Abingdon Air and Country Show, Dalton Barracks, Oxfordshire
Sunday 14th May 2017
Last week was my first airshow outing of the year and it was at my local show (only 10mins up the road for me!). There was a face-lift for the event this year with the crowd-line flipping 180 degrees to the 'other side' of the runway. This potentially meant shooting into the sun but uncluttered backgrounds would be the pay-off for the aviation photographers in attendance.
With the display not starting until after 2pm and a lot of hanging around last year, I decided to abandon my normal airshow routine of "get there as early as possible". Instead I opted for a "get there at the very last minute" approach and hope everyone else would already be there. So how did that work out? Not great actually! The traffic queues were still pretty long even at that time, taking approx one hour from the main road to parking up. I think the new layout and entry systems caused problems earlier in the day- hopefully next year will be smoother if they keep to a similar design.
Opening the flying display was the BBMF Spitfire and Hurricane routine which I missed most of from a photography standpoint as I was still in the car-park but it is always good to hear the roar of those Rolls-Royce engines!
Being early in the season (early May) you never know what to expect weather-wise and this year was no exception; hot, cold, wet, dry, cloudy and clear conditions all featured at some point during the day! The weather was lovely though as Lauren Richardson treated us to an entertaining routine in the Fournier RF-4 motorglider, looping gracefully with added smoke effects.
The Twister Aerobatics pair followed with a tight synchro routine against blue skies and fluffy clouds. This idyllic scene did not last long though with Twister 2 (G-JINX) suffering a technical problem leading to a crash landing in front of the crowd line. The emergency teams were in attendance very quickly and the show was brought to a halt while the organisers scrambled to deal with the situation. The pilot did suffer some injuries and was taken to hospital but is expected to make a full recovery.
The atmosphere became rather flat as everyone waited to see if their day out would continue but after an hour or so the announcement came that the flying display would continue with the Huey helicopter restarting proceedings.
A swarm of small aircraft in the distance signaled the arrival of the Great War Display Team, an assortment of replica WW1 era aircraft. Leading the squadron and new for 2017 was the Avro 504 which put on a great show for the spectators but was later seen having to make an emergency landing at the end of the airfield due to engine failure. This was turning into a very difficult day for the organising team!
Next on the revised schedule were powerful displays from the YAK 3-u and P-51 Mustang, both demonstrating their speed and power as the grey skies started to close in. As Harry Hill might say; "I liked the YAK but I also liked the Mustang. But which was best? There is only one way to find out...fight!"
In contrast to the speed and agility of these fighter aircraft, we then got something different as the much bigger An-2 and Dakota took to the air.
With the skies getting increasingly dark and the rain starting to fall the crowds started to drift away and it was to a much smaller audience that Rich Goodwin hurled his Muscle Pitts stunt plane around the Oxfordshire skies. An energetic, gravity-defying routine that deserved better conditions.
The T-28 Fennec in USAF colours followed which was one of the items I had hoped to see but thought might have been dropped due to the incident and delays earlier in the day. A new act for me and an interesting looking aircraft, riding high on it's undercarriage.
A second An-2 took to the air to drop the parachute team who completed their jumps in pretty foul conditions. With the wind and driving rain showers easing, the Army Historic Flight pairing of Beaver and Scout rounded out the flying display and brought to a close an interesting and event-filled afternoon.
The new layout worked well from a photographic perspective as the Oxfordshire countryside made for a much nicer backdrop than the buildings and machinery of Dalton Barracks as per the 2016 show.
Typically, it was as the day drew to a close that the weather changed for the better and the sun emerged once again for the departing aircraft heading home.