The Cheltenham Gold Cup Festival in March 2020 was the last major sporting event to take place in the south west before the very necessary measures were introduced to stop the spread of COVID-19. Movements were certainly down on previous years with race goers choosing to stay at home due to fears of the spread of infection.
For the first time in many years the weather for Friday was fair, in fact the top of Cleve Hill wasn’t in cloud at any part of the day, the weather was that good. A slightly changed layout for the refuelling allowed for a different photography perspective this year, which is always a positive when shooting at a fixed location.
While numbers were down, most of the regular operators were present during the week. Starspeed were present as ever with their Sikorsky S-92A, the only civilian owned VIP S-92 in the United Kingdom this year and it was present on all four days. Attending just on the Friday was one of their most recent acquisitions, AgustaWestland AW-169 G-MLAP, operating as Jockey 34 from its Biggin Hill base.
Castle Air operated a variety of Agusta A-109s, an aircraft type that they’re famously operated for over thirty-five years. These days the majority of their fleet comprises of Grand and Grand New models, operated out of their hangar at London Biggin Hill Airport
Bringing in VIPs from the Midlands was Cheshire based GB Helicopters, operating a number of Eurocopter AS355 Écureuil 2’s during the week along with one of two A109 Grand News they operate; however on the Friday only the A109 was present. G-IWFC has previously been connected with Premier League football team Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The one operator which brought a very new airframe type to the racing was Elstree Ink Ltd who operate a number of Airbus H125’s along with a single AgustaWestland AW-109S Trekker, the only one of two currently residing in the country.
As always the local spotters from Gloucester Staverton Airport organised a photo walk of the helipark once the last of the arrivals had come in, with donations going to the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity.
South West Aviation Photographers would like to thank all at Helicopter & Aviation Services Ltd for making this article possible.
Report by Matt Sudol
© South West Aviation Photographers 2020