Once again I arrived early to get a good spot to sit and got myself ready for two days of aviation and sunshine. Having only been attending this fantastic event since 2010, this being my third time, I couldn’t really appreciate the theme of this year’s show. The theme being, the 20th Anniversary of Airbourne which was brilliantly celebrated over the three days as Thursday was cancelled due to extremely low cloud at Eastbourne and Shoreham Airport where a lot of the display aircraft were being based.
This year did not see as much international involvement as in previous years with only the pair of Rutan Vari-Ezes and solo Rutan LongEZ of the Patrouille Reva who have performed at Airbourne in the past as the Space Knights. There was heavy involvement from the Royal Air Force featuring their variety of training aircraft as well as many of their role demonstration aircraft including the Panavia Tornado GR.4s and the Westland Sea King HAR Mk. 3A. Many civilian display teams also took parts including regular favourites, The Blades. As always there were several historic aircraft taking part including the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Douglas C-47A Dakota which was added to the display line up at the last minute to replace the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress “Sally B” which was unable to attend due to airspace restrictions due to the Olympics.
St first glance this appears to be a fairly typical line up for an airshow and particularly diverse. You would be wrong because Airbourne managed to secure the Avro Vulcan B.2 which would be making its display debut on the Saturday. The Vulcan was obviously the star of the whole event and really left its mark by drawing in the most people to Airbourne in its entire 20 year history.
Kicking things off on Friday was the only Royal Navy participants in the form of the Raiders Parachute Display Team who arrived in Headcorn’s venerable Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander. With the use of smoke and a variety of flags they slowly descended and landed onto the beach in front of the crowds.
On Saturday the show was opened by the Royal Air Force with a Search and Rescue demonstration with a Westland Sea King HAR Mk. 3A from 22 Squadron based at RAF Wattisham. The demonstration also featured local RNLI Lifeboats which allowed the Sea King crew to demonstrate their ability to winch from one boat to the other. On a related note, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is one of the main recipients of the funds from Airbourne.
Next we move on to more fast paced air display action from a classic airshow favourite. This was of course Jonathan ‘Flapjack’ Whaley’s Hawker Hunter F.58A “Miss Demeanour” which came streaking through the clear skies for its display. After demonstrating the amazing manoeuvrability and aerobatic prowess of his aircraft, Jonathan flew along the beach with his signature manoeuvre, a slow flypast with the canopy open whilst waving to the crowd which was greatly received by many people, obvious due to the amount of people waving back. Probably the main reason this particular Hunter is always a hit with crowds is the striking colour scheme which also represents the major stars that make up the zodiac signs present within his family.
Coming in low over the sea was the Twister Aerobatics Team who have been delighting airshow crowds for several years now who are now sponsored by Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP) after performing as the Twister Duo for some years. The team flies a pair of Silence SA1100 Twisters which has an uncanny resemblance to the Spitfire. The displays on both days were very intricate with a lot of formation aerobatics and solo manoeuvres. They flew very low across the seafront and the white colour of these fantastic aerobatic aircraft really stood out in the bright sun as well as the thick and copious amounts of smoke that was used during this fantastic routine.
This year’s show had a lot of training aircraft from both the past and the present taking part in the display schedule. The first of these was the brightly coloured Shorts Tucano T.1 from RAF Linton-on-Ouse which performed a great demonstration of its maneuvering abilities. The clear skies really made this advanced turboprop trainer stand out with its very patriotic colour scheme, done especially for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Next in the long line of training aircraft was a pair of jet trainers that were the former mounts of the Red Arrows. They were the two Folland Gnat T.1s from The Gnat Display Team who began their display with multiple formation passes showing the aircraft at several different angles before splitting at crowd centre. The pair of jets then performed solo passes and aerobatics before forming up to draw a heart in the sky with their smoke. Despite being a bit distant from the crowd, this display was very enjoyable.
Going back to today’s Royal Air Force trainers, we were delighted by the demonstration of the Grob G-115E Tutor T.1’s abilities. This aircraft hails from RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire and has been flying the display circuit for several years and always delights the crowds with its agility and aerobatic display.
Moving on to a trainer that was built and flown before the Second World War and is still used today by many pilots due to its popularity. This was of course, the North American T-6G Texan which performed a rather sedate but nonetheless good routine which showed why this aircraft is still so popular.
More fast jet action with another former Royal Air Force trainer which was replaced by the Tucano due to it being more cost effective. This was the BAC Jet Provost T.5 which was being displayed by Jet Aerobatics to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Central Flying School (CFS) and is wearing its original No. 6 Flight Training School colour scheme along with the CFS crest on its tail. The routine was highly aerobatic with plenty of fast passes allowing the crowds to see both the topside and underside of this great jet training. This performance was defiantly one of the major highlights of the show.
We next returned to another training aircraft from RAF Cranwell in the form of the Beechcraft B200 King Air which is used to train pilots to fly the varied types of multi-engine aircraft that are used by the Royal Air Force. This aircraft brilliantly showed us what it could to with a variety of wingovers and slow speed passes.
Coming in over our heads was another major highlight of show which has delighted airshows crowds for many years. This was the display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight consisting of the Avro Lancaster B.I, a Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC and a Supermarine Spitfire PR.XIX. Unfortunately, the Hurricane did not join the Lancaster and Spitfire on Saturday due to technical problems. Nevertheless the displays on both days were spectacular with the formation passes and solo routines of the individual aircraft that commemorate the Battle of Britain whenever they display.
Along with multiple training aircraft participating in this year’s show there was also a lot of civilian display teams taking part. Probably the best of these teams performing at the show was The Blades with a four-ship of Extra EA-300LPs which are all flown by ex-red arrows pilots. The team flew an intense and thrilling routine with formation passes filled with aerobatic intervals. Crossovers and solo stunts were also heavy elements in this performance which really entertained and enthralled the crowds.
We then moved from fast-paced displays to barnstorming routines of yesteryear. This was demonstrated by the glamorous ladies on the top wings of the Boeing-Stearman Kaydet of the Breitling Wingwalkers. The team has been flying at airshows for many years under a variety of sponsorships which have always been a hit with the general public and aviation enthusiasts alike. The Wingwalkers flew very low and close to the beach and managed to cover the majority of people with smoke, particularly on the Friday where the wind obscured the crowds view for several minutes. This was thoroughly entertaining and long may they return to perform at Airbourne
Another great aerobatic routine came in the form of the aerobatic superstars, The Matadors who performed here last year without a sponsorship in a white and blue colour scheme. This year saw the team back with Red Bull but with different aircraft. The team flies a pair of Sbach 300s (a.k.a. XtremeAir XA41s) and fly a high speed routine with many thrilling manoeuvres and solo aerobatics. Both aircraft are flown by aerobatic champions and this is clearly shown by the precision of all the manoeuvres demonstrated in this highly entertaining routine.
Next up was probably the most famous American fighter of World War Two. This was the North American P-51D Mustang which is operated by the Hanger 11 collection based at North Weald in Essex. This particular Mustang bears the nose-art “Jumpin Jacques” and is quite special because it has never had a major rebuild and is almost totally original as it was built in 1944. Unfortunately, some technical problems prevented the Mustang from flying on Saturday.
There was more helicopter action next with the now seldom seen Army Air Corps Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7 which performed a great aerobatic routine. The display consisted of a series of loops, back flips and other dynamic manoeuvres, some of which inverted the helicopter, making this type of Lynx one of the few that can perform such manoeuvres. The routine was thoroughly enjoyable and hopefully we will see a lot more of the Lynx at future airshows.
The next display item was undoubtedly the star of the show, and drew a record number of people to Airbourne on the Saturday. Coming in from Beachy Head was the Avro Vulcan B.2 which performed one of the greatest displays that I had ever seen. The ‘Vulcan Effect’ was very prominent throughout the routine and took me by surprise and really enhanced the routine. Hopefully, Airbourne will be able to book the Vulcan again next year as 2013 may be its last display season.
The only international display item, performed next with the return of the pair of Rutan Vari-Ezes and one Rutan LongEZ of the Patrouille Reva who attended Airbourne before as the Space Knights. Friday saw them with one of the Vari-Ezes not flying and they performed a duo routine which was enjoyable but not overly spectacular. However, on Saturday all three of the team was present and the intricate aerobatics really stood out as well as the very close formation passes.
Just like the Tucano that displayed earlier, the BAe Hawk T.1A was also painted with a very patriotic scheme. The Hawk has had a very good run in this year’s display season with its outstanding displays and this show was no different. This advanced jet trainer performed a variety of advanced manoeuvres that all Royal Air Force pilots hoping to fly fast fighter jets have to master.
Next up was more Royal Air Force power in the form of the very popular airlifter, the Boeing Chinook HC.2 which is widely used today in Afghanistan. The Chinook performed a fantastic display with some unbelievable manoeuvres that defied belief, which is probably due to how big the Chinook actually is. The loud noise of the rotors makes this helicopter unique and recognizable by sound as well as its general appearance. This display was another one of the major highlights of the show and was well received by the crowds.
The only real fighter aircraft came in from opposing ends of the display area. This was the Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR.4 role demonstration from XV(R) Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth. Despite the lack of pyrotechnics, the display was fast, furious and full of tight manoeuvres. One of the aircraft had a special paint scheme on its tail commemorating that the Tornados of the Royal Air Force have notched up a million flying hours since its introduction in 1982. Upon the demonstration finishing, the Tornados flew as a pair before peeling off into the distance to mark the end of their fantastic display.
Coming in next was Aces High’s Douglas C-47A Skytrain which arrived promptly after the Tornados departed to begin its display. The Skytrain performed a variety of passes, showing off both the top and the underside of the aircraft as well as demonstrating a particularly tight turn near the end of the routine.
The Princess of Wales Royal Regiment’s Tigers Freefall Display Team was due to close the show on both days that I attended, but high winds prevented them from performing on Saturday. On the Friday they jumped from a Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander and descended to land on the beach in front of the crowds.
As the Tigers were unable to close the show, the Aircraft Restoration Company took this honour. Starting the closing routine was a simulated attack by a Hispano HA-1112-M1L Buchon. After performing several rolls and passes, the Supermarine Spitfire Mk. I came in to see off the attacking aircraft by chasing the Buchon across the seafront. Upon claiming victory, the Spitfire performed a variety of rolling manoeuvres as well as a brilliant topside pass to conclude the display and for me at least, the airshow.
Overall, this year’s Airbourne had many highlights that set it apart from the previous shows including the debut of the Avro Vulcan B.2 and the variety of different helicopters from both the Royal Air Force with the Boeing Chinook HC.2 and the Army Air Corps with the Westland Lynx AH Mk. 7. The display did lack the international highlights from previous years as well as no Red Arrows as they were currently in Russia. Despite this, I would consider Airbourne a roaring success and I look forward to see what aircraft will fly here next time.
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