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Biggin Hill International Air Fair

7 June 2008

“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 Flight’s Seahawk.

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 amaze.

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, with 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 this problem.

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!



Report by Chris Janssens

Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present