The Wales Airshow returned to the UK Airshow Calendar for 2018 over the Armed Forces Day weekend. This free airshow has recently become an annual event having previously been held every two years. In 2017 it attracted over 230,000 visitors to Swansea Bay and organisers hoped that the 2018 event would top 250,000. The event had a strong military theme throughout with displays from all three services representing their heritage as well as modern day capabilities.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Wales does not host many airshows with the only annual events now being the Rhyl Airshow as well as the Wales Airshow hosted in Swansea Bay. The Wales Airshow is organised by the City of Swansea Council. Up until quite recently it was only held every other year, but is now an annual event which opens the busy summer season for Swansea. It is an incredibly popular event and crowds fill the large sandy beach with extends for over 4 kilometres around the Bay. Being the only major air display in South Wales and attracting large audiences has meant the show has become of the more important ones for the armed services who in turn support the event very well each year.
The 2018 Wales Airshow coincided with the Armed Forces Day weekend. Though not the national event, Swansea was very well supported by the UK Military. Oystermouth Road which runs along the Promenade in the bat was home to an impressive Military Village with large exhibits from the British Army, Royal Navy and of course the Royal Air Force.
To quote a football cliché, it was a weekend of two halves. Saturday was a scorching hot day with clear blue skies throughout. The Sunday however saw a breakdown in the weather as a line of very slow moving showers moved northwards over the South Western United Kingdom. This causes periods of low cloud and poor visibility which did slightly disrupt the flying.
Appropriately for Armed Forces Day, Saturday’s flying display was opened by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team who dropped in from 12,000ft in the clear blue skies. It is always a treat to see the team get a full display in where there can show their freefalling skills as well as their formation stack canopy work. On their arrival into the Drop Zone, the team took the salute from the Lord Mayor of Swansea and some local senior RAF officers.
Much of the first half of Saturday’s flying programme brought together a variety of civilian acts. Team Raven gave a lovely formation aerobatic routine filling the skies with their five-ship of Vans RV4 and RV8s. Solo aerobatics came from a pair of Pitts Special displays. Lauren Wilson gave a punchy account in her classic Pitts S-1S Special with plenty of gyroscopic tumbles in the cloudless skies. Rich Goodwin’s Pitts S-2S Special is a completely different beast with more power and some remarkable modifications that give the “Muscle Biplane” incredible performance. Rich takes full advantage of the extra performance to give an eye-popping display that seemingly defies the laws of physics! Completing the line-up of civilian displays were the Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers, a firm favourite with the Swansea crowds and the AutoGyro Calidus flown by Peter Davies. To cater for such a long crowd line Peter pretty much performed two displays at each end of the Bay!
Since the Search and Rescue role was taken over the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the SAR Demonstration has become a rare thing even at seaside airshows. The Wales Airshow however bucked this trend with a display from the locally based MCA helicopter unit flying a Leonardo AW139 from St Athan. The crew conducted a number of close flypasts before conducting a brief beach landing in front of the crowds.
The military action which dominated the latter half of Saturday’s displays saw contributions from all services and also a number of historic displays. The 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force and the end of the First World War was marked by a trio of aircraft from the Great War Display Team. The lack of a suitable grass strip near to the Swansea display site meant the team were restricted to types that had tailwheels so their display was a short dogfight pitching a solitary Junkers CL1 monoplane against a pair RAF SE5s.
Two displays marked World War Two heritage. A later addition to the Wales Airshow line-up was the Hangar 11 Collection’s North American P-51D Mustang flown by Peter Teichman. Originally, Plane Sailing’s Catalina had been booked to appear at Swansea but engine issues have grounded the aircraft. It was therefore very welcome that Peter was able to change his plans to fly a very elegant display at Swansea at quite short notice. The Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight completed the Second World War era. Saturday’s display saw just the pair of Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910 and Hawker Hurricane IIc appear as the Avro Lancaster was unserviceable. However, the BBMF engineers worked into the night and Sunday’s display saw all three aircraft appear.
The Royal Navy’s contribution came from the Fly Navy Heritage Trust’s Hawker Sea Fury T20 flown by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke. The Sea Fury missed the Seond World War, but was used on operations by the Royal Navy in the Korean War. The T20 version was used by the Royal Navy as a weapons trainer for pilots going on to fly the single seat variants.
The Tigers Army Parachute Display Team from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment were the solo representatives of the British Army in the flying programme. They presented a very different display to that of the Falcons flying in various flags and also performing some exciting relative canopy work o their way into the arena.
The modern day Royal Air Force was represented by four very different displays. The first RAF aircraft for many aspiring pilots is the Grob Tutor T1 which was put through a smooth aerobatic routine by Flt Lt Andy Sell. More crowd- pleasing displays representing the front line came from the Boeing Chinook HC6A and the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. However, it was the Red Arrows that were the highlight of the weekend. The clear blue skies on Saturday evening over the bay provided the ultimate stage for the team to perform their full centenary display. A really nice touch to their 2018 display is the show closing “Centenary Pass” which sees the team paint an underlined ‘100’ in the sky with their smoke which looked fantastic set against the Port Talbot and Mumbles headlands.
Swansea Bay is a lovely place to watch some flying displays, if a little challenging for photography. Despite the very large crowds and very warm weather on the Saturday, the whole event had a very relaxed and chilled feel to it which made for a very enjoyable day.