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The Bray Air Display 2015

Now in its tenth year, the weather gods smiled on the show yet again, despite the forecast of high winds and blustery showers. In the end, no rain fell and the cloudbase was sufficiently high to permit all of the display participants to operate at their requested altitude: indeed, from time to time the sun made a welcome appearance and the requisite suntan lotion was applied liberally by many of the 90,000 strong crowd.

Down to earth there was much to amuse and entertain the vast crowd, especially the younger ones, including a healthy assortment of fairground attractions, food and craft markets, a wide variety of food and beverage outlets, including ice cream parlours, not forgetting the vehicles, weapons and equipment of the Defence Forces arrayed along the seafront.

The major airlines were well represented this year, including the RJ85 of Cityjet, the ATR72 of Air Stobart in Aer Lingus colours and, to the surprise of many, the first appearance of a Ryanair Boeing 737. Having declined The Bray Air Spectacular 2015 took place on Sunday, July 19th and proved itself worthy of the title as Ireland’s most popular outdoor event the urge to participate in the previous decade, the airline sent its rarest aircraft, the newly acquired 737-700, which is appreciably shorter than the rest of the fleet, and is generally reserved for training purposes.

The Chief Pilot put on a spirited display which was very well received by the appreciative audience. This may have been Ryanair’s greatest secret, as many of the senior spotters present had never known of its existance, let alone seen this aircraft since its arrival just two months earlier. Rumour had it that the demand for the airline’s services were such that this particular aircraft would be made ready for passenger service at Dublin Airport immediately after the Bray display. Aer Lingus’ appearance was much anticipated but the actual arrival caught many by surprise, even the commentary team, such was the secrecy surrounding the A319 operation, more of which later.

Parachutists have almost always opened the Bray display and 2015 was no different: the Black Knights, comprising four members of the Defence Forces, jumped from an Air Corps EC135 at about 4,500 feet and made light work of their final approach to the beach where they landed in the vertical position, formed up and saluted the crowd in military fashion; the latter appeared to love the theatricality of it all. Earlier, the civilian Irish Parachute Club group had jumped onto the beach as a precursor to the show proper from their attractive Pilatus PC-6 aircraft but sadly it departed at high altitude before it was noticed.

No less than three historical military jets appeared as solo acts during the afternoon: the diminutive but spectacularly noisy Strikemaster, smoking impressively at all times it seemed, the highly manoeuvrable Mig-15 trainer replete with Soviet stars and, my own personal favourite, the Hawker Hunter two-seater in proper military grey-green camouflage paint. Let’s have no more of this psychadelic technicolor paintwork on genuine air force jets please!

In contrast to the fast jet brigade, the stealthy arrival of the Irish Historic Flight was a welcome sight and sound; the DH84 Iolar in original Aer Lingus markings was flanked by no less than three DHC Chipmunks, all of them in Irish Air Corps colours dating from the 1950s. The distinctive low-pitched hum of five Gypsy Major piston engines was a nice background with which to show the distinctive silvery shapes in the welcome sunshine. The solo Chipmunk aerobatic display was exemplary and illustrated why this type became so popular as a primary  trainer with so many air arms over the years and why it remains common in myriad flying clubs even today.

It would be remiss of any account not to mention the father and son displays of Gerry and Harry Humphreys who flew two distinct types of aircraft over Bray, an Aviataka Mai 89 and a Vans RV7, the latter made by Gerry’s own hand over a five year period. His was the initial Vans to be constructed and flown in Ireland and it sports a distinctive “Flying Cow” colour scheme because he has a fine herd of cows on his farm. Prior to becoming a farmer Gerry was pilot in the RAF, flying the Harrier with No 1 Squadron amongst other military types.

Harry’s aircraft is a genuine Russian export, a preproduction open cockpit biplane powered by a Rotax water-cooled engine yielding some 65HP. It is painted in the subdued grey shades of an air superiority fighter but its cruising speed is a sedate 70 mph! As for the pilot, Harry received his PPL some five years ago at 16 years of age and is currently finishing commercial pilot training in Cork with the Atlantic Flying Training Academy.

Irish military flying was very much in evidence with an opening formation comprising a quartet of Rheims Rockets or Cessna 172s to mostobservers. Incredibly, the Air Corps’ commentator reminded the crowd that these venerable aircraft entered service as long ago as 1972, implying that if they continue flying until next year they will have equalled the Alouette’s record of forty-four continuous years. At 43 years old, they are twice as old as most of the young pilots who fly them! Rumour has it that there are no plans to replace them, even with the updated versions which are now in production.

Other Air Corps types included the CASA CN235 maritime patrol aircraft, which itself is in service since 1994, but remains a very appropriate, not to say spritely, performer over the sea. Also on location from Baldonnel was Eagle Section, a foursome of Swiss-made PC 9s whose formation flying was second to none and from whom the singleton appeared and gave the finest Air Corps aerobatic performance for many years. It is no wonder that this type, or advanced versions of it, are in widespread military service in all parts of the globe.

Helicopters had not been neglected on the programme as the EC135 from Baldonnel was impressive, displaying semi-aerobatic manoeuvres that would have defeated older rotary-winged machines, not to mention  their pilots! Turns in excess of 110 degress angle of bank seemed to be the norm, while nose-over “bunts” posed no problems at all, not mention flying backwards at high speed.

An “under the radar” arrival was the Irish Coast Guard’s S-92 search and rescue helicopter based at Dublin Airport. It literally popped up at sea level and almost caught the commentary team unawares. This new high performance type replaced the stalwart S-61 in service and is capable of conducting searches for a full four hours at a distance of 275 nautical miles from base in order to rescue four survivors and then return home with a 30 minute fule reserve. By way of illustrating its capabilities, a demonstration winching exercise took place across the seafront using the local RNLI lifeboat as the vessel in distress, which proved to be popular with the many children present.

The finale was a surprise and a welcome one at that! From the north a strange gaggle of shapes began to emerge at low altitude and it soon morphed into a formation of an Aer Lingus A319 followed very closely by six F-5E Tigers of the Patrouille Suisse. It was “Smoke on, Go!” as they crossed the display line. The most unusual formation seen for a long time, it was significant in that at long last, after a decade, Bray had seen its very own “First Division” national jet aerobatic team.

As the A319 broke away and climbed en route to Dublin, the Swiss visitors did not disappoint: from the very beginning fluidity, panache and raw noise were the only watchwords. They performed precision formation manoeuvres with such charming names as the Tango, the Flirt, Synchro Rolls and lots more which involved aircraft inverted with extended undercarriage, opposition passes with smoke and flare discharges and noisy afterburners.

The vertical bombburst finale was especially well received as it involved multiple colourful flare releases leaving pyrothechnial traces across the sky. It was agreed generally that Bray 2015 was a great success and entirely free thanks to the sponsorship of the Irish Aviation Authority as part of the Bray Summerfest. Let us hope that we see something similar in 2016; there’s not much free in Ireland these days!

Kevin Byrne FCILT


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