Air Show Report : RAF Leuchars Airshow 2010
This years airshow at RAF Leuchars on September 11 was more than just another edition of its international airshow. In addition to celebrating the Battle of Britain anniversary it also marked the arrival of RAF 6 Squadron, the first Typhoon unit to form at RAF Leuchars, and consequently the last airshow for resident 111 Sqn Tornado F.3 fighters. Des Brennan reports.
RAF Leuchars Airshow 2010:
Tornado risk decreases… but… Typhoon risk increases
This years Airshow at RAF Leuchars in Fife took place on Saturday 11th September, the weekend closest to Battle of Britain Day on the 15th. The event at Leuchars has evolved from the Battle of Britain At Home Days once marked by many RAF establishments following the Second World War but over time the number has gradually dwindled leaving Leuchars as the sole operational RAF station to host an Airshow at this time of year. Commemorating the events of the of 1940 has always been an integral part of the Leuchars event despite the gradual change in emphasis from At Home Day to International Airshow and this was reflected in this 70th.Anniversary year of the Battle.
While events at the show celebrated this important anniversary they also marked what could be the final year of service for one of the participants in that battle, locally based 111 (Fighter) Squadron, which will disband in March 2011 to face an uncertain future when the Panavia Tornado F.3 of which they are the final operator is withdrawn from service.
111 Squadron currently holds 24 hour a day, 365 days a year sole responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) for the northern area of the United Kingdom stretching out into the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
They will be replaced by 6 Squadron flying the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 which officially formed earlier that week and whose arrival at Leuchars was another feature of the show. While the changes that this transfer will bring were obvious there were also several other types at the show drawing close to the end of their service careers. My images cover both arrivals on Friday and the public event on Saturday and were taken on the as always well-subscribed Airshow Enthusiasts Package.
On Monday 6th September, 6 Squadron’s Standard was transferred from safe keeping at the RAF College Cranwell to Leuchars and the first squadron aircraft appeared in full markings. In very poor weather on Friday 10th September the first four aircraft arrived at Leuchars from RAF Coningsby for the Airshow next day the opening and closing of which would encapsulate the major themes celebrating the arrival of 6 Squadron and the Typhoon FGR.4, the forthcoming retiral of 111 Squadron and their Tornado F.3 as well as the Battle of Britain anniversary.
Shortly after flying began in the morning 111 Squadron’s specially marked flagship ZE734/JU joined the RAF Typhoon and Spitfire Synchro Display Team to perform a flypast as the 6 Squadron Standard was formally paraded before HRH Prince Edward, The Duke of Kent and the Chief of the Air Staff against a background of two 6 Squadron Typhoon FGR.4s. This visual demonstration of air defence past, present and future and what it means for Leuchars was to be repeated when the show came to an end.
As always the Airshow was closed by the traditional Sunset Ceremony with the Station Flag being lowered to the sound of a bagpipe lament while a based aircraft flies past in salute. This year it was preceded by the Spitfire and Hurricane from the Historic Aircraft Collection performing their paired and solo displays and as the ceremony began a three-ship of 111 Squadron Tornado F.3 flew past to be followed by a single example along with a 6 Squadron Typhoon. As this pair approached low and fast the Tornado pulled up and away leaving the Typhoon alone to present compliments at the salute in front of the old control tower where a 111 Squadron Tornado, 6 Squadron Typhoon and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire in 6 Squadron markings formed a backdrop. With the Airshow then officially over a more poignant moment followed once all four 111 Squadron F.3 had performed their run in, break and stream landing when instead of turning off onto the Southern Taxiway and returning to the squadron site the aircraft turned around at and taxied back along in front of the crowd-line in what some watchers likened to a funeral cortege.
Otherwise the Airshow followed the successful formula of previous years with the RAF providing roughly half of the flying displays and the rest split between overseas military involvement and warbirds.
Despite an early morning downpour which caused road traffic and off-site parking problems it was dry by the time that flying started and cloud cover gradually improved as the morning went on to provide blue skies in the afternoon.
This meant that while the RAF Falcon Parachute Team jumped at relatively low level from their Puma in the morning, the Red Arrows were able to put on a full display in the afternoon.
Other RAF displays came from the Typhoon, Synchro Typhoon and Spitfire as mentioned, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and King Air along with role demonstrations as opposed to aerobatic displays by a Harrier as well as pairs of Tornado GR.4 and Hawk T.1.
The Royal Navy Historic Flight Seahawk had arrived on Friday but a technical fault grounded it for the show.
Overseas displays came from both Belgian and Dutch F-16 Display Teams with the latter firing flares during his display, from France with an Alpha Jet, the Czech Air Force with a JAS 39C Gripen along with first time appearances by the Saab 105 and J 29 Tunnan of the Swedish and DeHavilland Vampire of the Norwegian Air Force Historic Flights. Civilian owned preserved aircraft participants in the flying display ranged from a replica SE5a of the First World War through Harvard, Spitfire and Hurricane of the Second World War to the post-war F-86, Vulcan and Team Viper making their display debut after moving to a four Hunter team with hopefully larger formations to follow in years to come.
The static display held some interesting visitors but seemed sparser than previous years and somewhat paradoxically despite the available space had some aircraft overlapping and penned in behind closely placed barriers, portable toilets and snack vans.
For the first time in several years the RAF provided a VC10 for static display, which along with the Dominie are drawing ever closer to the end of their service. They were joined by pairs of locally based Tornado F.3 and Typhoon FGR.4 along with single examples of Tornado GR.4, Harrier GR.9, Hawk T.1, King Air, Griffin, Merlin and for the first time Chinook HC.3.
The Royal Navy provided a soon to be retired Jetstream T.2 which also performed a ‘rescue’ mission on Friday afternoon by flying Vulcan to the Sky engineers and equipment to Brize Norton where XH558 was stranded with a brake problem.
An Islander from the Army Air Corps also made a rare appearance in the static line-up which the barrier team excelled themselves in surrounding with tubular steel.
USAF participation was reduced this year with only the appearance of a KC-135R and B-52H and while the latter was again from Barksdale AFB the Stratotanker was from the 100th ARW at RAF Mildenhall which has not displayed at Leuchars for many years. European support came from Germany with a Tornado IDS in Afghanistan deployment markings and a JG71 F-4F Phantom II on what might be a last Leuchars visit, making its debut was a French C-130H, Denmark provided both a single and twin-seat F-16 and the Czech Republic returned with their An-26, L-159 ALCA and Saab JAS 39D Gripen which had markings celebrating 10,000 flying hours and ‘Tigers Eye’ painted canards for the following months Tiger Meet at Volkel, the Netherlands. Additionally there were a number of preserved and light civilian types with links to the area and for the first time a pair of civilian airliners in the shape of a FlyBe Saab 340 and City Jet Dornier 328 which are both flown on scheduled services from nearby Dundee.
In recent years at Leuchars there has been a gradual increase in displays by preserved aircraft as demands on military assets have increased and budgets contracted, similarly the presence of contemporary and vintage light aircraft on static display has grown for which the inclusion of locally operated airliners seems a natural progression. One wonders if the next step might involve an airliner in the flying display in which case I would heartily recommend the Star Air Boeing 767 freighters operated out of Edinburgh whose typically fighter-like take-offs compare well with the performance of the now sadly neutered, much restricted and continually embattled Vulcan.
Leuchars 2010 was a very well presented show and a credit to the work done by all involved especially in marking the final public outing for the Tornado F.3, as one 111 Squadron member said on the eve of the show ‘this year its all about us’ and it proved to be so right down to the end. Strategic Defence Spending Review and operational commitments permitting next years show marking 100 years of flying at Leuchars has been provisionally set for Saturday 10th September and will be keenly anticipated as the UK’s only true Battle of Britain Air Show.
Report and photos by Des Brennan ( view portfolio )