ever, Rich’s main routine of Muscle Biplane aerobatics was simply “the show” of the show!
It was however piston powered warbirds that were the star turn at Abingdon this year. It was good to see Abingdon regulars such as Peter Teichman and his Supermarine Spitfire PRXI and Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina back at the show. A new type for Abingdon was Nick Houghton’s Beech Model 18 (C-45 Expeditor) which gave a very punchy routine for a twin engine transport aircraft. Andy Goodall also put on a fine display in T6 Harvard Aviation’s North American Harvard ‘Wacky Rabbit’ to represent perhaps the Royal Air Force’s most important training aircraft of the Second World War.
The Royal Navy Historic Flight made a very welcome return back to the display circuit with the Hawker Sea Fury T20 G-RNHF flown by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke. In 2014, Chris was forced to make an emergency landing at RNAS Culdrose Air Day when the Sea Fury developed engine problems. Despite landing on the runway, the aircraft’s undercarriage failed to lock and the aircraft ended up on its belly. The aircraft has been restored back to its former glory very quickly by teams at Yeovilton and North Weald and it is great to see it back in the air.
The star act of the show was pair of Supermarine Spitfire IXT ML407 and Hispano HA1112-M4L Buchon from Air Leasing Ltd. ML407 needs little introduction. Simply known to many as “The Grace Spitfire” ML407 shot down the first Luftwaffe aircraft during the D-Day Landings. It was restored by Nick Grace and following his untimely death was kept in the Grace family by his wife Carolyn. Today it is flown not only by Carolyn but also his son Richard who has built a successful aviation engineering firm restoring and operating some very exciting warbirds. The HA1112-M4L Buchon is one of those warbirds and was making its public display debut at Abingdon. It is a very rare two seater version of the Spanish Buchon powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine. It was one of a fleet of Buchons used during the filming of the movie “Battle of Britain” and was mainly used as a camera-ship. On completion of filming it was one of a number of aircraft given to Wilson ‘Connie’ Edwards as payment for his flying services during filming. It was exported to his ranch in Texas and remained in storage until very recently when Edwards sold his collection. It was bought by a Australian customer and brought to the UK for restoration by Air Leasing at Sywell. It flew again in late 2017 repainted in the colours of “Red 11” from the Battle of Britain movie. The only change to the original configuration has been the replacement of the Bubble canopy with a framed canopy much like the two-seat Bf109s flown by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. This provides more protection for the pilot and passenger. Alex Smee flew the Spitfire with Richard Grace was at this controls of Buchon and the pair put on a very nice “dogfight” tail-chase display for the Abingdon crowd.
The flying was closed by the Great War Display Team with a seven aircraft re-creation of World War One aerial warfare with support from ground based pyrotechnics. 2018 promises to be a busy season for the team who are not only in demand for the Royal Air Force centenary but 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice. That will see the team perform at events both in the UK and across the channel. At Abingdon, their ‘fleet’ consisted of two Fokker Dr1s and a Junkers CL1 pitched against the Sopwith Triplane and a trio of RAF SE5as. The swirling dogfight was a fitting end to a very enjoyable flying display.
Fantastic weather a big crowd and some superb flying made for a very enjoyable start to the season at Abingdon. Neil Porter and his team do sterling work over the year to put on the event and raise money for a number of local good causes. It doesn’t come cheap with the costs of staging the event now exceeding £80,000 but the event has raised nearly £90,000 for charity. Next year will hopefully be a special one as the event celebrates its 20th staging – we hope to be there!