A brand-new event opened the 2021 UK Display Season – Skyswarm. Developed by MLE Pyrotechnics, Skyswarm was a drive-in event blending aerial displays by aircraft and drones with laser and fireworks displays over the grounds of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Skyswarm was one of the first large scale outdoor events to take place in 2021 as things in the UK slowly start to re-open. As with Old Warden’s airshows, Skyswarm was a drive-in event in order to comply with the COVID restrictions with each car parked in a 6m x 6m box allowing the occupants to set up their chairs next to their car to watch the festivities.
MLE Pyrotechnics are best known for the ‘Fireworks Champions’ events. These are a series of events held each summer at in the grounds of various stately homes showcasing the work of MLE and a number of other professional fireworks organisations. More recently, MLE have partnered with the Aerosparx display team adding an aviation element to their events.
Stanford Hall is one of the regular stops for Firework Champions and has an important place in the history of British aviation. In the 1890’s, Percy Pilcher built and flew some of his pioneering gliders at Stanford Hall breaking the then world record for longest flight at 250m. He also built a powered flying machine at Stanford Hall in 1899 but it never flew. Pilcher died following an accident demonstrating his Hawk Glider at Stanford on 30th September 1899 after the powered aircraft developed a fault. The field in which Pilcher crashed was the same field used for Skyswarm and is home to a monument commemorating his work.
Skyswarm’s main programme opened as the sun started to set with a display from Alex Smee in Supermarine Spitfire IXT ML407. Based at Sywell with Air Leasing, ML407 has gone through deep maintenance and a repaint during the winter and looked absolutely superb illuminated by the golden rays of the sunset against the clear blue skies as Alex elegantly swept around the show-site.
Then was then a bit of a hiatus as the showground was set for the main section of twilight entertainment. This got underway with the second air display of the evening which was a solo glider display from Guy Westgate of the Aerosparx display team. For this display, Guy was flying a Schleicher ASK 21 ‘R25’ that was formally part of the RAFGSA’s Team Condor display. Guy was aerotowed to altitude from the nearby Gliding Centre at Husbands Bosworth. Once off-tow, Guy flew a series of elegant loops and chandelles with trails of sparks streaming from the gliders wing-tips as well as other pyrotechnic effects. The finale to Guy’s display was a truly spectacular with Guy flying a final swooping pass in opposition to a ‘chaser’ wall of coloured fireworks erupting from below before performing a fairly short field landing right in front of the crowd.
After a short laser show, the next aerial element was a display from ‘DroneSwarm.’ This team are part of MLE and are the first in the UK to receive permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to perform swarm displays in front of the public. The display at Skyswarm was a taster of bigger things to come with 50 drones taking part painting various shapes in the sky in various colours including a giant ‘NHS’ in blue. In the future, DroneSwarm will increase the number of drones involved to create ever more complex 3D effects in the sky and it’s not too difficult to see such performance becoming part of existing evening airshows across Europe.
An outstanding display of fireworks that simply filled the night sky with an intense array of colour and noise brought Skyswarm to a very stylish ending. While it is very different to the ‘aerial events’ that are normally reported on by Flightline UK, Skyswarm was both entertaining and captivating with some fascinating innovations as well as a couple of superb flying displays.