June 29th, 2009

Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Vulcan's Fire

Biggin Hill this weekend, my local airshow and always a favourite. This year Howard came with me, and his company was well worth the anxiety I always feel on such occasions about whether my companion can possibly be having as good a time as I am myself.

As far as I'm concerned it's not a proper airshow if you don't get burned, so the weather was perfect (once we'd arrived, shed the bike gear and sat down; I admit it was a shade too hot for walking around).

Although I never get tired of the Red Arrows, the Chinook, the Blue Eagles and all the rest, it was refreshing to be with someone for whom these acts were a rare treat rather than an annual ritual, and to whom I could say: look, an F-86 Sabre, they flew those in the Korean War you know!

The highlight of the show for me was seeing the mighty Vulcan XH558 in the air again at long last. A staple of my teenage airshows, it had been grounded by the crippling cost of flying and maintaining it. I must have dropped many a coin into the Trust's collecting buckets over the years, and one Christmas I bought my father sponsorship of a 'bus bar - red phase', so I felt I had a personal stake in the awesome, rumbling flight of the mothlike delta-wing. I only wish my dad could have been watching it with me; the test flights in 2007 must have been one of the last things we discussed before he died.

Towards the end of the flying display a storm brushed past us, spilling sparse but enormous drops of rain on the crowd. As is traditional at this Battle of Britain airfield, the display was closed by a single Spitfire. Between the Last Post and Jerusalem we had a couple of minutes' silence to enjoy the evocative beat of the Merlin engine; just then, as the little fighter swept down from right to left, forked lightning flashed behind it on the dark horizon. Airshow magic!