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Waddington International Airshow 2012
Author: Robin Powney
Photography: Author
Red Arrows BBMF
Black Eagles
Red Arrows

The 2012 show was quite possibly the best Waddington airshow there has been for a long while and, in today’s climate, pretty much about as good as it could have got although, as strange as it might seem, it was initially looking even better as the participation list included both a C-17A and a C-130J from the Qatar Emiri Air Force’s Transport Squadron at Al Udeid AB. The ever-popular Vulcan was also due to attend – until, that is, two engines ended up being put out of action. A major difference to previous years was that it didn’t really clash with anything. Shows of the past had poor participation thanks to European shows being held at the same time; not this year! It did, however, clash with Flying Legends although that was never going to compete with Waddington when it came to items like the Swiss Hornet, Dutch Viper and, arguably the star billings, the Australian Wedgetail, Korean Black Eagles and Saudi Hawks.

The traffic problems of last year seemed to have been banished although looking out to the A15 first thing on Saturday morning, the comparative lack of traffic may well have had more to do with both the weather forecast for the day and the rain at the time than different planning. A small issue is that of the entry kiosks and traffic filing past them – they had staff on both sides of the small portacabin structures yet for vehicles whose sole occupant was the driver, it creates a logistics issue as the driver couldn’t get much further from the kiosk if they tried. Of the six entry lanes at the A15 entrance, that would make for 50% being “on the wrong side” and this may have contributed to the slightly increased wait in getting through. Days of yore with numbers of people collecting tickets seemed much snappier. Once through though, things didn’t really speed up as the process of actually parking up seemed to be only a little quicker than fish evolving to walk on land. The hi-viz-clad people directing cars were of little value as they either didn’t know where a particular enclosure was and simply waved traffic on in a stationary queue. On the whole, though, entry seemed a better experience than 2011.

F/A-18C Black Eagles
Lynx AH7 Saudi Hawks
Sentinel R.1 RC-135V
E-3D Sentry E-3D Sentry

It wouldn’t be Waddington without a station flypast opening the flying although the 2012 opener was slightly different in that, following the flypast by the Sentinel R.1 and the Sentry AEW.1, the Sentry went on to perform a display. With a huge antenna sat atop the fuselage, it was never going to be aerobatic but, nevertheless, it was good to see the Sentry finally get a bit more ‘air time’ at the show. Once again, an RC-135V Rivet Joint made a brief but welcome appearance and the crew had obviously listened to by far the biggest complaint of the previous year’s appearance and performed the flypast at a lower altitude. The RAF’s own Rivet Joints will enter service in 2014 so, hopefully, it won’t be too long before the Station Flypast includes at least one 51 Squadron RC-135V/W, operational commitments permitting.

Elements of the home team, in the form of a couple of E-3Ds and a single Sentinel were in the static park with one of the Sentries parked alongside what could reasonably be considered to be the star of the static – the immaculate RAAF 737AEW&C ‘Wedgetail’. On the way home from a deployment to Alaska, the Wedgetail came across from the US solely for the show before heading back toward Alaska and then on to home. You can bet the crew could have been found deep in conversation with 8/54 Squadron personnel though.

Wedgetail Wedgetail
Saudi Hawks Saudi Hawks
Team Orlik Saudi Hawks

AIR 5077, colloquially known as “Project Wedgetail”, began all the back in 1996 and resulted in the first ever conversion of a Boeing 737 for airborne early warning and control – since then, six examples of the “baby AWACS” have been delivered to the RAAF between 2009 and 2011 with initial operating capability expected sometime later this year. Project Wedgetail will continue to upgrade and develop the aircraft over the next 20+ years with a Mid-Life Update will reaching IOC sometime round 2028. All six aircraft are operated by 41 Wing’s 2 Squadron at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales with a permanent detachment of two aircraft more than 2,000 miles away at RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory. Based on a 737-700, the Wedgetail is basically a smaller, cheaper alternative to the larger E-3D Sentry and, aside from the obvious difference in size to its elder brother, the Wedgetail features an electronically scanned antenna and IFF array in a fixed ‘top hat’ housing as opposed to a large rotating dish. The Northrop Grumman-sourced Multirole Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) L-band radar system provides full 360° coverage of air and maritime contacts out to a range of about 200nm in all weather.

Making another long haul was the Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757-2K2 which had flown World War II veterans from New Zealand to the UK for the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London. As past shows have proven, the 757 belies its airliner build and is quite the performer. This particular jet, one of just two on strength with 40 Squadron at Whenuapai AB on the North Island, also featured quite tidy RNZAF 75th Anniversary markings.

757 757
Cougar Cougar
F/A-18C F/A-18C

The Swiss Air Force have to be thanked as they had sent along a pair of display participants in the shape of the AS.532UL Cougar and F/A-18C Hornet. Sadly rarely seen on the UK airshow calendar, the Cougar display is much like the RAF’s Chinook display in that it betrays the size and the assumed lack of agility of a large helicopter. Swiss Hornets were once extremely regular visitors to Waddington in the good ol’ days of the North Sea ACMI range and numerous deployments of various European units so it was good to see the ‘Bug’ back in the skies of Lincolnshire once again. Since 2010, Fliegerstaffel 17 (one of three Swiss Bug squadrons) at Payerne, have provided the Swiss Hornet Display Team with Captain Ralph Deasy Knittel being at the helm. Whilst not exactly a small jet, the Bug has been blessed with impressive agility and is capable of high angles of attack that, frankly, border on the ridiculous and mean that a Hornet display is nothing but entertaining. To paraphrase Dos Gringos, whilst the Bug can still pitch and roll, other jets are going out of control.

Aesthetically more impressive is the Orange Lion F-16 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 Solo Display Team – the Dutch guys certainly have an eye for a spot of eye catching artwork on their jets, that’s for sure! Superbly flown by Captain Stefan “Stitch” Hutten, the display is unsurprisingly full of “turning and burning” which shows off the remarkable agility of the nimble F-16. The Dutch display currently supported by 312 and 313 Squadron personnel at Volkel AB, has been absent from Waddington for quite a while (chiefly down to the previously mentioned date clashes and the team being elsewhere) so it was good to see it back once again. It’s quite amazing to think that the team have been on the display circuit since their first display at Twenthe AB on 15 September 1979… quite what the next 34 years holds is anyone’s guess. Also from Holland, and coming all the way from Eindhoven, was a 334 Squadron DC-10 which performed a flypast then left. Big, lumbering heavies are always a welcome sight and this was little different!

Orange Lion Orange Lion
Orange Lion Orange Lion
Orange Lion Orange Lion
L-159A 105OE

Hiding in amongst the foreign fast jet displays were the Austrian Air Force’s SAAB 105OË, making one of only three airshow appearances in 2012, and the Czech Air Force’s L-159A displays. Hailing from the Austrian Air Force’s Düsentrainerstaffel at Hörsching, the 105OE is knocking on a bit now (Austrian service entry was back in the early 70s) yet, for a small, almost ungainly looking jet, it is capable of a generating a somewhat surprising level of noise and, overall, a decent display. Thanks to the extra punch to the eardrums from the older GE J85 engines, I’d go as far as saying the 105OË display is a bit more of a spectacle than the L-159A, especially with the stunning tiger scheme taken into account. It’s not to say the L-159A is a poor display, just that the 105OË is more entertaining. Development of the L-159 started in 1992 with an order for more than seventy examples coming from the Czech AF in 1995 – to this day, even following an extensive amount of interest from more than fifteen nations, Aero Vodochody has yet to secure a single export for the type.

The RAF, however, brought along just about everything that had a display pilot and covered pretty much all available options starting at initial flight training with the Grob Tutor right up to sharp, pointy end of the spear with the Tornado and Typhoon. The Tutor display isn’t a particularly fact paced affair but you can’t fail to be impressed by the agility and skill on show. A step up from the Tutor is the King Air, a type operated by 45(R) Squadron for multi-engine training, with another relatively slow but inspiring display of agility and the Tucano. The Tucano put on a typically energetic display but also featured a rather eye-catching red, white and blue Jubilee colour scheme. The next step for those with fast jets as their ultimate destination is the Hawk T.1 which, in the capable hands of Flt Lt Philip Bird, put on another good display.

Tutor Tucano
Hawk T1
Typhoon Typhoon
Typhoon Typhoon

With a number of jets and crews forward deployed to Italy for operations over Libya, it was a surprise to have a Typhoon on the display circuit although, unlike previous years where Coningsby provided the aircraft, pilot and the all too important ground support personnel, the 2012 display would be provided by RAF Leuchars’ 6 Squadron. As Leuchars’ only Typhoon operator, it seemed somewhat strange for them to get the job given they are also tasked with Northern QRA and securing UK airspace when Badgers, Bears and Blackjacks were sniffing about. Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran got the nod for the display pilot position for 2012 and, to be honest, with the exception of the rather smart blue and red markings, I think you’d be hard pressed to distinguish between 29(R) Squadron and 6 Squadron in terms of the display itself – this year’s display is just as good as any preceding year.

The Tornado is always an airshow favourite but rather than a return to a proper solo display item, it featured in XV(R) Squadron’s role demonstration. One Tornado is good, two Tornados in a well sorted routine is simply brilliant. The guys of the Tornado Role Demonstration Team can hold their heads high and to be quite honest, I personally would rather see the said role demo than a solo display jet. If the RAF are after a bit more “engagement” this is the way to do it. Arguably the biggest crowd puller the RAF have are the Red Arrows and they, once again, proved to be capable of stopping crowds dead in their tracks with a typically classy display. Almost as adept at getting people to look upwards but the undisputed king of making hairs on the back of the neck stand on end is the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which is always a welcome inclusion in any show. The RAF Falcon parachute team were also in attendance but what made their 2012 jump a little different was that they jumped out of the back of a 47 Squadron Hercules C.1; a type which is up there with hens teeth in terms of rarity.

Role Demo
Role Demo
C-130K C-130K
Lynx HMA8 Lynx HMA8
Lynx HMA8 Lynx AH7

Lynx helicopters were well covered in the flying programme too as, in addition to the often seen Royal Navy Black Cats Lynx pair, the Army Air Corps were in attendance with one of their AH.7s. Operational in the late 70s, the Lynx is still one of the most agile and aerobatic helicopters in existence and both the RN and AAC crews seemed to want to fly the blades off the things.

Making a welcome return to Lincolnshire after far too long an absence were the ever popular Frecce Tricolori of the Italian Air Force. Second perhaps to the Reds from a technical point of view, the Frecce are quite possibly the most enjoyable of all the European display teams. Making their UK debut in 2011, the Saudi Hawks made their Waddington debut during a relatively short trip round the UK and, sadly, one of the team was struck down with an illness which reduced the usual six-jet team to just five aircraft. Even so, the links to the Reds (through ex-Reds personnel being involved with the team) are quite obvious – and that’s not just limited to the fact that, obviously ignoring the colour difference, the paint schemes are quite similar. The ‘spare’ jet actually made it into the static park, together with a Reds Hawk which isn’t exactly a common sight in a static lineup! These two were alongside the future of the Hawk, a Hawk T.2, from the newly reformed 4 Squadron at Valley.

Frecce Frecce
Saudi Hawks Saudi Hawks
Black Eagles Black Eagles
Black Eagles Black Eagles

Arguably, the highlight of the show was the Republic of Korea AF Black Eagles display team from Wonju AB in Gangwon Province. Making their very first appearance outside of Korea, the team would embark on quite a short tour and display at Waddington and Fairford whilst a solo would display at Farnborough. Arriving in the UK as cargo in 747s, the KAI T-50B Golden Eagle jets were trucked up to RAF Leeming for re-assembly before arriving at Waddington for their first display.  The T-50 Golden Eagle is a supersonic advanced trainer developed by Korean Aerospace Industries with considerable input from Lockheed-Martin and owes a lot to the F-16 as can be seen by the almost identical wings and landing gear. Powered by a single license-built version of the afterburning GE F404-102, the T-50 is capable of about Mach 1.5 and has a service ceiling of roughly 55,000ft – not bad for a trainer and a little different to the mounts picked by European teams! The T-50B has numerous modifications for aerobatics and is specific to the Black Eagles. The RoKAF’s 1FW (specifically the 189FTS and 203FTS) at Gwangju AB operate numerous vanilla T-50s in the trainer role alongside the TA-50 light attack / tactical trainer variant flown by 115FTS at Yecheon AB. An FA-50 multirole variant, to replace F-5 Tiger IIs, will join the RoKAF ranks by 2014. The T-50 has also had limited export success as Indonesia ordered sixteen T-50s in T-50I guise back in 2011.

Though clearly borrowing from European teams, there is also an obvious hint of Thunderbirds and Blue Angels about their display but this is a good thing as, though the European teams can’t pull off the “fast jet noise and speed impressiveness” of their American colleagues, the US teams aren’t able to match the formation aerobatics of the Europeans. Mix the two together and it can only be a recipe for success. Not many teams stop an airfield full of people in their tracks but the Black Eagles can put their name on this list as that’s exactly what happened. They put on a seriously impressive display which is made only more impressive when you consider they are on debut almost 6,000 miles away from home. The team, and I include pilots and ground support in that, themselves also came across as an extremely friendly bunch of people and seemed to be more than happy to talk to whoever wanted to talk to them.

Black Eagles Black Eagles
Black Eagles
Black Eagles
F/A-18C Chinook
Chinook Chinook

I can’t help but think the awards for the flying displays were a little misplaced. The Korean Black Eagles warranted taking the Boeing Trophy for best flying display, with the Swiss F/A-18C solo following up in second whilst the RAF Chinook display took third. The Chinook display was, quite simply, absolutely superb and deserved better than third place. It was never going to unseat the Black Eagles but I do believe the Hornet and Chinook were the wrong way round. It’s been a long while since a proper Chinook display has been on the circuit but the 2012 team of Flt Lt Steve Hewer, Flt Lt Chris Boddy, Flt Lt Mike Anderson, MAcr Mark Bradley and MAcr Bob Sunderland (plus, of course, those on the ground providing vital support to ensure there is actually something to fly) have something they can truly be proud of. All the guys have extensive combat experience from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and, judging by some of the manoeuvres, if you needed pulling out of somewhere hot and dusty, these are the guys you want to be calling.

The static line up wasn’t quite as diverse as the flying but did feature some gems. Depending on your viewpoint, the “star” could have been the previously discussed Wedgetail, the Algerian Air Force (or Force Aerienne Algerienne or al-Quwwat al-Jawwiya al-Jaza’iriya) C-130H, the Luftwaffe F-4F or perhaps the Norwegian Falcon 20ECM. The Herc, from 2 ETTL (Escadre de Transport Tactique et Logistique; yes, that is also of French descent) at Boufarik near Algiers, looked stunning in an egg-shell blue, green and brown camo scheme and we can only hope for more attendances at shows by the Algerians, perhaps with various MiGs and Sukhois.

F-4F Falcon 20ECM
F-4F F-4F
Falcon 20ECM F-4F

The F-4F, from JG-71 Richthofen at Wittmund, was wearing a comparatively tame special scheme as the Germans go, but what was a master stroke in boo-boos was hemming the thing in with fencing making decent photography impossible. What makes it somewhat worse is that the Luftwaffe F-4s are in their sunset years and this is likely the last Luftwaffe F-4 at a Waddington show. The scheme, as far as my basic German goes, seems to be commemorating 45 years of the air force maintenance group (LwInsthGrp21 or Luftwaffe Instandhaltungsgruppe 21 in full) at Jever AB, near Schortens which is not all that far down the road from Wittmund. The third of the possible stars was Munin, a Norwegian Air Force Falcon 20ECM from FEKS/717 Skv at Rygge AB in Southern Norway. The RNoAF only have three of these rarely things and you have to admit, with their matt black scheme, they do look neat machines. Parked up near a 5(AC) Sqn Sentinel R.1 on Alpha, sorry, the Sentry Dispersal, photography was a little easier than with the F-4.

Also found lurking on the Sentry Dispersal were a couple of 8/23/54 Sqn E-3D Sentry AEW.1s and a fair number of helicopters. These included a 28(AC) Sqn Merlin HC.3A from Benson alongside a Puma HC.1, a fellow Benson resident. The HC.3As are ex-Royal Danish Air Force Mk 512 TTT tactical troop transport variants acquired due to a helicopter shortage in the MoD and can be identified by the  nose which houses a Telephonics RDR1600 weather radar not fitted on the HC.3s. The Bell 212 AH.2 was another rare aircraft on show. Derived from the UH-1 Iroquis “Huey”, the 212 features an additional engine and has an ability to carry an not inconsiderable load in hot and humid environments like jungles. This particular example was from 25 Flight 671 Squadron. Much more common is the very similar looking Griffin HT.1 from 60(R) Squadron (the Defence Helicopter Flying School) at Shawbury.

Merlin Puma
Griffin HT1 Bell 212 AH2
F-16 F-16

Though the show has often vilified for an extensive amount of private aircraft in the past, the MSS Holdings Ltd owned UH-1H Iroquis (aka “Huey”) and its stablemate, an OH-6A Cayuse, were parked up with the rest of the helicopter attendees and were more than welcome as they have both been superbly restored to their Vietnam era markings – 129th Assault Helicopter Company for the UH-1H and 20th Transport Company for the OH-6A. The UH-1H, in fact, is also the only flying example of its type in the UK.

The Belgians provided a small contingent for the static display too; a 15 Wing 20sm C-130H from Brussels Melsbroek was joined by a pair of F-16AM Fighting Falcons, one from 2 Wing at Florennes and the other from 10 Wing at Kleine Brogel. The two Belgian Vipers were also joined by an Esk 727 F-16AM and an Esk 730 F-16BM of the Royal Danish Air Force; both squadrons call Skrydstrup home. A small quantity of specially marked aircraft could also be found in amongst the static display – one was a 100 Sqn Hawk T.1 in a World War II commemorative scheme (think Spitfire or Hurricane type colours), another was 3(F) Squadron’s anniversary Typhoon FGR.4 whilst the other was a Czech Air Force JAS-39C Gripen of 211.tl at Caslav. The Gripen featured rather tidy tiger art on the tail with eyes on the two canards. It also didn’t come alone as a 242.tsl C-295M from Kbely kept it company on the Waddington concrete.

C-130H F-16
Tornado GR4 Swordfish MPA
Erieye Saab Turboprops

Pretty much rounding out the static display was on of 41(R) Squadron’s Tornado GR.4s, which is always a pleasure to see as these do carry full unit markings and not just a white code, and two Saab turboprops. A Swedish Air Force Saab 340 Erieye, a small AEW&C platform was lined up alongside an example of the larger Saab 2000 Swordfish Maritime Patrol Aircraft in a full Saab corporate livery.

All in all, Waddington did a fantastic job in 2012 yet perhaps the biggest issue is the 2013 show and how the organisers will top it.

Reds Hawk Saudi Hawks Hawk
The author would like to thank Flt Lt Darren Scales, the RAF Waddington media team and 14 Sqn.