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First time booking an air show.

So the time has come, you have seen all the images and videos on social media (hopefully some of them were mine!) and you have decided to go to your first air show. BUT, which one? Where? What do I need, so many questions! Hopefully with this post I can offer some help and advice.
I was thinking recently about how much we have missed in 2020 due to the pandemic and how we need to keep looking to the future. In some way this has touched us all but we need to remember it will pass hopefully soon and something resembling normal will return. With this in mind its worth remembering that providing the air shows of 2021 can go ahead tickets will soon become available after the Christmas holiday. I thought that some of you reading this might be thinking of going for the first time and may be glad of a few tips so here goes.....

This will depend on your geographic position but the biggest and best is the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. The Royal Navy hosts Airday at RNAS Yeovilton which is very good and the RAF has their show at RAF Cosford in the midlands. The great thing about the Cosford show is there are so many redundant airframes on the site many of which get put out on display. There are many others from Scotland to Cornwall and a quick google search will help you find your nearest event.

Most if not all of the major shows are now advanced tickets only. Sadly this is due mainly to heightened security especially if your chosen event is on a military site. Also it ensures safety as the organisers can control the number of visitors.
Unfortunately some people don’t realise this applies to them with awful consequences. I cannot over emphasise YOU WILL NOT GET IN, EVER! I have seen people try to blag their way in or pay cash on the gate, it will not work and you will inevitably be turned away. This means a journey for nothing, embarrassment and can sometimes mean your vehicle will be sent to a holding area as the road system around the venue is set up to get vehicles in, not out. The good news with advanced ticket sales is very often “early bird” tickets can be purchased when they first go on sale at reduced prices. If you are determined to go whatever the weather this can lead to big savings.
Which ticket should I buy? If you want to see all that is on show ie, static aircraft, flying aircraft and sales stalls a general admin ticket is best. Usually they are the cheapest and give you the freedom to move about as you wish. If you intend to sit all day you will need a camp chair but I will come back to that one. If you want to see mainly the flying aircraft you may wish to consider a grandstand seat. Usually a bit more expensive but an unrestricted view will be assured. A word of caution though, some grandstands allow big lenses on cameras and some don’t. If you are taking a camera with a big lens you need to be in the right stand! Very often especially at the big shows other options are available such as exclusive use of nicer toilets, food and drink available etc.
These items are what I have, this is in no way a definitive list but a good guide.
Camp chairs are good to sit on but a pain to carry! Lightweight can equal poor quality so are often a bad idea. A piece of foam from a camp shop inside a plastic bag is a very cheap alternative, comfy to sit on and light to carry.
A microfibre towel, again very cheap from a camp shop and they have many uses beside the obvious. They pack small and are light weight.
Money! There is always lots to see and buy including food and drink. If I am doing a walk round I tend to buy food on site, its not the cheapest option but do you really want to start your day lugging a cool box around?!
Hydration, I really cannot emphasise enough how important this is. Air shows are by nature wide open events with very little shade. It is VITAL to keep hydrated.
Good shoes/boots, this is Great Britain and the weather is reliably unreliable! From mud to baking hot concrete good footwear is vital.
Carrier bags. If you are likely to buy anything you will need to carry it! A good rucksack/day sack is advisable as well. Spend a little bit extra and get a decent one, you could be carrying it for up to eight hours and a cheap one will give you back ache!
TOP TIP...Especially at RIAT, when you park your car put everything in your pockets into a plastic bag and put it in your ruck sack. Also do the same with anything metal you may be wearing ie jewellery watch etc. At the metal detector you will have to remove it anyway and having it in your bag means it just gets searched with everything else. Having dropped coins etc into the grass this is my best solution.
When you buy your ticket most websites have a list of things you must not take, READ IT! Entry can be refused and Items can be confiscated. The number one on the list is drones! There will be notices everywhere.
A hat. Just as important in good or bad weather.
Sun glasses and sun cream. You will spend most of the day looking up so both are vital. Even a cloudy day can burn your face so pack a decent sun cream.
If you are reading this then you must be into photography so pack your camera and CHARGED spare batteries.
When starting out we tend to blast away a bit especially if you are using the continuous shooting mode. So empty spare memory cards are vital.

Anything over 200mm gives you a good chance of aerial shots but always remember the action isn’t always in the air. The static line can provide great opportunities for photography and great results can be had with the smartphone, compact or the kit lens your camera came with. Remember some aircraft are VERY big so a wide angle lens can be handy if your budget will stretch that far. At some shows aircraft ground movements can happen just the other side of the crowd barrier so this makes pictures of moving aircraft possible. Do you have a video feature on your camera or smart device? Shoot in video mode and post it on YouTube!

Fast jets means fast shutter speeds. This is good news as you don’t need a tripod/monopod but what about the helicopters and prop powered aircraft? A fast shutter speed here will “freeze” the prop or blades and your image starts looking a bit odd! You need to slow the shutter down to somewhere between 1/125-1/200th second and this makes camera shake more of a risk especially if you are using a long lens. A tripod, even a carbon fibre one can still be a pain to lug around but a monopod is much lighter and can be quite sufficient to support the camera/lens.
If you are lucky enough to own or have hired a big lens (300mm+) then a gimbal head on your tripod is a must have. I agonised over buying one for a very long time but now that I have I love it. They are not cheap sadly but they do allow you to safely mount a heavy lens to a tripod without risk of it tipping over. If you balance it correctly you can let go of it without any risk. This works best for dramatic take off shots but for fast in flight action you need to hand hold for best results.

This is solely down to personal taste and need. There are hundreds of different bags for different people with different needs. The only real solution is to go into your local camera shop and ask to look at their stock. They should be able to advise you based upon what you want to carry and how you want to carry it. All the makes are good quality but my preferred option is Manfrotto or Gitzo. Things to look out for are; does it sit well on your back? Does it provide good protection, versatility, Could you get your camera out quickly? (The action never waits while you unpack!) I prefer a rucksack style bag especially for air shows as I want to “walk in” in comfort then unpack but if you are spending the day moving and shooting then you may wish to keep your camera out all the time. Always remember your kit will grow so buying a bag that only just carries your kit is false economy. If you can get to the NEC the photography show every March is a great place to view new kit without so much pressure to buy. If you want to visit your local shop go at a quiet time, the staff will be more able and probably more willing to show you many different bags so you get what’s right for you. Also, remember our friend YouTube, the are lots of demo videos from manufactures and bloggers on there showing kit off.

We have already covered footwear so lets consider other items. We know the weather is fickle so layers is the way forward. If its hot lightweight trousers with cargo pockets are best. Some wear shorts and that’s fine but remember that sun cream! Pick fast wicking clothing, summer rain is part of life and can happen very quickly. Fast wicking clothing will get wet quickly but will dry equally quickly. Leave the brolly in the car, they are an utter pain and if it gets windy can blow away with potentially very serious consequences. I watched one blow across the runway at Fairford temporarily suspending flying and causing immense embarrassment to the owner. Lightweight tee shirts and fleece tops work well. Millets have a great range of very cheap fleecy tops that screw up small enough to go in your bag. Fishing jackets make excellent photographers jackets and a fraction of the price. I have one with many pockets and zip off sleeves. I always take it as its light, versatile and shower proof. For belt and braces the pack small waterproof jackets and over trousers that ramblers and hill walkers use are very good if you are expecting more serious rain. For head wear I go for a baseball cap or if its cold a woolly “bobble” hat. I also have a pull over neck scarf. I cannot recommend these highly enough, they are cheap and easy to use and when the weather warms up will disappear into a cargo pocket or your bag.

This one is entirely up to you but I carry a small first aid kit in my bag. It’s only really meant as a first line of defence but having a few plasters and a small bandage could prove useful should an accident occur.

Cheap to buy but a multitude of uses. Public loos can run out of paper, ice cream or food can cause sticky fingers, the list is endless but a small pack in your bag is no weight and takes up very little space.

If you are anywhere near aircraft with engines running on the ground or fast jets are flying these are a must have. I bought a lightweight folding set that deadens noise considerably but again packs very easily. I have always carried them and used them. Whenever fast jets are flying I always put mine on now ever since I was overflown by the Thunderbirds at RIAT a few years ago. A very low flying F16 can and will do serious damage to your hearing! If you have children with you get child sized defenders and MAKE SURE THEY KEEP THEM ON. A child’s hearing can be damaged very easily and cannot be restored.

Many times I have seen families with very young children at shows. I am all in favour of taking children but, It is a long noisy and often very hot day. Once they get fed up, tired or both they can become very grumpy! I would never say to anyone ever “don’t take your children” but it is worth considering especially with the very young that it might be to much for them. I leave this to your personal judgement.

So that’s it, my guide to your first show. I hope I’ve covered most things and my apologies if I missed anything out. If you have read this far then thank you for your time and if you wish to add to my ramblings please do so. I hope you have an amazing time, get great pictures and come home and book another one! Stay safe and enjoy.

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