Monday, 10 June 2013

RAF COSFORD AIRSHOW 9-6-13- a Travel Guide


Sometimes, getting to an airshow is half the fun. I will be writing a Spotter's Guide to the Cosford Airshow, and this shall be the first instalment.

This is a great site with some background information on RAF Cosford:

The aim: how to arrive at Cosford from London earliest, knowing that the airshow would probably be congested.

This was an exercise in railway timetables- ie How To Get To Cosford from London, on time for the airshow. I had already discovered that the trains would not allow me to arrive sufficiently early on 9th June, if I set off from London only that morning.

Hence, the journey began at Euston station on Saturday 8th June, with an overnighter at a friend's place near Wolverhampton, travelling by Virgin Rail.

The second leg of the journey was to be a very short trip of just 10 minutes  from Wolverhampton to Cosford utilising the Welsh Arriva Trains service. The weather in London on Saturday 8th June was quite dull- a marked change from the cloudless blue skies experienced between 4-6th June. I hoped the weatherman has got it right, as the forecast for Cosford on Sunday was for Bright Sunshine with a maximum of 20 degrees C!

Euston is a rail station with little architectural merit. It is Standard Boxy Modern, opened in 1968 by HM The Queen.

Euston station

Robert Stevenson's statue graces the courtyard

It is built on a city block with little set-back from the road, and is ringed by tall, unremarkable office blocks.

The ticket people there are quite efficient, suggesting we bought a Family and Friends Railcard to get a one-third discount off the train tickets as we were travelling with kids.

Euston's large concourse

Euston's large concourse

The train of choice was the fast train by Virgin Rail.

It was really comfortable, and we had the pleasure of a half-empty train as it was off-peak. This train had a WiFi booster so we did not run out of signal, and also had AC plugs at certain seats so that laptop warriors could continue without fear of ending up juiceless.

The area above was in the zone between carriages. Looks like the designer had a peek at the TARDIS.

The destination was Birmingham New Street. It was a bit messy as it was undergoing renovation, with the entrances being switched round.

At the exit of Birmingham New Street station

At the exit of Birmingham New Street station

Birmingham has changed since I last visited; the old Bull Ring was quite dreary the last time I came, but now, the inner city has been regenerated. It really looks quite pleasant in the sunshine.

The symbol of Birmingham's Bull Ring

The Bull Ring

The sun was out, though everyone was still talking about how the last winter was the worst in 50 years, and how the sun just managed to overcome Jack Frost not even a week ago.

We had lunch at China Court, a Chinese restaurant at Birmingham's Chinatown, close by the train station. The dim sum was excellent.

There was a very interesting indoor market opposite this restaurant, with a wide selection of produce displayed enticingly.

African, anyone?

Chinatown is just across across the road.

The location of Chinatown is unmissable

Here, even the solicitor's offices sport bilingual signage

 All too soon, it is time to leave Birmingham.

A pagoda graces one of the roundabouts in Birmingham

The next day, we caught the earliest train from Wolverhampton that ran to Cosford; this started at 0847, and arrived at 0857. Ah, efficiency. Wolverhampton is another modern station that was similarly Standard Boxy, with little to redeem it architecturally. St Pancras, it is not.

Wolverhampton Railway Station

The platforms

The cross-platform bridge at the end of the station

View from the cross-platform bridge

The train was modern and fast (same model as the train from Euston); even then, it was full house. There were quite a significant group joining from Wolverhampton- lots of parents with kids, Most were dressed lightly. Which I thought was strange, as the skies were quite heavy and dreary with Total Cloud Cover, to the extent I thought this could be a Big Washout. The weather forecast was for Cloudy Skies with Some Sunshine, brightening up after 1000.

We arrived at Cosford at 0900.The sky was totally overcast.

Cosford is a small station, with a small single station building. Just two platforms, with a small enclosed passenger waiting area on either platform. The platforms were elevated, and one could get a great view of parts of the airfield looking south from Platform 2 (westbound).

Platform 2

Helping with crowd control

To get to the airshow, one descended the steps from Platform 2 to ground level, and followed the signage (actually, following the crowd snaking into the airfield was quite sufficient).

The exit staircase from Platform 2

Descending from Platform 2

Looking back on Platform 2

Looking back at Platform 2, Cosford Station

There was already a long line of cars stretching back a long way by the time we arrived at 0900- the lanes leading up to this small airfield would make entry and exit a problem.

In fact, the traffic jams leading to RAF Cosford were extremely bad- refer to the link below for an idea.

Arriving by train is much better.

Follow the signage (and the crowd!)

Trek to the entrance of RAF Cosford

Security was unobtrusive, The coppers were there, as were the military police; the crowd was solid Caucasian, which was par for the course in the UK. Spectators just walked in. None of the Metal Detectors in use at LIMA of Singapore Aerospace. One walked up a path to reach an area where tickets were sold to the public on the day, and just walked in. It seemed that everyone else had bought an Advance Ticket, so I did not even stand in line. Immediate service. Great!

This was the tent selling tickets on the day- at 0900, pretty empty.

The tent selling programmes at 5 pounds each was pretty empty too at 0900.

The first burger stand encountered

A line of portable loos- quite sufficient in number, dotted around the base.

There was a huge parking area, converted from the grassy field between the hangars housing the RAF Museum and the crowd line. Marshals were there to direct the cars entering, though of course this was a slow business.

A car parking area at 0900- still empty

The parking areas fill up fast.

From being Totally Overcast, the sun suddenly exerted its might, and the entire overcast was replaced by a Cloudless Blue Sky spot on at 1000.  This was Langkawi Weather, well predicted by the Weatherman. OMG!!!

The planning of the airshow was excellent. There were enough toilets, and there were enough stalls at the Fair to entice the children, with Bouncy Castles and other playgrounds.

Works of art in wood

Rather better stocked than any shop on the High Street!

Typhoon simulator at the RAF recruiting stand

Emergency services vehicle exhibition

The selection of food was as good as to be expected.

Cosford in the sunshine

The Red Arrows with their famous Cupid's Arrow maneuver- and it was perfect cloudless weather to make this just right


The Air Display finished right on time at 1730, and I took the opportunity to walk around the RAF Museum which was centered on two hangars, as well as the newer Cold War Museum situated on more elevated ground.

The airfield was bathed in brilliant golden sunshine at 1900 when we left- the staff were closing down the Museum buildings, and the line of cars was slowly exiting the Airfield premises. I was told by police that there was probably a 10-mile tailback. Well, it was just another short 10-minute hop to Wolverhampton- or was it?

The walk back to the Railway Station at Cosford was quite different from when we walked in- the skies were still cloudless, and the scene was bathed in golden evening sunshine.

The small station building;  it is situated on the side of the tracks away from the RAF Cosford entrance.

Then came an unexpected problem- the line of people were simply not moving, and the Railway staff I talked to said that there was a problem On The Line, and that it was hard to say when rail services would be restored. And due to the congestion leaving Cosford, that it would be difficult to get and buses or taxis in. So, our best bet was to wait till services were restored.

The unmoving queue, with RAF Cosford beyond, as seen from Platform 2

Twiddling one's thumbs on a dead platform

It being 2000 by then, we walked back  to the Airfield, to purchase some burgers and drinks. Dinner at Wolverhampton was now firmly crossed off the To Do List.

The silver lining was that I managed to get more shots of static exhibits that I had missed, or which had been rendered inaccessible by crowds.

HS Nimrod R1, retired only in 2011

HS Dominie T1

Lockheed P-2H Neptune


A view of the Cold War Museum hangar at late summer evening time

We walked back to Cosford Station at 2045, and were quite overjoyed to note that the crowd had cleared and that rail services had been restored. The 2057 to Wolverhampton reached its destination on time at 2114, The train was the wonderful modern type, with WiFi and all the bells and whistles.

Wolverhampton Station in twilight looks a lot better than when bathed in Total Overcast, as was the case in the morning.

A view towards Wolverhampton city centre from the cross-platform bridge

This being so late, just one of the ticketing counters was functioning.

I returned to London Euston the next morning. The train we hopped on was a slow commuter train run by London Midland. No WiFi, no charging points... nothing much to do except to stare out the windows at the overcast scenery all the way to London.

In summary, there are just 2 usual ways for an enthusiast to get to Cosford: By rail, or by car. There are no coaches that service the base. Cycling may be an option for some.

What I began to realise is this: this airshow is meant for the Midlanders; it is very difficult to access this airshow from London on a day trip.  The train timings simply do not allow it. Driving there is a possibility; I would recommend a very early start with an ETA at the airfield by 0730, which means a departure by 0400 or earlier from London.

The queue to leave Cosford in a car would also be quite stressful; I think the secret would be full tanks and an empty bladder. Using National Rail brings with it an entirely new set of challenges, but is more restful, and really takes up 48 hours. The upside is that one gets to see some English scenery, and to visit areas of Birmingham and Wolverhampton as well.

The lighting on this occasion was just spectacular; nil or minimal clouds for much of the day. The display aircraft put up a show second to none, and for this, I salute the airmen, the organisers and the crowd. This was an airshow I would not have missed.

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