When it comes to a dogfight to win a TV audience a group of Somerset aviators can beat hit heritage soap opera Downton Abbey hands down.
For the Yakovlevs, ex-RAF pilots and one of the UK’s leading formation aerobatic display teams, wowed 119 million viewers with a display in China – almost double the UK’s entire population.
Such was their popularity that were given popstar-like protection from police escorts after being mobbed by Chinese fans.
Yakovlevs was hand-picked by the People’s Government of Shenyang to run aircraft displays near the North Korean border as part of China’s ongoing bid to promote its fledgling aviation industry.
The team’s displays in Dazu prompted an unprecedented response from the public.
As well as thousands of spectators at the event, the tally of 119 million TV viewers in a single day was a viewing record for the country’s CCTV Channel 13 and more than 13 times the nine million people who tuned in for the return of Downton Abbey last week.
Jez Hopkinson, managing director of Yakovlevs, which is based at Henstridge Airfield on the Somerset-Dorset border said: “It was a trip and a half. We were given police escorts after being mobbed like superstars following our displays.
“The organisers were delighted with the flying and the interaction we carried out with thousands of spectators – we’re waiting for official statistics but as more than 119 million viewers tuned in just one day they’ve estimated a total audience of over a quarter of a billion viewers over the four days we performed displays.”
The pilots will now take their Russian airbirds to Liuzhou for a three week tour before returning to Zhuhai in November. They have also been invited to bring their four-ship show to Airshow China, Asia’s biggest aerospace exhibition.
The four aircraft, painted in distinctive silver and red livery are training aircraft – Yak 52s and Yak 50s.
Yakovlevs is offering branding opportunities to sponsors – companies can place their branding on aircrafts, team vehicles and flight clothing.
Mr Hopkinson added: “The staggering public response to this trip shows that the right company could potentially see their branding reach billions of people.”