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  Yeovilton International Air Day - RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, 2 July 2016


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After my Yeovilton ‘baptism’ in 2015, I returned in better spirits and with better weather for what was one of my many highlights in the 2016 airshow calendar. Staying locally definitely helped and, with a 20 minute drive both ways, I have to admit it was one of the most relaxed airshow experiences for a long while, and also meant I stayed for my first ever ‘Commando Assault,’ but more of that later.

Naval helicopters are obviously a large part of Yeovilton’s history and flying the flag for times past was the Westland Wasp Historic Flight’s Wasp HAS Mk 1 XT787 G-KAXT. The ubiquitous Westland Lynx also made its last display at Yeovilton before consignment to the history books, the type now being replaced by the Wildcat, examples of both machines being on show at points throughout the day. It was also interesting to see the Wildcats operating alongside an Army Air Corps Apache gunship during the Commando Assault, completing the Apache’s firepower with a side-door mounted GPMG. However, it was all about the new kid on the block, the Agusta Westland AW101 Merlin Mk3, which has recently made the move to the Navy and become part of the Commando Helicopter Force supporting the Royal Marines and replacing the stalwart Sea King HC4 ‘Junglies’ which made their last appearance before retirement at the 2015 show.

With the kids in tow and an up close and personal appointment with ‘Foxy Lady’ due in the afternoon, photography was necessary selective, Yeovilton’s long display line also contributing to a lack of opportunity to make any dynamic shots of the warbirds that were present. However, larger and faster heavy metal was well represented and photographed, beginning with the aforementioned DeHavilland Sea Vixen D3 G-CVIX ‘Foxy Lady’ flown under the newly launched ‘Navy Wings’ banner. An energetic and photogenic display was put on with great skill, the spectacle and excitement of seeing the aircraft being just as great as the display I witnessed at the Shuttleworth Navy Days show a month earlier. Cold War jets were also represented by the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron with their Polish-built SB Lim-2 ‘MiG-15UTI’ which made a welcome appearance. The RAF Typhoon demo brought fast jet proceedings up the present day, preceded by a rather special demo from a pair of Aeronavale 11F Dassault Rafale Ms that ‘brought the noise’ to the Somerset skies.

Good weather and a distinct lack of airspace restrictions combined to produce a great display from the RAF Red Arrows, it being of the rare occasions when I was able to witness the full loop and parasol break, the typical British summer often leading to grey skies and flat displays!
And so, onto the finale, the Commando Assault. This was a real spectacle as a force of four Merlins deposited rappelling Marines and Land Rovers in a continuous circuit of action while an Apache and Wildcat circled protectively overhead suppressing any enemy who dared to raise a head above ground during the proceedings. Yeovilton is also one of the few places in the UK where flares are allowed (as opposed to many displays on the continent where flares abound) and, although I missed an earlier flare shower from a Lynx due to having to defuse my two boys wrestling match (for which I’ve almost forgiven them!), it was great to get a chance to capture a Merlin releasing its IR decoys during the Assault. With the demonstration drawing to a close, it was left to the pyrotechnic team to end the show with a rather impressive explosion that enveloped the sky behind the hovering helos with rolls of dark clouds, an awesome end to what was a very good day.

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