First, there’s the smell. The unmistakable scent of jet fuel hangs in the air, mingling with, if you’re lucky and the weather is kind, the summery smell of hot grass.
Then there’s the sound. Whether it’s the lovely, nostalgic burble of a Merlin engine as a Spitfire shows off its Forties grace and elegance, or the scream of a fighter jet climbing vertically on full afterburner, prepare for noisy skies.
Above all, though, an airshow is a feast for the eyes. You don’t have to be a geek to appreciate the fragile-looking wings and wires of a First World War biplane, or the smooth, aerodynamic lines of a modern jet. There are bold colour schemes, subtle camouflage designs, and the glint of bare, polished metal.
What you’ll see at an airshow depends on the type and location of the show. A military airshow is more likely to feature aircraft currently in service, while a display at an airport might have an airliner or two dropping by. Some displays are themed, showcasing, for example, naval aviation or Second World War aircraft. The Shuttleworth Collection specialises in the early days of aviation, and fly both original and reconstructed planes at their shows.
You’re likely to see at least one display team. The Red Arrows in their bright red Hawks are well-known, but there are plenty of privately-run teams ready to show off their synchronised routines in aircraft from biplanes to jets. Wingwalkers bring back the barnstorming days of the 1920s, while solo pilots present jawdropping aerobatic manoeuvres. Loops, rolls and high-speed passes, in which the planes can seem inches apart,
It’s always exciting to see historic aircraft from as far back as the 1930s, through the Second World War and the Cold War. In recent years, the enormous Vulcan bomber with its distinctive, mothlike shape has been the star of the airshow circuit. My personal favourite sight, though, is a mock First World War dogfight between reproduction monoplanes, biplanes and triplanes.
Away from the flightline, there are often opportunities to chat with pilots and crew, perhaps collecting some autographed pictures, inspect the aircraft up close, or even sit in the cockpit.
There are always plenty of other activities for all the family, so you can take a break from the flying. There might be a craft tent, a funfair or an exhibition of classic cars, and there will certainly be stalls selling not only aviation-related goodies but pretty much anything else you can think of.
The biggest airshows in the UK are Farnborough Air Show and the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. Fairford is the world’s biggest military airshow, while Farnborough puts on a trade exhibition as well as a public air display.
Airshows of all sizes take place at military and civilian airports and airfields up and down the country, so you shouldn’t have to travel too far to get a taste of the action. Some shows are even free, like the seaside airshows at Southend and Bournemouth. Take a picnic, have a paddle, and watch a fantastic display of aerial action – what could be nicer?
Peak season for airshows is the summer, but there are a few displays as early as May and as late as October. Whichever you choose is bound to be a brilliant day out. Don’t forget the sun cream!