British Airshows 2003

writer and director: Steve Connor

240 minutes (E) 2003
widescreen ratio 16:9
DD Video DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Tony Lee

Worthy and undeniably spectacular, yet somewhat wearying for non-enthusiasts, this two-disc package is a compilation of highlights edited from 2003’s season of annual events and flying displays, chiefly designed to celebrate the centenary of powered flight.

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Leisurely paced and (unfortunately) somewhat lazily scripted, the DVD presents much aerial footage from the shows based in Coventry, Biggin Hill, Waddington, Shuttleworth, Jersey, and elsewhere. There’s exceptionally good use of widescreen framing and cockpit-cameras allow for some unusual perspectives but, with only a sparse commentary, the DVD is noticeably lacking in something like textual infotainment captions – to supply the sort of educational background details that would seem to be a requirement if this kind of ‘special interest’ documentary release hopes or expects to find a wider audience.

What it delivers is classic planes and flying legends, piston-powered aircraft and military jets, collectively yet haphazardly check-listing a history of the aeroplane, from Edwardian times to the present day. There’s a replica of the original Wright flyer (with the clear weather conditions needed to get it airborne!), followed by a parade of bi-planes, tri-planes, warplanes, transports, and even a couple of nifty helicopters. Amazing sights include the RAF aerobatics display team ‘Red Arrows’ flying in a unique formation with the USAF ‘Nighthawk’ stealth fighter; Battle of Britain veterans’ the Lancaster, Spitfire, and Hurricane; plus numerous vintage aircraft restored by engineers and woodworkers to recapture former glories.

This being an essentially British production, there’s an appearance for the famous Harrier jump-jet, the Canberra bomber, and the maritime patrol Nimrod, among many others. It’s most unfortunate that Concorde missed out on these centennial celebrations but the famous Anglo-French supersonic airliner did get its very own farewell movie. Speaking of European connections, the French navy flew a Falcon 10 over one of the UK shows. The Russians are represented by a MiG-29 Fulcrum, and the USA weighed in with the Douglas DC-6 airliner, an A-10 Bronco, the once ‘top secret’ B-2 stealth bomber, and the ever-popular C-130 Hercules transport.

The second disc of bonus features comprises a 64-minute compilation of aircraft showcase scenes, 100 Years Of Flight, which includes some b/w archive footage (of variable quality) of several postwar jets. You also get nine Harriers flying in diamond formation, formidable Hind gunships and Chinook helicopters. Day Of The Vulcan (written and directed by Bryan Wolfe) concerns an unfinished restoration project on Avro’s delta wing Vulcan bomber, seen here on an abortive high-speed taxi run at Southend to mark the jet’s 50th anniversary. Novelist Frederick Forsyth is a celebrity guest in the co-pilot’s seat. There’s also a (rather inadequate) 10-minute batch of clips from the bi-annual Paris Airshow, which drew a crowd of 350,000 in 2003, and showcased various military aircraft including the BAe Hawk jet trainer, and the Eurocopter Tiger gunship. Finally, the package closes with multi-angle shots (inside and outside the cockpit) of the veteran Blenheim bomber flying over Blenheim Palace.