Huge crowds turned out at Birr Air Field for the annual flying display on Monday afternoon.
This was a very successful event which regularly drew gasps of wonder and fear from the spectators as we watched magnificent displays of aerobatic flying performed by some of the finest pilots in Ireland and Britain.
Birr Air Display is now in its 9th year and it gets bigger each year. It’s garnered an enviable reputation across the nation as being one of the best shows, of any sort, anywhere. The reason for its success is down to the enthusiasm and hard work of the members of the Ormand Flying Club. One of them, Colm Wright, was MC for the afternoon and Colm’s enthusiasm for flying in general and for the top drawer flying that we were witnessing was evident to everyone. It’s no doubt the enthusiasm of Colm and the others in the club which has brought the show to such a high standard.
The setting of Birr Air Field is a lovely one and the event is well organised with plenty of stewards, emergency services on standby, food stalls and funfair rides. An attractive glossy programme had been printed for the show.
Birr Air Field is located beside the site of a World War One airstrip which was attached to the Leinster Regiment Barracks nearby.
The Air Display started from very humble beginnings nine years ago. It was the idea of three members of Ormand Flying Club, Colm Wright, Tom Wrafter and David Corboy. Having attended air shows all over the world for many years they finally decided it was time to have one in the heart of Ireland at Birr.
During the show Colm acted as Flight Display Director co-ordinating with the pilots and air traffic control for the smooth running of the display. There was backing music for some of the flights, including some AC/DC which blended well with the stunt-flying of the machines in the air. It was also interesting to be able to hear, over the intercom, some of the conversations between the pilots themselves giving instructions to one another, or between the pilots (as they were flying) and Colm on the ground.
The show attracts major Irish and international display acts. This year’s line-up was a fabulous one, featuring three hours of fantastic entertainment, at the end of which everyone felt they had watched something very special indeed. It began with the world famous Aero Super Batics Wingwalkers and their historic Boeing Stearman Biplanes from the 1940s. The noise from their engines as they took off was deafening and with a constant smoke trailer streaming behind them they carved beautiful arcs in the blue and grey sky. It was windy at ground level, Colm told us, so it would be very windy up there making the aerobatic flying manoeuvres more tricky. Sometimes the Biplanes flew perilously close, which drew gasps from the crowd. Before landing, the two female wingwalkers had to descend from the tops of the wings down into their cockpits which sounded a difficult thing to do.
Richard Goodwin in his small plane gave a stunning display of aerobatic skills. Richard had flown over from Britain for the event and flew back after it was over. He started his flying career with the RAF and flew Tornadoes in Operation Desert Storm during the First Gulf War. He is now a commercial pilot and flies Boeings. Some of the manoeuvres which Richard effected I didn’t think were possible in a plane.
Another fantastic pilot was Eddie Goggins who co-ordinated his flying with some ethereal music and showed us why he is considered one of Ireland’s best aerobatic pilots. Eddie works as a dentist in Dublin during the week and at the weekend he pursues his passion for flying. He has represented Ireland at both European and World aerobatic championships.
Next up was an Irish Air Corps helicopter which is used as an Air Ambulance, for firefighting and for search & rescue. There are six of these helicopters and they provide an invaluable service to the people of Ireland, having saved many lives. They are also fantastic machines to watch and the pilot showed helicopter flying of the very highest standard.
Following this came a Strikemaster Jet. First introduced in 1967 these planes can reach speeds of nearly 500mph. They were attack aircraft and jet trainers used by many airforces around the world. Mark Petrie was the pilot on Monday. Mark was formerly an RAF Tornado pilot and flies commercial Boeings.
Irish Historic Flight in their De Havilland Chipmunks (first introduced in 1933) were also very impressive. They gave a beautiful display of co-ordinated formation flying. Irish Historic Flight is currently working on creating an aviation experience facility which will allow the public the opportunity to view historic aircraft.
Team Raven was formed in 2014 and consists of commercial pilots, an RAF pilot and a professional rugby player. They are considered one of the most exciting and professional formation display teams around. As we watched we saw them coming perilously close to one another and marvelled at their skill.
It would be worth travelling many miles to witness just one of the displays at Birr Air Field on Monday afternoon; therefore to have so much top quality on the one site felt like an embarrassment of riches. The highlight of the afternoon for this viewer, and I am sure for many others, was the appearance of the historic P51 Mustang. This magnificent, beautiful plane is a survivor of World War Two and saw a lot of combat. She can reach speeds of 460mph. It was emotional seeing this special plane up close. The MC told us afterwards that the distinctive whistling noise of the P51 was the wind travelling through its gun barrels.
David Corboy was the event manager for Birr Air Display and was responsible for the running of the whole event. Tom Wrafter was the site manager and was responsible for the smooth operation of the carparks, food stalls, amusements and people getting in to the show and making sure that the entire site is a comfortable place to enjoy the afternoon.