For the past 25 years the August Bank Holiday has played host to the ever popular Little Gransden Air & Car Show, staged by Dave Poile and his dedicated team to raise money for the BBC Children in Need Appeal and local charities. Since the last airshow, the Little Gransden team has lost one of its leading lights with the sad death of Adrian Hamilton following a long battle with cancer. Though visitors may not have known his name, he was a huge part of what made the events an organisational success. Before the flying display began, the crowd gave Adrian a huge round of applause, and commentator Ken Ellis dedicated the rest of the show to his memory. What a day for it, with beautiful clear blue skies, light winds and a comfortable temperature – perfect airshow weather!
Whilst recent line-ups have diversified to include a plethora of light aviation types, the 2017 edition of the show saw a return to a considerably more vintage-orientated programme more akin to the Little Gransden shows of five or six years ago. As the years have passed, the intimate, village fete atmosphere has remained unchanged, however, and with the 2017 instalment enjoying the attendance of beautiful weather, a large number of classic automobiles and a large crowd, this was very much in evidence.
An entertaining comedy skit opened the show as a paramotor lazily bumbled across the airfield, its pilot seemingly oblivious to the fact that there was an airshow about to commence. The machine completed some lazy circles as the commentators mused over the intruder’s identity. As the paramotor landed on the grass runway, it transpired that it was airfield owner Mark Jefferies, who duly waved to the crowd to welcome them to Little Gransden! We would see Mark flying again later in the afternoon in something a little more energetic.
Radials were the order of the day, with the flying display proper commencing with T-28 Trojan G-TROY flown very nicely by Ray Corstin, followed a little later in the programme by a Max Holste Broussard visiting from Breighton – not a common airshow performer by any means. A Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior-powered Stearman was put through a solid routine by Bob Morcom; later in the afternoon he led that great staple of Little Gransden airshows, the Spartan 7W Executive pair, with Ian Austin following up behind for an energetic tail-chase.
It is always encouraging to see new faces breaking into the airshow scene and displaying newly acquired Beech 3TM Expeditor for the first season was Nick Houghton. This American twin is now based at Leicester Airport and has been a regular attendee at fly-ins since changing hands. Making his second public display (following on from his display début at Northumberland Wings & Wheels at Eshott the weekend prior) was Andy Goodall flying the attractive Harvard AJ841 Wacky Wabbit. Given their popularity, it is a shame that Harvards/Texans aren’t more prolific on the UK airshow circuit. With its interesting colour scheme and catchy identity, the T6 Harvard Group based at Duxford should hopefully enjoy more bookings with their machine in the future.
Several years ago Lauren Richardson was one such newcomer to the scene; she is now a firmly established favourite flying her red Pitts Special, in which she put on her usual superb routine. Her first appearance at the 2017 Little Gransden airshow was, however, in an altogether different type as she took Bob Grimstead’s Fournier RF-4 motor glider aloft for what was the highlight of the day for me. The energy management utilised in her endlessly flowing routine of sweeping aerobatics was a joy to behold! Lauren is a consummate display pilot and her efforts have been rewarded by her appointment as an Ambassador to the Light Aircraft Association, a role which sees her promoting aviation and engineering to the wider community – a vital task to inspire the next generation of pilots and aeronautical engineers. She is a true asset to the scene.
Providing biplane aerobatics of an earlier vintage was Richard Pickin in his Bücker Bü-131 Jungmann, a lovely example of the type resplendent in a 1936 Berlin Olympics scheme – a very controlled and precisely flown sequence contrasted nicely with the high-energy Pitts routine. It’s fair to say the Global Stars display team had the crowd spellbound, particularly Mark Jefferies’ extended solo slot as he manipulated the laws of physics in his Extra 330SC in his inimitable, dazzling style. Also participating were crowd favourites such as the Calidus Autogyro, the TRIG Pitts Special team (flown by Dave Puleston and Alex Smee), the ‘Little and Large’ pairing of model and real Extras and the barnstorming antics of Dennis Neville’s Flying Circus.
Bookings of Will Greenwood’s Yakovlev Yak-3M have steadily increased since the aircraft’s arrival in 2015, and G-OLEG was the sole piston fighter at Little Gransden’s show this year. The diminutive, penetrating Yak was put through a very smooth display of rolls and topside passes by its owner.
Not to be outdone by the more nimble aircraft on show, the bomber boys put on some excellent displays with Peter Kuypers flying B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B and John Romain in the Bristol Blenheim Mk.I respectively. It cannot be easy displaying such types at a small venue, particularly the B-17, but both pilots did so with terrific vigour.
This year’s Little Gransden airshow presented a perfect balance of display acts. Aerobatics have always played a prominent part in the events at Little Gransden, given the airfield is owned by nine-time British Aerobatic Champion Mark Jefferies, but this year’s show seemed to find a happy medium with a broad cross-section of acts including vintage biplanes, warbirds, low-powered motor gliders and modern unlimited types offering a raft of different display styles. The balance between these acts and other non-aerobatic bookings was spot on, making for a thoroughly enjoyable airshow cocktail.