The RAF Cosford Air Show was one of the most highly anticipated events on the 2022 display calendar having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021. Now the last major Royal Air Force organised show in the UK, it showcased the modern RAF alongside themes marking the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands Conflict, the 80th Anniversary of the RAF Regiment and Helicopter Search and Rescue operations. Cosford also attracted an exciting array of flying displays from international military partners and civilian operators which included the public flying debut of Historic Helicopters Westland Lynx AH7.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
After three years, it was great to see the RAF Cosford Air Show back on the display calendar. As one of the few major airshows in the West Midlands and the last public RAF air display, it is a hugely popular event attracting crowds north of 50,000 each year.
However, the enforced hiatus due to covid has caused some major headwinds for event organisers. During the two years without an airshow, some of the experience of running the airshow was lost as there was a changes in personnel and the final decision to go ahead with a 2022 Cosford Air Show actually came quite late in the planning cycle during January. This did seem to be reflected in the public and media communications which were somewhat lacking during the build-up to the event. For example in 2019, press releases and customer emails were published regularly in the build up. By contrast, 2022 saw just one press release issued on the decision to go ahead for the show and there were just the odd social media posts, often at strange times of the day. This did cause some concern on the show’s Facebook and Twitter feeds with quite a few people questioning a general lack of information. Fortunately as things turned out, there was no need to worry!
There is always something very special about military airshows held on active bases. They are a rare chance for the public to step ‘inside the wire’ and see what the modern-day armed forces are all about. With the loss of the Royal Navy International Air Day, the RAF Cosford Air Show is really the only chance the public have to look around hangar exhibitions showcasing such a wide variety of different military trades in one place. At Cosford, it is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics that is at the forefront of the exhibitions as the base in home to RAF technical training.
A unique feature of RAF Cosford is the sheer amount of heritage found at the station. The Technical Training Schools are home to wide variety of aircraft recently retired from active duty and are serving a second life as instruction airframes. The RAF Museum Midlands is also co-located at the airfield with its own impressive collections. This means the RAF Cosford Air Show can often celebrate themes in a way no other airshow can.
One of the major themes of the weekend was the 40th Anniversary of the Falklands Conflict. This was marked with a special exhibition area featuring a mix of Cosford based and visiting aircraft including a BAE Systems Sea Harrier F/A2, Westland Gazelle AH1, Westland Wasp HAS1 and the RAF Museum’s FMA IA-58 Pucara. Within the RAF Museum, people could also see legendary Boeing Chinook ‘Bravo November‘ for the first time which survived the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor and flew some legendary missions during the conflict. Further Cosford aircraft marked the 1991 Gulf War with line-up featuring the Panavia Tornado GR1, Panavia Tornado F3, Blackburn Buccaneer S2B and SEPECAT Jaguar GR3.
Opposite to the Gulf War aircraft was another unique line of aircraft marking the development of Helicopter Search and Rescue operations. Part of the line-up came from Historic Helicopters who deployed to Cosford in force. For the static displays they brought their RAF Rescue Westland Whirlwind HAR10 and Westland Sea King HAR3A which were lined up with the Cosford based Westland Wessex HAR2 and the modern-day Leonardo AW189 from HM Coastguard. The University of Birmingham Air Squadron apron hosted a RAF training timeline featuring de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, de Havilland Canada Chipmunk, Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1, Grob Tutor T1, BAC Jet Provost T3 through to BAE Systems Hawk T1.
Further heritage aircraft could be found around the ‘Coronation Village’ with several examples of the de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk and Taylorcraft Auster alongside a North American Harvard and the RAF Museum’s touring Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX. A highlight for photographers was the ‘fighter pen’ at the far western end of the airfield with some of the more colourful SEPECAT Jaguars based at Cosford and a stunning Panavia Tornado GR1 wearing the classic grey-green camouflage of the Cold War.
The present-day RAF contribution to the static displays were smaller than usual but did contain some gems. The RAF’s Westland Puma HC2 force celebrated its 50th Anniversary during 2021 and XW224 was painted the type’s original camouflage scheme applied to the HC1 aircraft when they entered service in 1971. The scheme also includes the badges of all the squadrons who have flown the Puma on the engine housing plus a patriotic union flag design on the tail. Parked out on the taxiway was one of the RAF final Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules C4s. The type is entering its final year of service with the RAF and this was likely to be final Cosford appearance foe the type while in service. Completing the current RAF line-up was the Airbus Helicopters Juno HT1 from nearby RAF Shawbury.
There was just one international military aircraft on static display in the form of an Irish Air Corps Pilatus PC-9M. 2022 marks the centenary of the Corps so their presence at Cosford was very welcome ahead of their main celebrations in July.
Much of Cosford’s flying display remained a surprise right up until a day through a combination of factors. However, it was a very varied affair that celebrated many different facets of Royal Air Force life. The 80th Anniversary of the RAF Regiment was marked by the first flying of the day with the arrival of two members of the RAF Force Protection Force via Paramotors. These were from the RAPTORs team of Sqn Ldr Tim Taylor, Flt Lt Michael O’Hara and Flt Lt Andrew Whisker who are planning of flying the entire length of the UK’s coastline in August to mark the regiment’s anniversary and the 100th Anniversary of the RAF Armoured Car Companies.
The show was formally opened by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. Instead of using their Dornier 228, the team were taken to height by the RAF Chinook Display Team who then performed their own display immediately after in a rather weathered airframe!
Cosford’s own flying role within the Royal Air Force was marked by the traditional flypast by three of UBAS’s Grob Tutor T1s, each flown by an instructor accompanied by a student. A more potent exhibition of the Grob Tutor T1’s capabilities followed later in the programme with an excellent solo display by Flt Lt David-John Gibbs from 115(R) Squadron.
A highlight of the flying were the displays by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the RAF Typhoon Display Team from RAF Coningsby. Sadly without the Lancaster due to a last minute technical issue, the BBMF presented a pair of Supermarine Spitfire II P7350 and Spitfire IX MK356 in formation and as solo displays. At the end of their sequence, the Spitfire II flown by Flt Lt Andy Preece returned leading the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 piloted by Flt Lt Adam O’Hare for three passes over Cosford before a dramatic head on break. Adam then performed his thunderous solo display in the Typhoon which highlight many of the Typhoon excellent handling attributes at both low and high speed.
Last of the formal RAF displays in the flying was the Red Arrows. Though they are down to a seven-ship display, the huge crowds were still captivated by their colourful display set against some very pleasant blue sky dappled with light clouds.
Some more Royal Air Force participation closed out the flying displays with a series of flypasts from aircraft not usually seen in flying displays. For operation reasons, the advertised A400M Atlas was unable to participate but there were fly-throughs from a pair of 72(R) Squadron Beechcraft Texan T1s and two BAE Systems Hawk T2s from IV and XXV Squadrons. The final ‘flypast’ came from a 617 Squadron Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning from RAF Marham. The strike fighter performed an initial flypast down the crowdline before flying a circuit and transitioning into STOVL mode for a very slow and noisy pass in front of the audience. Once at the end of the crowd the aircraft then powered away back to its base in Norfolk. While undoubtedly a very well received way to end the show I am still wondering when, after more than six years of airshow appearances, we will see anything more substantial from the RAF and Royal Navy’s latest fighter aircraft at a public display!
The Royal Air Force’s Gliding and Soaring Association (RAFGSA) has a long history of airshow flying and that continued at Cosford with one of their newest clubs, the RAF Shawbury Gliding Club (RSGC). Though quite new, RSGC has quite the history as it formed out of Wrekin Gliding Club which was based at RAF Cosford for many years offering the chance to learn to fly for many military personnel who passed through the station. In the flying, RSGC’s Chief Flying Instructor Ian Gallacher flew a stunning aerobatic routine in a Schleicher ASK 21 and was the runner-up in the award for best flying display. More aerobatic thrills came from Rich Goodwin flying his Pitts S-2S Special G-JPIT through a spirited routine of unlimited aerobatics and low knife-edge passes.
Intermixed amongst the modern flying were some very nice displays from historic aircraft. American air power was represented by Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina (Canadian Vickers Canso) and the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight’s North American P-51D Mustang flown by Alistair Williams.
RAF Training and UBAS heritage was marked in the flying by the Vintage Pair team of Jon Higgins and David Petters flying a pair of de Havilland Canada Chipmunks. Their simple yet elegant routine was one of the true crowd pleasers of the afternoon and looked superb set against the blue skies and green treeline.
But the true stars of the historic line-up were Historic Helicopters with a further pair of helicopters. Their Westland Wessex HU5 in its Royal Navy Search and Rescue colours has been the star of many events it has intended since it returned to airworthiness in 2019 and was the perfect participant for Cosford fitting into both the Falklands and Search and Rescue themes marked by the show. However, for many enthusiasts one of the outright stars of the show was their Westland Lynx AH7 flown by Andrew Whitehouse marking the types public display debut in civilian hands. While no longer permitted to perform some of the incredible manoeuvres performed while in Army Air Corps service, the Lynx is still a potent display aircraft with its turn of speed and agility in the air.
It seems like a very long time since a UK welcomed international military flying display participation so the three such displays Cosford attracted were a big draw. First to display was the French Air and Space Force’s Dassault Rafale C flown by Captaine Bertrand ‘Bubu’ Butin. Bubu’s display is a stylish mix of aggression and elegance highlighting the incredible agility of the omni-role fighter aircraft.
The Belgian Air Component made an exceptional contribution to the flying with two of its display teams. The Agusta A109BAi has been an eye-catching display at many Cosford Air Shows but 2022 saw the first UK performance for the ‘Razzle Blades’ display aircraft flown by flown by Captains Jo Jacobs and Stijn Soenens. But it was the Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon Commander Steven ‘Vrieske’ De Vries from Kleine Brogel Air Base. Vrieske is one of the most experienced F-16 pilots in Europe and was the first pilot outside the US to amass more than 5,000 flying hours on the type. He is also no stranger to the world of display flying having been a member of 31 Squadron’s Thundertiger routines at the Sanicole and Kleine Brogel airshows in his homeland. Cosford saw the display debut of the new display scheme for the F-16 solo nicknamed the ‘Dream Viper.’ The colour scheme includes a viper head on the tailfins and stylised scales painted in black, dark grey and vivid green metallic paint over the rest of the aircraft. His routine is just as eye-catching with some very unusual negative-g aerobatic figures within his routine. Cosford’s flying control committee certainly agreed awarding Vrieske the Bill Hartree Award for best display.
While both the flying and static displays may have been noticeably smaller than at Cosford 2019, the quality of both was superb. The themed static display areas were all outstanding and imaginatively presented while the flying display was full of star items and variety – everything we have to come to expect from recent RAF Cosford Air Shows. Cosford will return on 11th June 2023.