RAF Cosford Air Show 2019 Media Launch

Tuesday 2nd April 2019

Of all the air shows throughout the 2018 season there were few, if any, that could compete against RAF Cosford’s ambitious and outstanding celebration of the Royal Air Force centenary. The show had it all; a multitude of international participants, display aircraft debuts, the return of old favourites and a ground display that is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. Once again, the privilege falls upon RAF Cosford to host the Royal Air Force’s only official air show of the year but it’s clear that despite the blood, sweat and tears poured in to producing last year’s show, the organisation team and the Royal Air Force are ready to rise to the challenge once again and create another extraordinary show 2019.

Ian Garfield attended this year’s Press Launch on behalf of UK Airshow Review to see whether air show organisers will have a tough act to follow this year.

Throughout the last decade or so, the RAF Cosford Air Show has improved undoubtedly year on year, not just with the variety of aircraft on display, for example, but as an air show spectacle as a whole. It was evident that the 2018 show was a huge success for all involved. Indeed, it was an RAF air show the likes of which hadn’t been seen for a significant time and glowing reviews across the board reflected the literal years of planning that had gone in to celebrating 100 years of the Royal Air Force. It is quite an achievement that, despite the gradual retirement of some of its fleet over the last few years combined with ongoing operational commitments, the Royal Air Force continues to support Cosford greatly, last year being noteworthy for one of the few places to see a Tornado in its final year of service. International participation still remains strong too with flying contributions this year from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic already confirmed, all celebrating one of the themes of this year’s show.

This year’s press day felt somewhat more low-key than last year’s engagement but there was still a real buzz and a sense of accomplishment amongst the team. It would be easy for them to rest on their laurels in 2019 but organisers are keen to continue the momentum from previous years as Air Show Director Clive Elliott outlined:

“I think with regards to the stories that we told [last year] it is very important that we build upon that process. We told an excellent story with the RAF100 from one end of the air show to the other and we’re bringing that now in to the themes that we’re going to be bringing in to the air, in to the souvenir programmes, on to the ground and on the giant screens as well. There were some issues logistically that we’ve taken on board, some valuable lessons with regards to some of the traffic issues we had but other than that, we’re cracking on. Last year was special; we all know 2018 was an unbelievably amazing show that we put on. I think the fact that ticket sales so far this year are up on even last year is a reflection of what a great day people had last year but also what we’re putting out on social media is encouraging people to buy tickets so it’s going to be a great show.”

It was clear the show exceeded all expectations as Clive commented further:

“I was delighted that you and your peers [UK Airshow Review staff] gave us three of the top 10 Air Show moments of 2018. I’ve been in air shows for 25 years and the Sunday 10th June last year was the proudest day ever in all those 25 years”

He was not the only one to feel real pride in last year’s show. Station Commander Group Captain Tone Baker was only too keen to highlight the dedication and commitment from every single person involved in putting the show together. Gp Capt Baker, who celebrated 30 years of service in the Royal Air Force in March, feels a real sense of personal pride in hosting the RAF Cosford Air Show:

“I felt hugely privileged last year to be in command of the station in the RAF’s centenary year and I take a lot of pride in continuing that in to this year. It means so much to me to host a ‘home’ show. The dedication and enthusiasm from station personnel is just – well, it’s beyond exceptional. In the week running up to the show we can be working 18 hours, day after day, getting everything ready for Sunday. Last year, the station was cleared to fly early on Monday morning, such was the commitment from the station personnel to clear the site and get it operational as soon as possible. It’s just great to be working with such a dedicated bunch of people”

Gp Capt Baker also highlighted some of the aims of the air show, two of which are to inspire the younger generation and to raise the awareness of careers in the Royal Air Force. He was himself inspired to join after visiting Cosford as a youngster and, as he put it “seeing a Phantom fly at what felt like 5 feet along the runway”. Although those halcyon days are now but a distant memory, he hopes that by engaging with younger visitors to the show, they themselves will become inspired by demonstrations in the various hangars and by witnessing the dynamic and energetic flying displays the show has to offer.

The Air Show Chief of Staff, Squadron Leader Martin McCaffrey further outlined the objectives of the Air Show:

“The RAF Cosford Air Show provides a unique opportunity for the Royal Air Force to engage with the public. We hope to engage not only with the local community but also with the wider defence industry. BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Raytheon, Collins Aerospace and Leonardo are just some of the companies we are working with to promote STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths] projects this year. Through this we want to inspire the younger generation, opening the pathway not only to RAF careers but also raising the awareness of the employment opportunities within the defence industry. We also want to strengthen partnerships with the defence industry, education, council and local businesses."

As well as inspiring a new generation of potential RAF recruits, the show also supports present and past Air Force personnel. Last year’s show generated a huge £189,000 which was donated to the RAF100 Appeal. Two representatives from some of the beneficiaries of the appeal were present to explain how the monies raised were distributed. Director of Fundraising and Trading at the Royal Air Forces Association, Rachel Huxford, explained:

“This money makes a huge difference in the lives of so many RAF personnel. There are five partners in the RAF100 appeal and the money will be split between them. We cover everything from things like the welfare of our serving and veteran RAF personnel and their families, we not only look at heritage but we also look very much at inspiration for the future in programmes like STEM. This isn’t just through the Air Show but particularly through the continuing commitment from the RAF Museum. And what better thing for families to have the most amazing day out and at the same time know that by having fun, that they’re helping people in need. It’s a real win-win situation.”

Mark Quinn, RAF Benevolent Fund Area Director for Central/North England and Wales added:

“It’s an amazing figure, it makes such a massive difference to those beneficiaries of the RAF Benevolent Fund and the welfare and delivery that we provide across the whole of the country. This year we want to reach out to those members who are proud to serve but too proud to ask for help so we’re using this event as an opportunity to reach out to them. We had fantastic weather conditions last year with record crowds and ticket sales for this year's RAF Cosford Air Show are already moving quickly, so we’re looking for this year to be an even better opportunity to engage with members of the Royal Air Force who didn’t get a chance to come last year.”

This year’s show celebrates the 70th and 80th anniversaries of the formation of the Women’s Royal Air Force and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force respectively. This theme of “Women in Defence” is reflected in both air and ground displays, with Hawker Hurricane ‘P3717’ and TG Aviation’s Boeing Stearman taking part in the flying display. Indeed, a variety of aircraft from the civilian display circuit make a welcome return this year after last year’s decision to preclude aircraft from the display unless they had a direct link to the Royal Air Force. Clive Elliott explained the reasons why some aircraft are chosen over others:

“We were here to tell a story from start to finish in 2018, and there wasn’t really room for civilian participation in an air display that was there to tell the story of the Royal Air Force. I think we did the right thing and it was extremely well received. [This year will be] more and more of the same and a few extra civilian acts thrown in hopefully. There is a very fine balance, we are a business and we have to run a viable, sustainable business with the remit of helping the Air Force engage with the general public. That’s what we’re ultimately here to do. We have to make some interesting decisions on what is booked, there are some very interesting aircraft that would cost us an awful lot of money but does it help the Air Force engage with the general public? So as you can imagine, there are some very interesting conversations with my team when booking assets.”

It’s easy to be under the impression that the civilian display circuit lacks diversity and quality these days especially considering the number of classic jets and warbirds that have changed hands over the last few years but Air Show Operations Manager, Peter Reoch is quick to dismiss that opinion:

“There is probably enough variety on the UK civilian circuit to run a 22 hour flying display if we wanted! There are more aircraft operators asking us “can I come” than we can physically take at RAF Cosford. If you look to what we had a few years ago, I’d love a Gloster Meteor flying in the show again, but they're no longer available and we have to work with what we have. Classic jets is obviously only one area where there has been a reduction in displays that the public will have noticed, but we do still have a fair few classic jets planned to display at the RAF Cosford Air Show 2019, that will be added to the participation list in due course. At the moment we’re also seeing a number of new historic helicopters coming on the air display scene which is great, we’ve got new warbirds, and more Spitfires than we can shake a stick at! So I’m content that the UK air display industry is currently in a fairly healthy state.”

2019 also marks 70 years since the formation of NATO and a number of aircraft from across Europe have already been confirmed to commemorate this occasion including a P-3C Orion and Sea Lynx from the German Navy with additional support from the Belgian and Danish Air Forces. The Czech Air Force are making their debut at Cosford bringing a SAAB Gripen and a pair of L-159A ALCAs, the latter of which will be taking part in an exciting airfield attack role demonstration as part of their display, accompanied with ground-based pyrotechnics. The Czech participation bears important significance as a depot was established at Cosford in 1940 for thousands of Czechoslovakian airmen before their enrolment in to the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. Whether we will see a tribute flypast in the style of last year’s MiG-29 and Hurricane pair remains to be seen, however it would be a great opportunity for the Royal Air Force to continually acknowledge the commitment from other nations over the years. The Swiss Air Force also make a welcome return with their spirited F/A-18C Hornet display, having last displayed at Cosford in 2015. Discussions are still ongoing with the French, Italian and Polish Air Forces, but Peter described how the line-up currently compares to his “wish-list” for 2019:

"Well, my wish list of aircraft is long, extensive and has every nation on it! I’m very pleased with how 2019 is shaping up so far. We have all the RAF display assets, naturally, and also lots of extra RAF bits and bobs on the ground, which helps with the main objective of the Air Show - showing off the RAF. Internationally-wise, NATO Air Arms have put a lot of effort in. The Royal Danish Air Force are here for the first time since 1997, with their Baby Blue Display Team, which should be great given the nature of our site. The Czech Air Force attending for the first time ever with their Gripen is fantastic for us too, after years of work encouraging them to attend. Some of our loyal supporters are coming back too, including the Belgians, Germans & Swiss. There are a few other things in the pipeline too, so I’m confident that if you like your fast jets, there’ll be enough of those. If you like your rarities, I’m working on a few of those and also a nice mix of civilian to fit the themes too!”

The RAF have put their full support behind the show this year with displays including the Chinook, Tutor, RAF Falcons, The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and The Red Arrows. The Tucano returns for the first time since 2014 although the display will be somewhat bittersweet with the type being retired from RAF service at the end of the year. In addition, Flight Lieutenant Jim Peterson is back flying the Typhoon for a second year and is really excited to build upon last year’s display at Cosford:

“I’m really pleased to be back for a second year at the RAF Cosford Air Show. Flying the Typhoon here again this year means I can make improvements on last year’s display. At least 50% of the display will be different and new which means it will be even better than last year. We have a great location and there are no real restrictions in what I can do, so I can’t wait to demonstrate the power and agility the Typhoon has.”

Sadly, bad weather prevented the arrival of an RAF Chinook for the press launch however a few other airframes were on display including a Hawk T1, Jaguar T4 and, aptly, Tornado GR4 ZD715, a fitting tribute to the type’s withdrawal from RAF service just a few days before.

One of the highlights which made our top ten air show moments of 2018 was the gargantuan 100-piece static display covering British aviation over the last hundred years. Peter outlined what visitors can expect this year:

“First of all, the static display won’t be as big as last year, as I got too many grey hairs from that 100 aircraft static last year! We’ve still got a significant number of aircraft in attendance, so the static display will still be of good value, although aircraft will not be positioned in as many areas as last year. Dispersal 2, (the large bricked dispersal in the centre of the airfield), is where the NATO assets are going. Dispersal 1 and 11 will continue to be the location for modern RAF aircraft types, as part of the RAF Zone. The rest of the site will be the RAF Cosford you know and love... lots of Jaguars, of course! Hopefully we will have some heavy aircraft on static display down the taxiway too, so a real mix for visitors to enjoy. We have kept the Vintage Village too and we’ve made it a bit bigger this year. I always try and put a lot of effort in the static display layout, to assist in that story telling of the show's themes, and I’m always conscious of trying to park the rare & exotic aircraft with a nice background and not getting the cones too close!”

Although Cosford continues to host the sole official Royal Air Force Air show, Air Show Director Clive Elliott is embracing what the future holds:

“I think it’s fantastic that we’re the only official RAF show. It’s a privilege to be the only official RAF show. There is a document in the Air Force admin system called GAI2022 which dictates that RAF Cosford, by the order of the Senior Leadership Team of the Air Force, has to have an air show each year, and we will do that until somebody tells us to stop. At no stage is anyone even hinting that they would want us to. The show will continue to be a single day event and there are no signs that this will change any time soon.”

There would be no logical reason for Cosford to stop hosting an air show any time soon either. It finds itself in an ideal location within range of high population density areas across the West Midlands. Although enthusiasts will undoubtedly be excited at the prospect of potential further international participation, organisers are keen to emphasise that after focusing on RAF100 last year, 2019 will return to being a more traditional and family-friendly air show. Along with other events in the region, the RAF Cosford Air Show remains the highlight of the year for the thousands of people who live within reach of the station.

By proving last year what can be done on such a relatively small site in comparison with other RAF stations across the country, one could easily fear that the organising team can become complacent with their efforts, no matter what show they produce each year. Thankfully this isn’t the case at all and it’s clear they are pulling out all the stops again by building on the successes of not just last year, but other shows as well. The team are effectively starting again with a blank canvas, combining proven elements with an air and ground display that will surely engage and please enthusiasts and families alike. Although evidently satisfied with the success of last year, it was said on more than one occasion during the course of the press launch that 2018 was a “one-off”. Yes, this year’s show won’t be on the scale of 2018 but with ticket sales already up on last year and still plenty more to be announced in the coming weeks, there seems no reason why the 2019 event should be any less successful.