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2010 European Airshows : REVIEW

34th Sanicole International Airshow

Programme CoverThe Sanicole International Airshow is perhaps one of the best known airshows in Europe. Organised by the Sanicole Aeroclub, it is Belgium's only civilian organised annual airshow and has an amazing reputation for attracting acts from across the globe. As such it has been another show that has always featured very high on my own personal 'to-do' list!

The packed 2010 show featured participation from Austria, Canada, Turkey, France and the Netherlands as well as Belgian and UK display acts in an eight hour non-stop flying display. Every conceivable display act was included from helicopters to warbirds, military fast jets to gliders and international jet display teams.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from Belgium. All photography copyright of the Author.

Arriving at Leopoldsburg-Beverlo Airfield where Sanicole Aeroclub is based, you can't help thinking you've arrived at the wrong airfield for an airshow promising such a large airshow. A single narrow 2000ft runway greets you nestled amongst the trees and sandy marshland just outside the town of Leopoldsburg and next to a large military camp. From the air, the area around the airfield resembles something close to Salisbury Plain with large military training areas and sandy tracks criss-crossing the largely flat landscape. The showground ground area is much smaller than many of those we are used to in the UK though in fact there are noticeably fewer trader outlets which makes for a welcome change!

The Sanicole Airshow organisers enjoy close links with the Belgian military, and in particular the surrounding military airbases at Kleine Brogel and Beauvechain that provide operating bases for many of the participants at the airshow. The airshow also enjoys a loyal crowd which numbers around 30,000 each year with many visitors from Belgium, the Netherlands and France returning each year.

2010 saw the 34th edition of the airshow making the event one of the most enduring in Europe. The airshow had a slightly unusual start in 1978 as a "Stunt Festival" that featured a couple of flypasts. During the 1980's the event grew into a full airshow attracting a wide range of participants from a number of European countries as well as some from further afield. The 1990;s saw the show grow further into one the biggest and best airshows in Europe. Today, Sanicole is the last annual airshow in Belgium hosted by a civilian organisation.

The 2010 show was centred on two very different themes. The first was a salute to the 35th Anniversary of the end to the Vietnam War while the second was "It Takes Two!" The latter theme brought together a number of varied "duo" acts from across Europe. The show also included Search and Rescue demonstrations and a number of visiting warbirds.

Opening the flying displays was perhaps one of the most unique displays in the world, Christian Moullec and his flock of Barnacle Geese. Christian’s displays have been seen all over Europe and they never cease to amaze with the proximity of Christian's microlight to the formation of Geese.

Another strange sight in the air was the Verhees Delta. This stunning looking home-built aircraft is an amazing feat of engineering. On the outside it appears deceptively small, but it has one of the roomiest cockpits for an aircraft of its class. It is powered by a Subaru EA71 engine and enjoys exceptional flying qualities including a very stable flight.

Alongside the Verhees Delta, Sanicole showcased a number of civilian displays. The Victors flew an impressive formation of five Piper Warriors and their display comprised of various different formations and a tailchase. Formations of General Aviation aircraft such as the Warrior are rare in the UK, but they do represent the aircraft most average people would learn to fly on if they were trying to gain their PPL.

Russian civil types were represented by displays from an Antonov An-2 and a solo Yakovlev Yak-52. The An-2 in the display is a regular sight at many European shows and gives an impressive display of the type’s agility and slow speed handling. The Yak may be a more familiar performer, but the display given by the Belgian based example included an impressive flat spin from height to open his display as well as several other 'gyroscopic' figures.

There were further Yaks provided by one of the British teams at Sanicole, the Aerostars. The team are still as exciting and enthralling as ever and are a popular addition to displays in Europe as well as back in the UK. Another large team formed with Eastern European hardware were the Breitling Jet Team. The team have undergone something of a makeover since their appearance at the Al Ain Aerobatics Show in January. The team now sport a rather smart black and grey colour scheme on their L-39 Albatros jets.

There were further civilian team contributions from the UK. The "It Takes Two" theme was marked with appearances by the Breitling Wingwalkers and the Twister Duo both of which were popular performers with the crowd. The Swift Aerobatic Display Team also made it to Sanicole with their familiar PA25 Pawnee flown by Paul Moslin and the Dutch Glider Aerobatic Team's MDM-1 Fox glider flown by Guy Westgate joined by the solo Twister flown by Pete Wells.

The Duo theme was continued by the historic military types taking part in the flying display by the "Flamant Duo" from Avions anciens d'Albert. The Dassault MD315 Flamant is a very graceful twin engined transport aircraft and the examples in the display represented aircraft from the French and South Vietnamese Air Forces. Also from the same stable as the Flamants was a very rare display from a Messerschmitt Me208 Taifun. This is a developed version of the original Me108 featuring larger wings, bigger engine and a tricycle gear.

Classic Wings of Belgium is a relatively new organisation of historic aircraft operators in Europe having only been formed in 2009. They made their "debut" at the Beauvechain airshow earlier this year and have been slowly adding to their fleet. At Sanicole, they displayed a T-28B Trojan and a P-51D Mustang "Scat VII." The Mustang has been restored into a "TF" configuration with the larger cockpit and tailfin. Both aircraft displayed as solo items, but the Mustang was joined by one of 31 "Tiger" Squadron's F-16AM Fighting Falcons for a superb heritage flight.

Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress "Sally-B" also put in appearance during the display. "Sally-B" is currently the only B-17 airworthy in Europe following the storage of Pink Lady in France. It was a rare European trip for the UK based warbird that also took in a display at Jan Hilgers airshow in the Netherlands the day before.

Cold War era types and classic jets also featured well in the flying program. One of the highlights of the show was the second public display of Team Viper with their new fourship of Hunters. The team started out on the Strikemaster on 2009 as one of the only private funded jet teams in Europe. They have displayed their Strikemasters all over the UK and Europe. They even toured the Middle East early in 2010 taking in the Bahrain International Airshow, the Al Ain Aerobatics Show and the Red Bull Air Race in Abu Dhabi. THe 2010 season has seen the team progress to the Hunter. Firstly the team display two Hunters and two Strikemasters before finally completing the fourship of Hunters in time for RAF Leuchars airshow the week before Sanicole. The sight and sound of four Hunters together is certainly spectacular and the team have the potential to become an outstanding highlight of any show they attend with this format.

One of my personal highlights of the afternoon was the Flying Bulls operated Bell TAH-1F Cobra gunship resplendent in Red Bull colours. The stunning looking aircraft and it's tight eye-catching display really stood out amongst the helicopters on show. The aircraft itself was restored in 2002 by Chuck Aaron in the US. Red Bull discovered the aircraft in 2004 but it took lengthy negotiations before the aircraft was finally allowed to be bought by the Austrian outfit. The aircraft is display by Seigfried "Blacky" Schwartz who also displays the aerobatic Bo105CB helicopter which a familiar displays at the Red Bull Air Race events.

Red Bull also sent the amazing Cedric Dumont who demonstrated his freefall skills in a special wing-suit jumping from the supporting Shorts Skyvan. Wing-suits are something we see very little in the UK (perhaps we don't get the weather) and they can often be a little hard to spot, but they are certainly an interesting departure from more 'normal' parachute displays.

Joining Cedric were the Canadian Forces Skyhawks Parachute Team. The team came over from Canada especially for the Sanicole Airshow jumping from Tony de Bruin's Skyvan. What makes the Skyhawks stand out from any other para-team is the "aerobatics" they perform under canopy. Members of the team link up their canopies in various different position performing some very rapidly rotations around each other!

The Canadian Forces were not the only military force to be represented at Sanicole. The Belgian Air Component naturally had a large presence at the show. On the ground, there were two military helicopters on static display, an Agusta A109BA and a naval Alouette III. In the air there was a further example of an A109BA put through a punchy routine for the crowds. The Belgian Sea King Mk48 from 40 Squadron also displayed twice during the display (the second time filling in for Christian Moullec who was unable to make his second flight of the day)

F-16AM Fighting Falcons s were out in force for Sanicole too. On top of the superb solo F-16AM demo flown by 'Mitch' Beulen there was a special contribution from 31 Tiger Squadron based at Kleine Brogel with what was dubbed 'Tiger Formation!' This was a formation display of four F-16AM Fighting Falcons including one aircraft in a strike 'Tiger' scheme. It was just a series of flat passes wither with aircraft being presented in a number of different configurations and formations hat included solo high speed passes too! It is great to see Air Forces and military units put these sort of displays on, and I do feel it's something that is often missing from UK shows.

The Belgian Air Component also showed off its latest display act, the Hardship Red Formation Team with four SIAI Marchetti SF260s. The team from Beauvechain put on an entertaining display of formations and opposition passes. They made their UK debut just over a week earlier at Jersey and we hope they are able to visit more mainland shows in 2011.

The French Air Force also sent a worthy contribution to the show. The Cartouche Doré display team are in many respects similar to the Hardship Red formation flying piston engined training aircraft. The Cartouche Doré are based at Cognac and are part of the EPAA (l'école de pilotage.) The team fly the SOCATA TB30 Epsilon which is a little more powerful that the SF260. The Cartouche Doré display is certainly very engaging with some highly orginal tailchases and formations. The stacked formation pass is particularly impressive! Joining the team was the French Air Force's Alpha Jet solo display which performed its usual stunning display that includes figures more associated with aerobatic types than fast jet trainers!

The Royal Netherlands Air Force made two rotary contributions to the show. The Agusta/Bell AB412 SAR demo is always well received at show it attends and was joined at Sanicole by the AH-64D Apache display. Earlier in the year, the Apache displayed at RIAT but you couldn't help thinking that something was missing. Well all was revealed at Sanicole with some spectacular flare releases during it's display. It was also joined by 'Mitch' Beulen in his Belgian F-16 for a memorable formation pass.

The show was closed by the Turkish Stars display team with their Northrop NF-5A/B Freedom Fighters. These ambassadors for the Turkish Air Force are always star attraction at any airshow but over the small airfield there were perhaps yet more so despite being down one aircraft during their display.

Sanicole Airshow has been one of my absolute highlights of the 2010 airshow season. It's rich and varied flying program and superb organisation mark it as one of the Europe's finest airshows! Together with the Sunset Show on the Friday evening, it made for an excellent weekend that I would commend to anyone! The 2nd Sanicole Sunset Airshow 35th Sanicole International Airshow are scheduled for the 16th and 19th September 2011 respectively.

Thanks to the Swift Aerobatic Display Team, Twister Duo and Eric Cockelburghs' Photocrew

What did you think of the show? Which displays did you enjoy? What didn't you enjoy? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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