“And if the music is good you dance”
We have been living in Coventry for 10 years now and what better way to celebrate by going to our first Godiva Festival. The festival was a free day music festival held annually in the War Memorial Park, named after the city’s most famous inhabitant, Lady Godiva. It first appeared as a day-long event in 1997 and became a 3-day event the following year. It was the largest free family music festival in the UK and was made up of 2 fields, a main field and a family field, both offering different experiences.
The main reason why we took so long to attend this festival which was literally on our doorstep was parking. We’d had read and heard stories about the horrendous parking and anti-social behaviour that went along with it. This year we decided to bite the bullet and joined in. Actually, the announcement of Cirque Bijou in the line-up piqued my interest.
We left the casa at 10 am and made the 6 miles journey to Memorial Park. We followed the signs and the cars in front of us through the Coats of Arms Bridge Road entrance. From here, we drove under the trees towards a huge field where stewards guided the incoming traffic. We arrived at just the right time because behind us were queues of cars driving in. After finding our bearings, we made way to the first field, the Family Field.
Tents and stalls dotted the field. There were local interest groups, children’s playground, Coventry City Council area where you can query on the services provided such as libraries, recycling, fostering etc, community circus, Cycle speedway, food stalls, taichi classes and more. We zoomed straight for the Hawkwise Falconry and got close to the various birds of prey.
Music was provided by the nearby community stage belting out songs by people with learning disabilities. They were accompanied by The Notables, a band that was formed in response to a request from learning disabled adults to make music as a group. These professional musicians supported members with complex social and communication needs and they did a brilliant job entertaining the very appreciative crowd.
Nearby was the mini petting farm where there were pygmy goats, lambs, pigs, rabbits, chicken and a mini pony for the children to pet. But we were more interested on this adorable alpaca which kept an eye on us. I wanted to get closer but I don’t want to be spat at. Alpacas spat when they felt threatened so I kept more than arm’s length away.
We also stopped at The Odd Chair where Richard Cook demonstrated specialist weaving restorations including baskets, chairs, baskets and whistles. He was promoting heritage skills ensuring that the old crafts of specialist weaving survived. He even made a whistle for me from a willow pole which cost me a whole pound. I’d a fun time using the piercing whistle and took every opportunity to blow it. It was so much fun and made so much noise.
Then we headed to the main arena walking past a huge funfair with a range of rides for the thrill seekers. There were already hundreds of people here milling about, having picnics and enjoying the fantastic weather and atmosphere. We checked out the Rock/Rhythm stage where The Lloyd McGrath Collective was performing. A local band from Coventry, the group had an eclectic mix of creativity and experience, producing a distinctive and fresh twist on reggae and Ska.
Then we went to next stage where a dynamic band, Joe O’Donnell’s Shkayla, was belting a fusion of Celtic, rock, Indian and other influences. In 1977, O’Donnell released Goadhal’s Vision which was recorded with top musicians of the day. When some of the songs were played, it received an ecstatic reception from the appreciative crowd. Living in Coventry for the past 25 years, O’Donnell had earned a national reputation as a fiery and inventive performer.
We headed for the Urban Youth tent where they were still setting up the stage for the next performance. We didn’t wait because it was so warm under the tent. Outside, there were plenty of craft stalls and food stalls with very long queues. The Hilltop Bar was also very popular. I wanted to check out the Vintage in the Village market but it was at the furthest end of the field.
Then it was time for the piece de resistance. We made ourselves comfortable near the entrance for the Cirque Bijou. The group performed ‘New Day’ an outdoor circus show which was specially created for the Godiva Festival. The performance was a fusion of contemporary circus, street theatres, music and spectacles. The opening act was some very impressive aerialist performers and ended with a daredevil highline walk, accompanied by a community choir singing ELO’s Mr Blue Sky, a song synonymous with Coventry City.
We left as more people were were pouring in for the closing act, which was The Darkness. It was a hassle trying to find our tiny car as it had disappeared among the thousands. After locating it, it was a slow ride trying to find the exit where hundreds more cars were queueing to get in. I’m glad we left early because it was going to be a nightmare to leave when the festival ended.
Our verdict was that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would definitely come again. The parking was easy as long as you come early. We need to bring our own deck-chairs because standing under the sun was really tiring. There were many people having picnics and we might do that too. All in all, it was a good family festival. Kudos to those who made it happen.
A week later, from a calm family festival, we went to the next extreme, an air-show. It was no ordinary air-show, it was the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford. We’d always wanted to go but buying tickets on-line put us off. During one of our visits to Slimbridge, Babe started talking to another photographer who mentioned about RIAT. He told us about a farm at the side of the airfield that turned into a camping site for the occasion and it was open to day-trippers. Woo..hoo. Thanks a million, kind sir.
We checked out the Totterdown Hill Farm and made plans. Since we were advised to arrive early, we left the casa at 5.30 am!!! Waaay too early. It was a dull but dry morning at 15.4C. There wasn’t much traffic but there still a few lunatic drivers about. We drove through the rolling Oxfordshire countryside and came across 3 dead badgers by the side of the road. It was a sad sight.
We reached the campsite at 7.15 am and it was already buzzing. We queued to get in and drove to the ‘park and view’ pitch at the bottom of the hill. Those who were camping and in caravans got the prime location on top of the hill overlooking the grandstand. Since this was our first, we checked out what our neighbours were doing. Deck chairs and picnic tables were placed in front of the cars. Some had picnic umbrellas up and portable barbecues. It was like having a picnic by the sea.
I queued for the portable loos. The lines were unbelievably long. Babe had set up his scanner. One of our neighbours came over and we’d a little chinwag. They’d been visiting here for years. We’d coffee to warm up because it was quite windy and it was freezing. While waiting for the action, I had a nap in the car which was quite a challenge. When I woke up, the field was full and it was beginning to rain. Aargh…
At 10 am, we heard the loudspeakers crackling from the grandstand. The show was about to start. Babe had his scanner on and one of our neighbours switched on to the show’s radio station. The campsite was situated parallel to the runaway but unfortunately trees blocked the views of the aeroplanes during take-offs and landing. We could only see them when they were in the air which were fantastic and the scariest was when the planes criss-crossed right above our heads!!!
SAAB JAS-39C Gripen from the Czech Air Force lifted into the air and opened the show with a very exciting and well flown performance under the laden skies. It was an impressive effort by the pilot whizzing through drizzle and low conditions in this multirole fighter aircraft. It was quite an experience to have a Euro fighter flying directly over you on full reheat. I was hooked. I couldn’t stopped smiling and often forgot to take photographs, a first for me. A pity that the display seemingly had been cut short as conditions deteriorated and the aircraft broke into the circuit to land.
Next was the Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks flying a fourship of BAE Systems Hawk T.Mk.51s. 2017 marked the 100th Anniversary for the Republic of Finland and to mark the centenary, the team’s aircraft had been adorned with Finnish colours on the tailfins and engine intakes. The wig-mounted smoke pods greatly enhanced the show and the team stood from the other teams using more traditional jet exhaust based systems.
The Finnish Air Force Midnight Hawks got their name because of the Finnish Air Force Training Air Wings annual Midnight Summer Airshow started at around 7pm and lasted until midnight, when the sun was still up. Despite the deteriorating visibility, they took off in impressive close formation and attempted to display. But after a few manoeuvres, it became clear that it was dangerous to continue.
Following the Midnight Hawk’s landing there was a lull in the action, in the hope that the weather would improve sufficiently to allow for the following displays to take place. I took the opportunity to freshen up and queued for the ladies, again. The winds were catching up and it was such a dreich day. We decided to get into the car and warmed up a bit with coffee and switching on the heater.
The loudspeakers started crackling again and we quickly dashed out. The Italian Air Force’s Reparto Sperimentale Volo deemed the conditions acceptable enough for the commencement of their display. This variable-geometry strike aircraft demonstrated its incredible fully aerobatic routine with the eye-catching special livery worn Panavia A-200A Tornado . The livery was for the 60th Anniversary of the RSV (or 311º Stormo). Their displays were simply stunning with the opening few manoeuvres flown as close to the crowds as regulations permit. A pity that at the end of the acrobatic season. the aircraft will be repainted with its standard grey colour again. I wouldn’t recognise it at all.
Followed closely was The Belgian Air Forces which contributed a rare UK appearance by a Westland Sea King Mk48 from 40 Squadron based at Koksijde . The team performed a search and rescue demonstration. The aircraft was renowned for being operated in the worst of flying conditions and unrestricted by limited visibility. Unfortunately, the colourful Sea King was in the twilight of its career in Belgian service and its role will soon be completely taken over by the newer NH90NFH Caiman.
Unfortunately, the weather turned again. The Royal Jordanian Falcons deserved special mention for their efforts during the poor weather where they managed to put on a very precise display of formation flying under the clag with their 4 Extra EA300L. They persevered in getting airborne and flying a series of flypasts in various configurations. These ‘roving ambassadors’ from Jordan had an international reputation for precision and spectacular performances.
Fortunately, the infamous Chinook HC4 was able to break the spell of the last hour’s dreariness with a powerful rotary display from its huge twin rotors. This was the display of the HC4 version. It was a potent heavy-lift helicopter force with the capability to transport up to 10 tonnes of freight or 55 troops. The RAF Chinook put on its usual impressive display which was accompanied by some enthusiastic commentary.
Thankfully by midday, the rain had eased, and visibility had ceased to be the greatest hurdle.The Czech Air Force sent their aircraft trainer, the Aero Vodochody L-159A ALCA duo for the flying display. Their display was mixture of role demonstration and synchronised aerobatics and were supported by impressive pyrotechnics on the ground simulating strafe and bombing runs. While the L-159A may lack the presence of the larger, nosier fighters the duo’s routine was very pleasing to the eye and well flown. The combination of operational manoeuvres and aerobatic flourishes was a tasteful mix, and the resultants display was one of the unsung highlights of the day.
Then it was the team that I was so looking forward to. We’d seen them criss-crossing the skies when they were on their way to or from a show but had never see them actually performing. The Red Arrows, officially known as the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, was the aerobatics display team of the Roya Air Force based at RAF Scampton. Comprising nine BAE Systems Hawk T1/T1A jets, they were one of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams.
The Red Arrows were global ambassadors who promoted the best of British overseas. They were led by Red 1, Squadron Leader David Montenegro who was in his third and final year with the team. They made history last year when they performed a public display in China for the first time. This was part of the Red Arrows Asia-Pacific and Middle East Tour which supported UK interests across innovation, industry and business.
The team were in fine form as they performed to their usual high standard despite the low clouds with exciting manoeuvres and breath-taking flying formations with precision and excellece. The first half consisted of synchronised, formation aerobatics, followed by a more dynamic second half. The later included the highly-popular opposition manoeuvres. During the display, the team’s supervisor maintained two-way radio contact with the team leader and also provided the commentary.
At the end of their exuberant and exhilarating performances, the Reds got into the US theme with a special flypast trailing the colours of US flag along Fairford crowd-line. I thought it was a nice touch and hopefully was appreciated by their USAF compatriots.
After such a fantastic display, it got better with another impressive aircraft. The Bell Boeing CV-22B Osprey was a multi-mission, tiltrotor military aircraft with both vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities. It combined the take-off and landing ability of a helicopter and also the long-range, high-speed cruise performance of a fixed-wing turboprop aircraft.
The tactical tilt-rotor transport was used for various special operations tasks including Combat Search and Rescue. The crew gave an impressive account of the aircraft showing off the ability of the aircraft to get to and away from small landing sites very quickly. Having made a vertical or short take-off, the wing-tip mounted nacelles containing the two turboshaft engines tilted forward to allow the transition into conventional flight.
Then, the training theme continued again with a spirited display from the SAAB J105OE of the Austrian Air Force. The Saab 105 is a Swedish high-wing, twin-engine trainer aircraft developed in the early sixties. The Austrians used it not only as a trainer but as a four-seat VIP transport, for air sampling duties and for air defence against slow-flying targets.
Next was one of Europe’s smallest air arms, the Slovenian Air Force, with its solo Pilatus PC-9M Swift trainer aircraft. It was used both as a trainer and as a light attack platform, hence camouflage scheme. It was flown with a very tidy routine regardless of the cloud-base or the breezy conditions . Unfortunately, the displays from the Austrian and Slovenian left many visitors underwhelmed. The skills and overall quality of the pilot’s displays were in evidence throughout, but both were diminutive airframes which meant an uphill struggle to engage on such a big stage.
Thankfully, the next display made up for it. It was a special weekend for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who for the first time were able to present their full “Thompson Formation” routine to mark their 60th Anniversary with Avro Lancaster B1 PA474, Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363, Supermarine Spitfire IIa P7350, Spitfire LFXVI TE311 and Spitfire PR XIX PS915. The Lancaster had only just returned from deep servicing at the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford by the beginning of July. The sight and sound of seven Merlins and one Griffon sweeping around the Cotswold skies was certainly one of the outstanding memories of the Air Tattoo weekend.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) were celebrating their 60th anniversary this year. They were formed on the 11th July 1957 and their mission is 'To maintain the priceless artefacts of our national heritage in airworthy condition in order to commemorate those who have fallen in the service of this country, to promote the modern day Air Force and to inspire the future generations'.
The BBMF currently consists of six Spitfires, two Hurricane Mk 2Cs, a Lancaster as well as a C47 Dakota and two Chipmunk aircraft (used for training). The Lancaster is one of only two remaining airworthy Lancasters in the World with the other one in Canada with the 'Canadian Wartime Heritage' at Hamilton in Ontario. The BBMF Lancaster had also been been painted in a new scheme and its performance, combined with its ruggedness and sheer charisma, endeared it to the adoring crowds.
It was named the Thompson formation for RIAT 2017, after its founder Group Captain Peter Thompson DFC. These iconic aircrafts performed a unique synchronised flying display with tail chasing. This display meant so much to me because this was the first time I saw the whole team displaying its poignant flypast together with its trademark formation of a fighter on each side of the Lancaster’s wingtips.
Next was the Airbus DS A400M flown by a British crew of test pilots. There were two military transport aircraft in the flying display and these were the Airbus A400M and the Italian Air Force Leonardo C-27J Spartan. The A400M was a multi-national, four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities . The giant transporter put on its usual jaw-dropping display of agility, low and high speed landing plus impressively short take-off and landing runs.
Then it was the turn from the representatives of the main theme of the tattoo which was the 70th anniversary of the US Air Force. A series of flypasts displaying various aircraft that formed part of the USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe) showed up. The heavies performed single passes while the latter fighter flew 3 passes in total; the final pass from each fighter then ended with a performance climb into low cloud.
USAFE’s Air Mobility were represented by a 351st Air Refulling Squadron/100th Air Refuelling Wing Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from RAF Milidenhall and a Ramstein based 37th Airlift Squadron/86th Airlift Wing Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 Hercules II. I wished they’d demonstrated how air-to-air refuelling was carried out. The two heavies were joined by three fighter types. RAF Lakenheath and the 48th Fighter Wing’s contribution were a pair of Boeing F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron and a F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wings.
Completing the flypast were a pair of Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 52nd Fighter Wing/48th Fighter Squadron from Spangdahlem AF, Germany. The F16 was one of the most ubiquitious fighter aircraft in the world. The fighter elements all performed three passes concluding with a fast past and zoom climb departing back to RAF Lakenheath in style.
B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B
• P-51D Mustang – ‘Tall in the Saddle’
• Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker
• McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle
Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon
It was a let down when the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor couldn’t partake in the flypast. The cloud-base was just below the USAF display minima preventing the F-22 getting airborne at all. We heard a few comments that even the ageing Lancaster & Spitfire were airborne .
Thankfully, all were forgotten when The Thunderbirds Fighting Falcons powered across the sky. They flew a formation of six Lockheed Martin F-16C and F-16D Fighting Falcons and were the headline act of the RIAT flying display. They clearly had a lot of fun performing at the event that was very different to those they attend regularly back home! Their display was also very different to that performed by European teams. Flying six frontline jets meant they covered a lot of sky and make an incredible amount of noise.
The Thunderbirds, in their distinctive F-16C Fighting Falcons put on a display of precision formation flying intersected with high speed passes all eloquently played out in the commentary by Capt. Sara Haper aka Thunderbird 12. It was fantastic celebrating the energy and dynamism of the well-rehearsed routine of close formation flying by these America’s ambassadors in blue.
After such an enigmatic display, the bubble burst with another underwhelming display from the Italian Air Force Leonardo T-346A Master aircraft trainer. The flat display left much to be desired, and was essentially a combination of underside passes. It was a shame because the Aermacchi was one of the most advanced trainer aircraft available on the market. It was tailored to train pilots to fly new generation combat aircraft and was well suited for every phase of advanced and pre-operational training, thus reducing flight hours on the more expensive aircraft.
Thankfully, The Turkish Air Force with the “SoloTurk” display team in their exotic jets sped through the skies and performed an extremely dynamic display. Their beautifully presented Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcons were painted in a dramatic gold, silver and black colour scheme. Their flamboyant solo routine was very distinctive and presented some amazing aerobatics paired with a very enthusiastic commentary
It kept on getting better with an eye-catching display from the Patrouille Suisse with a completed six-ship of Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs. They criss-crossed above our heads with the customary Swiss precision enabling swift formation changes that kept the action in front of the crowd for a great deal of the display. The team will be flying the F-5E for a few more years yet as the type was to be retained by the Swiss Air Force for training and aggressor duties.
Next was the Italian Air Force C-27J Spartan military transport aircraft with its two engines and was equipped with various other systems which are used on the larger Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules. Accompanied by the team’s incredible excitable commentator, the flight crew put on an extremely spirited display, including knife-edge passes and rolls that were astounding enough given the aircraft type. It was more impressive that all of the manoeuvres were performed below a cloud base that varied between 1000 and 1500 feet! The transport aircraft’s manoeuvrability under the weather conditions served only to embarrass further the USAF’s Raptor’s ‘capability to outmaneuver all current and projected aircraft.’
The French Air Force had an impressive contingent in the flying display with both of their fast jet demo teams in attendance. For Couteau Delta, the French Air Force’s newest tactical demonstration team, RIAT was their first appearance outside of France. The team have taken over from Ramex Delta and flying the Dassault Mirage 2000D. All of their aircraft wore special centenary schemes for the teams host squadrons, Escadrons de Chasse 2/3 ‘Champagne’ and 3/3 ‘Ardennes.’ These included a striking desert camouflaged aircraft that really stood out against the grey clouds. The team’s routine showed off the charismatic lines of the Mirage 2000D and highlighted many of the tactics crew employ on operations.
One of the most outstanding solo displays of the show came from the French Air Force Dassault Rafale C flown by Capitaine Jean-Guillaume ‘Marty’ Martinez. He picked up the King Hussein Memorial Sword for the best overall flying demonstration. The judges called his “a faultless, flowing and dynamic flying display” despite having to cope with some poor weather at times. This prototype was a wonderfully adorned aircraft.
Then it was the turn of the biggest star from Eastern Europe, the Sukhoi Su-27P1M from the Ukrainian Air Force. This heavy air superiority fighter was codenamed ‘Flanker’ by NATO. The mighty Su-27 flying display was kept via tight with the powerful jet hardly leaving the airfield boundary showing off its incredible agility through steep turns and quick rolls. It was a rare exotic aircraft with a penultimate flying display The brutish routine was deafening tumultuous, and there was barely a moment where the aircraft was not projecting afterburner flames several metres into its wake. Unfortunately, the low cloud prohibited more vigorous manoeuvres. blue digi-camo paint scheme allowed for the aircraft to stand out despite the gloom.
Closing with a bang and completing the UK contribution to the flying display were the Army Air Corps with the Attack Helicopter Display Team. The Agusta Westland WAH-64D Apache was a mighty ‘tank-killing’ attack helicopter and was the spearhead of the Army Air Corps. It was easily distinguished by the Longbow fire control radar mounted atop the rotor head. The team demonstrate the capabilities and the tactics used by the crews in operations around the world with the support of impressive pyrotechnics. The display finished with a huge wall of fire and smoke behind the hovering helicopter.
It must have been a challenging weekend for everyone involved with the staging of the Air Tattoo with unfortunate cancellation and difficult weather that at times disrupted the flying. As with any large event, traffic and particularly getting out of the event was horrendous. Although we weren’t on the main route, there was still about a thousand cars, queuing on the very tiny rural roads. Apart from the grandstand, there were at least 3 campsites in the area all trying to leave at the same time. It was a shame there was no post-flying display entertainment to help stagger the crowds departure from the event.
As with all air shows, the weather was a factor and we had to contend with rain and low cloud which led to the cancellation of some aspects of the flying display. The weather proved to be very marginal with low clouds and poor visibility at times and it was also a challenge for us as photographers. But, I’m still looking forward to the next year’s show which will celebrated the 100th anniversary of the RAF. The opportunities for international support would be mouth-watering and there would be one item at the top of the list, good weather . Even so, we took 3.5K photographs on such a dreich day. Imagine if the weather was perfect!!!