RAF Cosford Air Show 2024

RAF Cosford Air Show 2024

The only Royal Air Force organised public air display of the year is the RAF Cosford Air Show. This year’s show took the ‘Take Flight’ theme highlighting the show’s mission to inspire the next generation of aerospace engineers and RAF personnel. Approximately 60,000 visitors headed to the Shropshire airfield for a full day of entertainment on the ground and in the air.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from a cold Cosford. All photography by the author.

The Royal Air Force Cosford Airshow has always been an incredibly popular event with the public. The West Midlands and Mid Wales region has never really been served well with air displays with only a handful of events. Now it only has two, Midlands Air Festival – a relative newcomer and Cosford. The fact that Cosford also holds the mantle of the Royal Air Force’s last remaining major public event just adds to that popularity.

The history of Royal Air Force stations hosting public events and airshows is almost as old as the RAF itself with Lord Trenchard ordering the first such event in 1920. The aim then as now was to show the public the equipment, the people and the lifestyle of the Royal Air Force. For much of that time since, RAF Stations have opened their door under the banner of ‘At Home Days’ and the RAF Cosford Air Show continues in that vein. As well the co-located RAF Museum, Some of Cosford’s Hangars are opened to the public and contain a wide variety of exhibits including an impressive display from the Air Cadets. Some of the Technical Trades taught at Cosford were on show including the tradition demonstration of gear retraction tests of one of the base’s many SEPECAT Jaguars. As in previous years another hangar was entirely given over to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM.) Elsewhere on the show ground, Cosford’s collection of SEPECAT Jaguars dominated he static display with five on show in various colours schemes on the central apron while 13 aircraft were lined up at the western end in the ‘Catwalk.’ The UBAS apron has more of Cosford’s technical training airframes on show including the Panavia Tornado GR1, Tornado F3, three BAe Hawk T1s and Eurofighter Typhoon DA4. The latter aircraft is the latest addition to the Cosford technical training fleet having previously been on show at IWM Duxford. RAF Germany was also marked with yet another Jaguar alongside a BAe Harrier GR3.

 

While there were plenty of RAF Cosford airframes on static display, the same could not be said of other current RAF aircraft with just some of UBAS’s Grob Tutor T1s joined by a sole Airbus H135 Juno HT1 and a No 3 FTS Grob G120TP Prefect T1. However, that was better than the Royal Navy or Army Air Corps which had no aircraft on display! There was at least some international military participation in the static display with a SIAI-Marchetti SF260D from 1 Wing of the Belgian Air Force and a Royal Netherlands Air Force NH Industries NH90NFH Caiman from 860 Squadron.

There were some gems amongst the civilian and historic aircraft that flew in for static display. Mark Bennett’s rarely seen Supermarine Spitfire IX returned to be at the centre of attention in the Vintage Village. It was joined by the Real Aeroplane Company’s Miles Magister making a rare trip away from Breighton plus a pair of Piper L4 Grasshoppers. Elsewhere were examples of the de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10, North American NA-154 Navion, the Historic Army Aircraft Flight’s Auster AOP9 and the Trago-Mills SAH-1.

 

As other events have experienced this year, there was a fair amount of change to the flying displays in the run up to show day. However, unlike 2023 there was at least enough time for the Cosford flying display coordinators to bring in replacements to ensure a full and flowing flying programme went ahead.

As is tradition at Cosford, the flying action was opened with a display from the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. However, for this display the Falcons dropped from a RAF Brize Norton based Airbus A400M Atlas C1 for the first time at a public display and adding some extra spectacle under the overcast. A further two Atlas C1 aircraft featured later in the display for a flypast making for an awesome sight as they approached at low level. Further air mobility capability from RAF Brize Norton was demonstrated by the Airbus A330MRTT Voyager KC2 ‘Vespina’ flown by 10 & 101 Squadrons. The RAF’s advanced flying training fleet also featured in the flying display with a couple of flypasts by a pair of BAE Systems Hawk T2s from XXV Squadron.

 

Except for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who were still on a flying pause at the time of Cosford, all the RAF’s major display assets took part. In their 60th Season, the Red Arrows were the big draw for the crowds. New team leader, Squadron Leader Jon Bond and the team have dipped into the history books in designing the 2024 sequence which sees the return of some old favourites such as the 5-4 cross and formations such as Concorde and Big Vixen as the team returns to a full nine-ship.

 

Solo displays came from Flt Lt Bob Dewes in the Grob Tutor T1 and Flt Lt David ‘Turbo’ Turnbull in the striking D-Day80 schemed Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. Though there is no RAF Chinook ‘Display’ in 2024, 18(B) Squadron are mounting a role demonstration for Cosford, RIAT and Farnborough. For Cosford they presented a display of underslung loads plus troop and vehicle insertion and recovery from a Boeing Chinook HC5. The HC5 were originally procured as the HC3 for the special forces role and feature enlarged fuel tanks – it is thought that this was the first time this variant had featured in a public flying display.

 

The highlight of the RAF displays came right at the end of the display with the public display debut of 617 Squadron’s role demonstration of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning. While it is a simple routine and non-aerobatic, it is much longer than previous RAF flying display appearances in the F-35B. it also does more to show off the performance of the strike fighter with fast climbs and dramatic pitches added to the routine as well as the essential hovering finale.

Alongside the RAF displays were a varied selection of acts from civilian operators. Christophe Simon opened the aircraft displays with a wonderful balletic routine in the Mudry CAP-10BK. In contrast was punchy rip-roaring sequence of tumbles and flicks given by Rich Goodwin in his Pitts S-2S Special – The Muscle Biplane.

 

An altogether different aerobatic display came from RAF Shawbury Gliding Club with the Schleicher ASK 21 flown by Ian Gallacher. Despite the competition from more noisy aircraft, the glider always captures the crowd’s attention, particularly during Ian’s finale to his display with some low-level loops before joining the circuit to land.

The RAF’s history was recalled by the number of warbirds. Frank Chapman flew a very elegant routine in Bygone Aviation’s Hawker Hurricane I while later Second World War fighters were represented by the Rolls Royce Heritage Flight’s Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX and North American P-51D Mustang. The exploits of Bomber and Coastal Commands were recalled with appearances by B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B and Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina.

 

A welcome international visitor to the show was the North American AT-6D Texan flown by Belgian display pilot Stijn De Jaeghere. Stijn has been displaying various aerobatic and historic aircraft in his native Belgium for many years. He was initially coached in the aerobatics by British aerobatic champion Gerald Cooper. He now has a growing collection of historic aircraft which apart from the Harvard includes a Pitts Special, WACO and Stampe SV4.

Cosford also boasted an impressive cast of British operated classic jets in the display. The 70th Anniversary of the Hunting Percival Jet Provost was marked with displays from Mark Hooton in the Newcastle JP Group’s BAC Jet Provost T3A while the definitive variant, the Jet Provost T5, was displayed by last year’s RAF Tutor pilot, David John-Gibbs. A pleasing late addition to the display was the Folland Gnat T1 in the colours of the Yellowjacks and flown by Chris Heames. The Gnat Display Team have been quiet in recent years and have not made many public airshow appearances despite remaining quite active at their North Weald base. It was particularly appropriate to see the Gnat just ahead of the Red Arrows display to tell the story of the team’s genesis and the early part of their history.

 

The RAF’s rotary history was recalled with the Gazelle Squadron presenting their four-ship routine for the first time at Cosford. Their display is always very nostalgic and stirs memories of some of the great Gazelle based military display teams such as the Blue Eagles, Pusser’s Pair, the Gazelles and the Sharks.

As well as the RAF’s heritage, the flying also reflected a great deal of Fleet Air Arm history. The NavyWings Heritage Flight flew two special formations with their Westland Wasp HAS1 during the display. The first was alongside its modern-day equivalent, the Leonardo Wildcat HMA2 of the Black Cats Helicopter Display Team. 2024 at last sees the full return of the Black Cats who will spend the year flying solo and duo displays up and down the UK. Cosford saw the solo display captained by Lt Scott Sutherland. The second formation linked the Wasp up with one of the most famous of all Royal Navy aircraft, the Fairey Swordfish before they split for their own solo displays.

 

However, it was the contributions from the French Air and Space Force that were the star turns at Cosford. Capitaine Sébastien Souchet from l’Équipe de voltige de l’armée de l’Air et de l’Espace gave a superb display of very accurate and eye-catching competition freestyle aerobatics in the Extra 330SC that drew a worthy round of applause from the crowd. But perhaps the standout display of the whole afternoon was that from the Couteau Delta Tactical Demonstration flying a pair of Dassault Mirage 2000D Strike aircraft. The French Tactical Demonstration teams only make a handful of appearances each year, so it was a major coup for Cosford to attract Couteau Delta across the channel. The Mirage 2000D is a very charismatic aircraft and always gets eye straining skywards with its flickering reheat and thunderous noise. The team fly a sequence of tactical manoeuvres including strafing runs, loft-bomb attacks plus show of force flypasts. The moisture in the air added to the drama with flash vapour forming across the wings of the dart shaped jets on their fast run.

 

Despite the unseasonably cold weather, it was a highly enjoyable day at Cosford with some great flying from some very varied displays. It was good to see the Royal Air Force go further than usual to support its last remaining flying display with memorable flypasts and moments thanks to the A400M Atlas force at RAF Brize Norton. RAF Cosford Air Show will return in 2025 on Sunday 8th June.