Having never attended an aviation expo before I had no expectations on the way to Sywell Aerodrome in Northampton for the AeroExpo UK 2015 exhibition.
After driving to Northampton we were finally on the thin and winding country road leading to the aerodrome and being delighted by the sounds over Sywell only to be directed into a field to park (at a cost of £2 per car) and next thing I know we are crossing said country road and walking through the gates into signal hell! Having bought our ticket online (a very reasonable £15 for a pre booked family day ticket) we didn’t have signal to show the online ticket…typical. Luckily over by the hotel and 1950’s diner there was WiFi and the lady at the entrance had offered the code. So whilst my partner located the ticket, my son and I made wishes in the little pond in front of the diner which had a symmetrical metal statue of aeroplanes soaring out of the little pool on pillars.
Ticket all sorted we entered the Expo, looking forward to viewing the Aero lifestyle the private pilots way. Having been given a bag full of leaflets (which by the end of the day my 5-year-old will have filled with his little haul of freebies) we began our wander around the separate tents, stalls and exhibitions there for our perusal.
A veritable smorgersboard of innovative products, charitable organisations and aviation gadgets drew our eyes from side to side whilst our senses were assaulted (in a good way) with the sounds of engines firing up and the multitude of smells from the food stalls selling such delights as foot long hot dogs, doughnuts and the habitual burger and chips mingling with the aviation fuel which permeated the entire site.
The initial tour of the site was leisurely, moving seamlessly from one tent to the next …until that is my son saw the Red Arrows stall (his personal favourite aircraft) and so dragged us off to an off shoot of the main area… even via one of the archetypal symbols of Britain, the double-decker red bus! The bus in question was an advertising ploy by aviation insurance specialists ‘Haywoods Aviation Limited’ and it sure got our attention, and got my son his first freebie of the day, in the form of a poster entitled ‘The Spirit of Aviaition’ which now resides proudly on my dining room wall so that (in my sons words) ”everyone can enjoy it”. Not far from the ‘Theredsmerchandise’ we also came across an organisation from Hull called ‘The Spirit of Goole’, which facilitate a programme in which youngsters from in and around the Goole area can build their own aircraft as well as learning about the mechanics of aviation. I hope that by the time my son is old enough such a programme is available in Bedfordshire. So having had our attention drawn by the wooden bi-plane on show we settled there for a chat for a little while before continuing our meandering. This Sherwood ranger will, once complete, be completely unique as the student will be afforded the same controls and instrument panel as the instructor will have.
The first marquee we entered was awash with an array of leather jackets, fan blade hubs reformed into the most aesthetically pleasing coffee tables you’ll have the pleasure to view and some very sexy knives by Flint & Flame. The 3 core values of the Flint & Flame brand are innovative design, value for money and high quality, a set of these is now on my wishlist!
We found ourselves wandering over to the helicopter hangar to take a look at the whiling beasties that are in my opinion rather sexy (my son thinks they are power rangers copters but hey ho, he is 5). Inside the hanger whilst my partner looked over a 7 and half million pound bell copter my son and I wondered around the area thinking that we were going to be hard pushed to find something of interest to us in this area as it was mostly state of the art interiors and intersections of rotor blades. How wrong we were! After finding a stall giving out cupcakes in little bubble containers which my son happily munched on before I could even read the tag line on the icing we found ourselves at the Rotor Blades Limited space, a company which specialises in mending and producing rota blades. I think we possibly stayed at this stall the longest and said 5-year-old, who is usually painfully shy seemed to come alive among the multi million pound hard wear and proceeded to tell the lady on the stall his life story. He was repaid in stickers and being granted the honour of not just seeing see but also touching a blade off a Bell 422 which had been shot down (and some how amazingly landed safely with no fatalities), even I was quite excited to be able to put my finger in the hole made by the bullet.
Distracted by the sound of roaring motors we made our way outside to be greeted by a flying display which included the Ego Trig Acrobatic team and the Glider FX display team.
Unfortunately due to the abysmal weather on the Sunday we attended there was not as much flying as was in the programme, and although the Saturday had much better weather I hear it was inundated by aircraft spotters with their little notebooks of numbers and as such we may not have been able to get quite so up close and personal.
So whilst my partner and resident photographer fired shots at the acrobatic aviation on show I took a wander back to the car for the picnic which turned into a very wet and windy affair which we cut short when the wind began strewing my carefully prepared delicacies across the entrance to the Pilots mess.
Once the rain and wind had died down sufficiently we took another wander around the exhibitors. My son was lucky enough to win a ‘Biggles’ style teddy bear at the ‘Aviation Without Boarders’ space, it is a replica of their mascot ‘Amy Bear’, who even has her own Facebook page! Though, sorry Amy, your name has been changed to ‘Red’ in honour of the Red Arrows. This UK-based charity is ”dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance through aviation services irrespective of politics, religion, race or nationality” and are involved in carrying cargo shipments of medical supplies to where they are needed most, flying sick children for treatment, aviation discovery fun days for underprivileged children and plan to operate a small fleet for humanitarian missions in Africa.
We spent some time watching a GoPro display in one of the spaces as my lesser half is an avid fan of RC aviation, which he informs me are not toys! Then came my personal favourite point to the day…finding the Bigatmo space! For those of you who don’t know of them they are designers and producers of sunglasses for pilots (as worn by British air racer Nigel Lamb) and they are (as their slogan states) ‘Sunglasses with attitude’. With the titanium frames and attention to detail Bigatmo produce sunglasses which are a study of beauty and pragmatic in their design. Optimised for aviation they are both comfortable and afford the wearer optical excellence. Not only are they next on my wish list but the company is also owned and run by an engaging and enigmatic married couple who took the time to talk to us in great detail, not just about their product but also the thought behind the design of the frames (think the curves on a wind turbine) and their future plans. I even managed to fit in a little fashion talk as I discussed their uniform with company director Louise Carrie. Although this late in the weekend and due to the very British weather, they had changed into flats and slacks, their traditional uniform is a courteous imitation of the sleek air hostess attire, complete with a jaunty silk scarf adorned with the Bigatmo logo.
We also managed to fit in a tour around the classic car exhibition which included a Morgan, a Rolls Royce and my personal weakness an Austin Healey. All of which centered around a very cool vintage wooden airplane, much in the style of a children’s wooden horse, but defiantly not to be played with!
There was a distinct lack of my favourite aviation attribute which is nose art, however we did get a look at the jet owned by Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickenson which has a distinctive and horrific demonic image named Trooper after the 1983 song.
As fabulous as the day was there was unfortunately one downside…let’s call it the aviation snobbery. Ok, so we are not the rich and famous…more like the poor and (ahem) unknown but we did feel that some (and by no means am I saying all) of the representatives had little or no interest in conversing with us. I know it must have been a tiring weekend and by sunday afternoon their smiles will have hurt, their legs would have felt like jelly and the talk was wearing thin…but still! A little marketing tip if I may…don’t judge a book by its cover, just because someone isn’t drenched in the scent of money does not mean they do not warrant your time, they could be just as big in aviation as the designer clad and vice versa.
Making private aviation public no matter your pedigree or knowledge, from private pilots to future pilots, from the vintage Buccaneer to the innovative Bigatmo this AeroExpo had something for every aviation enthusiast be they young or old.