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Yeovilton Air Day
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After an enjoyable flight across the Channel and along the beautiful English south-coast, our Skyvan touches down at RNAS Yeovilton, aka HMS Heron. Exiting out of the cargo-hold, several members of the Aviation PhotoCrew and other photographers stretch their limbs while Royal Navy Wildcats of the Black Cats display-team taxi in front of us. It's Friday July 10th and the preparations and rehearsals for the annual Air Day are in full swing.

RNAS Yeovilton was first constructed immediately when WWII started. The runways were ready by 1941. In 1952, all Royal Navy all weather fixed-wing aircraft were moved to RNAS Yeovilton. When the conventional fixed wing jets were phased-out, helicopters took over for the first time, but soon the Sea Harriers were introduced. When Sea Harrier operations ended prematurely in April 2006, Yeovilton became a helicopter base again. Today, it is home to Lynx Helicopter Force (LHF) and Commando Helicopter Force (CHF).

Our main target for this Friday is an iconic Naval fighter, but not a Royal Navy one: It's the French Aéronavale's Dassault Super Étendard (modifé), or SEM for shorts. The SEM is derived from the Étendard IV and first flew in 1974, going into service in 1978. It would actually become a dreaded adversary of the Royal Navy, as a total of 14 were delivered to the Argentinian Navy and employed during the Falklands war in 1982. At the time of the conflict only a handful were operational, but they managed to sink 2 British ships with their Exocet missiles (HMS Sheffield and Atlantic Conveyor). No Étendards were lost by the Argentinian Navy during the conflict. The Aéronavale is due to retire the SEM in the first half of 2016 after 38 years of front-line service. Needless to say, a lot of effort was put into creating an opportunity to shoot this classic French jet air-to-air before its imminent retirement.
Our reception by the Airshow organisation at Yeovilton is very welcoming and efficient, making the Skyvan- and Aviation PhotoCrew feel right at home for the weekend. After a hearty lunch we meet up with further photographers who will join us during today's photo-op. At the briefed time we suit-up with our harnesses and board the Skyvan. The French are on their way to Yeovilton with six jets, three SEMs and three Rafale Ns. It has been arranged that we shoot one of each from the Skyvan. The first set-ups have the old and new French carrier-borne jets in formation. After that, first the SEM and then the Rafale pose for us separately. Then they must make their landing-slots at Yeovilton, so we see them of.
Upon returning to Yeovilton, the Skyvan is parked-up for the night. We watch some of the static display aircraft arriving, including two USAF A-10C Warthogs on TDY at Spangdahlem AFB in Germany. The French jets rehearse their airpower demonstration, which is very impressive to watch. Time to call it a day!
Apart from being a great photoship, the Skyvan is obviously very popular with parachutists. The Royal Navy Raiders Parachute Display Team therefore will jump from the Skyvan at the start of the airshow on Saturday. This results in some spectacular pictures as well. When we land, the airshow is well underway, with demos by vintage and historical aircraft such as a RN Fairey Swordfish, renowned for sinking the Bismarck on May 27th, 1941, and state-of-the-art fighters like the RAF Typhoon. The Spanish Aquila demo-team put on a well-exercised aerial ballet, incredible the team is completely made up by volunteers, on their own time. The Aéronavale impresses the crowd with their well-coordinated airpower demo by two Super Étendards and two Rafales.
The grand finale is an impressive Commando Assault Demo by many Royal Navy and Royal Army helicopters, supporting, inserting and extracting ground-forces. Most probably this marks the last time the venerable Westland Sea King was part of the airpower demo, as it is due to retire in the coming months.
After this, the airshow comes to an end, but the Aviation PhotoCrew sees the French off, always a delight to be able to witness and record the launching of a line-up of jets. Meanwhile, other aircraft from the static are departing as well, making for some great photo-opportunities in beautiful light, although clouds were building. Then, it's time for us to join the party, joining the many airshow-participants and organizers.

While the weather held rather nicely on Friday and Saturday, the weather on Sunday is appalling. We resort to visiting the amazing Fleet Air Arm Museum and finally during the afternoon, the clouds lift just enough to RTB to Wevelgem.

Looking back, it was an amazing weekend, during which we were fortunate enough to shoot several unique aircraft, surrounded by immensely hospitable, cooperative, inspiring and professional people. We would like to thank all airshow-organizers, airshow-staff, air- and groundcrew, ATC and photographers involved for making all this possible. Cheers and hopefully, see you next year!

       

 
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