The British summer time is synonymous with picnics on the beach, cricket and outside festivals. Another attraction is the numerous UK airshows that draw thousands of people to airfields to crane their necks skyward in the pursuit of sleek aircraft cutting aerobatic manoeuvres.
Each summer, British skies play host to numerous airshows. The air throbs to the sound of aircraft, Merlin engines purr, Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp rumble whilst the roar of jets assaults the ears. Whilst there’s a lot of UK based airshows to choose from, we’ve distilled down our top five picks of where to get the most from your aviation fix.
Best UK Airshows for Vintage Aircraft
If you like warbirds, think Spitfires, P-51s, Hurricanes, P-47s, generally aircraft from the Second World War period, then Duxford airshow is the one for you. With many aircraft permanently based at IWM Duxford, there’s no shortage of varied and exciting aircraft on display. The two major shows available at Duxford are the ‘Battle of Britain’ show (mid September) and the ‘Summer Festival’, usually occurring early June. The Battle of Britain show is renowned for the large flights of Spitfires, unlikely to be seen anywhere else; whilst the Summer Festival pulls a large variety of period aircraft in based both nationally and internationally to celebrate flight at one of the UK’s leading museums. Entrance to the events usually include access to the entire museum with a multitude of interactive displays, rare aircraft and mesmerising displays.
Think BIG and NOISY
If you want to see the best of current and recent military aircraft, you’re likely to enjoy a day at the RIAT airshow. Hosted at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, RIAT stands for Royal International Air Tattoo. Covering three days, RIAT is one of the largest airshows in the world, inviting aircraft and airforces from around the world to demonstrate their hardware and wow the crowds with stomach churning turns and loops. Often showcasing some 250 aircraft over the event, unique displays are often planned each year, combining aircraft that would usually never be seen together. If speed and lots of jet fuel excite you then RIAT is the place to be.
Old School Cool
Shuttleworth Collection Season Premier is the first opportunity of the flying season at the Old Warden Aerodrome to experience flight. The Shuttleworth Collection is renowned for the span and range of aircraft available to them, of which as many as possible are restored and maintained in flying condition. Many pre-Second World War aircraft feature in the collection as well as the a variety of Spitfires and Hurricanes. Not only does the show draw from their own collection but visiting aircraft also feature. Naturally, the roster changes from year to year but noteable mentions must go to the RAF’s Lancaster bomber (one of two flying in the world) and the Bristol Blenheim (one of one flying in the world).
The spread of airfields across the country naturally leans towards UK airshows occurring it the southern and eastern areas. However, we wanted to feature the Blackpool airshow (though a notable mention must got to the Southport airshow too). Heavily focusing on the RAF, the Typhoon (Eurofighter) is a mainstay of the show, ripping through the air with afterburners glowing. Things settle down with the appearance of warbirds such as the Spitfire and Lancaster bomber. The Red Arrows, a crowd favourite often feature. Whilst not a plane spotter’s airshow it’s a fantastic family event with aircraft that the casual observer will enjoy seeing.
Previously held at IWM Duxford, Flying Legends moved to Church Fenton, situated between Leeds and York, in recent years. Labelled as the heritage UK Airshow, it’s a must-see for piston engine enthusiasts – although the odd jet can sneak into the line up. As a rough rule of thumb, if the aircraft flew during the ‘war’ and there’s still an airworthy example in the UK you are likely to see it flying at the Flying Legends Airshow. If you’re a fan of the Spitfire, there will be a variant for you to see; previous years have had everything from a Mk1 to a MkIV and everything in between. The airfield benefits from good transport links whilst being compact, allowing for good views of the aircraft.
There you have it, our list of the best airshows in the UK. There’s naturally many more on the UK circuit, and even though they’re not on our list, they still need to be checked out. Our list highlights our own favourites, ones that we are sure you will enjoy. If you choose to visit any of the airshows, ensure you book ahead as tickets often sell out quickly. On the day, take a picnic with plenty to eat and drink; food often is overpriced at these events and long queues can form. Finally, remember to take some form of shade, whether a hat or an umbrella. Airfields by their very nature are large open spaces with little shade or cover, on hot summer days, you’ll be glad of some way of keeping the sun off you. Wherever you go, we hope you enjoy you visit — remember to watch with you eyes and not through a camera lens!