RAF Cosford Air Show

Sunday 19th June 2016

Following the demise of RAF Waddington and with the inaugural event at RAF Scampton still over a year away, the RAF Cosford Air Show 2016 was the again the only Royal Air Force station to open its gates to the public for an airshow, and after the success of the 2015 event, initial anticipation levels for the event were understandably high.

Dominic Vickery travelled to RAF Cosford and reports for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author, Peter Reoch and Wes Howes.

With the weather during the week preceding the show more suited to species with webbed feet, some were fearful of the implications such prolonged bad weather might have for the RAF Cosford Air Show, with memories of RIAT 2008 still fresh for many airshow enthusiasts. However, waking up at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning to the sight of clear blue skies filled us with hope that in fact the weather forecasters were again completely wrong. Alas, it was not to last for the full day and although the show was rain hit later on, the showground and car parks held up reasonably well.

Using the morning to peruse one of RAF Cosford's strongest static line-ups for years proved a shrewd move, taking advantage of the day's only window of good weather. The RAF Museum had once again been co-operative with the air show organisers and given a rare outing to several of their treasured gems. The Bristol 188 in particular looked magnificent, the metal surface gleaming in the sunlight, and accompanying it outside as part of the 'Evolution of the Jet Engine' theme were the Fairey Delta II and Avro 707 (which has been in storage out of public view for a couple of years now), whilst the Gnat T1 was out in the daylight in support of the 'Training' theme. Positioned alongside the VAAC Harrier and two of Cosford's colourful Jaguars, together they made for an impressive static line-up which caught the eye of all who attended. It was therefore a shame - albeit not unexpected - that the backgrounds of the images of these historic airframes were cluttered with food vans.

This year's operational theme of 'Training' was shown to great effect in the main static aircraft displays, the highlight of which was a pair of characterful TB-30 Epsilons from the French Air Force, a type not seen at a UK airshow for nearly 20 years - discounting the aircraft used by the Cartouche Doré display team, of course. Other standout items parked in the training display included a Griffin HT1 adorned in 60(R) Squadron centenary markings and Irish Air Corps Pilatus PC-9M. Although not parked with the rest of the training aircraft, 45(R) Squadron's King Air T1 in its highly anticipated centenary livery was present on static display. However its positioning in the 'RAF Village', with cones practically touching the aircraft and a Bentley parked alongside (why?!) ruined any possible photo opportunities of the aesthetic paint scheme.

Given such a solid static turnout, it was a shame that the same quality and diversity was not present in the flying display. Following 2015's star-studded line-up, much of the same was expected of this year's event, however leading up to the show much was said about the lack of a 'star item' and clashing dates with the Danish Air Force's only airshow, the team at RAF Cosford seemed to be getting a bum deal with foreign air arms declining left, right and centre. Instead, the organisers had to try and rely on the home team for support, and with RAF Cosford hosting the Royal Air Force's only air show, this should have been an easy task...

The list of RAF participation did promise much, including the RAF's new A400M Atlas making its debut at the show, the venerable C-130J Hercules and a special formation flypast by a King Air T1 and the Red Arrows, in reality each aircraft delivered little with a single flypast being all the crowd were treated to. Next year can we at least get two passes please, or perhaps a flypast and missed approach to make the aircraft's appearance feel more worthwhile? Likewise, an effort to increase the number of RAF assets at the show - both in the air and on the ground - would be a good move for the orgainsers to make.

Compensating for the lack of international heavy metal, the show booked an increased number of classic jets including the much-loved Sea Vixen, which had given a stunning display at Shuttleworth's recent 'Fly Navy' event. However come Sunday, not a word was muttered about its non-appearance at the show (which was due to the weather), but this point leads us onto the major gripe about the RAF Cosford Air Show 2016: the commentary.

Following Sean Maffett's gaffe-strewn efforts twelve months prior that led him to stepping down, a brand new team was installed to fill the void this year which included, oddly, Sean's former producer Jonathan Ruffle as the lead commentator. He was supported by Peter 'The Voice' Dickson of reality television repute, former 'Team Merlin' manager and commentator MACr Gareth Attridge and Absolute Radio DJ Claire Sturgess. This team should have bought enough broadcast and aviation experience to keep the crowd informed of the day's events, however the silence on any updates to the reshuffled flying programme, including the cancellations of the aforementioned Sea Vixen, Gnat Display Team, RAF Puma HC2, and Peter Teichman's newly repainted P-51D Mustang, was deafening.

The position of Cosford's commentary tower was a commonly-heard bone of contention in the Maffett era, but regardless of that, they all seemed rather clueless as to what was going on around them from start to finish, and their disjointed, at times incoherent and disinterested-sounding broadcast once again needs a thorough re-think in time for Cosford's 2017 show.

Unfortunately for RAF Cosford this year, despite the clashes with other major European events and the subsequent difficulties in re-capturing the magic of 2015, the show's main problem was, as had been anticipated the entire week prior, the Great British summer time. Low cloud rolling in almost as soon as the flying display was due to start prevented nearly all acts from flying their full displays and as mentioned, rain and wind elsewhere prevented several other aircraft from even reaching the venue. Credit must go however to the Great War Display Team, who utilised Cosford's intimate crowd line to showcase their exceptional set piece display - one of the few acts of the day able to fly to their full potential, undeterred by less than ideal conditions. New for 2016, the team utilised pyrotechnics as part of their display and with their very marginal aircraft battling against the weather, their display at the show was awarded the 'Hartree Memorial Trophy' for best flying display. The organisers must also be credited for securing the participation of a number of rarely seen aircraft; the CJ-6 Nanchang was a spirited performer and the Harvard/Anson formation flypast was another pleasant surprise for the photographers present.

The majority of the day did well to avoid the rain that had battered parts of the Midlands, but when wet weather did hit the venue, it carried on in the same vein it had all week and curtailed the day for the majority of visitors, which was desperately disappointing given the acts left to display. The final elements of the flying display including an interesting formation of classic Army Air Corps machinery alongside their current counterpart - the WAH-64D Apache - which afterwards gave its usual impressive display backed up with impressive pyrotechnics, as we've come to expect from the Attack Helicopter Display Team.

The straw that broke the camel's back came when the highly anticipated appearance from a USAF B-52H Stratofortress, which was due to close the flying display, could not complete any of its three planned flypasts due to the cloud base dropping below the aircraft's minimum operating criteria. A disappointing end to the day but of course totally out of the control of the organisers. Having said that, they must have known all along that the flypast was limited to a minimum altitude and given the cloud base on the day, it might have been advisable to make it clear over the PA system that the aircraft would only be flying through if conditions improved. As it was, listening to Jonathan Ruffle attempting to identify an aircraft from its sound alone, and then trying to tell those that had persisted through the rain in hope that they were "lucky" to have heard it, was excruciating.

Overall, despite the organisers best efforts the RAF Cosford Air Show 2016 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, which is a crying shame given what we know can be achieved. Here's hoping the small team at RAF Cosford can dust themselves down and secure better levels of international participation to lead a successful event in 2017, which twinned with Scampton's new addition to the air show calendar event can showcase what the Royal Air Force can do to the British public. Some better luck with the weather would be a big help too.