Friday, 8 August 2014

RNAS Yeovilton 2014 Photo Call

Royal Navy Westland Lynx
On Friday 25 July 2014, the gates of RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset were opened to a select group of aviation enthusiasts, who, for a modest fee, were held captive in a compound at the eastern end of the runway with the sole purpose of watching the day's arrivals and practice displays for the annual air show the following day. At least this captivity was a rather pleasant one with plenty of food, drinks and ice cream and above all some decent seat to sit (and stand) on. The weather could not have been better with clear skies and sizzling temperatures., but there was a wee fly in the ointment, more of which later.

There are three distinct elements to the Photo Call, the arrivals, the practice displays and the roam around the static park in the early evening. The former two happen roughly between 08:00 and 18:00 and are interspersed and the latter when all static aircraft are in place and secured.


Avro Vulcan B2 XH558
As is inevitable some aircraft arrive well in advance of the airshow date and this was the case with Vulcan XH558, which arrived a couple of days earlier from its very successful attendance at the Farnborough International Air Show.

On the day,  the first arrivals were to be a pair of Swiss Air Force F-18C Hornets, flying in from their base at Payerne in Western Switzerland and led by Teddy Meister, this year's F-18 display pilot. Unfortunately for us, they had arrived at 08:30 prior to the gates having opened so some great photo opportunities missed, but that was made up for later during the practice display session for the foreign participants.

Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon of the Belgian Air Component arriving from Florennes AB
First to arrive was the Belgian Air Component's F-16 resplendent in its 2014 display colours, which was followed shortly after by a Swiss Air Force Beech 1900D, the support aircraft for the two Hornets that arrived earlier. It appeared to drop off some people and a few boxes (spares presumably) and departed again, back to Switzerland.

Swiss Air Force Beech 1900D

Royal Navy EH-101 Merlin

The next arrivals were two Merlin helicopters, the first one coming from RNAS Culdrose is depicted above and the second aircraft, an RAF version arrive and landed directly in the static park area. The Navy Merlin landed on the taxiway running right past the compound we were in hence a great photo opportunity.

The landing of the Merlin heralded a disappointing change in proceedings, the wind, which had been blowing mainly from the north west, changed by almost 90 degrees and the opening runway became 09 and yes you guessed it, from the other side of the airfield. That was the end of any more landing action and pictures, however, the chief host in the compound talked to air traffic control and were at all possible landing aircraft were asked to taxi to the end of the runway before backtracking to their allocated parking positions.. So no landing pictures, but some fairly decent runway images.

The first aircraft to arrive after the runway change were a couple of French Aeronavale Dassault Rafale Ms, one with special seahorse tail markings. The Navy version of the Rafale can be easily distinguished from it Air Force brethren, at least on the ground, but its chunky strengthened undercarriage. From the angle below the Rafale is a pretty elegant looking aircraft.

Dassault Rafale M "27"
Dassault Rafale M "40"
North American T-6 Texan flown by ex-RNHF boss John Beattie
Boeing PT-17 Stearman
The above Stearman arrived from Goodwood and the commentator mentioned that the lady pilot had got lost a couple of times on her way over. When she landed, the air traffic controller could be heard talking to her and directing her to the end of the runway for us to take a few snaps. She landed and on reaching the turn off to the static display turn-off she must have been somewhat confused again. Pilot to ATC: "Do you want me to turn left here", ATC to pilot: "No, please continue to the end of the runway where you will see a spur on your left, please taxi in there, do some twirls for the cameras, turn and await further instructions". When she arrived roughly in front of us she started to move to the left onto a "shortcut" to the spur ATC had referred to which prompted the ATC message: "Not that left turn, that tarmac is partially blocked by the VASIs". The Stearman could be seen making a sharp right turn to get back onto the runway. Arriving at the spur she asked "Is this the turning?" which prompted a relieved response from ATC "Yesssss". This evoked a few hearty laughs from the gathered crowd and the resulting imagery, including the wave, was worth it. Someone in the vicinity mentioned a hair colour.......Maybe not used to flying into military airfields!

North American TB-25M Mitchell of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight arriving from Gilze-Rijen AB
Lockheed P-3C Orion of the German Navy (ex-Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service) arriving from Nordholz
Beech C-45 Expeditor arriving from its base at Dunkeswell
Royal Navy Rescue Seaking Mk 5 arriving from RNAS Culdrose

Practice Displays

Essentially there are two types of display rehearsal slot, one for the RN Maritime ACFT (the ground assault) and the CHF (Commando Helicopter Flight), the other for the foreign visitors. The following pictures are from some of those rehearsals.

Army Lynx
Royal Navy Commandos bringing in assault troops
Royal Navy Commandos departing after dropping assault troops and supplies
Royal Navy Commando laying a flair path
Royal Navy's latest recruit the Westland Wildcat
This is another Westland Wildcat, this one belonging to the Army (Spot the differences)
RNAFHF TB-25M Mitchell
Pitts Special performing a downwind take-off and knife-edge along the full length of the runway.
The Belgian Air Component's Red Devils in their colourful SIAI Marchetti SF-260s delivering a spirited display
Belgian Air Component F-16 climbing in burner and Smokewinders on

Teddy Meister in his F-18 Hornet performing a "dirty" roll

The Static Walk

By the time we were let lose from the compound/car park it was close to 18:45 and we were supposed to vacate the airfield by 20:00. But there was no rush to get everyone off the airfield and yours truly finally departed shortly before 20:30 when many enthusiasts were still roaming the static.

ETPS Agusta AW-109
Auster AOP
Germany Navy Dornier Do-228
RAF Gazelle
Royal Marines Gazelle
Defenze Helicopter Flying School AB-412SP Grifone (Griffin HT1)
Royal Navy Hunter GA11
Italian EH-101 Merlin with (rather short) refuelling probe
Royal Navy EH-101 Merlin
Percival P-66 Pembroke
Hawker Sea Harrier FA2
Rafale maintenance crew posing in front of their charges
Rafale M into the sun
Yakovlev Yak-52 of the Royal Navy Aero Club
Gardan GY-80 Horizon of the Royal Navy Aero Club
RAF Hawk T1
McDonnell Douglas F-4M Phantom II (FG1)
Royal Danish Air Force Saab T-17 Supporter Display Team
The left hand side of the flight line
The two Swiss Air Force F-18C Hornets
Midair Squadron's Hawker Hunter T7. The Canberra PR9 did not make on the Friday due to a problem
German Navy Lockheed P-3C Orion from Nordholz with 50th Anniversary markings

And finally

The organisers have struck a good balance with this Photo Call in that many of the display aircraft for the air show on the Saturday arrive on the day and the opportunity to go around the static with no other people messing up your shots is a real bonus. Some aircraft have covers on, which is not so good, but you cannot have everything. Also the sun is always in front of you, either to the left, in the middle or to the right but that can also make for some stunning effects. 
The price for the ticket is reasonable and the prices for the food, drinks (coffee for £1) and ice creams in the compound are reasonable too. The other plus point is that seating and tables are provided. Being located at the start of runway 27 can be another bonus as the arriving aircraft can be photographed from some distance out till touchdown, bar a couple of aerials that may get into the shot (I Photoshop them out if I can). Only the wind changing direction can mess that up, as we saw this year, but that is preferable to rain any day. Especially when the organisers ensure that, where possible the aircraft taxi in front of one's camera before parking up elsewhere.
All in all an excellent day and worth the long trip.

Theo Claassen
7 August 2014

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