A new event on the circuit is always worth a visit, so this years first Flywheel Festival, held at Bicester in Oxfordshire was a must. Bicester has been slowly gaining a reputation over the past few years, both for historic cars and aircraft, since being bought by Bicester Heritage a few years ago.
The event promised to be a festival of aircraft and cars, in a similar brief to events such as the Goodwood Revival, though on a much smaller scale. The first thing that struck on arrival was how perfect the setting was. The site itself is like a time capsule, with wartime hangars and buildings still in place as well as the full grass field. Unlike the majority of airfields in the country, Bicester doesn’t have set runways, it just has a huge circle of grass and aircraft can just land into wind.
Luckily I attended on the Sunday of the show, which was blessed with the better weather of the weekend. Saturday was pretty much a wash out flying wise, with only a few acts managing to perform.
The showground was set out very well, everything was within easy reach, you could be watching the cars one minute and be on the flight line the next.
There were numerous vintage cars scattered around the showground, some with eye-opening price tags attached! Alongside these were a number of impressive vintage aircraft, none more so than the WW1 pair of the WW1 Aviation Heritage Trusts BE2e and the Bristol Scout project, the latter of which performed engine runs for the crowd in the afternoon.
Having aircraft such as the Scout within the showground gave visitors the unique experience of walking right up to these historic aircraft, in fact you could even sit in the BE2 for a fee! The operators of the machines were all on hand to answer any questions that the public may have had as well, which was a treat.
The first hour of so of my visit was spent just taking the event in, there was a truly impressive atmosphere, not something that is often achieved on an events first run. I compared it earlier to the Goodwood Revival, I think that comparison stands in the ethos of the event, but the atmosphere felt more like Old Warden with everything up close and personal.
The car demonstration track was the perfect size too, with a short figure of 8 track allowing cars to perform on their own and give spectators a real impression of the power of the machines. The star of the motoring demonstrations had to be the spectacular Fiat land speed record car, powered by an Italian airship engine!
One of Bicester’s important roles during the second world war, was being home to the Bristol Blenheim and Flywheel marked the types return to the airfield for the first time since WW2. With the bad weather preventing the Blenheim leaving Duxford on Saturday, the historic moment was delayed until Sunday.
There was a real sense of anticipation as the Blenheim’s arrival slot drew close and the crowds moved towards the display line. John Romain brought the aircraft in for a run and break before touching down on the grass where so many Blenheims would have landed before.
Shutting down to a round of applause the flight crew were soon crowded by the media for interviews and photographs with the star of the show. It was great to see the Blenheim effect in full swing.
John Romain put in his usual stunning routine later on in the afternoon, using the display line to full effect before departing back to Duxford.
The arrival of the Blenheim marked the start of the main flying displays for the day, which were spaced out around a half an hour apart as attention swung between motoring and flying displays. Starting things off was a solo aerobatic display from one of the Yakolevs Yak 50, which put in a graceful display of aerobatics against the blue sky.
Arriving not long after the Yak was Peter Teichman in his Spitfire PR XI, the PR Spitfire has an Oxfordshire link as well, with the type being based out of RAF Benson during the war. Peter put on a very much extended routine and certainly seemed to enjoy the venue, combining graceful aerobatics with fast low passes in a superb demonstration of Supermarine’s finest. Peter landed and parked up next to the Blenheim, creating an impressive line up.
Next on the list was the Great War Display Team, this was the first time I had seen the team this year and I was keen to see the changes to the routine that had been mentioned in the season build up.
The display has built further from last year, which saw the multi-level display really start to give an immersive experience of First World War aviation. The opening pass is now a superb piece of flying, with the 3 triplanes and BE2 running in right on the deck and the scale aircraft running in on the higher levels.
Aside from being visually stunning it also distracts from the differing sizes of the machines in question and makes for an excellent display opener. The Triplanes were, as usual the stars of the show with their rasping radials echoing around the historic airfield. The Bicester display was the first to feature pyrotechnics as well, with some anti-aircraft fire being thrown into the mix.
The late afternoon slot was taken by the Tiger 9, not a display item often seen, but always enjoyable when they do appear. Just seeing 9 Tiger Moths on the same airfield is a treat, but to watch them perform in formation is something else. The synchro pair provided some dynamic flying as well, the team were a perfect fit for the feel of the event.
There was a welcome set of flypasts from the Battle Of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire XVI in between displays.
The show’s finale was set to be the Vulcan, which many people had come to the event just to see, I’d really been looking forward to seeing it over Bicester as well, but it wasn’t to be.
A landing aircraft at the Vulcan’s base in Doncaster had burst a tyre, meaning that the runway was shut for a long period of time, this meant the Vulcan had to hold for longer than expected. With a full display to complete at Weston Super-Mare the decision had to be made to cut Bicester. I had been keeping an eye on twitter and noted that the aircraft had routed past us on its outbound journey, but here was hope that maybe it would visit on its return. After an hours hanging on the commentary team announced that the Vulcan wouldn’t be able to make an appearence.
This was of course disheartening but no sooner had the dissapointment set in and the walk back to the car started for many than some excellent news came over the PA. “Who needs a tin trangle anyway” – was the line that followed the announcement that Peter Teichman had kindly offered to close the show with another display in his Spitfire before he departed.
This announcement hit me as a magic moment, all was suddenly forgiven about the Vulcan and a Spitfire display just seemed more appropriate, both for the venue and the event. It was even more impressive than Peter’s display earlier in the day, with a particularly stunning low level pass before departing. A solo Spitfire is really how all airshows should be closed isn’t it?
For a first year event Flywheel performed beyond expectations, I’d only been on site about an hour before i was planning for next years event, I hope Flywheel builds from strength to strength, as it has all the ingredients to be a truly major player on the UK airshow and events scene.