RAF Cosford Air Show

RAF Cosford Air Show

With Waddington undergoing a major runway renewal, RAF Cosford Air Show was left as the only full Royal Air Force air display this year. 2015 is a very odd year for airshows as across Europe as there are much fewer military events planned this year which is surprising considering some of the major Second World War anniversaries being celebrated. All of those factors, plus a drive by the organising team to attract more foreign air arms meant Cosford boasted an unusually diverse line-up from the UK’s allies in Europe. Warbirds were not forgotten with a small, but perfectly formed collection of types lined up to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of VE Day.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author. Video highlights from PlanesTV.com.

It is amazing to think that just five years ago there were three big RAF shows plus the Royal Navy’s events. While both the Royal Navy’s events continue, the RAF shows have slowly disappeared from the calendar; Leuchars permanently and Waddington may not happen again until at least 2017 due to over-running runway renewal works. That left just RAF Cosford for 2015.

Unlike the sprawling masses of concrete that characterises modern bases such as Waddington, Cosford has remained a very traditional 1940’s style RAF station with a large expanse of grass and a small hard runway. Many of the original grass-covered blister hangars remain dotted around the airfield with edge of the main camp marked by four large hangars. Cosford is the RAF’s main engineering training base and is also home to the RAF Museum. Flying from the airfield is limited but the University of Birmingham Air Squadron flies Grob Tutor T1s from the airfield. As always as Cosford, the Hangars were full of various exhibitions highlighting the work of the RAF and other armed services. Engineering and Science were also highlighted with a number of very engaging exhibtions that including not only aircraft, but also other activities such as motorsports.

From the pre-event publicity, it is clear Cosford’s organising team went all out to gain as much foreign military support as possible and take advantage of their status as the RAF’s only show of 2015. It paid off with a number of exciting items being added to the impressive six hour flying display and the static displays in the weeks before the show. It does however often prove to be a risk as well with the uncertainty caused by on-going operations. Cancellations due to operational reasons don’t always affect just the actual display crews or aircraft, but may involve support aircraft. Cosford suffered more than its fair share of bad luck in the last few days before the with the Polish MiG-29 solo being withdrawn following a fleet-wide safety stand-down plus the French Air Force’s Ramex Delta team of Mirage 2000Ns and a planned German P-3C Orion flypast cancelling.

However, despite the disappointment of losing so many star acts, there was still more than enough left to enjoy in slightly cloudy conditions. With the drawdown of the military Search and Rescue fleet in the UK, Cosford took the opportunity to include “SAR” as one of its major themes. On the ground there was a “SAR Zone” with many different exhibits highlighting the varied organisations and aircraft that contribute to this important role. Past and Present RAF search and rescue was highlighted by the presence of the wonderful Westland Whirlwind HAR10 exhibited alongside it’s modern counterpart, the Westland Sea King HAR3A from RAF Valley. The RAF also had a Bell Griffin HT1 on display.

The Sea King is not only used by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and fulfils the SAR role with many other air arms including the German Navy which sent a Sea King Mk41 for static display. Perhaps the most exotic visitor in this theme was an Italian Air Force AgustaWestland HH-139A from 15 Stormo making the types second only airshow appearance after Farnborough. The Royal Netherlands Navy were a late addition to the line-up making their UK debut with their new NH Industries NH90NFT. Marking the work of Air Ambulances around the UK, the Midlands Air Ambulance also exhibited its Eurocopter EC135.

The “Home Team” was out in force with many of the Jaguar and Tornado airframes on display as well as one of UBAS’s Grob Tutor T1. Another of the themes running through the show was the work of the University Air Squadrons and there were some historic types including multiple de Havilland Canada Chipmunks. The Classic Air Force also provided some rarer types including their Percival Prentice. The wider RAF also participated with examples of the Shorts Tucano T1 and Squirrel HT1. The training theme was continued by another international visitor in the form of a pair of Irish Air Corps Pilatus PC-9Ms.

The major theme of the show however was the 70th Anniversary of VE Day. The centrepiece on the ground of this theme was a “Victory Village” which saw various pieces of 1940’s paraphernalia on display alongside some interesting light aircraft types the including BAE Systems’ Avro XIX Anson, the Classic Air Force de Havilland Dragon Rapide and a Morane-Saulnier MS.315.

Cosford is also home to the RAF Museum and they brought out their complete example of the BAC TSR2 for static display. It is rare to see the Museum’s priceless aircraft out on the airield and certainly early on when the sun was shining, it looked magnificent set against Cosford’s hangars.

Like Biggin Hill the day before, the weather elsewhere in the country played a major role in dictating the flying display. However, flying display Mike Stanway and his colleagues from the Cosford Air Operations team coped admirably reworking the schedule at the last minute to accommodate late arrivals and serviceability issues.

As seems tradition at Cosford, the show was opened by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team jumping from a Cessna caravan. The tricky and rather stubborn low cloud meant they had to go around a couple of times before they dropped performing a low show in their famous statck formation.

Almost all of the RAF’s display teams took part during the show, though a notable absentee was the new Hawk T2 Role Demo which was unable to be allocated to Cosford. However, the RAF’s training aircraft were represented in the sky by the Grob Tutor T1 flown by Flt Lt Andy Preece from No 16[R] Squadron based at RAFC Cranwell. 2015 is Andy’s fourth season displaying the Tutor. Being a relatively small and quiet aircraft, it is difficult at large shows for the Tutor but Andy’s precise display of aerobatics more than compensates showing off the RAF’s elementary trainer off to the crowd. Due to poor weather, Andy was unable to fly his usual display aircraft to Cosford and instead borrowed one of the University of Birmingham Air Squadron’s aircraft for the display which was perhaps more appropriate for the show.

Another demonstration of Cosford’s important training role was the SEPECAT Jaguar GR4 and T4 taxy demonstration on the main runway. These aircraft are not just show pieces, but are working aircraft allowing the RAF’s latest generation of engineers to be training to handle real frontline aircraft on the ground before being deployed to bases around the world.

Making one of their first public appearances of the season was the Chinook HC4 Display Team from RAF Odiham. 2015 is the first year the HC4 variant has been seen in public and the display is everything we’ve come to expect from this incredible helicopter with its power and amazing agility.

While the Chinook HC4 was making its first appearance, Cosford saw its final ever display from a Westland Sea King HAR3A from No 22 Squadron based at RAF Valley. The unit will disband next month as the Search and Rescue duties are passed to a new civilian organisation headed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in conjunction with Bristow Helicopters. The iconic yellow helicopters will be missed and it was good to see Cosford make the effort to see them off in style.

It was good to see an example of the RAF’s hardworking transport fleet take part in the flying display. Sadly a flypast by a C-130J Hercules was cancelled due to aircraft serviceability but Cosford did see a fly-through by a RAF Brize Norton based Airbus Military A330MRTT Voyager KC2. Voyager is the largest aircraft ever operated and is certainly an impressive beast seen at close quarters.

The Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 was the only front-line type in the flying display. Early on Flt Lt Jonny Dowen performed his powerful solo routine under the grey overcast with No 29[R] Squadron’s special marking jet.

Cosford was one of the venues to see a very special set-piece display commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Opening the sequence of flying were the Red Arrows with their usual crisp display. At the end of their display, four fighters from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight scrambled from the runway. These included the pair of Hurricane IIcs, the Spitfire Vb AB910 and the Spitfire XVI TE336. A few moments later the combination of Red Arrows and BBMF appeared with the Reds flying slowly in Big Battle and the quartet of BBMF fights tucked in behind Red 1 in a tight Box 4 formation. The BBMF Spitfire XVI and a Hurricane IIc then completed the sequence with their more traditional solo displays. The flight also sent their Douglas Dakota III for a solo display during the afternoon.

Later in the day, the Synchro 75 pairing of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 and Spitfire Vb appeared to complete the commemorations of the Battle of Britain. Sadly, the specially marked Typhoon for the Synchro display was unserviceable so the 29[R] Squadron aircraft reappeared alongside the Spitfire.

The UK’s other armed forces also took part. The Royal Navy sent a solo Westland Lynx HMA8 from 815 NAS for the flying display. The crew started their display with a simulated auto-rotation into Cosford which was very impressive and original. With the Wildcat slowly starting to take over, this could well be one of the last chances to see an example on display in the UK, particularly now the Army no longer displays them with the retirement of the AH7.

The Attack Helicopter Display Team debuted their full show at Cosford complete with pyrotechnics and a pair of AgustaWestland WAH-64D Apache AH1s. The team made their first public appearances at the Duxford VE-Day Anniversary Airshow but without the supporting special effects. With the pyros and the addition of radio chatter within the commentary, the whole display becomes much more engaging and will certainly be a highlight of any event the AHDT attends.

The Royal Air Force Gliding and Soaring Association highlighted their role in forces life during the flying display with an aerobatic display from an ASK-21 Glider. Flying the glider through a very graceful routine despite the low clouds was Ian Gallacher who now works at Cosford providing training in Human Factors. Providing the aero-tow was the based Piper PA25 Pawnee that is regularly seen supporting the GliderFX team and was flown at Cosford by Paul Holdnall from Wrekin Gliding Club.

Alongside the glider were a select few civilian displays. Rich Goodwin returned in his powerful Pitts S-2S Special. However, it was the commentary by Rich’s “New Neighbour” that really made his display stand out. It was in fact Peter Dickson, the voice of TV’s X-Factor and many other productions, who almost fooled many people! The biplane theme was continued by the Breitling Wingwalkers making one of their first UK public performances of the year following a mini-world tour taking in displays in Dubai, India and most recently Japan.

2Excel Aviation made a memorable contribution to the flying. Not only were the ever-brilliant Blades Aerobatic Team on show, but they also presented their Boeing 727 operated by subsidiary T2 Aviation. Dan Griffiths displayed the classic jetliner, which is due to be converted into a pollution control aircraft, with great panache. His routine included some steep turns and finished with a fast pass and zoom climb leaving the airspace clear for the Blades.

Cosford also saw it’s final full display by Avro Vulcan B2 XH558. 2015 is a busy season for XH558 as the team prepare to bow out of the flying phase of their project. While the display may not be the same as the former RAF Vulcan Display Flight routines, the aircraft remains a massive draw for airshows and so it was at Cosford with Bill Ramsey and Martin Withers at the controls.

Further classic jet action came from the Classic Air Force with their Armstrong Whitworth Meteor NF11 and a very graceful flowing routine from Jon Corley. A further late addition to the flying was the BAC Jet Provost T5 flown by Dan Arlett. It was for many of the Cosford Air Show team a highly poignant display to salute a former member of the organisation team. Late last year Wing Commander Bill Hartree, the show’s flying display director for 10 years, passed away after a short illness. During his air force career, he had flown aircraft such as the Jaguar and instructed on the Jet Provost as well become involved in the display flying world. To mark Bill’s contribution to the show, Cosford have commissioned the “Hartree Memorial Trophy” for the most accurately flown routine as judged by the event’s Flying Control Committee.

The winner of the Trophy this years was Captain Julien ‘Teddy’ Meister, pilot of the Swiss Air Force F/A-18C Hornet Solo display Team. The Swiss Hornet was making its first appearance at Cosford and despite the low cloud, Julien put on a fine display of the types incredible power and agility.

Further international jet flying came from the Belgian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon. Taking over the reins as display pilot this year is Captain Tom “Gizmo” De Moortel from 31 Fighter Squadron based at Kliene Brogel. Sadly, the main display jet nicknamed “Blizzard” was not available for the main show so Gizmo displayed a standard grey jet but nevertheless, it was a great display.

Warbirds featured well in the flying displaying too. Completing the Search and Rescue theme was Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina while Peter Teichman gave a rousing solo display in his Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk.

But it was the “VE Day 70” finale that saw the biggest warbird set piece of the afternoon. Using a mixture of flying displays, archive audio and special recording interviews, Sean Maffett and his producer Jonathon Ruffle told the story of the Second World War including what it means to the veterans, display pilots and to today’s generation. Opening the sequence was the Avro Anson T21 flown by Ben Cox. Though a post-war model, the aircraft represented a type that was in service prior to, during and after the war. Towards the end of its s sequence and to represent the uprising of Germany, it was “bounced” by the Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon (playing the role of the Messerschmitt Bf109) flown by Cliff Spink. The Anson soon left the arena with the Buchon continuing to strafe the airfield as the next participants scrambled into the air to see off the aggressor. This included a slightly odd pair of Peter Vacher’s Hawker Hurricane I flown by Carl Scholfield and the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s North American P-51D Mustang flown by Lars Ness. The two fighters displayed the change is aircraft design from the start of the war through to the end and soon saw off the marauding ‘109 before performing solo displays to close the flying.

The Cosford Air Show team certainly excelled themselves this year with improvements throughout the show from the flying and hangar displays right to the traffic! It was certainly an event that represented the RAF in the best possible light. Special mention must be made of the of the Air Operations Team and in particularly flying display director Mike Stanway who managed to present a full flowing flying display despite all kinds of weather and serviceability issues affecting the participants. RAF Cosford Air Show 2016 will be held on the 19th June next year and we look forward to seeing what the team can offer!