RNAS Yeovilton, Somerset, United Kingdom, 13th July 2019
Report by Peter and Kim Davison
Such is the star quality of this annual Naval celebration that it continues to survive the general reduction in military airshows across Europe. Despite being close to the Air Tattoo the crowds and exhibits continue to converge to celebrate Naval aviation, particularly in regard to rotary and coastal patrol assets. With the co-located Fleet Air Arm Museum and a strong educational agenda it also inspires repeat visits and maritime loyalty from an eager public.
Vertical flight operations were a key focus of this year’s event, the new RAF F-35B Lightning, soon for deployment on HMS Queen Elizabeth; upgraded Merlin 4 commando assault helicopters, shipborne Wildcats and almost historic Harriers from the Spanish Navy dominated the displays; topped up with ‘Jetman’ with engines strapped to his wrists!
The weather failed to deliver the recent sunshine so warmth and overcast greeted the shorts and tee-shirt brigade. However, since the base crowd-line faces due south, photo opportunities against the dark sky reduced the expected glare. This restricted the excellent Belgian F-16 and Red Arrows to low altitude demonstrations though made smoke trails and flare ejections more distinct. No issues though for vintage and helicopter demonstrations.
The static display lacked the usual wide variety of European naval helicopters but bristled with heritage types, UK helicopters and heavy transports. Qatar, the USAF and Lithuania contributed with Germany, Italy and Canada providing maritime patrol aircraft. The Italian Avanti and ATR72 were of particular interest.
Three French heritage groups joined forces to present a mixed formation of Zephyr, Paris and Alize. The Alize is a very welcome addition to the circuit. Smaller than the more familiar Fairey Gannet it brought a new shape to the skies.
Britain’s aviation heritage was well represented; a collection of static Austers; Phanthom, Sea Vixen and Swordfish backed up with discounted entry to the FAA Museum whose Albacore restoration project gave an inkling of the challenges facing their dedicated staff. The Wessex display made a great show starter.
Formation aerobatics came from tight, low level display from the Red Arrows Hawks and gravity defying antics from the Blades. The RAF Battle of Britain flight added joint and individual presentations finished off with precision landings on base rather than the usual return to Lincolnshire.
The expectation of the Commando Assault finale kept almost the entire crowd transfixed to the end with troops, Merlins and Wildcats, hawk top-cover and pyro-technics showing how the Marines can deal thoroughly and decisively with any situation. The new Royal Navy, once both new Aircraft Carriers are fully functional will certainly be better equipped than at any time in the last twenty years.
The event was well organised with excellent media and VIP facilities sufficiently offset to provide a long public crowdline and separate ‘non aviation’ attractions. A promise to keep the event ‘landfill free’ with a creative waste disposal policy was a very welcome initiative. The STEM education hangar is an excellent facility which should really feature more often; worth a family visit for this alone!