The 2019 RAF Cosford Air Show, the Royal Air Force’s only major air display of the year, celebrated a number of themes in the air and on the ground. These included the 70th Anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the 50th Anniversary of the first RAF Harrier and Women in Defence. The event also marked RAF Cosford’s own special relationship with the Czech and Slovak pilots of the Second World War welcoming military aircraft from both countries for the first time at the event.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author. Video highlights by PlanesTV.
2018 was an outstanding year for the RAF Cosford Air Show. The RAF Centenary pageant that was presented in the air and on the ground made Cosford one of the most memorable events of the RAF100 year. Following that would be quite the task for the Shropshire base and the event organisers but they rose to the occasion with an innovative and highly enjoyable line-up celebrating a number of different themes.
There’s no doubt that Cosford were incredibly lucky with the weather on show day. Despite forecasts and rain showers skirting the airfield, Cosford remained dry with a decent cloud-base and even enjoyed several periods of blue skies. This was in stark contrast to the days immediately before and after the event which were marked by persistent rain and some brisk winds. Not only does that make life difficult for aircraft trying to reach the show, but also makes the construction and the breakdown of the event showground decidedly unpleasant to say the least. Therefore much credit should go to RAF Cosford’s personnel and support staff that worked hard to get the event in shape for the public.
Co-located at RAF Cosford is the RAF Museum which alongside the RAF Benevolent Fund, Royal Air Forces Association and RAF Charitable Trust benefits from the proceeds made by the show. It also means that RAF Cosford Air Show can include some very unique aircraft within its static display to celebrate some very special themes. One such theme was the 50th Anniversary of the Harrier entering service with the RAF. This was marked in the static display by a line-up that perhaps will never be repeated again with the RAF Museum’s and the Airshow’s own BAe Harrier GR3s joined by Jet Art’s BAe VAAC Harrier T4, a BAE Systems Sea Harrier F/A2 from RNAS Culdrose and the RAF Museum’s BAE Systems Harrier GR9. It is likely to be unrepeated as Jet Art’s Harrier T4 will be leaving Cosford very soon. However before it leaves it has received some special Harrier 50th markings for the occasion and also included a tribute to the late Harrier test pilot John Farley whose names was added under the canopy rails.
Also from the RAF Museum collection were the Gloster Gladiator, Percival Pembroke C1 and a Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX. The latter aircraft has recently returned to Cosford following something of a world tour visiting various events on behalf of UK trade, particularly in relation to defence sales in the Middle East. Further historic aircraft visiting Cosford includes a brace of Taylorcraft Auster AOP9s and the stunning Spartan 7W Executive.
The 65th Anniversary of another famous jet family, the Jet Provost, was also celebrated both in the air and on the ground. In the static park, the RAF Museum displayed their Percival Provost T1, Percival Jet Provost T1 and a Jet Provost T5 alongside Jeff Bell’s Jet Provost T5 and one of NWMAS’s BAC Strikemaster Mk82as. The theme was continued in the flying display by a very well-choreographed routine from a BAC Jet Provost T3, Jet Provost T5 and Strikemaster Mk82a flown by Ian Brett, Ollie Suckling and Mark Petrie. The display saw the three aircraft fly as a group, in a short pairs routine before each mark performed a quick solo display highlighting the lineage of the Jet Provost family.
The ‘new’ Vintage Pair were making one of their first public displays. Pilots Jon Higgins and David Petters gave a very elegant and nostalgic display in their pair of de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10s. The Chipmunk will long be remembered as the first RAF aircraft many pilots would have flown whether as part of the Air Cadets or a University Air Squadron.
Further ‘Cold War Era’ flying came in the form of the Westland Whirlwind HAR10 from Historic Helicopters. Part of a growing fleet of classic helicopters in the UK, the Whirlwind conjures many memories wearing the distinctive all-over yellow colours of the RAF Search and Rescue force.
Intermixed with the military flying were a handful of civilian aerobatic performers all of which were new to the show this year. Some punchy performances came from RAF Waddington based Phil Burgess in his rare Rihn DR107 One Design and Adrian Plant flying a Pitts S-1S Special equipped with the Ultimate Pitts Wing. An outstanding pairs formation display came from Tom Cassells and Chris Burkett of the Global Stars. The pairing was unusual as it involved two different types, the Mudry CAP232 and Extra 300S. Their routine included the Global Stars’ trademark dotty smoke and also some really impressive and very close mirror formation flying.
Showcasing the work of the Royal Air Force and inspiring the next generation is a major part of the RAF Cosford Air Show. Cosford’s hangars show off many of the trades that the base teaches to new RAF recruits and these displays are augmented by a major RAF exhibition village and STEM hangar. Cosford’s large fleet of SEPECAT Jaguar GR1s, GR3s and T4s were very much in evidence on the ground as were Panavia Tornado GR4s and the lovely Tornado F3 that resides at the airfield. Current day RAF Machinery on static display included a Grob Tutor T1 from University of Birmingham Air Squadron, a Grob G120TP Prefect T1, Shorts Tucano T1 plus the Airbus Helicopters Juno HT1 and Jupiter HT1 from RAF Shawbury.
In the air, all of the Royal Air Force’s display teams were at the show. Opening the day were the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team jumping from their Dornier Do228. They were followed by a flypast from Cosford’s only flying unit, the University of Birmingham Air Squadron flying three Grob Tutor T1s. As in previous years the aircraft were crewed by instructors and students from UBAS but this year all of the students were women as part of the Women in Defence theme. The rest of the RAF display teams followed in succession charting the training path in the RAF with the Grob Tutor T1 solo flown by Flt Lt Neil Owczarkowski, the Shorts Tucano T1, Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 and Boeing Chinook HC6A.
The Avro Lancaster B1 from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made its first public appearance of 2019 at Cosford joined by the pair of Supermarine Spitfire IX and Spitfire PRXIX. The Royal Air Force contributions to the show were closed by the Red Arrows who found a gap in the cloudscape to complete a full display.
The Royal Navy and British Army also made contributions to the show. An 814NAS Leonardo Merlin HM2 was on static display while in the air naval aviation was represented by the NavyWings Heritage Flight Hawker Sea Fury T20 flown beautifully by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke. The Army Air Corps had AgustaWestland WAH-64D Apache AH1s in the static and in the air with the Attack Helicopter Display Team giving a typically explosive performance in the flying display.
The Women in Defence theme coincided with the 80th Anniversary of the formation of the Women’s Royal Auxiliary Air Force (WRAAF) in 1939 and the 70th Anniversary of the reformation of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) in 1949 (The WRAF was first formed April 1918 but was disbanded in 1920). The theme was celebrated in the air and on the ground in the Vintage Village area. Particular focus went onto the Air Transport Auxiliary and some of the historic aircraft in the flying display reflected the types they flew. The de Havilland DH89a Dragon Rapide was a type synonymous with the ATA as one of the types used for ferry ATA crews to and from RAF Stations. David and Mark Miller’s example G-AGJG flew in the flying display as part of theme but is also an aircraft linked to Cosford as it was originally delivered to the base at a RAF Dominie in 1941.
One particular ATA pilot remembered was Lettice Curtis. She was one of the first to join the ATA following the outbreak of war flying numerous different types. Post war she was involved in air racing and often flew a Supermarine Spitfire PRXI owned by the American Air Attaché. She was remember by the appearance of the Aircraft Restoration Company’ PRXI PL983 flown by AVM Cliff Spink.
ATA crews flew all manner of frontline types during the Second World War including the Hawker Hurricane which was represented in the flying by Bygone Aviation Ltd’s Mk1 flown by Frank Chapman. To mark the dangers faced by the ATA it was ‘bounced’ by Anglia Aircraft Restoration’s Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon ‘White 9’ masquerading as a Bf109 flown by Dave Puleston. The ‘attack’ was a total surprise to the audience and was a wonderful piece of aerial theatre complete with pyrotechnics.
The US armed forces were supported by a similar organisation to the ATA, the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots or WASPs. Their contribution was marked by a display by Sue Girdler in her beautiful Boeing Stearman A75-N25-4 Kaydet wearing bright US Navy markings. Like the ATA, the WASPs flew a wide variety of frontline machinery and Sue’s display was followed Robert Tyrell’s North American P-51D Mustang flown by John Dodd.
2019 sees the 70th Anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Cosford celebrated it in style with a line-up of international participation. On the ground were a SOCATA TBM700 from French Air Force, a German Navy Westland Sea Lynx Mk88 and a Pilatus PC-9M from the Irish Air Corps. France and Germany are full members of NATO while Ireland is a member of the Partnership for Peace programme. The German Navy also sent one of the outstanding show stars of the flying display, a Lockheed P-3C Orion. Air displays by German military aircraft are very rare outside of Germany and having the P-3C flying was a major coup for the organisers. The crew of the Orion did not disappoint with five passes along the crowd line showing off the Maritime Patrol Aircraft in a variety of configurations. Another founding NATO member in the flying display was Belgium which sent the Agusta A109BAi solo display from No 17Sqn of the Belgian Air Component.
Cosford also hosted the Royal Danish Air Force who as part of the NATO theme sent their Baby Blue Display Team. Since last year, the team has expanded their display into a five-ship of SAAB T-17 Supporter training aircraft with a main section of four flying some gentle formation passes while a solo showed off the aerobatic potential of the unique looking Swedish aircraft.
Switzerland is another Partnership for Peace nation and made a welcome return to the Cosford flying display with the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet. Capitaine Nicolas ‘Vincent’ Rossier gave a powerful account of the fighter making best use of airspace under the clouds and highlighting the extreme angle of attack manoeuvres the Hornet can perform.
The NATO theme also attracted participation from the Czech and Slovak Air Forces. This was particularly special for RAF Cosford as the station served as a depot for thousands of Free Czechoslovak pilots during the Second World War. It is an often forgotten part of Cosford’s history and the air show organisers have been keen to get both nations to participate at the show for a number of years. The Slovak Air Force was represented on the ground by rare airshow appearance by one of the air arms Let L410UVP Turbolet light transport aircraft. The Czech Air Force presented two of the most memorable displays of the afternoon. First of these was a pair of Aero Vodochody L-159A ALCA strike aircraft. They first appeared in formation with the Spitfire PRXI to mark Cosford’s wartime links with their country before returning to perform a head turning role demonstration of their ground attack role complete with pyrotechnics. Their contribution earned them the Bill Hartree Award for best overall flying demonstration at the show. The Czechs also closed the flying display with a fiery display from the solo SAAB JAS-39C Gripen wearing a patriotic tiger scheme.
The Gripen concluded a really wonderful edition of the RAF Cosford Air Show which featured some very well thought out and entertaining displays in the air and on the ground. Despite the best efforts of the pre-show weather, the whole event went really very smoothly indeed which is a credit to the hard work of the military and civilian personnel that support the event.