Air Show Report : RAF Leuchars Airshow 2008
RAF Leuchars in Fife, Scotland, organized its air show on the 13th of September, 2008. Sadly, like many UK air events during 2008, the promising event suffered from poor weather as Des Brennan explains.
Leuchars 2008 - What Was and What Might Have Been
After missing a year because of runway resurfacing work the Royal Air Force Leuchars event returned again as the only remaining UK airshow held on an operational RAF station that can be traced back to the once prolific post-war Battle of Britain at Home events. Following the success of the 2006 show 2008 promised to be another well-balanced mix of current and historical aircraft participation along with one or two which would be new to Leuchars in what was planned as a celebration of the 90th.Anniversary of the Royal Air Force.
This was to be emphasised by the flying display which was heavily biased towards the history of the RAF and ranged from a First World War SE5a, through the Second World War with the full Battle of Britain Memorial Flight of Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster and Dakota, onto various privately owned 1950s vintage fighters, trainers and the Vulcan bomber before moving into the full range of current RAF display teams and aircraft. The latter included the Falcons Parachute Display Team; the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows; the full Role Demo which itself has grown from the Leuchar’s inspired tactical demonstrations of previous years and now incorporates Tornado F.3 and GR.4, Hawk, E-3D or Hercules, Chinook, Apache and ground forces along with synchronised pyrotechnic display as well as all RAF solo display aircraft – Typhoon, Hawk, King Air, Tucano and Tutor. Additionally there were plans for a Typhoon/Spitfire and Red Arrows/Vulcan flypasts Further UK participation was to be provided by the Royal Navy ‘Black Cat’ Lynx pair, Army Air Corps ‘Blue Eagles’ Lynx and Apache as well as for the first time a pair of FR Aviation Dassault Falcon 20 including their Flight Trials Falcon 20DC with Typhoon defensive suite pods underwing. Overseas flying participation would have been limited to F-16 displays from both the Royal Netherlands Air Force and Belgian Air Component.
The Royal Air Force was similarly well represented on the ground especially by ‘fast jets’ including (counting display aircraft and their spares) five Typhoons drawn from all four current units including a Litening III and LGB equipped FGR.4 from 3 Squadron; three Lossiemouth Wing Tornado GR.4 for static display and a further three from Marham for the Role Demo; a pair of Harrier GR.7/9; seven based Tornado F.3 including the 111 and the shortly to be repainted 56 Squadron special tails as well as a ‘pink pig nosed’ example marking the work of a local children’s charity (www.dreamz4u.org). Training and support operations were represented by five Hawks including three in special schemes, three Tucano, three Tutor, two King Air and a Dominie as well as Chinook, Merlin HC.3A, Griffin and Squirrel helicopters along with a Nimrod MR.2 and Hercules C.3. A locally based Army Air Corps Gazelle along with Royal Navy SAR Sea King from Prestwick and Culdrose based Jetstream completed UK military involvement.
Overseas participation in the static display was perhaps slightly less than some years but provided several first time visitors to the show. Holland and Germany as regular supporters of the event provided a pair of F-16MLU and an F-4F Phantom along with a Tornado ECR respectively. The United States Air Force, another stalwart, provided the centerpiece of the static display with a trio of Boeing ‘heavies’ in the form of a Barksdale based Air Force Reserve B-52H, 116th. ACW E-8C JSTARS making its first appearance and a New Hampshire ANG KC-135R as well as a pair of Lakenheath based F-15C. Following on from their Mil-17 and 24 appearances at the 2006 show the Czech Air Force returned this time with fixed wing aircraft in the form of a Saab Gripen, Let L-159 and the specially marked An-26.
Sadly, like many UK air events during 2008, the weather on the day of the show was to prevent this potential from being fully realised despite the best and gallant attempts of organisers and participants.
Taking advantage of the two day Enthusiasts Package I was able to attend both on Friday for arrivals and practice displays as well as for the show itself on Saturday. With only the USAF ‘heavies’ already on base on Friday morning the rest of that day saw the majority of static and display participants arrive with many of the latter also performing their qualifying practice displays in glorious weather although poor weather elsewhere meant that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and several vintage jet aircraft were unable to make their way north. By the end of the day a very light drizzle blowing through the evening sunshine along with dark clouds and rainbows on the horizon gave an indication of what was to come.
Saturday dawned with rain, mist and low cloud which with slight variations in severity and density remained for the rest of the day. A forecast easing of conditions around 1100 arrived as promised along with the first flying of the day which saw the Red Arrows arrive and the RAF Eurofighter Typhoon solo display take-off but the ‘microclimate’ often said to be enjoyed by Leuchars worked in reverse to bring back not so much the rain but very poor visibility which remained firmly fixed over the airfield.
After a few manoeuvres in steadily deteriorating visibility the Typhoon departed the area for a radar talkdown and landing as later repeated by the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 display and by two Tornado GR.4 operating as singletons performing simulated attack runs with pyrotechnics as their part of the Role Demo sequence of which the only other aircraft to fly was the E-3D Sentry which flew up from Waddington to perform an overshoot, appearing in its own condensation cloud out of the murk only as it crossed the airfield boundary. The Red Arrows, performed a restricted version of their ‘flat display’ which required rather longer than usual run-ins, often with the outermost members of the team skirting the cloud base while solo display Tutor, Tucano and Hawk performed similarly reduced displays and the Royal Navy ‘Black Cats’ and Army ‘Blue Eagles’ flew single aircraft. Having been delayed by weather conditions en-route on the Friday local conditions on Saturday kept the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight away but a privately owned Spitfire Mk.XVIII did fly. The advertised appearance of Vulcan B.2 XH558 drew a large crowd which held on until late in the afternoon hoping to see it fly as the penultimate display and while it rather ironically sat at the end of the runway in the only sunshine of the day visibility elsewhere on and around the airfield meant that it, like several other non-military participants, could only perform fast ground runs. Finally the only locally based Tornado F.3 involved in the event, two others had been planned for the Role Demo, performed a high speed flypast for the closing sunset ceremony before being swallowed by the again rapidly lowering cloud base.
Leuchars 2008 had the promise of being a memorable event and was only prevented from fulfilling this by the one thing no event organiser can control, the weather. Looking back over my forty years Leuchars has enjoyed fair, albeit sometimes cool, weather far more often than not and thanks to the tenacity of organisers and aircrew actually fared better than several mid-summer UK shows this year in being able to keep a semblance of the show running all day for which they are to be heartily congratulated. A provisional date has already been set for 12th September, 2009, and it is to be hoped that the event will go ahead with perhaps two requests – please let us see a lot more Tornado F.3 in the air before they have gone forever and please, please move the barriers slightly further AWAY from the static aircraft as it makes it far easier for more people to see and photograph them without a crush.
Report and photos by Des Brennan ( view portfolio )