Biggin Hill airport is literally 30 minutes from where we live and yet in the 22 years we have lived here we have never gone to the airshow. We are both ex RAF (it’s where we both met) and love this sort of thing and have often been to Duxford Imperial War Museum and other similar places when we are on holiday.
This year was no different, to be fair, until a friend said she had booked tickets to go and so we jumped on their band wagon and booked tickets literally the day before we went. The planned displays sounded good and my friend, who has always wanted to see the Red Arrows display, was excited to hopefully see them.
The weather when we arrived was pretty rubbish with fairly low cloud, and although the forecast was to improve, we weren’t holding out much hope for the Red Arrows display ( I’m ex air traffic control………….so have a fair idea of judging whether they can display or not). Although they took off to display at Eastbourne they were quickly returned due to the weather. Fortunately for us their planned display was not until the end of the day so we just kept our fingers crossed.
Having not been before we were pretty unsure on what would be there, you would expect at least some static displays and some wartime era vehicles and memorabilia. So we decided to have a wander around and have a good nosey before claiming our picnic and watching spot (be warned veterans of this airshow take this very seriously I can tell you, and we saw some fabulous group set ups!).
What we didn’t expect to come across was a guy set up with two MOD style scooters and memorabilia from the film Quadrophenia. If you are of a certain age you will know exactly the film I’m talking about. So, like you do, we stopped to take a few pictures ( well I did, I’m always the one taking the pics and popping on insta- my husband hates social media). As we got chatting to the guy there it turns out he owned the main scooter on display and was actually one of the main extras in the film! Quadrophenia is one of our all time favourite films, I cannot even tell you how many times we have seen it, and so we continued to chat with Roy (the owner). He even let me sit on the scooter for a picture which literally MADE. MY. DAY!
It turns out I could’ve have chatted to him for hours. He was a lovely guy and had ALL the stories from behind the scenes. What I’ve always wanted to know was how many times they had to film the scooter going over the cliff at Beachy Head in the last scene…………………….turns out its not an easy question to answer! He told us that that particular scene was filmed in the first few days of filming, that it was almost filmed back to front due to filming starting in September and the weather still had to look nice and summery for the scenes in Brighton. He remembers 6 almost identical scooters there on the day ( one of which Phil Daniels damaged slightly having a ride around on while the grass was still wet in the morning!). Roy told us that because he gets asked this question a lot he asked the director the last time there was a meet up, and even the director couldn’t fully remember!
He also told us that his particular scooter had been ear marked for Sting’s character as it was so distinctive, but then as you may know the scooter eventually used in the film for his character was a slick, upmarket one adorned with the distinctive lights (if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I’m talking about). Then, when that was decided Roy’s scooter with its stand out union jack design, had to always be on the sidelines so as not to outshine Sting’s bike. There were lots of other stories too but this post would end up being way too long. However, this scooter is the ONLY remaining one from the filming, it has been used by The Who at various events, appeared on album covers and also for cast reunions with the director. Anyway if you are interested in more details pop over to Roy’s website unionjackscooter.co.uk as he has some great pics on there.
But anyway lets get back to the airshow. We eventually met with our friends and plonked ourselves in a decent spot for the rest of the afternoon. The weather surprisingly decided to play ball and the sunshine finally came out and the clouds cleared away ( my sunburnt face can vouch for that – I am literally the only person who could go dressed for winter, feeling the cold, and still get bloody sunburnt). This meant we got the full display programme which turned out to be a real mix over a couple of hours.
One of my absolute favourites, is the wing walker planes (in my day they were known as the Crunchie planes, then at one point they were Utterly Butterly). But at the moment they have no sponsor which is such a shame. I will always have a soft spot for these planes due to the fact I have done wing walking myself- twice in fact!
Yes, in my earlier days, before marriage and kids and any form of chronic illness, I actually was kind of adventurous! Both times were while I was in the Royal Air Force serving at St Mawgan. They used to hold an international air day there and the Officers who organised it ran a competition for the local area for people to get the chance of having a go. My sergeant at the time put my name down as a joke thinking I wouldn’t do it………WRONG! So a few days before the air show, myself and a the two winners of the comp all had a trial and I bloody LOVED it! The following year though, those same officers forgot to run the competition in the local paper and so came into me the day before the show and asked if I would do it for the actual air show itself……………….erm, no brainer for me…..YES…………and I got the day off work (at the time I worked in the ops room that had no windows). So, whenever I see these planes I can appreciate how difficult it is to do, and yet how easy they make it look, and just love watching them.
There were also lots of Battle of Britain Memorial aircraft displaying on the day too, Spitfires, Hurricane, Lancaster along with a Messerschmidt 109, and a great re enactment of an actual bombing raid that took place back in the day at Biggin Hill itself during the war.
But for the younger kids and those that like the faster jets, the big draw is definitely the Red Arrows. Unfortunately, although they may be planned to display they aren’t always able to display due to the fabulous british weather. In fact, that particular day they were due to display at Eastbourne but were returned because the weather was not playing ball. It can be unbelievably frustrating when they don’t, yet as an ex air traffic controller I totally get why they can’t, so it’s a real treat to see them do their thing when they can display. They have different levels of display to help account for the weather. A flat display will be during cloudy weather with just low fly pasts. A Rolling display which is for better weather conditions that allows them to go up to about 2500ft ( I think) and then the full display which can go up to around 7500ft (I think). Although our weather had improved so much we could have had the full display there were , in fact, restrictions on the airspace over the surrounding Biggin Hill area and so we had the rolling display on that day. Watching the Red Arrows just does not get old- I love it! My friend had tried to see them display at a few different events over the last few years and had never been lucky- until Sunday that is. We were obviously her lucky charm ( taking full credit obvs) and they did not disappoint! They never do.
Now these air shows generally don’t come cheap to be fair and this one was £29 for an adult ticket, so almost £60 for just me and my OH. As the weather improved greatly and we had our full display programme for the afternoon, I would therefore say it was worth the money for us. However, if you were going as a family ( and I’m presuming a child’s ticket would hopefully be cheaper!) I can see how that would add up to being a very expensive day out. One of the best things about it is that it is really family orientated as far as I could see. There was some fair ground rides and go carts along with lots of other, pay as you go, rides for the kids ( so you can see how this could run up to being an extortionate day out!). There were lots of stalls selling merchandise, and lots of wartime and classic vehicles to look around.
It was very well organised ( although we will skip over the leaving the car park at the end of the day fiasco) with lots of toilet facilities, food and drink vendors and lots of large bins for the rubbish. There was a separate area for any disabled visitors and their families to set up ( including their own toilet facilities) that was much less crowded and busy which gave wheelchair and mobility scooter users much more room to move around.
I loved the fact that it seemed to be a real family style event, with picnic blankets and chairs and large family groups all enjoying the day. Would I go again? Absolutely……………we love an air show, we love aircraft museums and I love anything wartime related ( I don’t know why, but I just do!).
So have you been before- if so I would love to know if you felt it was value for money? I would love to hear your views in the comments.
Also have you ever seen the Red Arrows display- what did you think?