FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Dawlish Airshow 2014

Posted in Dawlish, England by folkestonejack on August 23, 2014

I have long intended to make a trip to Dawlish to see the free airshow that takes place every year, attracted by the many wonderful images that have been published online.

The delightful vista of the coastline that presented itself to us as we took up a spot on the hillside near the Smugglers Inn fully justified our travels. The entire coastline from Shell Cove to Langstone Rock looked stunning and quite astonishingly full of people. Early reports indicated that there were around 100,000 spectators with over 9,000 alone arriving by train. We had arrived fairly early in the day and managed to get on a train without difficulty, but later trains must have been heavily packed.

Royal Air Force  Sea King ZH545 against the beautiful backdrop of Dawlish

Royal Air Force Sea King ZH545 against the beautiful backdrop of Dawlish

The tide was was coming in throughout the afternoon, limiting available spectator space on the beach, but the beauty of this airshow is the large number of viewing spots – as well as the hillsides above the town there are good views available from Coryton’s Cove, the top of Langstone Rock and even a more distant view from the coastline around Exmouth. In my opinion, it is hard to beat the view from the hillside near the Smugglers Inn and the possibilities this offers photographers.

The airshow at Dawlish is all the more remarkable because it is dependent on donations, sponsorship and programme sales to ensure that it can carry on from one year to the next. I was more than happy to contribute, having read about the incredible fundraising efforts of the organising committee.

Thrilling in red

Thrilling in red

The Red Arrows are guaranteed crowd pleasers and always spectacular but their display seemed even more dramatic against this backdrop, whizzing over the top of us on the hill and delivering a remarkable sequence of moves. The display team are now in their fiftieth season and every time I see them perform their acrobatics I am left in awe of the skill of the pilots. Indeed, we had further evidence of this from the synchronised acrobatics of the Blades, a team made up of former Red Arrows pilots.

The star attraction of this year’s show was undoubtedly the pairing of the world’s only two airworthy Lancasters which closed the day in style. The RAF Battle of British Memorial Flight’s Lancaster PA474 (currently painted to represent Lancaster DV385, of 617 Squadron, using the code letters ‘KC-A’) was joined by the Lancaster from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (currently painted to represent KB726 – VR-A which flew with RCAF No. 419 Squadron).

A pair of Lancasters over Dawlish

A pair of Lancasters over Dawlish

The Canadian Lancaster is making a two month tour of the UK having crossed the North Atlantic via Goose Bay and Reykjavik. The Lancaster arrived on August 8th and is scheduled to start her homeward journey to Canada on September 22nd.

My personal highlights from the airshow were the two classic jets – the Jet Provost T3 and the English Electric Canberra. The Provost was a jet training aircraft which was produced in large numbers and successfully exported around the world. The trainer was in service with the RAF until 1993 so I would assume that I have seen one in the air before, but I don’t have any particular memory of seeing one in flight. I had already seen the Canberra at Farnborough, but you can never have too much of these classic jets!

Other aircraft at the airshow included a Beechcraft Model 18 light transport plane, a Whirlwind helicopter, a RAF Shorts Tucano and Rich Goodwin’s Muscle Biplane.

Jet Provost T3

Jet Provost T3

I couldn’t really compete with the big lenses on the hillside (something of the order of 400-600mm would be ideal) but enjoyed my attempts at capturing the planes against such a stunning backdrop. It would be good to come back and have another go…

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Farnborough 2014: Survivors of the golden age

Posted in England, Farnborough by folkestonejack on July 19, 2014

Britain’s pioneering aircraft builders gave this country an incredible boost in the post war years, delivering a remarkable variety of innovative jet aircraft that dazzled the public throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The world class aircraft produced looked like a vision of the future and were given stirring names that matched the sense of expectation at the beginning of the new Elizabethan age – such as Valiant, Victor and Vulcan.

Vulcan XH558 takes off from Farnborough

Vulcan XH558 takes off from Farnborough

The capabilities of these incredible machines and the men behind them stood testimony to the brilliance of the work taking place within the British aviation industry at this time. However, in spite of this, the golden era of British jet aircraft manufacture was all but over by the late 1960s. Arguments still rage today over the cancellation of the supersonic TSR2 bomber/reconnaissance aircraft in 1965, a jet which many test pilots felt had the potential to the best of its era.

I am pretty sure I would have seen some of these astonishing jets on my family’s occasional visits to airshows in the early 1980s but I wouldn’t have appreciated what I was looking at, even had any of it stuck in my memory! In this context, it was a delight to visit Farnborough this weekend and see five jets from this era in the air (a meteor, vampire, vulcan, canberra and harrier respectively). The Vulcan is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but I was as keen to see a Meteor and Canberra in flight.

Gloster Meteor WA591 takes off at Farnborough

Gloster Meteor WA591 takes off at Farnborough

Canberra XH134 takes off from Farnborough

Canberra XH134 takes off from Farnborough

It was probably the last appearance of a Vulcan at Farnborough, ending a connection that began with her first appearance in September 1952 (remarkably, just a few days after her initial flight). This particular example, Vulcan XH558, had been set to retire at the end of the 2013 display season but modifications to her wings extended the lifespan of her airframe for a further two years. Since the Farnborough International Air Show only comes around every two years, it seems unlikely that she will still be flying by the time of the 2016 show.

Vulcan XH558 at the Farnborough Air Show in 2014

Vulcan XH558 flies over Farnborough

The airshow at Farnborough was supposed to see an appearance from the F-35 Lightning II, which will eventually fly from new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, but the recent grounding of the jets put paid to their first transtlantic flight. Instead, we had a rather wonderful reminder of the capabilities of its VTOL predecessor – the Sea Harrier – with an example from the Spanish Navy. Yet another innovative design from the British aviation industry of the golden age!

If you want to find out more, the story of Britain’s jet age is superbly recounted in the book ‘Empire of the clouds: When Britain’s aircraft ruled the world’ by James Hamilton-Paterson.

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