The headline of the 2008 edition of Airbourne wasn't anything to do with the flying displays, the ground shows or the weather. It was that Eastbourne Borough Council had brought in a £5 charge to access the "showground" area of Airbourne. Whatever the right or wrongs of the issue it has detrected attention from what was in essence a very good airshow. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.
The decision to charge an admission fee came from the increasing costs of staging this four day "festival" and it's impact on local council taxes and council budgets. It became clear that despite an overall positive attitude toward the airshow, residents were unhappy to see an increase in tax bills to pay for the event. Other seaside airshows at Margate and at Southport have succesfully implemented charging schemes so it seemed logical to EBC to follow suit. Sadly, it seems the council hadn't thought of several consequences of this scheme. Firstly, there was a £10,000 bill for fencing off the "charge" areas of Eastbourne. The Sussex police also now saw the event as a commerical venture because of the sale of tickets and billed EBC £100,000 for it's costs.
Perhaps the biggest blow for the council was the reaction of the public. When the charges were first announced they received widespread attention from the local media and residents. There were protests, particularly over access to the beaches and showground areas. 76,000 tickets had to be sold for the event to break even but despite some of the best weather over the summer just 48,000 tickets were sold. Many people did go to the show but stayed in the "free" areas around the pier and on the downs (if you didn't have a car!)
All in all, the below that expected meant Airbourne 2008 made a £170,000 loss. When compared with the projected profit figure of £191,000 the council now has a £360,000 shortfall. It is expected that Airbourne will return next year but it there a lot of lessons to be learnt from the 2008 event.
But what of the event itself? The first day of Airbourne 2008 opened to clear blue skies and warm temperatures - could it be that summer had finally arrived. Friday continued in the same vien though things did slightly cool and get a little grey over the weekend. Airbourne is very much a military biased show with the RAF always playing a big part. It also helps that the last few years have seen Airbourne firmly under the wings of the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises who organise the Royal International Air Tattoo. Getting the flying displays together is a huge logistical task with the displays spread throughout airfields in southern England. Biggin Hill and Shoreham Airports take in most of the participants but some come in from as far away as RAF Mildenhall and North Weald airfields.
Go Faster Stripes!
One of the most extraordinary sights of Airbourne over the last couple of years has been the Go Fast Jet Pack. This Jet Pack is the vision of Troy Widgery who was inspired by the James Bond film "Thunderball"
These amazing packs are all developed from the very same packs developed by Bell Aerosystems, but Troy and his partners are further developing the ideas in lighter more durable examples.
The UK armed forces taking a leading role in the show. The Army Air Corps sent the Blue Eagles display team consisting of the helicopter elements of the Historic flight (Alouette II and Scout AH1) and the more modern Westland Gazelle AH1 and Westland Lynx AH7. Though perhaps not as dynamic as previous encarnations of the Blue Eagles, it remains a pleasing and eye catching display. Also coming from the British Army were the Tiger Parachute Display Team from the Princess of Wales Regiment. Unlike previous years were the parachute teams jumped into the arena, the team landed in the water just as they had done for the Red Bull Air Race.
The Royal Air Force put in another sizable contigent for Airbourne with almost the full list of solo displays. Flt Lt Andy Preece gave his aerobatic account of the RAF's basic trainer, the Grob Tutor T1 while Stew Campbell's striking Tucano T1 looked fantastic against the blue skies and seas during the early part of the week.
Aslo taking advantage to the rare blue skies was Flt Dave Davies in the 208(R) squadron Hawk T1. Dave arrived on Thursday in company with the spare jet making a dramtic arrival over the downs into Eastbourne's natural amphitheatre.
Completing the progrssion, Flt Lt Charlie Matthews once again enthralled the crowds with his powerful display in the Typhoon F2 from 29(R) Squadron. The Typhoon has an amazing presence for a fast jet display with Charlie's display making the most of the slow and high speed performance of the RAF's latest fighter aircraft.
Also wowing the crowds was the Chinook HC2 from 18(B) sqadron at RAF Odiham. The Chinook force has long supported Eastbourne, even prior to the reemergence of a full Chinook display team having performed tactical and SAR demos at the show. A rare RAF helicopter to see at an airshow is the Westland Sea King HAR3A which gave a full search and rescue demonstration at Eastbourne with the local lifeboats.
Rounding off the RAF involvement at Airbourne were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows. The BBMF's appearance at Eastbourne was notable due the inclusion of the recently overhauled Spitfire IX MK356. This Spitfire now appears in the striking silver colours of Flt Lt Desmond Ibbotson DFC and sports standard elliptical wingtips. The new scheme stood out well against the coastal backdrop at Eastbourne and certainly makes the Spitfire a very popular attraction wherever she goes.
Foriegn military participants have long been a feature of Airbourne. This year the Royal Jordanian Falcons made a welcome reappearance in what has been a difficult season with appearances at Yeovilton, Fairford and Culdrose all being cancelled by the effects of poor weather. Another welcome returnee was the AB412 from the Royal Netherlands Air Force. This colourful helicopter also demonstrated search and rescue techiques with the local lifeboasts as well a more gymnastic approach to winch technique and a colourful colllection of naval flags! The United States Air Forces in Europe also manage to appear on all four days of Airbourne with a KC-135R Stratotanker from 100ARW at RAF Mildenhall. Visitors on the Thursday got an extra couple of treats from the Belgian Air Force who proved they had not forgotten a show they have often appeared at in the past by sending a F-16AM Fighting Falcon and C-130H Hercules via Eastbourne on their way home from the RAF Valley Families Day.
Adding some colour to the displays were a couple of civilian displays. We can't imagine an Airbourne without the Aerosuperbatics wingwalker, now under the guise of Team Guinot. The combination of classic biplanes, smoke and girls is always a popular act at Airbourne amongst the crowds. The Blades also continue to impress with one of the mosy exciting and dynamic displays of the show. It was a bust four days for the team with a number of press flights, not only for Airbourne but also to promote the show at Shoreham which followed a couple of weeks later.
The historic content of this years Airbourne was surprisingly refreshing. Peter Teichman reprised his 2007 displays by displaying both his P-40M Kittyhawk and P-51D Mustang from Shoreham Airport. Whilst at Shoreham, Peter also took a local TV reporter on a flight to promote the Shoreham airshow and also fitted in a display at Rougham to round off a busy four days. John Romain also returned with his Spitfire solo using the Spitfire XVIII on the Thursday and the Spitfire IXT for the rest of the show. By far the most impressive display of the show was the set piece display involving Plane Sailing's Catalina, the 108 Groups Me108 Taifun and Peter Vacher's Hurricane I. The display started with a short display by the Catalina before it flew a standard search and rescue pattern over the lifeboats lookinf a downed pilot. While patrolling it was caught by the Me108 who tried to attack it before being repelled by the Hurricane. Classic jets were not left out either with an appearance by the Vampire Preservation Group's Vampire T11.
It is a great shame that the issues resulting from the council's decision to charge have overshadowed the actual event held at Eastbourne which without doubt was one of the better shows of 2008 thanks to some great weather and flying. Other changes to Airbourne worked well with a new look for the show souvenir brochure and the addition of the excellent commentary team from Airsound headed up as always by Sean Maffet. Airbourne 2009 is scheduled for 13th-16th August - let's hope that council decisions don't overshadow that event.