New Air show in the White Rose County (by Simon Johnson)
When we received a request for our two historic helicopters to take part in a new air show taking place in Yorkshire one member of the team was very excited! Without any hesitation or even knowing when it was taking place I had agreed to go. Well I’d be returning home! Since the demise of the air show at RAF Waddington there has not been an air show in middle and east England so this would seem to fill the gap.
The air show was to be called the Yorkshire Air Show and would be hosted at the newly named East Leeds Airport, formerly RAF Church Fenton. On the news being sent out to the whole team Dick Barton also jumped at the opportunity as it was one of his old stomping grounds during his RAF career. He also wanted to bring along his son, Richard. Rob also stepped up to the plate along with Phil, Jo, Stuart and Nina so the team was set.
Phil and Jo elected to drive the motor home, Dick and Richard would fly the Loach which meant Rob, Stuart, Nina and I were in the Huey. The motor home headed out east on Friday the 25th, this was to avoid a really, really, early start on the Saturday morning as the event opened to the public bright and early. The land journey over wasn’t too bad but they got caught around Leeds with the commuter/Friday night dash traffic. On arrival they had to park up by the non airside buildings and stay there over night. Early Saturday they were allowed to their plot overlooking the display line.
The flying crew all assembled at 07.30 at the hangar. Both machines were wheeled out of the hangar onto the landing strip. Dick and Rob did their checks of the aircraft. The rest of use loaded the weapons and ground handling gear into the back of the Huey. We also walked the rotors around three times and retied them the stinger. We were taking the wheels with us as there might have been a possibility of moving both helicopters close to the crowd line so they could get a closer look.
We spoke to Phil in Yorkshire who gave us the heads up for the weather conditions. Dick and Rob conferred on the route and who was taking the lead and dealing with the radio calls. Dick was to take point in 011 with 509 following his lead. The weather was quite bright but there were one or two mist patches visible to the east. We hoped these would burn off before we lifted at 09.00.
At 08.50 we locked the hangar and climbed into our respective aircraft. Rob and I settled into the front with Stuart and Nina in the back. Stuart stayed outside to untie the rotors and to do the walk around after start up just to double check all was good. Rob gave Stuart the signal to unhook and he pressed the starter and 509 came to life in her usual way with the starter motor straining to turn everything. Slowly the blades began to turn and the fire caught, the power rose steadily to the 40% point when the starter can be disengaged as the turbine has taken over by then. Stuart jumped in and we were ready.
Dick had pressed the starter button of the Loach and it leapt into life in a fraction of the time of the venerable Huey. All indicators in both helicopters were good so Dick indicated he was going to lift. We saw him rise gently off his trolley, turn to his right (our left) and departed the strip, once he was clear of us Rob pulled pitch and we lost contact with the ground supported now by the huge cushion of air forced down by the mighty blades spinning above our heads. Rob continued to climb and then nosed over which took us into transitional lift and we were flying. We turned east down the M55 and tagged onto the Loach’s tail.
We flew over the M6 and headed for Longridge and Jeffrey Hill. After Longridge we joined the Ribble Valley flying to the south of Clitheroe but heading for Pendle Hill. Over the far side we looked north to Barnoldswick and made a line for Leeds Bradford Airport above Otley. We were staying to the north of their controlled air space flying down Wharfedale then turned south east past Harewood House and over Eccup reservoir. In the distance we could see Ferrybridge Power station to the south of Church Fenton and Selby and further east were the tell signs Eggborough and Drax power stations. Up until this point air traffic had been relatively quiet all that was about to change.
As we approached East Leeds the radio traffic got busier with all kinds of aircraft wanting to land at the same time ahead of the start of the display. All six of us were watching intently in all directions keeping tabs on all the aircraft we heard taking to Air Traffic. It was a constant flow of aircraft on finals. It felt that it was busier than Heathrow is at peak times. We joined the queue. We headed down Runway 24 keeping to the grass to the left to allow other aircraft to land on the tarmac. Air traffic kept us waiting over the grass at the intersection of the two runways until a suitable gap between the landing aircraft to let us cross over and head for the marshals directing us to our landing spots. It was 09.40. We secured the aircraft and headed off to register and find Phil and Jo.
Passes sorted we went for a walk down the crowd line and past the other stalls that were set up for a day’s trading. We found the Huey shop already set up and serving customers. It was a great spot opposite the centre of the display line, so an ideal spot to watch the displays planned for the day. The list of aircraft was wide and varied including our two helicopters with a C47 Dakota, Spitfire and P51 Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’, Curtiss P40 Warhawk/Kittyhawk along with a Hawker Hurricane. For the fast jet boys there was a Gloster Meteor and De Havilland Venom, the Gnat display team, Russian Mig and the mighty Avro Vulcan. There were displays by Team Raven and the Wildcats.
Phil had been asked to join Ken Coughcliff the air show commentator on the balcony of the Control Tower to have a chat to him during the displays of the Huey and Loach. Unlike other air shows they decided to have the two machines display separately. Rob and I headed over to 509 to prepare her for the display. Dick came over later as he was displaying an hour later then Rob. For those not strictly enthused with aircraft there were lots of exhibits on the ground to see with classic cars, military vehicles, flight simulators and many different stalls selling all manner of things. The crowd was huge, spread over a great distance. We heard of people’s journey to get to the airfield for the display. The Police had to shut the road apparently and turn people away due to the problems the tail back was causing other motorists. It does show that there is an appetite for such an event in that area. It has a huge catchment area reaching as far as Birmingham in the south, Manchester and Liverpool to the west and Newcastle to the north and all points in between. We spoke to people who had travelled some considerable distance to be there and had thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Rob got the call and he fired up the Lycoming much to the delight of a huge crowd on the other side of the hard standing. The Dakota had already lumbered out to do her display. The Meteor and Venom roared down the runway and disappeared into the distance. It was a hive of activity. All the while Rob was patiently waiting to lift. He got the call and his lifted 509 into the air and backup away from the parked aircraft parked in front of us. He swung the tail to his left and nosed over flying around the Jet Ranger on the ground that was giving pleasure flights all morning and turned onto the display line along runway 16/34. He clattered past the crowd and headed out to the east to then head back west towards the crowd treating them to the unmistakable thump of the blades that only a Huey can make. He enthralled the crowds twisting and turning, corkscrewing, flying sideways and spinning at the same time. It was what I described to Rob afterwards as display with gusto.
Soon it was Dicks turn to do his thing and he sped off in the nimble Loach. He too gave a sterling display which went down well with the crowd. The great thing about the helicopters is that they can give their display in a much tighter area and closer so that the spectators can get a much better look at the aircraft doing what they do best which is being manoeuvrable at all kinds of speeds and of course hovering.
After some great flying of the Spits, P40, Mustang and Hurricane the Vulcan made it approach from where it had been loafing around to the east of the field. Extremely graceful it threaded it way around the sky every now and then open the throttles to make the for mighty engines roar. She made a couple of passes to generate the Vulcan howl. Majestically she made her final pass before heading back to where she had come from.
The crowds started to return to their cars only to get caught up in one heck of a queue to leave the site. We all mucked in and broke down the shop and packed the trailer. Once we had done that those that were flying returned to the helicopters to fly back to Lancashire. Poor Phil and Jo had to sit it out on the airfield. The stall holders had been asked to stay where they were until 18.30 so not to add to the already large traffic jam.
Dick asked Air Traffic permission to start and the go ahead was given. Both the Loach and Huey came to life. After a wait we were given permission to lift and to make a final flight down the flight line as there were still lots of people watching the aircraft depart. The flight was the reverse of our from Wesham apart from this time we were given permission transit through Leeds Bradford Airport air space at 2000ft. It was great to see the historic airfield from the air having visited it on many occasions from a very young age with my father on his way back from work at Guiseley on a Saturday morning.
We were flying over very familiar landmarks as we headed west including flying over Stoneyhurst College at Hurst Green. We spotted the landing strip and made ourselves ready to land. Once down, we soon had the helicopters back inside the hangar and all the gear put back on the shelves. It had been a good day and good to see a new air show on the calendar. Next year is looking like a two day event which would be good. Whilst our flight back was trouble free Phil and Jo’s journey by road took somewhat longer, they arrived back at base at 21.30 some three hours after us.