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The Royal Navy has a long and strong history of flying, and their Airshow held annually at RNAS Yeovilton (HMS HERON) is to help commemorate that and showcase some of the things they do.
It is a large event on the airshow calendar, attracting aviation geeks and families from all over the United Kingdom and further afield. RNAS Yeovilton is a large active airfield home to more than 100 aircraft operated on both front-line squadrons and training units.
In addition to the squadrons, the air station is home to the Navy’s Fighter Controller School, the School of Aircraft Control, the Helicopter Underwater Escape Trainer the Royal Navy Historic Flight team and the Fleet Air Arm Museum.
Some 4,300 personnel, Service and civilian, including MOD employees and permanent contractors are employed on the 1400 acre site.
Now to the airshow itself.
30,000 visitors came aboard the Somerset air base in anticipation of a great day out. They were not disappointed! The weather was glorious, clear blue skies and hot sunshine enabled some truly spectacular flying to take place, with plenty of oooo’s, aaarrh’s, and wow’s to be heard throughout the day.
The flying display started at 11.00 with various Royal Naval Aircraft to include the vintage Hawker Sea Fury two Wildcats HMA2 helicopters and the Sea King Mk7 giving the last British public display before bowing out of service later this year.
In addition, a World war 2 Swordfish flew. This type of aircraft was used famously in an attack of the German battleship, Bismark. A vintage Royal Navy, Hawker Sea Fury T20 flew alongside a Mikoyan Mig 15, in tribute to an infamous Korean war encounter, one of the rare occasions a Piston engine aircraft shot down a Jet. This MIG 15 is operated by the Norweigan Air Force historical Squadron and painted as “RED 18” The jet flown by Soviet Astronaut Yuri Gagarin. What an incredible sight it was to see this two aircraft side by side in the air.
The days flying program was graced by no less than three F16 Fighting Falcons from three different air arms.
The Hellenic Airforce “Team Zeus” flown by Major Georgios Papadakis.
The Belgian Airforce’s 2nd Tactical wing “Dark Falcon” was flown by Senior captain aviator Stephan Darte, callsign “Vador.
Attending for the 3rd time was The Royal Danish Airforce with their F16 piloted by Captain Troels Dehli.
The Czech Airforce sent a Saab Gripen from their 211th Tactical Squadron. Piloted by Captain Ivo Kardos.
The Gripen is really an incredible sleek, super agile and fast true multi-role fighter jet, having a top speed of 1372 Mph thanks to its General Electric/Volvo Flygmotor RM12 Turbofan that produces 18,100 lbs of Thrust with a maximum operating height of 50,000ft.
The Royal Canadian Airforce CF18 Hornet Demonstration Team, wowed the crowds with an absolutely stunning CF18 Hornet, without a doubt the best looking aircraft on this years display circuit. The high speed and aggressive flying put on for us by this was outstanding.
The Hornet is a multirole Fighter powered by twin General Electric F404 Turbofans, each producing 16,000 lbs of thrust, giving a top speed of 1127 mph, with a maximum service ceiling of 50,000ft.
A special feature at this year’s show was the attendance of a good selection of aircraft from the French Navy. These included:
A pair of Dassault Rafale M’s usually operated from the Aircraft Carrier, Charles De Gaulle.
A Falcon 50M Maritime Patrol Aircraft equipped with a Thales Hi precision Ocean Master 100 Search Radar. Two different older French Navy aircraft also performed for us, making their UK debuts a nice treat for aviation fans. The Morane-Saulnier – MS760 Paris, a Jet trainer flown by George Toussaint and Thomas Meslin and a Fouga CM175 Zephyr with its distinctive V tail, flown by Xavier Houdaille.
Not to be forgotten about due to this being a Royal Navy show, The Royal Airforce sent us a Typhoon from 29 Squadron which was flown expertly by Flt Lt Jim Peterson.
The RAF also sent along a Boeing Chinook heavy lift helicopter, demonstrating its tactical flying and landing capability in an impressive display.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota, and of course the world-famous Red Arrows in their Hawk Jets also wowed the crowds. One can never see these displays too many times, every time they raise the hairs on your neck!
In addition to the fast jets, other brilliant flying attractions included Richard Goodwin with his insane flying skills in his Pitts special S2-S Bi-Plane.
Other Flying acts included the Royal Jordanian Falcons in the Extra 300 aircraft, The gazelle squadron who flew two ex Military Gazelle helicopters and a North American Texan/Harvard.
The Bristol Sycamore helicopter, which is the only airworthy example anywhere in the world and the first British Helicopter to gain flight certification and The Red Bulls – Bolkow BO105 Helicopter, performing death-defying aerobatic stunts by its pilot Siegfried Schwarz.
The line up of static aircraft was outstanding, to include transport aircraft, trainers, fast jets, helicopters and some rather special aircraft bought outside in the sunshine from the museum hangers, to include this wonderful Royal Navy Phantom.
The Grand Finale at Yeovilton air day is always a crowd favourite and this year was no exception.
The commando helicopter force put on a display of military action, to include gunfire, explosions, a helicopter attack, Royal marines abseiling from helicopters, airlifting in vehicles, in fact everything this special unit does in its day job.
What a display it does too. No photos can ever do this justice, you need to visit next year’s show and see for yourself.
The many ground displays and attractions including the STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Maths) centre, HMS Heron Field Gun demonstrations; the Commando Helicopter Force Forward Operating Base demonstration, Military Wives Choir, HMS Herons Volunteer Band and a lot more non-military activities including fun fair, trade stalls etc.
The organisers even put up a big screen under the air displays so those that wished ( not me!) could watch The England football team play in their world cup quarterfinal match. We all heard the cheers as England won, so I’m guessing many enjoyed that decision to have a large screen.
Commodore Nick Tindal, the Commanding Officer of RNAS Yeovilton, was delighted with the day and said: “This is a fantastic day for the air station and its 4,500 people, military and civilian. Thousands of visitors have come here to see an exciting day of flying in perfect conditions and they have not been disappointed. It is the one chance in the year for the aircrew and support staffs here at RNAS Yeovilton to explain what they do and how they support our Fleet Air Arm helicopter squadrons worldwide”.
Finally massive thanks to the Royal Navy for opening up their base and hosting this fabulous day, and thank you to all those that participated and gave up their time so we could all have a great day.
Hopefully, see you there is 2019.