“We travelled far and wide, all over the
world, to bring you the best commentators for today. Unfortunately, we
couldn’t get them, so you’ll have to make do with this lot.” With this
sentence, the tone was set for what was to become a most enjoyable day
out at Biggin Hill, the legendary Battle of Britain airfield, not all
that far London.
The commentators in question were a team of four. Heading them was
Brendan O’Brien, media figure, pilot on all kinds of aircraft and wild
about Team Guinot girls’ legs. Assisting him were Squadron Leader Andy
Pawsey who talked the crowd through the RAF displays, warbird pilot Ron
David from the United States and Ian Brodie from New Zealand, organizer
of the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow there. Throughout the day, they
were joined by team-specific commentators, giving a very
enthusiastic feeling to the proceedings, even if Brendan seemed to miss
his previous sidekick Melvyn Hiscock a little.
Classic aircraft were not only prominent in the commentary team, they
also featured heavily in the flying programme.
Early aviation took to the sky in the shape of the Blériot XI of
Mikael Carlson, a beautifully restored aircraft which is unable to fly
more than a few metres above the ground for aerodynamic reasons.
Another aircraft from the early days of aviation, the Vickers Vimy, was
absent due to technical reasons.
The next era highlighted in the display was the Second World War and
this the Air Fair did in style!
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight presented 3 aircraft at Biggin
Hill: the Lancaster, the Spitfire and the Hurricane. As a bonus, an
additional Spitfire PrXIX from the BBMF arrived for an overnight at
Biggin Hill after a display nearby.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight presented its popular
North American B-25 Mitchel medium bomber, which was joined in the air
by a P-51 Mustang, ‘Jumpin’ Jacques’ from the Hangar 11 collection,
also a North American product. North American would be a recurring
theme as later in the day, there was also a display by the North
American F-86 Sabre from Golden Apple Operations.
Probably the most striking warbird display was a pair performance:
Nigel Lamb and Paul Bonhomme, both of Red Bull Air Race fame, flew
former Belgian air force Spitfire MkIX MH434, used at Coxyde for
fighter pilot training, and P-51D Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’ in a very
tight and graceful routine sponsored by Red Bull, filled with formation
rolls and loopings. The European airshow scene is fortunate to have
such a large company supporting shows this way with special acts, and
this pair rightfully won the award for best display team.
A large propeller driven aircraft at the show was the DC-6, resplendent
in its new British Eagle colour scheme, in honour of the 50th
anniversary of the Berlin Air Lift.
Apart from the F-86, there were 3 more classic jets in the display: a
Hawker Hunter T7 in Blue Diamonds colour scheme, a Meteor NF11, both
displaying solo and in formation together, and the Royal Navy Historic
Coming right up-to-date, modern fighter power was shown by the French
air force’s Mirage 2000 solo-display, which won the award for best
solo display, and the RAF Typhoon.
RAF training aircraft were also present in force. The Tutor and Tucano
both flew excellent aerobatic routines, while the Hawk T1, in its final
year on the display circuit, also looked impressive in its special
display colour scheme. The newest RAF display, that of the Beech King
Air 200, the RAF’s multi-engine propeller training aircraft based at
Valley, presented a routine with plenty of wingovers and a
particularly steep approach.
Highlight for many visitors was the 2008 RAF Role Demonstration,
featuring a Chinook, an Army Air Corps Apache, 2 Tornado Gr4s and 2
Tornado F3s, plus 2 Hawks posing as the bad guys. The E-3D Sentry went
tech on Saturday and was therefore unable to participate, but even so
the role demonstration was a clear step forward over last year, a
fitting display for the RAF's 90th anniversary year.
The Chinook would be the busiest aircraft at the show, also flying a
solo demonstration and acting as drop ship for the RAF parachute
display team, the Falcons. Other display teams were the Royal Navy
Black Cats with 2 regularly
painted Lynx helicopters and the Army Air Corps Blue Eagles, flying in
a new combination of a single Lynx and an Apache. The Apache
demonstration is very lacklustre compared to the Dutch demonstration
seen a few years ago.
The biggest helicopter team at the show was the Indian air force team
Sarang with 4 Dhruv helicopters, who are conducting a European tour.
Team Guinot with a girls on top of their 2 Boeing Stearmans attracted a
lot of attention once again, while Guy Westgate proved that the Swift
aerobatic display team can wow the crowds even without the combined act
with the Extra 300 as towship. Unfortunately, the team's regular Extra
300 towplane had an accident 2 weeks prior to the show, injuring the
pilot. The Extra’s substitute, the PA-25 Pawney, proved to be a more
than adequate stand-in and showed remarkable performance. The Swift's
aerobatics are well-known, but never cease to
Other formation teams at the show were the Blades with 4 Extra 300s,
who received special dispensation to do a crowd-rear arrival, and
Breitling Jet Team, who recently expanded to 7 L-39 Albatrosses and
adopted a new colour scheme.
It should be clear that Biggin Hill was once again a varied show and
also returned to form with significant international participation,
aircraft from India, France, the Netherlands and even a Danish F-16 on
the static line! Regular airport operations of the now mainly bizz-jet
oriented Biggin Hill airport did not interfere with the show, so a
steady, high pace was kept throughout the day. The finale with a single
Spitfire MkXVIII in the hands of John Romain to the sound of the Last
Post brought yet another very successful Air Fair to a close.
Record crowds of well over 110.000 over 2 days suffered some traffic
problems on Saturday, while on Sunday, some people could not enter the
airfield anymore as it had reached capacity.
Hopefully, this will not impact the show in the future through
word-of-mouth and negative press. Traffic management on the small roads
leading to Biggin will
always be a problem. Arriving early is the only way of getting around
Still, this 46th Biggin Hill Air Fair deserves to be remembered for the
great show it was. Even with the
problems of traffic, low light due to clouds and backlight, the largest privately run airshow in
Europe is still well worth a visit!
by Chris Janssens
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present