As soon as you enter the hallowed enclosure within Sywell Aerodrome for the Aeroexpo your senses are assaulted with the sounds and smells of the many stalls, vendors, and aircraft in attendance. Frying onions mingle with the smell of fuel as the rich and not so rich alike talk business. As we had staff passes we were there early and were able to sweep in the gate, bypassing the line which was already forming and snaking its way past the vintage style hotel. Even at 10 am on day three there was a constant buzz as pilots and vendors chatted amid the background activity of last minute changes being made to stalls and people grabbing what could be their last chance of the day to have a bacon butty and a cuppa.
As my photographer had attended for the previous two days of the event he was already very much acclimatised with those in attendance so after being introduced to a few he thought I should meet, I took the first of many wanders around the sight before grabbing myself a bacon melt from one of the food stalls. As I sat, taking in my surroundings, the fog began lifting and it was obvious that it was going to be a beautiful day unlike the last rainy two. I have to admit I was very grateful that I had attended on the one beautiful day of the Expo. So surrounded by a now sunny haze Sywell Aerodrome began to glisten with anticipation for what was looking likely to be the best of the three day weekend.
Areas were set up for vendors and exhibitors within a hanger and two large tents, there were also further stalls set up among the many aircraft on the lawn. The smorgasbord of attendees spanned all areas of private aviation from clothing ranges through insurance to aircraft for hire and helicopters to learn to fly in.
I of course, have my own favourites but first I had to find one my 6 year old son had asked me to. Last year we attended with my son and he was given a poster of light aircraft from the representatives of Hayward Aviation Limited which is an international insurance broker who specialies in aviation. Said poster was ceremoniously put up in the dining room and remained there for the majority of the year until we moved and inadvertently left it behind. When he was told where I was going on Sunday, his only comment was “can you please find the big red bus and ask if I can have another poster?”. So of course my first port of call was the big red HAL bus, after explaining my sons request, not only was the lovely lady more than happy to produce a new poster for him but she also gave him a fishing style hat, a pack of light aircraft top trumps (not sure who was more excited later that evening, the 6 year old child or the 40 year old man) and also a keyring. Again I loved the use of the iconic image of the red double decker bus but also how friendly and approachable they are. If I ever need aviation related insurance I know who I will be ringing!
It is always very different attending any event as a paying customer than it is when you have a pass. Each has their own benefits and down falls. When I attended last year I experienced a lot of aviation snobbery and a very cliquey atmosphere but on the up side we were given a lot of merchandise. Once you have a lanyard swinging between your bosom you bypass a lot of that snobbery and it is an invitation to approach people who perhaps would not have spoken to you otherwise, unfortunately you do not get as much merch. In fact I had this conversation with a very amiable pilot at the Heli Air space. How aviation can not only be cliquey to outsiders but also within the industry, but that once you can get to talk to these people they are some of the nicest you will ever meet. I did also have to give him a little lesson on what Nose Art is!!
(the lovely team from Heli Air)
Although this is not technically an airshow, with this many pilots in attendance you expect to see some of them take to the skies! Of course the brilliant light aircraft which displayed did not disappoint and with LAA CEO Stephen Slater taking to the mic it was not just a joy to see but also a joy to hear his wonderfully fluent description of the balletic display dancing across the Northamptonshire azure. Stephen waxed lyrical with obvious aptitude, one would never have guessed that he had (as he let on to me later) only discovered an hour before his climb up the Bose tower that he was going to step in as commentator. His faultless description of the expertise acrobatics being played out above our heads conveyed his passionate affection for the aircraft and their pilots.
As much as I wanted to lay back on the grass with my head to the skies, I felt that I should show a little professionalism (maybe if I had collected my Bigatmo sunglasses before this point I may have changed my mind) so I stayed standing. I also wanted to get a feeling for how those watching the display felt about it. As I walked around the site during the airshow I heard gasps and expressions of ‘wow’ whilst every face was turned to the sky. There was not a person in the aerodrome who wasn’t looking up at the big blue expanse above them and feeling overwhelmed by the skill and control of the aircraft and pilots. A few overheard tidbits were “wow, did you see that?”, “look at that” and “I really want to learn to fly”.
Leading the way for modern female pilots was the modern day Amelia Earhart, are very own Lauren Richardson. She expertly somersaulted her way across the perfectly blue sky with an aplomb which excited and awed the crowds in her pillow box red Pitts S2. Like the scarlet covered lips of the screen goddess’s gone by she kissed the skies. Dutch pilot Frank Van Houten in his Sukhoi 26M wowed the crowds with his energetic display, throwing his aircraft from one side of the display line to the other with almost superhero speed!
(Lauren in her Pitts S2 and Bigatmo shades)
(Frank in flight)
Before and after the air display I meandered my way around the site, walking in and out of the areas set up for the Expo. For a fashion and history aficionado such as myself one of my favorite areas was the Jean Gaborit Creations space with their wonderful array of leather goods. The stitching is exquisite and the leather quality is beyond question… they purchase their leather from Hermes no less, the home of my long coveted Birkin bag! Whether you are looking for boots, bags or flight jackets this is the place to come.
(amazing leathers in their collection included Stingray and Aligator)
Also available were some amazing shoes and ties by Peter and Porter, unfortunately whenever I went to their space there was no one there to talk to.
Then there are the sunglasses, no good pilot will be without his sunglasses and Bigatmo produce styles which are not just aesthetically perfect but are also devised with pilots and their needs in mind. Managing Director Louise is always on hand to help you find your perfect pair and talk you through the technology used.
Other than the fabulous attire on display were many aircraft which you could hire, the best ‘mise en place’ must be awarded to the beautiful bright yellow Husky whose owners had laid out a little image of life with a private plane or plane for hire. I had a lovely chat with Sue Hawkridge of Aviat Aircraft (UK) Limited about how other dogs visiting had reacted to their ‘toy’ husky sitting beside a camp set up, complete with backwards cooking fire, pan hanging from a tripod and decorative soil and flowers below the fixed undercarriage of the husky (plane not puppy). Some had been confrontational and others just wanted to play, I understand they got some great shots of a child hugging the ‘puppy’.
There was of course also Helicopters and at the Heli Air space we met dashing pilot Capt. Matt Ribbands the Wellesbourne base mananger who proceded to become a runway model for an impromptu fashion shoot wearing an exquisite 1940’s style bomber jacket by Jean Gaborit. He then extolled the virtues of learning to fly a helicopter, something I have always wanted to turn my hand to and hopefully will do one day! He is certainly a pilot that can teach me to fly any time!! Of all the many people I met, the Heli Air crew were some of the nicest and I had the opportunity to while away a lovely time gabbing and quaffing a couple of bottles of beer with them.
Throughout my day the air was heavy with the scent of fuel and aftershave, my ears were assaulted with the ever pleasing sounds of engines rumbling and people laughing, my eyes observed the affluence and opulence reflected in the mirrored lenses of Bigatmo shades and I had the opportunity to stroke the softest leather… all in all a day for one’s senses!
The Aero Expo welcomes everyone from the super rich in their Lears to the hoi polloi to mix and experience the aviation world from a private pilot’s point of view. This is a world where money and skill are key, were the rest of the world is left watching the smoke, where “smoke on” isn’t an invitation to light up, where the big boys play the little boys dabble and the rest of us look on in awe… and where if you are ‘in’ you are in the greatest family there is.
Whatever your involvement with aviation, whether you sell related products or have a plane for hire, whether you charter or own, or even if you just love the whole scene…next year if you can get to Sywell for the Expo you really should, there really is nothing else like it!