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Kiwis CAN Fly - RAF Waddington International Airshow 2006
Author: Paul Tiller
Photography: Author & Robin Powney
Red Arrows Jaguar GR.3A
Typhoon F.2
Red Arrows

The RAF Waddington Air Show is billed as the Royal Air Force’s premier air show and certainly the intentions and efforts of the show organisers to make the show an interesting and varied one were in the right place. Even the opportunity to watch the World Cup Quarter Final match between England and Portugal had been provided for courtesy of a giant viewing screen, so those interested in both football and airshows should’ve been happy. But sadly, and yet again, Waddington fell foul of attracting a number of overseas participants. This can be attributed to various factors which most of the European air forces are currently experiencing, these being budgetary and cost restrictions, availability of serviceable aircraft and operational commitments in other “hot” areas of the world. So what happened? 

This year’s show “clashed” with two major European events being held in France and Belgium which together had managed to secure most of the foreign military display items, but it wasn’t a complete loss for the Waddington organisers. The Austrian Air Force sent a pair of Saab 105OEs, the Hellenic Air Force sent an RF-4E Phantom II from 338 Mira resplendent in a special colour scheme, the Royal New Zealand Air Force sent a 40 Sqn Boeing 757 and a 5 Sqn Lockheed  P-3K Orion, the French Air Force sent a pair of EAC00.314 Alpha Jets, the German Air Force sent an AkG51 Tornado IDS, the Royal Netherlands Air Force sent a pair of F-16’, and the Polish Navy sent a M-28 Bryza-1R. The Netherlands F-16AM variant, is noteworthy of mention for it carried MiG kill markings to denote its downing of a Serbian Mig-29 during Operation Allied Force in March 1999. The USAFE contribution was a pair of F-15E Strike Eagles of the 492nd FS / 48FW based at RAF Lakenheath and a KC-135R of the 351st ARS / 100th ARW based at RAF Mildenhall whilst NATO sent one of their E-3A Sentry aircraft.

RF-4E Phantom II Tornado IDS
F-16AM Fighting Falcon KC-135R Stratotanker
Sentinel R.1 Dominie T.1
Canberra B.2/6 Sentinel R.1

On the ground, the static aircraft display contained a fair number of civilian operated general aviation light aircraft, the Greek RF-4E, one Austrian Saab 105OE, French Alpha Jets, F-15Es, the KC-135R and the NATO E-3 together with a good assortment of different RAF aircraft types and Royal Navy helicopters. Noteworthy of these were the anniversary marked Dominie of 55(R) Sqn, the King Air 200 of 45(R) Sqn, and the Tornado GR4 of 31sqn. An example of the RAF’s newest aircraft type, the Raytheon Sentinel R.1 ASTOR was also on display making its first public appearance and drew great interest from the public and enthusiasts alike. The Sentinel R.1 ASTOR (Airborne STand Off Radar) is expected to enter RAF service with 5(AC) Sqn sometime in early 2007 and its main task will be that of battlefield co-ordination using its Raytheon ASARS-2 side-looking airborne radar. The aircraft crews will be drawn from all the UK armed services making the squadron the first multi-service unit in the UK armed forces. In the E-3 hangar an exhibition area dedicated to the Canberra aircraft had been set up which commemorated this aircraft’s long RAF service history and joining the static Canberra PR.9 in this exhibition area was the Canberra B2/6 of Air Atlantique.

Whilst many enthusiasts felt disappointed with the content of the static line-up it is fair to say that the organisers did a superb job in putting together a varied and interesting flying display which included a few gems. The flying display was opened by the “Waddington home team” with an RAF E-3D Sentry aircraft of 8/23 Sqn providing a couple of flypasts. Usually this aircraft is accompanied by an aircraft from another of the Waddington based squadrons, a Nimrod R1 of 51 Sqn.

UH-1 Iroquis Alpha Dispersal Static Lineup
Lincs & Notts Air Ambulance
Sea King HC.4
Canberra PR.9 Nimrod MR.2, 51 Sqn marks
E-3D Sentry AEW.1 Canberra PR.9

However, 51 Sqn were not able to participate this year with their R.1s as their operational aircraft had all been deployed to other parts of the world to do what they do best, but one R.1 remained at Waddington being tucked up in a hangar away from public view and access whilst the squadron’s Nimrod MR.2 was parked in the static display. Whilst the RAF’s newest aircraft type, the Sentinel, made its debut in the static, the RAF’s oldest operational type, the Canberra, made its flying display farewell. After fifty-five years of service, the last three Canberra PR.9 aircraft of 39 Sqn (1 PRU) were being withdrawn from service on 28th July and the squadron disbanded at RAF Marham. It was therefore quite fitting and appropriate for the Canberra to be included in the flying display and to be flown by Sqn Ldr Terry Cairns who, at the age of sixty two, has been associated with the aircraft type longer than anyone else and he will end his long RAF career at the same time as the Canberra. The sight of this veteran aircraft in the display was well received and the characteristic sound of the engines will certainly be missed.

The RAF certainly put on a strong display with a variety of aircraft types. These aircraft were drawn from all aspects of the service. The training aircraft displaying included the Slingsby Firefly T.1, the Grob Tutor T.1, the Tucano T.1 and the Hawk T.1. There were impressive displays from both the Merlin HC.3 and the Chinook HC.2, both displays showing just how manoeuvrable these large helicopters are. The fast jet element displays were the responsibility of the Tornado GR4 and the Typhoon F.2. The Typhoon display is one of agility and power with the aircraft utilising it’s afterburners to the max. The Harrier GR.7 and the Hercules C.5 both put on their characteristic displays although these weren’t without incident as both aircraft suffered technical problems. It was the Red Arrows who, as usual, performed a faultless display with their new 2006 routine that impressed many of the visitors at the show. To complete the RAF participation, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight brought some nostalgia to the event with their Spitfire PR19, Spitfire IIA and Lancaster displays. The two BBMF Spitfires also being joined in the air by the privately owned Spitfire TR9 of Paul Day to mark the 70th anniversary of the Spitfire - a great sight and a great sound – the TR.9 also went on to fly it’s own solo display.

Chinook HC.2
Typhoon F.2
Spitfire TR.9 Tornado GR.4
Saab 105OE Aerostars
Will Curtis' Su-26 2excel The Blades
The Royal Navy and the Army Air Corps were both represented in the flying display with their respective display teams the Black Cats and the Blue Eagles. The Black Cats putting their Lynx helicopters through a spirited display of aerial ballet whilst the Blue Eagles display for 2006 incorporated some new manoeuvres one of which was “helicopter dogfighting” - interesting!  The Austrian Air Force took the honours for providing the sole European jet display with their Saab 105OE; an aircraft which produced a worthy display and noise to go with it. In between the military displays there were an number of civilian acts and display teams, these being the Red Bull Matadors with their Sukhoi Su-26M2 aircraft, the Aerostars with their six Yakolev Yak-50 aircraft, Will Curtis and the Road Angel Aerobatics display with his Su-26, John Taylor with his Extra 330L, FR Aviation’s display with two Falcon 20 aircraft, the Utterly Butterly team and The Blades of 2excel aviation.

For many enthusiasts the “stars” of the flying display belonged to the P-3K Orion and Boeing 757 of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The P-3K arrived at Waddington from RAF Kinloss where it had been participating in the Fincastle Trophy maritime exercise and its display put this heavy aircraft through its paces and it certainly did not disappoint. The Boeing 757 very nearly did not make its journey to Waddington as whilst en-route it suffered a technical problem which delayed its arrival until late on the Friday night. Having previously displayed at the Kemble airshow, the Boeing 757 was another very welcome addition and, for an aircraft type operated by many airlines around the world, again showed just how agile this size of aircraft can be. If it had been a civilian operated variant then the tight turns and climb outs would not have been good time for the cabin crew to be serving hot drinks!

P-3K Orion P-3K Orion
Boeing 757
Boeing 757
Sentinel R1
Hercules C.5
Merlin HC.3 Typhoon F.2

So Waddington show was really a mixed bag. The organisers should be praised for their efforts as the flying display was entertaining despite many feeling disappointed by the quality of the participants. Even the weather was good. Let’s hope that in 2007 the organisers have greater success with acceptance of their invitations to participate from the air arms of Europe – and the world.

The author would like to thank Flt Lt Sarah Dickson, the rest of the RAF Waddington MCO team and the personnel of 51 Squadron for their help to permit the compilation of this article.

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