It is not often that I am so moved by an airshow as to put together my report within 24 hours of the event itself. However, combined with a bank holiday Monday straight after and an astounding flying line up, this years Little Gransden show is worthy of just that!
After a number of years choosing other, more local shows over this Cambridgshire event I returned to Gransden in 2016 and the show “clicked” for me for the first time. Another great show followed in 2017 followed by the bitter disappointment of 2018s washout. The 2018 weather was even more of a blow given the wonderful Warbird contingent that the team had managed to put together.
You can imagine my relief/delight then, when a number of those star acts (notably Buchon “White 9” and the P-47) reappeared on this years list, accompanied by plenty of other gems. Even with the late loss of B-17 Sally B and the Rolls Royce Spitfire XIX the line up was excellent and befitting of a far larger venue than the wonderful confines of Little Gransden.
The show ground, as always, was packed with people and yet still retained a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Ample space was available for the car element of the show and there were plenty of stalls, food and facilities available.
The static display for both visiting and participating aircraft is always a bit of a jumble, adding further to that small show charm and this year, as in 2017, saw the former Air Atlantique Avro Anson take centre stage as the star visiting aircraft.
With all the arrivals in place the show got underway over lunchtime with the first half hour comprising of aerobatic and family fun type acts, with two Pitts displays (including the remarkable, radial powered, model 12), the return of the “Red Sparrows” and a new favourite for myself on the circuit, the “Cheeky Champ”.
It was really after the first hour that the flying display really got underway for those historic aviation fans however. There was first a fleeting glimpse of that iconic sillouette of the DH88 Comet airborne out of Old Warden a few miles away before Pete Kynsey came diving in with Shaun Patrick’s Sea Fury T20. This was the first of two masterclass sequences from the Fighter Collection chief pilot. This Sea Fury performance would comfortably rank amongst the best I have seen and made a fitting Gransden debut (to my knowledge) for this leading warbird pilot. Flowing vertical aerobatics making full use of the Gransden bend and a simply stunning 90 degree top side pass on the closer display line before powering away from the show ground with a fast roll. This performance really kicked the show into a higher gear.
Dodge Bailey proved once again that the combination of his piloting skills and the superb DH88 Comet is something wonderful to behold. The Comet has scarcely flown away from Old Warden since its return to flight in 2014 and Little Gransden is really made for it. Sadly, presumably due to the bizarre inclusion of the Bell 47 carrying out a hovering performance during the Comet’s slot, there was little use of the bend, but the steep wingovers and flowing low passes across the field left a great impression.
Another UK warbird that seems to display often, though consistently evade me in a solo capacity is Will Greenwoods Yak 3 G-OLEG. I can’t think of an occasion where I have seen this machine as a singleton since this same venue in 2017.
The sequence really highlights the Russian fighter’s handling and you can’t help but love the sound of an Allison V12 wheeling through aerobatics. The quick climbing rolls and graceful half cuban towards the end of the sequence were particular highlights.
On a similar note, Miss Helen has had a real revival since changing owners a few years ago with plenty of display appearances each year. This show was my first time seeing John Dodd put this machine through its paces.
I don’t feel I would be overstating the mark in saying that it was quite simply the best Mustang solo I’ve ever seen. A masterful adaption to the unique display line with tight looping and low rolling sequences combined with superb topsides. Impressively that classic Mustang whistle was all but silence until the last dramatic on crowd half cuban during which the gun ports positively howled to bring the sequence to a close.
Interestingly, one machine I was most looking forward to seeing may not have appeared that highly on many wish lists. The NA64 Yale has for over a decade been something of a “hangar queen” at Duxford. A few false starts with almost airshow appearances over the years have given this airframe a near joking mythical quality in my eyes.
New ownership has seen the Yale become one of the most active historic machines in this country in 2019, yet I have so far missed it. It was fantastic then to see it join the circuit on the morning of the show and then be flown with such vigour by Chris Heames later in the afternoon. Very much like a Harvard with the gear down, this machine certainly has a great airshow presence.
Bringing this Warbird-Centric account of this years Gransden show to the close, like so many events this year it was the turn of the Sywell based Ultimate Warbird Flight’s operation. In a break from the recent run of “Ultimate Fighters” routines, Gransden saw a pair of fighters in action.
Hispano Buchon “White 9” and P-47D Thunderbolt “Nellie B” dived in from height for a single top side pass together before Paul Bohnomne climbed up into a wonderful exetended aerobatic solo in the Buchon. Graceful wingovers blended seamlessly into loops and flashing rolls in a performance that just suited the Buchon so perfectly. There is something about seeing the Spanish fighter sweeping low over the English country side that takes you back to its starring role and that opening sequice in the Battle of Britain film.
To bring the Warbird content to a close it was once again the turn of Pete Kynsey, this time in the Thunderbolt. Though to outward appearances a big radial fighter much like the Sea Fury, the Thunderbolt stands as much more of a challenge in energy management.
Despite having the same engine it carries a lot more weight. Nonetheless an equally graceful sequence was put together with clear care taken to keep energy levels high. Just seeing an aircraft of the Thunderbolt’s size loop and roll in impressive enough but with such style it makes for a wonderful memory.
This report has really focused in on my own personal highlights of the day and there were of course many more including some truly stunning aerobatic performances from a number of the based machines and plenty more historic and vintage acts. Little Gransden has once again proven its reputation as one of the best shows on the circuit and for me, this might have the best yet!