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St Andrews' fame as the Home of Golf comes from the courses laid out on links land on the south side of the River Eden estuary. But for one Saturday each September this part of Fife becomes better known for an event on the north side of the estuary which attracts over 40,000 people: the RAF Leuchars Airshow. The last ever Leuchars Airshow is due to take place on Saturday 7 September 2013.
For information about tickets, about the aviation enthusiasts' weekend or about corporate hospitality, see the RAF Leuchars Airshow website or the contact information on the right. A real bonus at Leuchars is that the show is an easy walk from Leuchars railway station. Combined rail and entry tickets make for easy access from most of Scotland and beyond, and allow you to avoid the traffic: though the traffic management plan put in place by the airshow organisers and Fife Police for the 2011 airshow, and repeated in 2012, was a great success, despite the large numbers attending. As a result the sometimes spectacular traffic problems of earlier years were avoided.
The RAF Leuchars Airshow combines a day-long flying programme with a varied and extensive park of static aircraft and supporting displays in some of the hangars. Plus aircraft arrivals and flying display practice on the preceding Friday for aviation enthusiasts. For those who want more from a day out than just aeroplanes, the airshow also offers an interactive area, fun fair, simulators, vintage military displays, and a wide range of traders with a distinctly aviation theme.
Which all means that as well as admiring the aeroplanes you can test your luck or skill, and risk spending the rest of the day wondering what to do with the four foot tall fluffy tiger or bear you've won.
You either love aircraft, or you don't. For those who do, RAF Leuchars can usually be relied on to provide a collection of those classic aviation moments guaranteed to bring the whole airfield to a standstill as everyone stops what they are doing to watch the display.
A perennial favourite at Leuchars is the RAF's Red Arrows display team, which has been performing since 1965. The Red Arrows performed their 4000th display at Leuchars in 2006, and they have now given over 4,400 displays in 54 countries. It's fascinating to look at images of their displays and see refuelling teams on top of their trucks, aircrew on the roofs of static display aircraft and people working on the far side of the airfield standing on the nearest grassy mound, all simply to get a better view of something most of them have seen many times before. Humans aren't given to perfection, but the Red Arrows come about as close to it as most of us will ever see.
Another "must see", or perhaps that should be "must hear", is the sound of the Merlin engine, whether singly in Spitfires and Hurricanes, or as the four that power the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF). There is something about these classic and evocative aircraft that reaches across the generations since they were themselves in the RAF's front line. The 2010 Leuchars Airshow marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, but the BBMF can be counted on putting in a memorable performance whenever the weather permits (rain and priceless and irreplacable aircraft tend to be a poor mix).
The last five Leuchars Airshows have introduced a brand new, yet also very old, addition to the list of show-stopping moments in the form of Vulcan XH558. Poor weather prevented a flying display in 2008, but 2009's perfect conditions allowed this venerable old lady to show how incredibly sprightly she still is, taking off straight into a very steep climb, which topped off with a roll. XH558 is now something of a legend, having returned to the sky in October 2007 after more than a decade's restoration by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust. 2010 saw her named "The Spirit of Great Britain" in honour of her 50th birthday and she carried her name proudly on her nose during her visit to Leuchars. She again performed beautifully in 2012, not long before it was announced that 2013 would sadly be her last flying season before her permanent grounding.
Images on this page and on the additional page of airshow images give an impression of the range and variety of what was on view in recent years' airshows. The 2012 Leuchars Airshow was a celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The flying display began shortly after 11am, and continued under beautiful blue skies (albeit with a strong and gusting wind) for over six hours. As well as the Red Arrows and the Vulcan, those attending were treated to the "stand up" parade by 1 Squadron to celebrate its re-formation at Leuchars with Typhoons, and to a spectacular "role demonstration" by Tornado Gr4s from 15 Squadron at Lossiemouth, simulating a ground attack against the airfield. Perhaps the most heroic moment of the day came with the display of a World War One vintage SE5a biplane, flown despite the strong wind which at times appeared to make it hover. The most spectacular sight of the show was, without doubt, the diamond nine formation of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft which brought it to a conclusion.
The 2011 airshow celebrated 100 years of military aviation in North East Fife. It was perhaps ironic that this milestone should have arrived soon after it had been announced that the RAF would be leaving Leuchars after 2013 and that it would thereafter become an army base. The 2010 airshow included a parade of the 6 Squadron standard before the Duke of Kent in the morning, accompanied by a unique flypast of Spitfire, Tornado and Typhoon. 6 Squadron had reformed at Leuchars a few days before the 2010 airshow and is the first of three Typhoon squadrons expected to form in Scotland. It has now been joined by 1 Squadron.
Earlier years offered a variety of themes. 2003 was all about celebrating the past, with displays from the B17 Flying Fortress Sally B & Memphis Belle amongst many others. Also at Leuchars in 2003 and celebrating their 50th year in the business, were the French Armée De L'Air Patrouille de France whose blue Alphajets provide an interesting contrast to the Red Arrows. The same contrast was on view at the 2011 airshow, when the Patrouille de France made a welcome return to Leuchars.
The 2004 airshow looked to the future, with four Eurofighter Typhoons providing a focus for a programme that included displays by most of the RAF's current aircraft plus contributions from the Royal Navy, the German and Belgian Air Forces. In 2005 the focus was on what is now the RAF's last "Battle of Britain" airshow, and a rare Spitfire MkXVIII was joined by a Mustang P-51 and Invader A-26 from Scandinavia.
The 2006 airshow marked the 90th anniversaries of two of the three fighter squadrons then based at RAF Leuchars: 43 Squadron and 56 Squadron. A highlight of the show was the very rare sight of a diamond nine formation of Tornado F3s flown by aircrew from those two squadrons.
Add to the usual suspects a cast list that includes a lot of noise and afterburner from a range of spectacular modern fighters, the more sedate passes of the larger military aircraft and the exploits of individual vintage or aerobatic aircraft; and Leuchars can usually be guaranteed to serve up one of the most varied and entertaining flying displays you'll see anywhere. Let's just hope we have the chance to see it for one final time in 2013: if not, then at least we can be slightly consoled by the thought that the 2012 airshow was such a tremendous success.