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Royal International Air Tattoo, 12 July 2014, RAF


'Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time'

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Royal International Air Tattoo, 12 July 2014, RAF

13 Jul 2014 10:27PM   Views : 624 Unique : 501

Rolled out of bed at 04.00, in an effort to avoid the usual road traffic chaos at my destination. It would have been an hour later if I’d been on the bike but with my new lens (Canon 400 f5.6) with camera and battery grip, weighing 2.375 kgs and with spare batteries, lenses, flash, lightweight jacket, hat, trainers, (can’t walk 5 miles in bike boots) water, sunscreen and bike padlock, not only was my back pack heavy it was bulky too. I decided to take the car. I hate cars. I hate car drivers, but with a potential downpour forecast for midday I didn’t want to end up exhausted, aching, mind numb, trying to ride home among idiots on four wheels. (as per 2011).

The downside was that I had to leave much earlier: the other downside was that I would arrive far too soon (baring road works, break downs and accidents), the only positive was that I wouldn’t have to stand in the pouring rain for three hours waiting for the gates to open, before the ridiculously pointless ‘security search’.

I re packed my camera bag and transferred all to the car silently in the warmth of an unusually barmy summer night, aided by the glow of the amber streetlight but under the suspicious gaze of a nearby fox, who nonchalantly trotted away as soon as he realised he has been noticed. Then a short detour to my local petrol station to fill the car, with the surly attitude of the attendant indicating his displeasure at my interruption of his important shelf-stocking activities.

Onward to the nearby M25 access slip road. Sadly they chose this night to close it for maintenance work (typical), which meant a twenty minute detour through wonderful Watford to the Rickmansworth access slip road. It was quiet with the normally heaving, ridiculously named ‘Bar Quarter’ having decanted the last of its inebriated punters into one of the fleet of private cabs that ply the area until two in the morning. The only persons about were two guys and a girl languidly trolling through the town, no doubt thinking what a wonderful evening they had and what they were going to do on their ‘gap year’. Ignoring them was another adult fox trotting along the other side of the road heading for an assignation with discarded waste around the back of one of the many food establishments on the St. Albans Road.

I eventually got onto the M25 at Rickmansworth and set up a fast cruising speed in Lane 1, this was curtailed by my having to move into Lane 4 and back, due to the inevitable grey Mercedes minibus taxi in Lane 3, probably heading to LHR to pick up red-eyed, tired and smelly international flight arrivals.

My anxiety levels increased slightly by the flashing orange lights on the overhead gantry and cones being laid on my exit slip road to the M40, fortunately this was just maintenance engineers closing one lane of the M40 slip ready for that days customers. I had not taken the M40 to get to RAF Fairford before, having previously used the M4. The M40 was prettier, a bit shorter and a little quicker, however having just crested the hill above High Wycombe I descended into thick fog, with the grey light of pre-dawn conspiring to turn articulated lorries I approached into vague wraith-like shapes, which I passed with due care. For some reason I thought of the ancient Clipper ships and their flights on the trade routes.

Passing Oxford and flowing onward towards the Cotswolds I passed Burford as the gloom began to lift and sighted the orange ball of the sun fleetingly in the rear view mirror. It reminded me of the trips 30 years previously when I used to leave early from my digs in Bromley to get to Mildenhall before anyone else. The sun would often greet me when I was on the M11, rising over the heath through the eerie mist, the ghost of a long lost B17 flying low would not have been a surprise.

The same feeling always caught me at Biggin Hill, when I used to pass the old revetments near the crew room where you could sense the crews waiting on the grass for their call to action. They are still there.

The Cotswolds spread out on my right as the day brightened. It had been a lonely trip alone with my thoughts the only occasional diversion being ‘Miss Garmin’ pointing out incorrect speed camera locations and suggesting some very odd short cuts. She was indeed superfluous on this, as on many previous trips – the route was simple; M25 to M40, off the M40 at Junction 8, follow the A40 to Burford then pick up the Air Tattoo signs to guide you through whatever tortuous ‘colour coded’ route they had invented.

The last ten miles were tedious with the last two miles of the route leading you around in a circle to enter the ‘Blue’ parking area, about midway along the length of the runway. At 06.05 I parked next to Dave who lived near the fens in Cambridgeshire and we chatted as we watched the pedestrian queue building up an hour and a half before the gates opened. This was ironic.

At 08.30 we gathered our gear and joined the queue in the field to join the queue in the lane, which was to join the queue at the entrance to the airshow. There has to be a better way.

With the laughable security checks over with I headed for the static line up, avoiding the usual fat idiots with stepladders and the fake paparazzi types.

I paid little attention to the air display as I was at the wrong end of the airfield and by the time I had finished with the statics and had made my way halfway to the enclosure I had opted for this year (Cotswold Club – don’t bother) I had missed the Italian C27 Spartan display, and was out of position for my main reason for being there – to watch the Su22's in the air. Ok you guessed it I'm a Cold War fan.

My new lens seemed to work OK but it was harder to control than I remembered from 30 years ago when all I had was an old OM2 and a 500mm prime lens. I tried the monopod but it was pretty useless. Disenchanted with the forthcoming display items by 14.30 I’d had enough. The Red Arrows were the next item on the list and I wasn’t going to stay until 17.00 just to see the Patrouille de France (my second favourite display team). So I left, ironically I always used to leave airshows when the Dead Sparrows took off as they were nearly always the finale.

Having left the airfield the same way I got in I was annoyed to find myself diverted onto the M4 rather than back to the M40.

Having previewed my shots I’m glad to say that I’m generally happy with the results. It was a brand new lens at my first airshow this year so I wasn’t exactly ‘match fit’. In the past I had usually completed a couple of shows and had got my 'eye in', but I got the shots I wanted, despite the SU22 display pilots not helping much as most of their display consisted of showing the underside of the aircraft rather than the upper decks, but at least they turned up.

Next year? No. That’s it I've had enough of RIAT; too expensive, too crowded, too dull (especially on Non-Farnborough years) and the expensive enclosures have the best of the flight line. Tickets are only bookable in advance and no refunds if the aircraft you wanted to see cancel or if it rains all day.....

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