RAF Leuchars in Fife, Scotland, staged its annual air show on the 12th of September, 2009.
RAF Leuchars Airshow 2009:
Weather Perfect with a Slight Risk of Tornados
With clear, blue skies from dawn till dusk this years Leuchars Airshow on Saturday 12th September as with the days
leading up to it suffered none of the weather problems that the organisers contended with in 2008 and which have
dogged arrivals in other years.
Conditions were perfect for the show and we Scots did what we do best under such circumstances... we came... we saw...
we got sunburnt.
But not only the weather was different, the financial downturn which has gathered pace over the past year, along with
increasing operational commitments, brought changes to the event which may be a model for the future. Roughly half of
the display content was from contemporary military sources (including memorial and display teams) of which half was
from the Royal Air Force. The remainder came mainly from privately owned warbirds plus a few purely civil teams. Most
of these are based in England and are subject to weather restrictions for both transit and display so factor in not
unreasonable concerns over poor weather en-route and issues could arise regarding participation. However, that did not
happen this year and Leuchars enjoyed a well balanced display of both the current and the historical featuring aircraft
in both categories which had not displayed there before.
I attended on the fully subscribed two-day Enthusiasts Package and enjoyed arrivals, including some interesting formations,
and many of the practice displays on the Friday as well as the public event on Saturday.
During a six hour Flying Display (an hour shorter than previously) the Royal Air Force provided most of its currently
authorised displays – The Red Arrows flying their full display preceded by a formation flypast with a Eurofighter
Typhoon, Typhoon FGR.4, Grob Tutor T.1 and Beech King Air solo displays as well as those frequent Leuchars weather
casualties the RAF Falcons Parachute Team and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) with Lancaster, Spitfire
The Hawk T.1 solo display was not included in the programme and while the Chinook HC.2 acted as drop ship for the Falcons
and performed a very spirited flypast, turn and stop into the hover as the team performed their closing salute its later
solo display was cancelled for technical reasons.
Ironically, despite recent full serviceability technical issues also limited participation of locally based 111 Squadron.
A routine two hour training mission had been planned to incorporate a pair of Tornado F.3 in a simulated Quick Reaction
Alert scramble, later returning with ‘intercepted’ Dassault Falcon 20s and ultimately closing the show as escorts to the
Rolls-Royce Spitfire XIX during the Sunset Ceremony. This was reduced to one aircraft taking-off, returning with the
Falcon 20s and eventually landing from a straight in approach after the flying display had officially ended.
Other UK military participation came from the Royal Navy with their Black Cats Lynx pair and a Sea King SAR display which
was held on the ramp with rotors turning before being cancelled because of delays in parking the BBMF although it departed
later in the day on a live ‘shout’. At long last the beautifully restored Royal Navy Historic Flight Sea Hawk FGA.6
made it to Leuchars. Initially listed to appear with the flight’s Sea Fury but replaced by the Duxford based Skyraider
AD-4N for what was probably the first Leuchars appearance of either since leaving Royal Navy service almost 50 years ago.
Overseas participation came from a Czech Air Force Saab Gripen JAS39C making its display debut, a Polish Air Force
MiG-29UB and both the Belgian Air Component and Royal Netherlands Air Force solo display F-16AM with the latter
providing a 313 Squadron 55th. Anniversary Tiger scheme example rather than the current predominately orange
coloured display mount.
Warbird participation included the Vulcan B.2, Team Viper with four BAC Strikemasters in their original military liveries,
Hunter PR.11, Venom and Meteor NF.11 from Air Atlantique, Se5a replica, Flying High Spitfire Mk.IXT, Rolls-Royce owned
Spitfire Mk.XIX which also performed the Sunset Ceremony flypast and as mentioned the impressive Skyraider AD-4N.
Alongside the Sea Hawk this made a ready contrast between two very different 1950s approaches to the carrier-borne attack
Purely civil participation came from The Cossacks Yak-52 Display Team, Team Guinot with their Stearman biplanes
and wing walkers a well as the former Red Arrows crewed Extra 300 display team The Blades.
The Static Display was always going to be smaller than in recent years and last minute cancellations reduced this further.
Sadly much of what did appear was fenced in even more closely than usual by barriers which frustrated photography and
created bottlenecks for spectators.
The largest RAF asset on show was a Merlin HC.3A helicopter along with Squirrel, Griffin, Tutor, Tucano, Hawk, Tornado
GR.4, Typhoon FGR.4 and a pair of Tornado F.3 one of which was in a hangar display. Reportedly it was decreed that only
two F.3 could be shown and then only in 111 Squadron markings despite the availability of differently marked airframes.
Publicity posters and the show programme cover both featured aircraft in both 43 and 111 Squadron markings placing this
decision on a par with the 2006 order to keep the all-black 43 Squadron Anniversary F.3 locked away despite its
promotional national TV appearance and featuring on the Ministry of Defence webpage for the event.
The Royal Navy provided a pair of ‘100 Years Of Naval Aviation’ marked Jetstream T.2 and a Harrier GR.9 from 800 NAS.
Static visitors included the USAF which mirrored 2008 with a Barksdale based B-52H, New Hampshire KC-135R and two F-15C
from Lakenheath. Germany provided an Anniversary marked Air Force Tornado IDS and its last Naval Atlantic Maritime Patrol
aircraft, a specially marked SIGINT conversion, while The Netherlands supplied a Fokker 50 and F-16AM. Newer NATO members
the Czech Republic and Poland also took part, the former with the same mix of aircraft as 2008 - a JAS39D Gripen, L159T1 ALCA
and the same Antonov An-26 albeit with additional engine nacelles markings, while the latter brought a
CASA C-295 on its first Leuchars appearance, supporting the Polish Air Force MiG-29UB solo display.
A growing number of light aircraft types with Scottish and Leuchars area connections completed the static display.
In summary, 2009 brought a change of emphasis to the show with overseas commitments and budgetary restrictions limiting
military involvement as evidenced by the notable absence of RAF ‘heavies’ and Army Air Corps along with reduced foreign
Conversely, increased Warbird participation was a welcome move in a different direction bringing displays that previously
necessitated long journeys and providing that distance and weather do not hinder future appearances this can only be a
good thing. An added bonus was the return of many of these southwards in a mass exodus following the end of the show and
providing yet another occasion to see some of these classic aircraft in flight.
Anyone reasonably capable of understanding the most basic road map can see that Leuchars is poorly located to clear
40-50,000 people away immediately after such a major event. Therefore the subsequent response of internet ‘experts’ and
the regional media with their typical ‘traffic chaos’ and ‘something must be done’ whinging was not
unexpected. However, quoted delay times seemed no worse than usual and the published complaints similarly familiar with only the names of the
complainants ever seeming to change.
Next year will mark the 70th. Anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Leuchars is the only operational Royal Air Force
Station still commemorating what used to be billed as a Battle of Britain at Home Day and now known as the RAF Leuchars
2010 will also be the last full year of Panavia Tornado F.3 service and it would be good if both events could be marked
(with better spaced barriers around in the static display) in a suitably memorable manner if the show goes ahead as
mooted for September 11th. 2010.