Bring back ‘Air Fete’!
Mildenhall’s 75th Anniversary event in May brought back memories of the much-missed annual ‘Air Fete’.
Bring back ‘Air Fete’ - a cry offered by aviation enthusiasts across the UK every spring as the air show season approaches. Mildenhall’s Air Fete was always the first eagerly-anticipated ‘big’ event of the year, its heyday being the 80s and 90s when attendances would often break the quarter-million mark.
Perhaps Justin Lee Collins would be better expending his energy on ‘Bringing back’ Air Fete in his Channel 4 series, rather than washed-up pop stars and jaded sitcoms. But on May 15 there was a glimmer of hope, as the resident United States Air Force hosted a small event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the airfield, with families and friends invited along (plus yours truly, of course).
'Let's Roll' - Colonel Murrie's personal aircraft. Key - Gary ParsonsA small static park of aircraft currently in service with the US Air Force in Europe brought back memories of those packed aprons every Spring Bank Holiday, and the waft of frying burgers filled the air, barbequed as only the Americans can. Even the weather was playing ball – heavy rain in the early morning had given way to glimpses of sunshine between the low cloud, just as we remembered it would do every Air Fete, it seemed.
The event was the brainchild of the Commander of the 100th Air Refuelling Wing, Colonel Eden J Murrie, a former Master Navigator on the KC-135. It has been an ambition of hers to bring a public face back to Mildenhall, something much missed since September 11, 2001. Colonel Murrie was too busy hosting dignitaries to speak with key.aero, but we managed to have a chat with the new Vice-Commander of the Third Air Force, Major General Mark R Zamzow – the Third Air Force is the parent unit for RAF Mildenhall, with its headquarters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. So to the big question – is this small event a practice towards bringing back Air Fete? “That’s a great question! I saw an Air Fete back in 1984 when I was out here, and I remember how massive it was; all those planes and people, I really enjoyed it”, he said. “I grew up as a C-130 pilot, so that’s how I got to Mildenhall in the 1980s; we had rotational squadrons, so we’d spend two to three months out here deploying to Mildenhall, but also fly all over Europe. Great memories of Mildenhall - what is really nice to see is the community is the same, people are totally embraced with the military, and vice versa. It’s pleasant to see that the culture hasn’t changed - in fact, it’s got better.
Major General Mark R Zamzow. Key - Gary Parsons“I’ve got that Air Fete template in my mind – this event is really a great first step; open the base to a small degree, but honour those who work and live here first and foremost. It takes an awful lot of work to get this prepared, but now we’ve got this behind us, it’s a good first step to see what future evolutions we can do, for an Air Fete or whatever it turns out to be.” One of the biggest problems is the time since the last Air Fete in 2001 – anyone involved eight years ago has now moved on, so there’s no core expertise with running an air show left at Mildenhall. Although the world has changed since 9/11, the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford continues – could the team at Mildenhall learn anything from the team there? “Certainly,” answered Zamzow; “Teaming, partnering and taking lessons from others is what this is about, so very definitely.”
Air Fete always summed up the ‘special relationship’ between the British and Americans. With the USAF resident at Mildenhall since 1950, they have become woven into the fabric of life in West Suffolk. Could Zamzow see the Americans hosting Mildenhall’s centenary in 25 years’ time? “Well, that depends on our Governments, but I’ll tell you what, over the last 59 years our alliance, teamwork, and cooperation for a very common mission purpose - safety and security - are very much in ‘sync’. I fully expect the alliance will continue so we can celebrate the 100th anniversary, like we’re doing today.”
Of course, 2010 will bring the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Americans – it was on July 12, 1950 that the 93rd Bomb Group arrived at RAF Mildenhall and began operations with B-29s and B-50s. What better time to celebrate the diamond jubilee with a resurrected Air Fete?
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