Top 10 Airshow Moments of 2016

Sunday 1st January 2017

It's fair to say that 2016 has been a rather turbulent year for the UK airshow circuit. After the implementation of a host of new regulations, humorously refereed to as 'CAA Axe-Swinging' by one respected display pilot, a number of smaller event venues seem to lose their charm and led to the development of a feeling of disenchantment from many involved in the air show industry. The new regulations, and the black cloud of Shoreham certainly left their mark on many events this year but they were only two of many factors which seemed to conspire against airshows this year. 2016 saw a lack of significant anniversaries of 'star-attractions' for the industry to celebrate which added to the apathy experienced by many. Mother nature didn't help either, with a number of shows almost completely written off during the summers bizarre storm season. One event that suffered at the hands of the weather was the RAF Cosford Air Show where the majority of anticipated stars of the flying display were forced to cancel, leading to the show being a poor shadow of their 2015 event.

However, away from all the doom and gloom, we did see a small selection of events really stand out and showcase why Great Britain has one of the most diverse airshow scenes in the world. The participation list for these year's Royal International Air Tattoo was as strong as ever, and to be honest we could have filled the majority of slots on our list with Air Tattoo highlights alone. The return of the Rafale C solo display from the Armée de l'Air was one such moment which narrowly missed out on a Top Ten position, as the French showed the crowds at RAF Fairford that they are still without a doubt the kings of displaying fast jets with excitement & panache. We also saw how successful an event can be with a strong theme to focus the aircraft bookings. This year's star event for many was the 'Fly Navy' event at Old Warden; indeed, it features twice in our list and we think this was probably our favourite day-out of the year. We at UKAR implore more event organisers to look at the successes around the use of such themes to focus their events, keeping flying display line-ups fresh each year with new and exciting aircraft focused on a particular theme.

Looking forward to 2017, one particular theme we're very much looking forward to being celebrated is the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force. Indeed, the participation of the USAF Thunderbirds Display Team is a positive sign for another spectacular event at RAF Fairford next summer. Across the board, the Air Show industry in the UK remains in good health, with new shows (including the highly anticipated Scampton Airshow) coming online next year and some events that 'stood-down' in 2016 also returning to the circuit. Let us remember that we, the enthusiasts, must get behind our cherished aerial events in order to guarantee their survival.

So pour yourself a New Year's drink, relax and relive the highlights of the summer as we present the UK Airshow Review staff team's rundown of the Top Ten Airshow Moments, 2016!

10) Saddle Soars

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The Hangar 11 Collection's North American P-51D Mustang was known for many years on the display circuit as 'Jumpin Jacques'; over the winter preceding the 2016 season the aircraft underwent a repaint into a new livery representing one of the famed 'Red Tails' machines of the 332nd Fighter Group; Tall In The Saddle. As an original 'Tuskegee' veteran, the aircraft has been returned to original colours and at the climax of the airshow season the aircraft was reunited with its Second World War pilot, Colonel George Hardy, in a series events taking place at the collection's base at North Weald, the Shuttleworth Collection's season finale and RAF Lakenheath.

Peter Teichman has been vocal via his Facebook blog about the impacts of new CAA regulations to his own display flying, and subsequent enjoyment, this year - mirroring the feelings of many enthusiasts on our forums, especially in the early part of the season. Therefore, it was fitting for the aircraft's public display debut at the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight that the restrictions appeared less severe than at some early season events, allowing Teichman's trademark sweeping manoeuvres along the display line to present the aircraft with the owner's traditional elegance on its first outing. SP

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9) Split Decision

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Given RIAT's far-reaching effect and benefits to foreign air arms, one may be forgiven for thinking that new flags to be added to the impressive attendees list would come from much further afield than Eastern Europe, however sure enough this year saw the debut at the airshow of an air-arm which has long been wished for by enthusiasts. The Croatian national team, the Krila Oluje, or Wings of Storm, with their PC-9Ms, and their Mi-171 support were welcome debutants at this year's show. An entirely different routine to the precision of the Swiss PC-7 Team, Wings of Storm offered some refreshing and original manoeuvres in their display, including some excellent mirror formation-flying. It was gratifying to see them take home the King Hussein Memorial Sword, and even more gratifying was seeing how much accolade the team gave the award, putting it pride of place in their trophy room on return to Croatia.

Fostering great relationships with new people, and seeing new nations in Gloucestershire, often displaying for the first time in the UK, is what the Air Tattoo that we know and love is all about, and in finally tempting the Croats to attend, DBH were bang on the money. TJ

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8) Vote Romain

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Shuttleworth's season opener was an interesting 'spectacle'. After all the months of talk and speculation, we'd finally get to see for ourselves just what the CAA's hastily re-written rulebook would mean for arguably the UK's finest venue. We knew separation distances between performers and spectators would increase at all venues, which meant that Shuttleworth had more to lose than most, but I don't think anyone quite expected to be so detached from the airshow so as to barely notice one was going on at all! Looking around the crowd at the glum faces on the day, it was like no other air display I've ever been to. In years gone by, a Tucano would had more power over the crowd than even the most attention grabbing warbirds could muster at this display, Blenheim aside.

ARCo's pride and joy had established itself back on the circuit last year, not only for the rarity of the machine itself, but also the quality of the way in which it was flown and presented to crowds. Boasting a full calendar, this charismatic and fascinating aircraft stole the show at any number of venues in 2015, and on the back of such a strong return to the scene it rightly ranked in our Top Ten.

This year, it re-appears on our list, not so much for a show stealing display, but a show saving one. On a day where everything else seemed so alien, it was the only display that seemed familiar, and served as a reminder that good airshow flying hadn't become any more dangerous over the winter. DB

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7) Folie à deux

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Following on from their appearance at RNAS Yeovilton last year - and, indeed, their Top Ten slot in 2015's selection as well - the French Navy returned once more with a pair of Rafale Ms to entertain the Somerset masses, albeit this time absent of the Super Étendard Modernises that accompanied them before.

While their brethren might have been the stars of 2015, this year the Rafales showed us why they're the king of the hill, putting on a powerful display of the raw energy and power we've come to love from the Gallic fighter. Everything you could have hoped for from a fast jet pairs display, they mixed formation passes with separate display elements for a very dynamic (and noisy) display indeed; for a display less frequently seen than that of their Air Force cousins, the Navy boys demonstrated that their version isn't lacking in any department and with their breathtakingly beautiful jets stole the show from what was already a very strong lineup.

Strong supporters of the Royal Navy's shows, the Aéronavale are welcome guests to the country and remain as popular with British enthusiasts as they have ever been. SW

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6) Greek History

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Given their economic concerns, the Greeks have been plucky supporters of RIAT in years recent. 2016 was no exception, and news of F-4 Phantoms being pencilled by DBH was jubilantly received, and rightly so. To some, the Phantoms represent titans of a golden age in aviation that is fast slipping away. To others, they simply look "right". Whatever the reason, the touchdown of the Hellenic F-4s was one of the most eagerly anticipated of all the arrival days, and their presence in Gloucestershire for a weekend would have been a moment of itself worthy of this list.

However, there was a particularly defining moment at RIAT which asserts itself as more than just a moment for enthusiasts, but one of military importance. Upon arrival on the Wednesday before the show, a Turkish KC-135 (itself a rare machine) held at the Western end, whilst the Hellenic Phantoms and F-16s taxied by, followed by Turkish F-16s. Let this not go underestimated. Not only was it a great collection of rare birds, but more than that, it was militarily significant. There are few, if any, places in the world where such an event would ever be contemplated, let alone witnessed. It's a measure of the gravity and the success of RIAT as a gathering of NATO aviators that such an occurrence can, and has, taken place. TL

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5) The Senior Service

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These days, the Fighter Collection's thoroughbred machines are rarely seen away from Duxford skies, which is a shame, because their presence at other civilian shows in the UK would flesh them out and raise the overall standard significantly. However, when they do manage to take themselves away from pastures familiar, what an impact they make. None is a clearer example, than the three-ship of Wildcat, Bearcat and Corsair at Shuttleworth's Fly Navy airshow.

Each was given its own time in the limelight, with all three performing spectacular solos, alongside the formation flying. Some may have preferred something more photogenic from their "boom 'n' zoom" style of play, but to most, the display of power and grace of machines which perfectly fitted with the show's well-defined bill tipped the balance of the Shuttleworth theatre that day as one of the best of the season.

It's clear that, when given a different venue and some space to play, the gems of Duxford can (and do) shine very brightly indeed. TJ

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4) The Fast & The Furious

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Flying Legends always provides a selection of treats for the warbird enthusiast, often providing rarely seen examples from abroad. One of the 2016 show's main stars made a much shorter transit to Duxford's hallowed turf. Completing its maiden post-restoration flight only a few days prior, the Hawker Fury II operated by Air Leasing made its public display debut at the Fighter Collection's warbird extravaganza. Painted in the markings of the aircraft's prototype this example offers something unique among the other Sea Furies seen on the circuit over the last few years; immediately setting our forum members into frenzy at its first sighting.

In the hands of Richard Grace the aircraft was put through a series of manoeuvres displaying the great power and agility the platform offers. Grace performing a number of tight turns around the M11 end of Duxford's display line, making full use of the venue's geography to show off the aircraft and it's new paint scheme to the audience to full effect. As ways of announcing an entry onto the display circuit they don't get much better, and will live long in the memory of all in attendance. SP

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3) Delta Force

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Unfortunately a moment tinged with sadness, RIAT 2016 saw the final ever displays of Ramex DELTA who bowed out as a team this July. Fairford was honoured to host this significant moment, and the emotion in their commentator's voice was evident throughout the weekend - as well as for the crews who were met with a water cannon salute after their Sunday act. Their already huge presence on any display list was added to by the inclusion of the Layfayette Squadron 100th Anniversary livery, making its only appearance in the UK and flying in each daily performance to the delight of the photographers in the Fairford crowd.

Though not a single soul present would have wanted them to end their team this year, it cannot be said that they did not go out with a flourish - it is a mark of the Air Tattoo's significance that the French would select it to be their final bow out and, indeed, the French Alpha Jet pilots commented that they would rather bid them farewell at an international show of RIAT's scale than at a small domestic affair in France. Performing as ever with a professional and brilliant display that truly shows off the skill of the pilots of the Armeé de l'Air, like Voltige Victor and Raffin Mike before them they are a duo that will be missed for many years to come. SW

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2) Queen Vix' Reigns Supreme

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'Foxy Lady' is without a doubt one of the finest gems in the crown of the UK airshow industry. Having been returned to her authentic Royal Navy paint scheme, the jet has only been seen a limited number of times at shows across the UK in recent years. The Fly Navy theme at Shuttleworth's June airshow led to UKAR's favourite classic jet being booked to perform at UKAR's favourite airshow venue… a match made in heaven surely?

Putting the iconic jet as the opening item for the flying display was a bold move by Shuttleworth, and some photographers were slightly disappointed by this as it meant she flew in the harshest light of the day. But that minor niggle was forgotten when she appeared on the horizon, in formation with the collection's Sea Hurricane.

After a couple of formation passes, the Sea Vixen took centre stage and captivated the crowd with eight minutes of elegant passes and aggressive bursts of Rolls-Royce power. As she departed, the smiles on the faces on all who were present at Old Warden spoke volumes. At a time when the British classic jet scene is at it's lowest ebb for many years, it was brilliant to see the world's sole airworthy Sea Vixen absolutely rocking the joint at Old Warden. PR

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1) Lightning Strikes Twice

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Two years after the disappointment that bestowed organisers, the public, the military and manufacturers alike when the 2014 debut of the F-35 had to be cancelled at the eleventh hour, you could have bet your bottom dollar another attempt would be made in 2016. We all expected that Lockheed Martin, the USMC and the RAF would try once again to appear in a Farnborough year, however never in a rein of pigs pudding did we predict the level of support that together with the USAF these international power houses would provide to RIAT in 2016.

In a combined deployment of the F-35B, the USMC and the RAF provided RIAT 2016 with an in-depth demonstration of the VSTOL capabilities of this state of the art fighter. Performing daily, each service took turns in displaying their aircraft in front of the paying public. Those that attended on the Friday were given the opportunity to see a unique, if short, demonstration of the aircrafts aerial refuelling capabilities whilst it flew in formation with a Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules. Those attending at the weekend were not short changed however thanks to the RAF who - keen to show off their new toy - arranged for an example of the F-35B to fly in formation daily with the Red Arrows and a pair of Typhoons to highlight the future of RAF air power. Not content with a single international debut, the USAF chose RIAT for the international debut of their recently formed F-35A Heritage Flight. Whilst no solo display team yet exists, the USAF planned to put on a show in formation with the deadly F-22A Raptor and the legendary P-51 Mustang during the airshow. Unfortunately the weather gods and gremlins resulted in this spectacle not going to plan meaning that the trio didn't get to fly together all weekend. This did lead to other opportunities, particularly on the Sunday where the F-35A made up for the Raptor missing it's display slot with some energetic fast passes. Whilst the F-35B did appear at Farnborough, RIAT stole the show with far more variety and better access.

The KLu may have taken the honour of the F-35 international airshow debut and we will certainly see much more of the aircraft at shows in the future, however UKAR has to recognise the sheer logistical challenge RIAT 2016 represented culminating in the largest single deployment of the F-35 outside of the USA to date. 2016 will always be remember as the year the stealth fighters "came to town" in large numbers with a variety of different displays, not just a single pass. It is for that very reason that without doubt, the appearance of the F-35A and B at RIAT 2016 had to be our Number One airshow moment of 2016. AE

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Do you agree with our choices? What do you consider to be the most memorable moments of last season?

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