Return of Prestwick air show cleared for take off

Battle of Britain memorial flight showing a Spitfire, a Hurricane and the Lancaster Bomber. Picture: Paul Parke
Battle of Britain memorial flight showing a Spitfire, a Hurricane and the Lancaster Bomber. Picture: Paul Parke
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SCOTLAND’S biggest air show is to return to the skies under plans to revive the spectacular showcase of military jets and classic airliners.

The Scottish International Air Show will be staged again next September at Prestwick, 22 years after the last extravaganza at the Ayrshire airport.

The airshow in 1987. Picture: Newsquest

The airshow in 1987. Picture: Newsquest

In its heyday in the 1980s, the show attracted up to 100,000 spectators – twice as many as other Scottish displays. Launched in 1967, the event has featured iconic aircraft, such as a prototype Concorde in 1972, four years before it entered service.

Organisers hope to persuade the RAF to become a key part of the event after the air force staged its last annual Leuchars air show this month, before the Fife base is turned over to the Army.

They hope this would include the Red Arrows, whose popularity was underlined when 5,000 people converged on Prestwick at short notice last month when they heard the display team was refuelling there en route to Northern Ireland.

The unexpected appearance coincided with the start of the inaugural Prestwick World Festival of Flight, a largely arts-based event of which the air show would become part.

Other aircraft that could feature in the show include the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which includes a Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane.

There are also plans to host a Vulcan bomber, which carried the UK’s nuclear weapons in the 1960s. Organisers also hope to see a Prestwick-built Twin Pioneer take part if it can be made airworthy in time.

The 1950s aircraft’s wide wings made it a forerunner of the Harrier jump jet by being able to land on short runways, and used by the RAF in Aden and the jungles of Borneo.

However, the show would also feature famous passenger aircraft from the past, which could include a Lockheed Super Constellation, known as the “King of the Atlantic” in the 1950s, which is owned by Swiss watch firm Breitling and one of only three still flying.

Prestwick is seen as an ideal location because its long runway enables large aircraft to land, and it has a big apron area for displaying planes.

This is far more extensive than that of the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian, which also stages air shows.

The Prestwick event would also draw on the site’s historic connections with the RAF, from where its forerunner, the Royal Flying Corps, first flew in 1913. It is expected a pool of potential volunteers from neighbouring aerospace firms will help staff the event.

Festival chairman George Kerevan said: “Everybody remembers the Prestwick airshows of the 1970s and 1980s, which attracted an audience of 100,000 people. Given time and organisation I think we can see those numbers again.

“Everyone in Scotland is saddened by the demise of the Leuchars air show. We at Prestwick intend to fill that gap. Scotland plays a major role in the international aerospace industry. Firms at Prestwick like Spirit AeroSystems make wing parts for Boeing and Airbus.

“We need a serious air show at Prestwick as a shop window for our aerospace companies.”

Kerevan said preliminary talks had already been held with Prestwick airport and South Ayrshire Council.

Airport chief executive Iain Cochrane said: “We would welcome the opportunity to explore hosting an air show as these events have been very popular and successful in the past.”

An RAF spokesman said: “We are currently conducting a review of all air show commitments, and while it is inappropriate to pre-empt the outcome of this work, the RAF are very aware that there are many events throughout Scotland that would welcome RAF involvement, including a number of already established air shows such as those in Prestwick, and East Fortune. No decisions have been made for the year 2014 onwards but the review is giving serious consideration to various options, including a replacement for the Leuchars air show. It aims to report before the end of 2013.”

Dramatic events at previous Prestwick shows include the ditching of a 1940s Hawker Sea Fury fighter in the sea off Turnberry in 1989 after its pilot was unable fully to lower its undercarriage. He baled out and was rescued.

Attendance at the 1979 show was said to have rivalled that of the 62,000 who saw Diego Maradona score for Argentina against Scotland at Hampden on the same day.

The event is thought to have been discontinued after security was tightened following the Gulf War in 1991, with the last one staged the following year. Lesley Bale, managing director of Prestwick airport from 1990 to 1992, said: “It was a great show. Security changed significantly after the Gulf War – people could get much closer before.

“I’m sure reviving it would capture the imagination and it would be a great attraction.”

Iain Ferguson, the show’s publicist in the 1970s, said: “It would be a very good thing to bring back, especially given what has happened to Leuchars.

“There has not been anything like it in Scotland since its demise, and Prestwick is steeped in aviation history more than anywhere else in the country.”

Twitter: @AlastairDalton