Sunday, 5 July 2015

The return of the Barton Air Show?

Back in the '80s and '90s Lancashire Aero Club (LAC) used to hold an annual air show at Barton, their home airfield. It was well known for showcasing interesting aeroplanes and for some very spirited display flying. Following a couple of consecutive years of poor weather leading to financial loss, LAC decided to cease holding the shows. For similar reasons, BAe at Woodford airfield also ceased holding their annual air show about the same time. The large Manchester conurbation was thus bereft of air shows... until today. 

Barton Airfield is no longer the home of LAC, who used to lease it from Manchester City Council. It is owned by Peel Holdings and is known not as Barton, but as Manchester City Airport. But to those of us who flew from there as LAC members for decades it will always be Barton.

So today's air show didn't share the name of those amazing shows of a few decades ago, being called the Manchester Air Show. Today's air shows are different in other ways as well; health and safety has has tamed them down from what we enjoyed at those Barton shows, and there just don't seem to be the same sort of exciting aeroplanes exuberantly flown as there was back then. I remember, for instance, a stunning display by a Grumman Hellcat which was dived and rolled with such vigor that as it descended towards the ground, engine screaming and and airframe whistling with it's massive speed and energy I saw a pair of crows 20 yards away literally blown out of the sky by its wake. It leveled off just above the marquee of a car dealership, almost flattening it, the tent roof blowing downwards and the sides outwards. All the salesmen came running out convinced a mighty accident had happened, but by then the Hellcat was rocketing skywards through 4,000 feet. There wouldn't be anything like that today as having great fun is no longer approved. But hey, at least it's an air show!

I rode to Barton from home on the little Honda Innova knowing that using a car would commit one to possible queues getting in, and a certainty of a long wait to get off the airfield at the end of the day. With the little bike one just rides straight in, parks by the entrance, and at the end of the day rides straight out again with no delay. The only fly in the ointment was if the rain forecast for late afternoon materialised, I was going to have a wet ride home. It did, and I did!

I chose the pleasant route to Barton from home, using the back lanes of this part of Cheshire which suite the Innova much more than blasting down the motorway. Across to Ashley, through Bowden to Dunham Massey, across the Ship Canal by Warburton Bridge, then alongside that waterway to Barton. I rode straight in, bought a ticket, parked the little bike and went exploring the stands before the show started at 12:00.

First up was Mark Petrie in a Strikemaster, an armed version of the Jet Provost basic training aircraft, fitted with the constant thrust variable noise Rolls Royce Viper turbojet. This was followed by Lauren Richardson in her Pitts Special aerobatic display before this 'Extra' took to the Barton skies:

 Extra 260 flown by Steve Carver

The unmistakable thwack-thwack of the big two-bladed rotor announced the commencemnet of the display by this Bell UH1(Huey) helicopter. The Huey, along with the B52 bomber, symbolises the Vietnam war and this aircraft actually served in that conflict. Never mind that the commentator announced it would be familiar to viewers of the TV programme 'Mash' as the casualty evacuation helicopter featured in that Korean war drama. The 'Mash' helicopter was of course the earlier Bell 47 'bubble canopy' piston engined machine. 

The Rotor Sport Calidus gyrocopter flown by Peter Davies. These machines 'enjoyed' a poor safety record until a few years ago, when early unstable designs were replaced by superior machines like this. Because it flies a low energy display, it is allowed to come lower and closer to the crowd than other aircraft displaying today.   

Here Peter flies sideways along the crowd line. During an earlier pass he was visible in the cockpit waving to the crowd with both hands, demonstrating the stability of the machine. To make his waving more obvious, he wore large gloves, one red, one green. It was good to see he had them on the correct hands (red on his left hand, green on his right). 

This unmistakable pair made their usual impeccable, if restrained, display. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) can at present only field the Spitfire and Hurricane, as the Dakota and Lancaster are temporarily grounded with engine problems.

This, the RAF Chinook, was by far the most spirited display of the day. It has even more of a 'wokka wokka' rotor sound than the Huey, and as its pilot pitched it rapidly from the up vertical to the down vertical the blade slap was more like a loud bang! This superbly flown display belies the aircraft's 50 ton weight, the pilot upending it and throwing it around the sky as if it were a Pitts special! Brilliant!

Perhaps the most sedate display of the afternoon was this, the 'Old Buckers'. Pete and Andy fly gently around in their identical Bucker Jungmans (Jungmen?), each with its original Tigre engine. I have known Pete Gaskell (one of the pilots) for many years, and flown with him frequently, especially when we both had a share in dH Chipmunk G-BCSL. 

The sky to the west had been getting darker all afternoon as the grey build ups got more threatening. Just as Rich Goodwin got airborne in his Pitts S2S wind gusts lifting litter into the air (see the flying bag in the picture) announced the immediate threat of heavy rain. I headed for the little bike and home! 

The first heavy drops fell as I unlocked the bike. Many more folk were leaving, and a solid line of cars was very slowly snaking off the airfield, but mostly not moving at all. Hoards of people were walking out towards the road, and some taking shelter, under any likely overhang, from the increasingly heavy rain. On the little bike I ignored the vehicle queue and threaded my way past the pedestrians to the road, where all cars were directed to turn left towards the M60, but I could sneak right towards Irlam to retrace my route home.

At the left turn for Warburton bridge I rode past the long queue at the traffic lights (well, I was getting wet, they weren't!). When I reached Dunham Park cars were streaming out of the gate, their afternoon at that National Trust venue no doubt cut short by the deluge. There was about two miles of standing traffic between Dunham and the traffic lights on the Altrincham road, and once again the little bike could take advantage of its diminutive dimensions and whizz past these hundreds of cars straight to the head of the queue.

My Barbour waxed coat, leather gloves, and helmet meant I didn't actually get too wet. Despite the rain, I'm so glad I didn't take the car.

So was it 'the return of the Barton Air Show'? No, not really. Except for the Chinook; that display was well up to the spirit of shows past!


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