Report and photography by Wayne Bennett with Iain Ashmore
There was to be something special in store for the 60,000 people who attended this years Cosford Air Show. For the first time I can remember, a baking hot Cosford was blessed with sunshine all day with not a drop of rain to be seen! Seriously, the extra special elements to this years show were, of course, the celebrations for the Royal Air Force centenary, and for the 80th anniversary of RAF Cosford itself, having opened in 1938 as part of the pre-World War Two RAF expansion programme.
One of the things I like about Cosford is that you have time to go around the showground and see the attractions before taking up your position for the flying display and this year was no different. The hangars and surrounding area were packed once again with multiple attractions and stalls from which you could load yourself up with memorabilia of the day. The static aircraft display was described in our preview article last week, although a few further types had been added since Friday, such as the Hawker Hunter we saw arriving on the back of a lorry and which was shown being unloaded in that gallery.
The first display of the show was actually ground based, as the Royal Air Force Police Dog Demonstration Team were put through their paces. Each of the dogs bestowed with a name of a famous aircraft from RAF history. A welcome visitor before flying began was the unique airworthy P-47D G-THUN arriving from its Duxford base for static display. This aircraft was once owned by the Fighter Collection before being sold to the USA several years ago and returned to UK ownership earlier this year. I made sure I was still around for the departure of this hugely impressive aircraft at the end of the show too.
The RAF Falcons parachute display team then opened Cosford’s 2018 show with a jump from 12,000 ft. The nine strong team free fell with smoke for a few thousand feet before deploying their parachutes and performing various manoeuvres throughout their descent, including their famous Falcons canopy stack. Their jump was the latest leg on the journey of the RAF 100 baton relay, in which the baton will be carried by various RAF personnel, cadets, veterans and members of the many sporting associations that make up the RAF. Each baton carrier is given a start and end point, they then have to work out the rest themselves. For the Falcons the baton was carried by Flight Sgt David Worboys and once all the Falcon members were assembled on the ground, they presented the baton to Station Commander, Group Captain Tone Baker. The relay had begun at the Royal Courts of Justice on 1 April 2018 and will end 100 days later on 10 July on Horseguards Parade.
The Falcons train in California where new members of the team are brought up to display standard, they then return to the UK to adjust their training to our unpredictable weather.
After the Falcons had opened the air display we were taken right back to where it all began as the Great War Display Team took to the skies. The usual German contingent of Fokker and Junkers replica’s were absent, most likely to ensure the spotlight remained firmly on the RAF types, but the pair of scale SE5a replicas and the BE2 were joined in this formation by the Avro 504K belonging to Eric Verdon Roe, grandson of the founder of Avro Aircraft, Sir Alliott Verdon Roe, fresh from its appearance at Old Warden last week. The flying was as smooth and accomplished as we have become used to seeing from this team and evoked the spirit of the RAF’s earliest days. After this genteel display the pace and power were ramped right up with the first overseas display of the afternoon, from the Belgian Air Force solo display pilot Comd.av. Stefan ‘Vador’ Darte from No 2 Wing at Florennes AB in his stunningly painted F-16AM ‘Dark Falcon’. Following the Dark Falcon, The pace was switched right back again with a formation of 8 DH Tiger moths belonging to the Tiger 9 Display Team, led by Jeff Milsom.
The next item was a bit special, unique in fact. A restored 1939 Mk 1 Hurricane, complete with the half black-half white underside that enabled RAF fighters to easily identify each other early in the war, impressed me with the smoothest Merlin engine note I’ve heard for a very long while. This aircraft was then joined in formation by a present day Polish Air Force MiG 29. The participation of the Polish Air Force at this year’s RAF Cosford Air Show is particularly moving with the Royal Air Force celebrating their 100th anniversary year. The display provided a joint commemoration of the large number of Polish pilots who gave their lives in the Battle of Britain and celebrated their contribution to the security of our skies in the Second World War. This special flypast was to honour the Polish Pilots who flew in the RAF during WWII. The MiG 29 then continued with its own dynamic and smoky display, its power and noise contrasting greatly with the older type. Returning to the wartime theme, Flying Legends’ Bristol Blenheim 1F L6739 (G-BPIV) took to the air for its own display.
The Red Bull display team brought three interesting aircraft to the show. There was a Pilatus PC-6 Turbo-Porter in the static area, and in the flying display, two very contrasting helicopters. An MBB BO105, which was extremely agile as it demonstrated manoeuvres you think a helicopter shouldn’t be able to do, while later on there was the far more genteel Bristol Sycamore, making its first flying appearance in the UK since the RAF retired them in the early 1970’s. The first two wear Red Bull’s rather garish livery, but the Sycamore has a somewhat more sympathetic logo applied to its RAF livery instead.
The warbird baton was then picked up by Hangar 11’s Spitfire PR.XI PL965 (G-PRXI) resplendent in its PRU Blue colour scheme before giving way to the farthest travelled participant in the show, the Boeing 757-200 of 40 Sqn Royal New Zealand Air Force, While BAE Systems historic Avro Anson, formerly the blue and silver G-AHXK but now wearing RAF colours for the centenary, presaged the arrival of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The grey painted 757 of the RNZAF is reknowned for its energetic display routines, with the fighter-esque fast pass being a favourite.
The BBMF started their display by flying in tight ‘Trenchard’ formation, approaching frm behind the crowd line and passing directly overhead. The formation featured the Lancaster, Dakota, a Hurricane and a Spitfire. The C-47 Dakota, ZA947 first entered service in 1943 with the RCAF, it currently wears the colours of No 233 Sqn during the D-Day period of 1944. It was added to the UK military register in the 1980’s, which is why it carries a distinctly ’80’s serial number, which is actually later than the serial carried by several RAF Tornadoes and all of the Red Arrows Hawks.
The Lancaster BI PA474 is one of two that remain in airworthy condition out of the 7,377 that was built. It was first flown in August 1945 as part of Tiger Force against. The Japanese. The aircraft was adopted by the City of Lincoln in 1975 and permission for the coat of arms crest, that is displayed on the side of the aircraft, to be painted on was given in 1976.
There are only two full time pilots on the strength of the BBMF everyone else is a volunteer with primary duties in the RAF. The fighter pilots are made up of serving fighter pilots and the Lancaster and Dakota crews are made up of pilots with a history of multi-engine/ multi-crew aircraft.
Hurricane PZ865 was the final one built, in 1944, and for many years carried the motto ‘Last of the Many. In the early 1960’s it was used as a chase plane by Hawker Siddeley for the P.1127 VTOL programme that led into the Harrier. Since 2010 PZ865 has worn the colours of a Hurricane operated in WW2 by South East Asia Command.
Since 2017 Spitfire MK356 is the first BBMF Spitfire for ten years to wear a desert camouflage scheme, representing an aircraft flown by Neville Duke in 1943. This aircraft was a gate guardian for many years and was used as static set dressing in the movie ‘ Battle of Britain in 1969. MK356 was returned to flying condition in 1997 and you may have seen her in her previous all-silver colour scheme.
A display by a belgian Air component AW109 helicopter, their second participant of the day after the F-16 earlier, was followed by an impressive succession of rarely seen historic aeroplanes and helipters. These included the Red Bulls Bristol Sycamore mentioned previously as well as the unique Westland Whirlwind in rescue colours. Also noteworthy in this part of the show were a very rarely seen Percival Pembroke, which gave an unexpectedly energetic display for such a veteran transport and very smart looking BAC Jet provost T.5, the version with the pressurised cockpit that the Strikemaster was based upon.
The next international participant was the stunningly painted solo Dassault Rafale of the French Air Force, which gave a stirring display in its black and red livery in the hands of Capitaine Sebastien Nativel.
The next item on the agenda were the always excellent Red Arrows, who are now in their 54th year of presenting their display in 57 different countries. They are led by Sqn Leader Martin Pert, who takes the seat of Red 1 for this years displays, it is his first year in this role.
Away from the display team there are 110 support personal who wear the blue overalls and are known as the Blues. They provide the essential support for the red arrows to operate and on Sunday, had to work fantastically well in getting one of the aircraft ready for their display.
Appropriately enough for a training station there was a strong representation of training aircraft in evidence throughout the display. Static exhibits included a Tiger Moth, Provost and Jet Provost, Bulldog and even a near complete replica of a Boulton Paul Balliol. The flying display gave us the previously mentioned Tiger 9 team, and Avro 504, A couple of Gazelle helicopters, which were employed by the RAF as trainers, while from the modern age we had the Grob Tutor and Prefect and Short Tucano with the Hawks from Valley and a pair of Airbus Juno T1’s from the Defence Helicopter Flying School. It was the latter element which followed on from the red arrows before the modern day line up of the Royal Air Force was represented, via a series of flypasts from current types. Some people expressed disappointment at these one-time fly-by’s, but they may do well to remember that, without the anniversary, they may not have appeared at all. The types in this segment of the show included four Hawk T.2’s from RAF Valley, a 70 Sqn Airbus Atlas C.1 from Brize Norton, with RAF 100 tail decoration and a soon to be retired Tornado GR4 belonging to IX Sqn at RAF Marham. This final part of the show also saw the workhorse of todays RAF, the Boeing Chinook demonstrating its impressive capabilities before the show closed with a reminder of the fast jet airpower the RAF holds today with a stirring display, probably the best one ever by the type, from Jim Peterson in the solo Typhoon FGR4 from 29 Sqn at Coningsby.
And so the 2018 Cosford Air Show came to a close. It certainly lived up to its billing as the biggest Cosford show yet and was a complete success in showcasing not only the RAF over its one hundred year history, but also the contributions and sacrifices made by people from many other nations to create that history, as well as the co-operative ties that are such an intrinsic part of military operations today.