Air Show Report : RAF Leuchars Airshow 2013
RAF Leuchars Airshow 2013 : The End of the Line
Report by Des Brennan on the 2013 airshow at Royal Air Force Leuchars in Fife, Scotland
The Last Royal Air Force Airshow at Leuchars
Leuchars Airshow 2013 held on Saturday 7th September has eventually proved to be the last such event held there.
In 2014 the operational squadrons based at Leuchars will transfer north to RAF Lossiemouth, in 2015 the base will be handed over to Army control and while a small RAF presence will remain it is as yet unclear as to whether or not the runway will remain available even for emergency diversions.
Previously the hope had been that the RAF would continue to host an airshow while they controlled Leuchars but by September 2014 manning levels will have dropped to around 500, well under half of the 1100 minimum required to run the event without even considering the many and varied specialist services provided in-house. Under such circumstances it has become impossible for the Royal Air Force to host any further events at RAF Leuchars in their present format.
However, and on the scantest of supporting evidence, Leuchars remains perhaps the only possible future contender for an airfield based international standard airshow event in Scotland should the Ministry of Defence (MoD) consider one to be desirable and viable.
The only other regularly held annual event in the country in recent years has been that at East Fortune which to all useful intents and purposes lacks a runway. Two very popular shows were held at Perth which has a paved runway albeit essentially for light and business types. Many years ago both Edinburgh and Prestwick airports hosted international events on alternate years and notwithstanding current security implications of public access within the perimeters of international airports traffic at Edinburgh has increased considerably with an almost constant pattern of movements and while Prestwick is less busy all recent attempts to revive its airshow past have been unsuccessful. It would seem that RAF Lossiemouth on the coast of the Moray Firth some 140 miles/225 kilometres (by road) north of Leuchars is considered too far from the major population centres of Central Scotland and lacking in local infrastructure to make transferring the event sustainable.
Other than some as yet non-existent soulless 'Seaside Show', Leuchars remains the strongest contender for any future airshows on their previous scale but all very much dependant on the runway remaining operational, the full support and cooperation of by then resident Army units and most importantly and also most questionable the requisite political will and pressure being brought to bear upon the MoD to make it happen.
Leuchars 2013 - 65th Battle Of Britain At Home Day
Leaving concerns for the future aside and returning to Leuchars Airshow 2013 this was the 65th airshow hosted by the Royal Air Force at Leuchars as an operational RAF station since they began there in 1946 as one of many 'RAF Battle of Britain At Home Days' held across the United Kingdom and overseas in early September to commemorate the wartime aerial campaign. Over time as the RAF has become a much smaller organisation and the number of 'At Home Days' steadily decreased. Leuchars has become the last to be held at an operational airfield and the title 'Airshow' has come to the fore as the event adopted more of an international than mainly UK military based format. Although the 2013 programme was headed 'Leuchars Airshow 2013' it also bore a stamp announcing it to be the '65th. Battle Of Britain At Home Day' and identified the theme for the final show as that from the station motto 'Attack and Protect', which well describes both the historic and current roles served there.
Widespread economic concerns in recent years have seen a sharp decline in both flying and static participation at airshows generally to which 2013 added the US Government Sequestration crisis, which prevented the USAF providing the CONUS-based, multi-engined types which have long dominated the Leuchars static display.
Additionally in the days prior to the show a deteriorating weather forecast for the weekend threatened to play havoc with the many military and civilian operated 'warbirds' which have increasingly become a feature as regular military participation has decreased.
The Leuchars organisers responded to the former by attracting a 'heavy' line-up from the RAF and the RNLAF to fill the skyline and through employing a little artistic licence arranged a line-up of RAF Typhoon squadrons.
Meanwhile by a mid-week transit north for some of the more weather sensitive display aircraft and a busy Friday arrivals schedule for others avoided much of the potential disruption threatened by the latter. As the dull, wet and windy weather on Friday moved through more quickly than expected, it was leaving the Saturday of the airshow bright but breezy dramatically reducing the number of cancellations.
Leuchars' Flying Programme 2013
The resident Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 from numbers 1 and 6 squadrons were very much in evidence for both the flying and static displays.
The day began with pairs of aircraft from each squadron departing to return as a four-ship in formation with the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows, before both components returned separately for their own run in and break.
The observant might have noticed a fifth Typhoon departing, which was to feature in later closing the show.
During the afternoon the based squadrons provided a Role demonstration in segments interspersed between other displays, starting with a Typhoon from each being 'scrambled' as a pair to demonstrate the Leuchars current 'Protect' role as the home of Quick Reaction Alert (Interceptor) North ( QRA(I) North ). Later they returned escorting the 8 Squadron Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW.1 they had 'intercepted' before returning yet again at higher level in a high speed pass with slightly out of sync but nonetheless effective pyrotechnics to demonstrate a Laser Guided Bomb strike as part of their 'Attack' capability.
Eventually on landing the aircraft were marshalled onto the main ramp as part of the backdrop to the closing 'Sunset Ceremony' which included a low and fast flypast from the fifth Typhoon which had departed in the morning to visit the RAF Brize Norton Families Day event.
In addition both squadrons displayed aircraft in the static park in their own markings and in a display set to cause confusion and dismay to future generations of aircraft enthusiasts with a line-up of all current UK based Typhoon users in correct squadron markings but retaining their original 1 and 6 Squadron two-letter tailcodes. Otherwise the only non-resident RAF Typhoons on base were the 2013 Solo Display aircraft and its spare from 29(Reserve) Squadron of which only the spare was in full squadron markings and was seen briefly as both departed south on Saturday afternoon. The 2013 solo display pilot was Flight Lieutenant Jamie Norris from 29 (R) Squadron who typically flew a faultless routine.
Other RAF flying participation included the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), Red Arrows, Sea King, Tornado GR.4 and Tucano.
The latter was provided by the 1 Flying Training School (FTS) Solo Display aircraft which was this being flown in a 72 Squadron Desert Air Force Spitfire colour scheme by Flight Lieutenant Andrew Fyvie-Rae, who also carried out a formation flypast with a privately owned but fully restored Jet Provost T.5 to celebrate the past and present of RAF fast-jet training.
RAF Lossiemouth provided a Westland Sea King HAR.3 from D Flight of 202 Squadron for a display of Search and Rescue techniques and a Panavia Tornado GR.4 from 617 Squadron to mark the 70th. Anniversary of 'Operation Chastise', the Dambusters Raid. This involved one of the Squadron's two specially marked aircraft (the other was on static display) flying in formation with the BBMF Avro Lancaster, which is currently in 617 Squadron markings, and later taking part in the closing Sunset Ceremony. In addition to the Lancaster, the BBMF also provided a Spitfire Mk.LFIXe in 601 (County of London) Squadron markings and a Hawker Hurricane IIc in 34 Squadron, South East Asia Command (SEAC) markings for their usual mix of solo and formation flypasts.
Due to one of their pilots having become a father only the day before the Red Arrows displayed with only eight instead of nine aircraft.
The only other UK military involvement came from the always impressive Royal Navy Historic Flight Hawker Sea Fury T.20.
Overseas military flying was limited, although their participation was anything but, to the Austrian Air Force with a pair of Eurofighter Typhoons and a Lockheed C-130K Hercules providing a Role Demonstration. This marked the first time that the Austrian Typhoons have flown far less displayed outside their own country. To simply describe their display as a demonstration of Air Policing procedures followed by an exhibition of basic one-on-one Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) belies the noise, flame and sheer power of the Typhoon but the skill demonstrated by the pilots and the fascinating and informative commentary provided. With the Hercules already airborne and flying along the length of the runway towards the two waiting Typhoons, the latter took-off passing underneath to climb out while banking round to join up before the formation has cleared the airfield perimeter. Thereafter with one Typhoon alongside and the other in trail standard air policing protocols are followed until the Hercules lands leaving the Typhoons to demonstrate their remarkable agility in the ACM phase of the display. If that were not enough one of the Austrian Typhoon returned to the air during the afternoon to provide a solo aerobatics display on a par yet subtly different from that provided by the RAF.
The remainder of the flying programme was provided by a wide ranging selection of civilian operated warbird and sports flying types. Among the former were Plane Sailing's Catalina, The Red Gnats Display Team pair, Rolls Royce's Spitfire PR.XlX, BAC Jet Provost T.5 and Strikemaster Mk.82A, North American T-28/Fennec, Soko Kraguj and Yak-52, as well as the Saab Viggen, Saab 105, and De Havilland Vampire T.55 of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight. Purely civilian displays came from Richard Pargeter in his Pitts Special, the four Extra EA-300s of The Blades, The Wildcats with their two Pitts and a Zivko Edge 300, and the RV8tors with their two Van RV8s.
Leuchars' Static Display 2013
The static display was dominated by tankers with the RAF providing the very latest in the form of an Airbus Voyager K.3 from 10 Squadron alongside one of the last 101 Squadron Vickers VC10 K.3 which would finally be retired before the end of the month. Joining them was a McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 from 334 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force which although having a tailfin roughly a foot taller than the Voyager is smaller in every other respect. The large aircraft line-up was completed by 5 Squadron's red-tailed specially marked Sentinel R.1.
As already mentioned Leuchars resident 1 and 6 Squadrons had provided a line-up of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 wearing the markings of 1, 3, 6, 11, 29 and 41 Squadrons but retaining their usual tailcodes as well as having other aircraft elsewhere in the static display including a twin seat T.3 from 6 Squadron.
Other local residents on display were a Grob Tutor T.1 from the East of Scotland University Air Squadron/12 Air Experience Flight and the 111 Squadron marked McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1 'Black Mike' and English Electric Lightning F.3.
Other RAF assets present were Panavia Tornado GR.4 from 2 and 617 Squadrons with the latter wearing the same specially applied Dambusters 70th. Anniversary markings as the aircraft in the flying display, a BAe Hawk T.1A from 100 Squadron and a 45 (Reserve) Squadron Beech King Air.
The Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) attended with Bell Griffin HT.1 Griffin and Eurocopter Squirrel HT.1 helicopters and Cobham Aviation Services provided a Dassault Falcon 20. The remaining military UK presence came from the Royal Navy with a Beech King Air 350ER Avenger and an AgustaWestland Merlin HM.1 from 750 and 820 Naval Air Squadrons respectively.
Previously individual aircraft from UK Emergency Services have appeared on static display at Leuchars, but 2013 saw the largest gathering to date with the Police Scotland Eurocopter EC135T2+, Scottish Ambulance Service Beech King Air B200C and the Bölkow Bo105DBS-4 from the recently launched Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance. At different points during the day all of these and the Sea King HAR.3 which had taken part in the flying display were called away on operational sorties, one side-effect of which was the cancellation of the Hawker Hunter T.7, which having lost its display slot while holding for the runway to clear, departed instead to transit home.
Overseas 'fast-jet' visitors for the static display reflected Leuchars connections with different European air arms.
Earlier in 2013 the French Navy Carrier Air Group had deployed to Leuchars for Exercise Joint warrior and it was said that the large enthusiast interest in them was a major factor in a pair of Dassault Rafale M from 12 Flotille attending the airshow.
Italy provided a pair of Eurofighter Typhoon F-2000A from 36° Stormo's 12° Gruppo of which one of the pilots had in the past been based at Leuchars, flying the Panavia Tornado F.3.
Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands have all regularly operated their General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon from Leuchars during exercises and range operations, and each sent a pair of aircraft. From Denmark and Norway each provided a single-seat AM and twin-seat BM from their respective pool-operated fleets with the Danish aircraft carrying the distinctive underwing TERMA Pylon Integrated Dispensers, and the Norwegians the intake mounted Sniper Designator Pods. The Dutch aircraft were both single-seat F-16AM from 323 Squadron, one being J-002 with the squadron's 65th Anniversary markings.
A final but inadvertent visitor was a German Panavia Tornado IDS from the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 (officially still designated JaboG 33 until 1 October 2013) in a four tank ferry configuration, which had been stranded at Leuchars for several weeks following a technical problem en-route to an exercise in North America.
As always there were a number of light aircraft on static display including Caledonian Chipmunks pair of De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunks restored to 1950s Irish Air Corps markings, two Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 in RAF markings and Auster J1N in spurious military markings.
The Sunset Ceremony, which traditionally closes every Leuchars show with the station flag being lowered to the sound of a lone piper while based fast jet(s) make a low and fast flypast in salute, was on this last occasion redolent with symbolism on several levels. As various aircraft completed their displays they had been carefully marshalled into place to provide a backdrop to the saluting base, which saw the BBMF Lancaster flanked by the Spitfire and Hurricane which were in turn flanked by the Role Demo Typhoons of 1 and 6 Squadrons. Then with piper playing, flag lowering and the Station Commander and Air Officer Scotland Air Commodore Gerry Mayhew taking the salute the 1 Squadron Typhoon which had departed that morning for Brize Norton and the specially marked 617 Squadron Tornado GR.4 made a low, fast and very noisy pairs flypast. The very essence of the reasons why the 'Battle of Britain At Home Days' had originally been held, the sacrifice of those involved in the Dambusters Raid and countless other past actions along with both present and future for the RAF in Scotland encapsulated in the moment. A few minutes later the 1 Squadron Typhoon became the last aircraft to land at an RAF Leuchars Airshow bringing this sixty-fifth and final event to a close.
I attended Leuchars Airshow on their organised Enthusiast's Package and as always was most impressed by the efforts made to ensure that it ran smoothly and efficiently for which I would very much like to thank Flight Lieutenant Phil Webster and his team for all of their hard work. One aspect of this year's event was that on Friday afternoon Air Commodore Gerry Mayhew spent well over an hour talking individually to many on the Package providing some background to this year's event and the decision to make it the last one. He also mentioned the steps taken to reduce weather disruption, although I doubt whether any Padres or Meteorologists were actually harmed in the making of the airshow... but then again the weather did change unexpectedly for the better.
Report and photos by Des Brennan ( view portfolio )