Scottie's Diary

- Heart of Scotland Airshow

Red Arrows

Here's the first instalment in the new "Scottie's Diary" - an irregular publication covering the life and times of Scottie, editor of the Rampant Scotland web site. Perhaps with a subject line of "Heart of Scotland" you might expect this article to be about whisky, tartan or some town in the centre of Scotland. But the heading was prompted instead by going to the "Heart of Scotland" Air Display held earlier this month at the airfield at Scone, near Perth.

Air Displays in Scotland

You really need to be an optimist as well as an enthusiast to go to an air display in Scotland - the unreliable weather can dampen the spirits of spectators and adversely affect the flying display too. But I've been keen on aviation for as long as I can remember - it was as a teenager that I went to my first air display, the US Air Force "Open Day" at their base at Prestwick in Ayrshire. I still have the black and white prints (I developed and then printed my own photos in those days - a good grounding for dealing with digital cameras and graphics software). The USAF brought in such aircraft as the North American F-100 Super Sabre, Douglas B-66 Destroyer and Douglas C-74 Globemaster (see illustration). There was even an elderly Boeing B29 there. Getting soaked that day didn't dampen my enthusiasm and I attended many airshows in Scotland and in England - including the "daddy of them all", the Farnborough Air Display, held every second year.

These days, the cost of staging an air display and the relatively small population of Scotland (and that unreliable Scottish weather) has meant that in recent years there have been - at best - only two such events each year. Principally there is the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain display at Leuchars in Fife each September, commemorating the victory over the Luftwaffe in September 1940. Then there is the air show at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, east of Edinburgh, focusing on the vintage aircraft held there.

But this year, for the first time, the "Heart of Scotland" Airshow took off, billed as "Over four hours of high-octane aerial displays ranging from historic warbirds to contemporary military jets!" How could I resist?

Getting There

Perth Airport is at Scone, a few miles north of Perth, so it is centrally located for Scotland's main population centres. I was concerned that the roads would be busy but the drive north from Glasgow, along the M80 motorway was uneventful and I reached Perth in 75 minutes - about normal for the trip. I was just congratulating myself for getting ahead of the crowds - when I reached the tail-back going into Perth... The roads through the Fair City of Perth can be slow moving at the best of times but when airshow traffic gets mixed with Saturday shoppers it got down to a snail's pace. Fortunately, Perth is not a large town so it took just 30 minutes to reach Scone - compared to the traffic jams in the narrow Fife roads at the air show at Leuchars, that was a breeze. Marshalled by cheerful Air Training Corps cadets, I was soon parked and was looking forward to viewing and photographing the static aircraft park. That was when the heavy rain came on... Although well used to taking photographs from under a large golf umbrella, I decided to have my sandwiches instead. As the saying goes, if you don't like the weather in Scotland - wait 20 minutes and it'll change." And so it did... And off I went to photograph the many aircraft parked on the airfield. Some were visitors to the show; others would be part of the flying display.

RAF Red Arrows Aerobatic Display Team

The flying display got off to a great start with the RAF Red Arrows Aerobatic Display Team sweeping across the airfield to give their usual impeccable display.

The Red Arrows often perform at the end of an air show - they make a great end to any flying display, but having them at the beginning instead really got the Heart of Scotland Airshow off to a flying start. The Red Arrows flew a special heart-shaped formation especially for the Heart of Scotland Airshow. The Team also flew their full, exciting 2009 Display lasting some 25 minutes, though low cloud did restrict them a bit.

The Red Arrows are the aerobatics display team of the Royal Air Force. They were formed in late 1964 and are currently equipped with nine BAE Hawk trainers. While in some ways these are not as impressive as front-line aircraft, they are extremely manoeuvrable - and are less expensive to operate. They perform at air shows all across Europe and to date have performed over 4,000 displays world-wide in 53 countries.

From Russia With Yaks

With the ending of the Cold War in the early 1990s, it became possible for aviation enthusiasts in the West to purchase aircraft from the former Soviet Union and other East European countries. The Heart of Scotland Airshow included two former Russian Yakovlev Yak52 aerobatic trainers - the "Cossack" display team. The one illustrated here is now located at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire and is the only resident Yak-52 in Scotland. Of the approximately 1,800 produced to date, most now fly in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and other western countries.

The Yakovlev Yak-52 first flew in 1976 and is still being produced in Romania. It was designed originally as an aerobatic trainer for students in the Soviet air training organisation, which trained both civilian sport pilots and military pilots.

Memories of World War I
After the thunder and speed of the Red Arrows, it was back to the early days of aviation with a flying demonstration by a replica of a Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5A, a British biplane fighter aircraft of the First World War. It was one of the fastest aircraft of that war - with a maximum speed of 132 mph (212 km/h). Together with the Sopwith Camel, the S.E.5 was instrumental in regaining allied air superiority in the summer of 1917 - and maintaining this for the rest of the war.

Despite its vintage, the S.E.5A showed just how manoeuvrable it was and why it was so successful in the dog-fights against opposing German aircraft. It was known as a strong aircraft and, in its day, could dive at high speed without breaking up (something that happened too often to some other aircraft types). By the end of the war, 21 British Empire squadrons as well as two U.S. squadrons were equipped with the S.E.5A. Many of the top Allied aces flew this fighter, including Billy Bishop, Edward Mannock and James McCudden. McCudden wrote of the S.E.5A "It was very fine to be in a machine that was faster than the Huns, and to know that one could run away just as things got too hot." McCudden, one of the most decorated soldiers of the First World War with a VC, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar, MM and with 57 enemy aircraft shot down, didn't run away very often in his S.E. 5A.

Australian Spitfire

The legendary Supermarine Spitfire took the aviation story on to the Second World War, though the example flown never took part in that conflict. The "Mk26" is an approximately 80% scale version of the original, which is sold in kit form by an Australian company for enthusiasts to construct for themselves. Over the last seventeen years they have sold over eighty kits of the all aluminium aircraft in every continent on the globe. In August/September 1940, it was the "real" Spitfire, along with the Hurricane, that allowed the Royal Air Force to repel the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and thwart Hitler's plans to invade the UK. At the height of the battle, Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed the thanks of a grateful nation with the inspirational words "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

Although on the Australian aircraft register as VH-IJH, this Spitfire replica example appears to be based at Scone.

Tiger Moth
In recent years, Scone has been very much a centre for training pilots who go on into civil aviation - or just enjoy flying light aircraft. The training role at Scone goes back a long way - 75 years ago the de Havilland Tiger Moth aircraft first flew at Scone, so it was fitting that examples of that type of biplane trainer should participate in the Heart of Scotland Airshow. The first Tiger Moth flew in 1931 and by the start of the Second World War, the RAF had 500 of the aircraft in service and large numbers of civilian Tiger Moths were also impressed to meet the demand for trainers.

During a British production run of over 7,000 Tiger Moths, a total of 4,005 Tiger Moth IIs were built during the war specifically for the RAF. G-ANRF was built in 1942. The Tiger Moth is popular with pilots both as an aerobatic aircraft and to provide experience of "taildragging" - the aircraft has a rear skid instead of a rear wheel and so is often landed on grass air strips. At Scone, the Tiger Moth disdained the tarmac runway and landed instead on the grass after its performance.

Heart of Scotland

It was a great compliment to the organisers of the Heart of Scotland Airshow that this RAF Hawk trainer was painted with this striking version of the traditional Royal Air Force red, white and blue roundel with the centre forming the shape of a heart instead of the usual circle. I wonder how many senior RAF officers were involved in giving permission for that to happen!

Seaplane Lands at Scone
With so many islands off the shores of Scotland and so many lochs within the country, it is surprising that seaplanes have not been used more here.

A few years ago, Loch Lomond Seaplanes began charter services and now flies a regular service from the river Clyde in Glasgow to Oban on the west coast. But it is left to private owners to fly the flag for this flexible form of transport. This example, a Christen A1 Husky, is produced by Aviat Aircraft of Afton, Wyoming and has been one of the best-selling light aircraft designs of the last twenty years, with more than 650 (mainly with just normal wheels rather than floats) sold since it first flew in 1986.

With a relatively powerful engine, it was able to give a creditable aerobatic display despite the weight and drag of those floats. During its display it made some very low passes, looking as if it was about to land. Fortunately, as the wheels below the floats were retracted at the time, it didn't try to land on the tarmac runway...

Caledonian Chipmunks

The de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk is a tandem, two-seat, single-engine primary trainer aircraft which was the standard primary trainer for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Air Force and several other air forces through much of the post-Second World War years. It was designed to succeed the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane trainer and was the first true post-war aviation project of de Havilland Canada.

Today, over 500 DHC-1 Chipmunk (affectionately known as "Chippie") airframes remain airworthy with more being rebuilt every year. Two examples - known as the "Caledonian Chipmunks" gave an aerobatic display at Scone, flying at times in very close formation!

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a twin-engine canard-delta wing multirole aircraft being designed and built by a consortium of companies in the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain. It has entered service with the British Royal Air Force, the German Luftwaffe, the Italian Air Force, the Spanish Air Force and the Austrian Air Force. Maximum speed at altitude is over Mach 2+ (2,495 km/h, 1550 mph). The Typhoon will soon be based at RAF Leuchars in Fife. The very noisy, high speed, rapid manoeuvres and tight turning circles by display pilot Scott Loughran brought the flying display to a fitting conclusion. The Typhoon display was cramped a little by low cloud, but the final rocketing ascent into the clouds was breathtaking. Had he wanted to, the pilot could have taken the Typhoon to over 60,000 feet in about a minute. Quite a contrast to the S.E.5A which would have struggled to reach 1,000 feet in the same timescale!

Fun and Games

Although it was a very professional display, first and foremost the Heart of Scotland Airshow was friendly entertainment. The organisers and the commentators ensured that everyone had a lot fun and some of the "acts" were specifically geared to that. For example, the highly amusing 'bad pilot' routine from the Cessna 152 did all the things that would give an instructor a heart attack. Some of the "landings" were of the bump and bounce variety - though it took a lot of skill to use the strong wind to help to have the aircraft yawing in side on to the runway.

The show came to an end with a bang too - with a number of the display aircraft circling the airfield and coming in one after the other, trying to burst a series of red balloons released from the ground. Although the slow-moving biplanes had to cope with a gusty wind, their greater frontal area gave them an advantage. The oddly named Stolp Starduster Too (seen here) entered into the spirit of the competition by producing a burst of smoke every time it succeeded in bursting one of the balloons!

In typical fashion, just as the aircraft involved in this competition had landed and the flying display ended - the sun came out...

Even though I was at times shivering in the cold wind (My fault for not wearing an extra sweater - it was June in Scotland after all) I thoroughly enjoyed this air display. There was a great variety of aircraft both on the ground and in the flying display and the mixture of vintage, light, private and military aircraft meant there was something for everyone. While aircraft enthusiasts were well catered for, the show would also appeal to a general audience who knew little of the finer points of aviation.

The Heart of Scotland Airshow was organised by members of the Scottish Aero Club, airport owner Morris Leslie, airport resident Air Charter Scotland along with Angus-based business Squadron Prints Ltd. Part of the profits from the event will be donated to the RAF Benevolent Fund and local charities. Air displays are expensive to stage and need a good audience to break even. So it is to be hoped that this year's event was a financial success and that we can all enjoy a unique airshow at Scone next year - and years to come!

During the course of the day I took a lot more pictures of the flying display and the static aircraft park and 60 of these have been selected for a "Photo Library" - See Heart of Scotland Airshow photo Library.

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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