Yeovilton celebrated the 70th anniversary of its RNAS International Air Day meeting in 2017. This meeting is little known on this side of the Channel because overshadowed by the two major events of July that are Flying Legends in Duxford and RIAT in Fairford. However, this meeting is not lacking in assets and must be on the list of any aeronautical enthusiast.
But before we go any further, a little history. The Royal Navy Air Station (RNAS) in Yeovilton is one of two active Fleet Air Arm bases, the second being the Culdrose RNAS. it was opened in 1937 in Somerset, near Bristol. Its other name is HMS HERON (so don’t look for it off the coast). It is currently home to the Royal Navy Wildcat HMA2 and Wildcat AH1 Army Air Corps as well as the Merlin and Wildcat of the Royal Navy commandos.
Yeovilton is also home to the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the Royal Navy Historic Flight (the Royal Navy’s counterpart to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight BBMF).
To enjoy the show, as is often the case, on these big meetings, we must arrive early. Each of the 6 car parks open to the public is named after an iconic aircraft of the Royal Navy (Phantom, Wessex, Vixen, Hurricane, Fury, Harrier).In the queue (doors open to 9:00 a.m.) we are struck by the diversity of the public, from the over-equipped spotter to the couples with young children, who have come obviously spend a day with your family.
Once the doors are opened and after a rush to the gates, we can finally enjoy the place.Here, as in many English meetings, no untimely stepladders in the front row, no jostling but respect good-noted. In other words, you can leave your seat without fear invasion during your absence… It should be noted that the vast lawn which borders the slopes allows each of the 40,000 visitors expected to take place.
Towards the static in until the in-flight program begins. Just because of the diversity of Yeovilton is worth a visit. There are many of the aircraft and helicopters used by the Royal Navy.
So you could admire a sea harrier FA2, an F-4K Phantom FG1, a Fairey Swordfish a Sea Venom but also a rare Wasp HAS1. Two Meteor, operated by Martin Baker to test in flight their ejector seats, were also in the game.
Many foreign countries had made the trip. A superb M-28B1B Bryza from the Polish Navy was decorated in tribute to the Polish crews of the Coastal Command B-24s.
It was also an opportunity to see two Lynx Mk90Bs from the Royal Danish Air Force before they retired from operational service. In total, more than forty aircraft, some of them unique, complemented the static.
If static has kept its promises, the dynamic plateau was not lacking in interest. After an opening by a pitts the public was able to admire devices rarely seen at meetings including a superb Whirlwind HAS10 and the Norwegian Air Force MiG-15UTI Historical Flight. The historical part was ensured by a passage from the Lancaster and a BBMF spitfire and a P-51D “Tall-In-The-Saddle”. The rotating sails were not left out with a presentation of a duo Wildcat HM2 and a Merlin HM2. The demo of the Apache, one of its 5 scheduled for 2017, was a great moment with the final pyrotechnic effects (advice for photographers: stand in front of the tower, near the central axis….). Three summer patrols including the must-see Red Arrows. Their arrival above the crowd is as spectacular as ever. The Swiss Patrol and the Royals Jordanian Falcons were the other two formations in performance.
On the jet side, the F-16 had come strong with the Belgian solo and a Danish F-16. The presence of a Czech gripen reinforced the “international Air Day” label of this Meeting. The Czechs had also come with a duo of L-159 in a presentation with finesse. But the real surprise was the presence in flight two Marine Rafale from the 11F flotilla, including the No. 36 Rafale M, which carried still the decoration of the recent Tiger Meet 2017. The presentation of the two Rafale high-level, very close in its dynamics and management of the space of the spirit of the Delta Ramex and their successors the Delta Knife. It is therefore very natural that Flotilla 11F won the trophy of the best in-flight demonstration.
At the end of the day, one thing is clear: Yeovilton is one of the great European meetings that every aviation enthusiast must do at least once. A static quality full of surprises, a very rich flight program (even if we missed Sea Vixen) are major assets. Appointment is already taken for the next few years 😊