RAF Cosford Air Show Press Launch Report

Wednesday 23rd March 2016

For 2016, the RAF Cosford Air Show continues to hold the mantle of being the RAF's only public air show. Following on from last years successful event, expectations for the Shropshire show are higher than ever. Given the recent changes in safety regulations and their effects on the airshow circuit for 2016, the organising team at RAF Cosford were keen to demonstrate that the show remains as safe as ever. Therefore the doors of the Midlands' most familiar of military airfields were opened to local press for the team to talk about the hard work they're putting into the 2016 show.

Tom Jones attended the Press Launch at RAF Cosford to see how things are progressing ahead of this year's show.

It's fair to say that RAF Cosford Air Show - even with its terrifically unfortunate spate of cancellations - had a bumper year in 2015, setting a high precedent for future shows to surpass. It was therefore extremely interesting to be briefed by the Chairman of the Show in 2016, Wing Commander Richard Osselton, and Group Captain Mark Hunt, the new Station Commander at the base, on the developments planned for this year.

Wing Commander Richard Osselton made several interesting points about last year's show. In addition to generating £1.5 million for the local economy, last year saw £250,000 being donated to RAF charities. For a single day event to generate a quarter of a million pounds, even after budgeting and settlement, is a truly commendable feat. I can't think of any other single-day RAF-sponsored event that generates such an amount of money for charities. On that basis alone, all involved in 2015's show should be widely applauded - it also goes to demonstrate just how important airshows are to the armed forces, and the charities supported by them.

The show has drawn sell-out crowds more often than not in recent years, with the last few events - despite having less than promising weather forecasts - still reaching their capacity of 55,000 people. It's little surprise, but welcome news then, that - after careful consideration and planning - RAF Cosford Air Show in 2016 has increased its capacity to 60,000. Do not let that figure be underestimated. I struggle to think of any other single-day airshow that comes anywhere near that; indeed, many two-day events have less attendance combined. Even the Duxford sell-outs of recent years have reached a capacity level of circa 25,000 on a given day - less than half of what RAF Cosford Air Show anticipates and calculates will turn up on 19th June. I have said it before, and I will continue to say it again: there is a strong case to be made that there is the ability, the will, the infrastructure, and - most importantly - the customer base for a two-day show.

Indeed, speaking of two day events and increased attention from the RAF - and despite it still being two years away - Wing Commander Osselton mentioned in no uncertain terms that the RAF Cosford Air Show will "grow to be a central element of the RAF's 100th Anniversary". It appears clear that the RAF's intention is not to snub its (currently) only airshow in its centenary celebrations. Whether that materialises in two years' time remains to be seen, but at this stage they are encouraging words nonetheless.

In terms of themes for this year's show, once again RAF Cosford have announced some well thought out and unique themes - a stark contrast to the generally vague, uninspiring and catch-all ones we're used to seeing other shows rely upon of late. Looking at them in turn; "Granby 25" is easy enough to work out, less easy to implement. "Granby" was the name given to British military operations during the 1991 Gulf War, in which air operations held a significant mantle. It's a niche theme, but one very worthy of commemoration. In addition to having the based Jaguar GR3 in "desert pink" livery on static display forming part of the special "Op Granby" commemorations, the team hopes to attract flying and static displays from other aircraft types that took part in the conflict. Indeed one of the Gazelle Squadron's mounts, newly restored in desert pink, is due to join the Jaguar in the themed display area.

Another theme, the Battle of the Somme Centenary, is also very appropriate and deserving of remembrance. Marking 100 years since one of the bloodiest battles in human history, the Great War Display Team (GWDT) will be in attendance once again at the RAF Cosford Air Show, for the first time incorporating ground-based pyrotechnics. In addition to the flying display, attendees can peruse a static display including one of the GWDT mounts, and a tribute to the 1,000,000 men wounded or killed in that most ferocious of battles.

RAF Cosford has long had an association with the Air Cadet Organisation, and the celebrations of their 75th Anniversary will form a key part of the Show, including aircraft operated by 8 AEF being displayed alongside historic aircraft associated with the ACO. Dove-tailing into this, the operational theme of the show is "Training". Given the role the Defence School of Aeronautical Engineering, based at RAF Cosford, plays in the wider RAF, it is a highly appropriate theme, and will allow the RAF to fulfil one of its principle engagements: to provide the public with a greater understanding about what the RAF does and how it does it. It is also hoped for this theme to attract a number of rarely-seen international training aircraft to the show.

Finally, one of Cosford's major themes is "Speed", marking the 75th anniversary of Sir Frank Whittle's Gloster E.28/39's first flight - Britain's first jet aircraft - and the theme will celebrate and ably demonstrate the evolution of the jet engine. A suitable announcement during the press-launch was confirmation of a pairs display by the UK's two Gloster Meteors - an NF11 and a T7 - the latter being the oldest surviving flyable British jet aircraft, the future of which has been thrown into doubt by the recent dispersing of Classic Air Force. It may be a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but do make the most of these gorgeous machines whilst you can.

The over-arching component of almost all these themes is that they're linked to STEM activities - to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and physicists. It's something the show has promoted well in the past, and looks to succeed at doing so again in the future.

But there is one issue I did notice. Having attending the 2015 press-launch as well, I noticed, and can fully appreciate, the extent of the shift in policy in 2016 in contrast to the same time last year. There are no awards for guessing 2016's current buzzword - Safety. Last year, it was assumed by the press in attendance that the organisers were doing everything in their power to make the event as safe as possible. It's a shame that now, the organisers must re-emphasise that they are doing just that, time and time again - this is not just confined to RAF Cosford, but to all shows at the moment.

Its a true shame to see an airshow's agenda be dictated so strongly by ignorance and tabloidism. Following the tragic events of last year - which do not need repeating ad infinitum - the 2016 season is going to be very much a proving ground for airshows. Not a proving ground in the sense that shows will have to be safe; no, we already know that British airshows are - for the most part - amongst the safest and best-regulated in the world. It will be a proving ground in the sense that regardless of any safety feature, airshows - and their innumerable benefits and positives - are now a target for the ignorant and agenda-driven press with papers to sell, articles to clickbait, or views to gain.

Of the notes I made from the press-launch, about 60% was dedicated to safety. It was made clear that the RAF Cosford Air Show has been following the measures proposed in the post-Shoreham CAA recommendations long before the CAA first proposed them. Likewise, for years, RAF Cosford Air Show have followed the rule of no aerobatics over built-up areas, and for years, have maintained direct lines of communication with the Wolverhampton railway signal box, the police on the ground, and the associated traffic management company. Furthermore, where possible, the police will not allow pedestrians to congregate on local public roads. To address issues of the so-called "unofficial viewing areas" outside of the show, the Air Show Office writes to landowners explaining the risk of hosting the public on their land beneath the proposed display datum, which again, has been done for years.

The RAF Cosford Air Show has really driven the point about safety home this year, as indeed they have to, but one thing I noticed is that measures announced to make the show as safe as possible have been in place for some years already - and so it's a shame the team had to devote so much time and resource to ensuring old ground is carefully explained, when it could have been better spent discussing the positives, and highlights to look forward to in the 2016 show.

Obviously, we greatly look forward to the 2016 Air Show, and the displays it will bring. One thing these press-launches do is give a perspective on how hard the (very) small team behind it all is working to achieve just that.