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  Yeovilton International Air Day - RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, 11th July 2015


Comment -
For me, the 2015 Yeovilton International Air Day was one of those times when I was off the button! Photographically the grey skies showed up the inadequacies of my 2x teleconverter which, even though mounted on a f2.8 prime, struggled with sharpness and exposure latitude in a way not apparent with the shots taken on my 120-300mm with a x1.4 tc. This was the second, and last, season I used the x2 tc and now will be sticking to the x1.4 while waiting for an opportunity to try out one of the new Sigma 150-600mm superzooms! Additionally the two and a half hours my satnav had predicted for my journey turned into four and by the time I got into the airfield, I have to admit, I was not at my best…

But anyway, enough of my personal trials and tribulations and on with the show!

Two themes ran through the day, with RNAS Yeovilton celebrating its 75th anniversary, while 100 years of aircraft production at the AgustaWestland site in Yeovil was also celebrated. The Naval theme predominated in the flying display, highlights being DeHavilland Sea Vixen D3 G-CVIX making a welcome reappearance on the display circuit after several years of misfortune preventing much display flying at all. I remember photographing this aircraft as it made its UK display debut in May 2001 at Duxford, then piloted by Dan Griffith, and still in its last service colours of yellow and red. Later on the aircraft sported a blue and silver Red Bulls livery and it was great to see the aircraft at Yeovilton in its full historical glory wearing its original 899 Naval Air Squadron markings.

Another highlight was the first post-restoration display appearance for Royal Navy Historic Flight Fairy Swordfish I W5856, which had been undergoing restoration work since its last displays in 2003. Indeed, I remember a time when it was easy to take the Swordfish displays for granted as they seemed to be at every airshow, but this has not been the case for a long time now and it was a welcome sight indeed to watch the big biplane being ably shown off by Simon Wilson and crew, complete with the obligatory Red Ensign flypast and salute.
If this wasn’t enough, further milestones abounded throughout the day. For example the show was opened by a 771 NAS Sea King HU5 trailing a red ensign, the last time this sight will be possible at an airshow as the UK Search and Rescue service has now been sold off and privatised. The red and grey Sea Kings will be a sight sorely missed on holidays in Cornwall now (I even have pictures of the Wessex HU5s that preceded them taken on a Hanimax 110 slide action camera at Coverack Lifeboat day back in 1985!) Other milestones included the last displays by the ‘Junglies,’ the Sea King HC4s that have also now been retired and replaced by the Merlin HC3, four of which participated in the Commando Assault at the show’s finale. Yet another milestone was the Yeovilton debut for the Fleet Air Arm’s new Wildcat helicopters, these performing as the ‘Black Cats’ display team and later on in a set piece with two Lynx HMA8s, the machines they are beginning to replace.

Last appearances continued with, of course, the Vulcan’s final display at the Somerset airfield, this being preceded by a unique and one-off formation of classic British jets as the Sea Vixen, flanked by two Vampires of the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron, led XH558 for two passes along the crowdline. Another bowing out was the real coup for the show, namely the last appearance at a UK airshow of a Dassault Super Etendard, two of which, along with two Rafale Ms, made up the impressive and noisy Aeronavale Role Demo. The Aeronavale Super Etendards are due for retirement in 2016.

And so to the finale, the set piece Commando Assault which closes Yeovilton each year. I have to confess I was on my way home by then as I could not face another marathon session in the car and wanted to beat the queues so this will have to wait another year and it is something I am very much looking forward too.

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