As freezing temperatures are now starting to blow in from the arctic and weather forecasts are inevitably starting to mention the S word, this must mean that at long last winter is very much upon us. With what was an aviation packed Summer now several months behind us, and with aircraft now tucked away in hangars awaiting that first hint of spring sunshine, I thought it was time to reflect on the Summer that has just past. Though there have been several tragedies this year that will forever scar the airshow community, there have also been many reasons to celebrate this year too which we should not forget. Here are some of my favourite moments of the 2015 Airshow season in no particular order.
The Miles M.14a Magister/Hawk Trainer III is an aircraft that served the Royal Air Force during world war two as a basic trainer for new recruits. Until recently there was just three examples that were currently airworthy. However a fourth example that was formerly with the Strathallen collection in Scotland. Was recently resurrected and put back into an airworthy condition. This gave the Shuttleworth Collection, where two of the examples of the type happen to reside, the chance to put all four in the air together for the first time. A sight that had likely not been seen since wartime. It was a marvellous sight indeed.
Hawks at Flying Legends
News filtered through in May that a newly restored Curtiss P-36C Hawk had been seen at Chino, California a few days prior to the Planes of Fame Airshow and that it was due to make her flying debut at that very show. As exciting as it was to know such a rare beast was back in the air, that excitement was as of nothing compared to the excitement when news filtered through that it was owned by the Fighter Collection. Such a rare machine and she was to be UK based. We were already blessed with the fact that the Fighter Collection also owned a previously restored Curtiss Hawk-75A-1 which for those that know their history, is the same aircraft model as the P-36, but slightly modified for use with the French Armée de l'air. With these being the only two examples of this iconic American designed aircraft capable of flight anywhere in the world. It was nothing short of amazing that both are operated out of the UK now. She made her UK debut at Flying Legends in July, and what a sight she was.
The Comet and her friends
In late 2014, the Shuttleworth Collection's de Havilland DH.88 Comet returned to the air once again having spent over a decade of inactivity. She suffered a landing gear collapse in 2003, and it was decided that she needed her undercarriage strengthened, and a runway extension at Old Warden to safely maintain her as an airworthy asset. Both criteria having been met, she made a glorious return to display duties in late 2014. 2015 was to be her first full air display season in over two decades and throughout the year she has been joined in the air by a few visiting aircraft. Instead of picking one moment, I thought I'd tie them all together. I think you'll all guess which was the most special of the formations.
Over the last decade or so an organisation known as "The Vintage Aviator Ltd", which was formed by movie director Peter Jackson has been making waves in the aviation world down in New Zealand. Through the acquisition of plans, research and reverse engineering, they have set about resurrecting aircraft that were once thought never to be seen in the air again. Aircraft of the great war have been lovingly recreated by them to the highest standards of authenticity. Original powerplants have also been reproduced to present what are in all but name, the real thing. These aircraft are starting to find themselves all over the world now, and it was wonderful to see two more reach our shores, an Albatros D.Va and a Sopwith Snipe. They made their UK airshow debut at Old Warden in July and also flew at an airshow several weeks later.
Return of the Blenheim.
Back in 2003, tragedy struck when the worlds only airworthy Bristol Blenheim crashed on landing at Duxford causing extensive damage to the airframe. For over a decade, her owners, the Aircraft Restoration Company had been lovingly put her back together and she finally made her post restoration flight back in Novermber of last year. She was restored as an early Mk.IF variant and the poignancy of her first season being a Battle of Britain anniversary year was not lost on anybody. She made a triumphant return to the show circuit in May of this year. Here are a few images of the occasions I have been lucky enough to see her fly.
Though I have never been the greatest supporter of Vulcan to the Sky, there is no doubt in my mind that the aircraft itself was a masterpiece of British design and extremely beautiful. Though it's hard to call the end of a types flying career as a highlight, there was not a dry eye in the house when XH558 made her final airshow appearance at Old Warden in October so this special moment was worthy of inclusion. Regardless of the politics, she will be missed.
Chipmunks, Chimpunks and more Chipmunks!
I have always been fond of the de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk, so when I heard that there was to be a large gathering at Old Warden, I was obviously going to be there. We had something close to fifty example attend on the day, and the big balbo during the afternoon was amazing to see. Rare appearances from mainland Europe based examples made the day even more special.
Luftwaffe at Legends
The Flying Legends airshow in July is well known for bringing together rare aircraft from all around the world. This years show was no different and we were treated to the sight of a Daimler Benz powered Messerschmitt ME-109 G-4 owned by the Airbus group in Germany. This was the first sighting of a Daimler Benz powered Messerschmitt over Duxford since 1997, when the worlds only airworthy original example crashed on landing. The formation display she took part in with the two Hisplano Buchons has to be among the best displays I have ever seen at Duxford.
RAF Westhampnett roars to Merlins once more
In September at Goodwood, former RAF Westhampnett, the largest gathering of Spitfires and Hurricanes was assembled to commemorate the passing of 75 years since the Battle of Britian. There really isn't much to say about what occurred this day, but wow! I will remember this day for the rest of my life.
Duxford's Big Wing
Very much on the same theme and in fact, occurring just three days after the formation flights at Goodwood, a similar but slightly smaller gathering was held at Duxford for their Battle of Britain 75th Anniversary Airshow. What made this day special however was that we were treated to a mass formation of seventeen Spitfires, one of the largest to be assembled since wartime, and the second largest I have been lucky enough to witness.
So then, that was my top ten moments of the season. I hope you enjoyed looking back through some of these images. It was a pleasure to shoot them and a pleasure to share them over the summer. The response I have had this year for these images has been wonderful and though it feels a long way off now as the temperatures drop below freezing. I look forward to doing it all again next year, with hopefully a little less tragedy next year.