RAF ODIHAM FAMILES DAY 2011
Review and all photography copyright Simon Fenwick
On a brilliantly sunny if blustery day, the 2011 Families Day at RAF Odiham in Hampshire was a huge success. With the Chinook Force so heavily committed in Afghanistan and with training going on night and day, the Families Day is a great time for the air and ground crews to spend a relaxing day with their loved ones and invited guests. It is also a way for the RAF to say thank you to the families for the support that they give, especially during the tough times.
On the ground there was plenty to see and do with John Wall’s Fair from Hook, loads of tents with representatives from on base and local organisations and impressive array of classic cars and motorcycles – the latter with Harley Davidson well represented. Local Historic Military Vehicle Enthusiasts brought vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps the most unusual, but no less welcome, exhibit was the massive Class 66 loco named ‘Chinook’ and displaying the three Odiham based squadron crests. The logistics involved in bringing this huge engine to Odiham for the day are mind boggling. From its base it was taken via rail all the way down the mainline via Alton and onto the Watercress Steam Railway line to Alresford. There it was craned onto a lowloader and trucked to RAF Odiham the day before the show. Once on base, a temporary set of tracks and ballast was laid and the loco, which weighs in excess of 60 tons, was gently lowered onto them.
Of course, the greatest interest for the gathered crowds was the aircraft which would take part in the afternoon flying display. Despite one or two cancellations, the line-up was one of which many public airshows would have been proud to have. Aircraft began to arrive from 0930 – unfortunately turning off the runway before they got to my position – and alternated with the Families Flights which took place all morning and were operated by a pair of Chinook HC.2s and another pair of HC.3s taking their passengers for trips around the Hampshire countryside
On the 18/27 Sqn apron in front of the old Watch Office aircraft large and small, fast and slow and jets and props were lined up for close inspection. Boeing B-17 ‘Sally B’ finally made it after two previous aborted attempts and the world’s largest single engined biplane, the Antonov AN-2 from nearby Popham was there as were the Yaks of the Aerostars. Alongside three Jet provosts of various marks (T4; T53 and T5A) from Swords Aviation was the RAF’s famous ‘whale tail’ in the shape of the specially marked Tornado GR.4 from ?41(R) Sqn at RAF Coningsby. Aces High from Dunsfold were kept busy with their ex-RAF Devon in attendance along with the Douglas C-47 which actually looks all the more authentic with it’s very worn colour scheme.
Over between the Ops Building and the WWII Control Tower, a further Chinook HC.3 was open for walkthroughs and RAF Benson had sent along a Puma HC.1 and Merlin HC.3A. In amongst them was a classic jet very appropriate to the base. This was the Air Atlantique Classic Flight’s Gloster Meteor T.7. It was on show without its wings – which were still in the paintshop, but the fuselage looked stunning in its new and genuine markings. Meteors were based at RAF Odiham in the 1950s so it was good to see a genuine ex-RAF classic of the type on view and the Odiham paintshop is making a wonderful job of the paintwork
The Chinook is world renowned as a wonderful workhorse and 2011 sees the 30th anniversary of its entry into RAF service. In past years there has been a role demo using several of the based machines but unfortunately, due to the huge training commitments currently being satisfied, this just wasn’t possible this year. However, there was the opportunity to see the Chinook Display, flown by a crew from 27 Sqn. If anything, this year’s display is more impressive than ever and creates a big ‘WOW’ factor with some of the manoeuvres. To be able to witness this very much ‘up close and personal’ was a treat. It is just a shame that this routine hasn’t been seen by a wider audience this year as it has only been available for a very limited number of shows. Let’s hope that it can be seen more frequently in the future. The slideshow featured below shows almost the entire sequence of the outstanding display. Click play to begin the sequence.
Flying straight in from Middle Wallop was the Army Air Corps’ Apache AH.1. This is another great display of the aircraft’s capabilities and again is a display ‘act’ which is not often seen.
Current RAF assets that flew in the flying display were the Grob Tutor from RAF Cranwell, the specially painted Shorts Tucano T.1 from RAF Leeming with Dan Hayes at the controls (he had arrived earlier in formation with two other Tucanos) and ‘Jules’ Fleming in the Hawk T.1 from RAF Valley, though unfortunately the special display machine wasn’t available. Jules in particular found some excellent sky and pulled some lovely wing tip vortices in her loops. Also down from Cranwell was the Beech King Air with its lively display, though unfortunately the signature ‘Khe Sanh’ approach was rather lost due to the distance of the crowdline from the man runway.
Blasting in from RAF Marham were the pair of Tornado GR.4s. Their first pass is nothing short of stunning before they split to go into their Role Demo sequence. This demo suits some venues better than others but with the Hampshire countryside all around, Odiham is just about the perfect location to view this display of power and precision. If you are unsure what the expression ‘show of force’ means, then make sure you catch this Role Demo and you will soon find out!
Making the shot hop from nearby Popham was something entirely different in the shape of the Antonov AN-2. This aircraft certainly can’t be called quick and in fact at one point in its routine, can sometimes appear to be going backwards in a strong headwind! With a very short take off and landing run, it always impresses. Also with Russian ancestry were the 4 YAKs of the Aerostars Aerobatic Team. However, they weren’t the only team on the programme as The Blades closed the show with their Extra 300LPs proudly displaying the RAFA Wings Appeal logo.
Even though of course Odiham is an RAF base, naval aviation wasn’t forgotten with John Beattie and Lt Cdr Chris Gotke arriving together in the Douglas Skyraider and Hawker Sea Fury T.20. The former, from Kennet Aviation at North Weald, may be a large aircraft, renowned in Korea for the amount of punishment it could take, but with the big radial engine growling, John really showed off its agility. From the same era, the Sea Fury was the last in the line of great piston-engined fighters from the pen of Sir Sidney Camm. Powered by the mighty Centaurus radial, it is certainly quick and this particular example, which is operated on behalf of the Royal Navy Historic Flight, looks gorgeous in bright sunshine.
There was a third aircraft on the bill from the Korean era. This was the world’s only NA F-86A Sabre. Operating out of Duxford and in the capable hands of AVM Cliff Spink. Always photogenic, this aircraft is even more so against a blue sky with its natural metal finish glinting and the telltale black smoke trail – “If it smokes it’s one of ours, but if it doesn’t it’s one of theirs!”
The Hunting/BAC Jet Provost was once a common sight in the sky when it was the RAF’s primary jet trainer. These days however, they are not common on the airshow scene as they are not considered ‘dynamic’. There are a few operators keeping these lovely little aircraft alive and it was a pleasure to see displays by two of them. Although, they have appeared at RAF Odiham Families Days before, they have always been only on static display, but this year Sword Aviation from North Weald flew their T.53 in the flying display and it was a pleasure to see this aircraft in its genuine Singapore markings.
Neil McCarthy is becoming quite a popular regular on the display season with his Newcastle-based Jet Provost T.3 which looks stunning in its new colour scheme. Neil’s routine is certainly ‘photographer friendly’ with plenty of topside passes, but it is the overall gracefulness of the display which makes it so pleasing to watch.
Just two more to mention. One is certainly ‘wacky’ while the other is now unique in Europe. The former is the crazy flying antics of Brendan O’Brien in his modified Piper Cub. Years ago, Brendan gave these displays and they always delighted the crowds. In 2010, he decided to bring it back and still the crowds lap up the antics that he gets up to.
Lastly, but by no means least is the last remaining Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in Europe. ‘Sally B’ was supposed to be at Odiham’s Families Day in 2009 & 2010 but technical problems put paid to her first visits to this part of the country. However, in 2011 she finally made it. Operated by Ellie Sallingboe and her faithful team of engineers and crew, the aircraft survives purely on donations and the efforts of the ever growing Supporter’s Club. It is amazing to realise that despite the huge effort required to keep an aircraft of this size flying, she has graced our skies since the mid-1970s and flies in tribute to all the American airmen – some of whom served at RAF Odiham – who didn’t survive the Second World War. Following her display which finished with her usual tribute to the fallen when smoke is streamed from the port engines, she gracefully departed back to Duxford.
Following the end of the display it was a quick trek back to the taxiway to catch some of the departures. Two of these in particular stand out. These were the Tornado GR.4 which left in a blaze of vapour and reheat and Tony de Bruyn’s OV-10 Bronco with its dayglo patches catching the evening sunshine.
In closing I must thank Frank Cross who has arranged my pass for the last four years. It is also through his unstinting efforts that the flying participation at the RAF Odiham Families Day has become the total success that it has become. After over 31 years in the service he has now retired. Hopefully the Families Day will continue and I hope to be able to report on them in the future.