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2010 European Airshows : REVIEW

1st Sanicole Sunset Airshow

Programme CoverThe sunset airshow is not a new concept by any means, the Shuttleworth Collection in particular have been running such shows for years. However, recent years and in particular 2010 has been an explosion in the popularity of these events with airshow organisers.

The Sanicole Airshow organisers introduced their take on a sunset airshow this year centred around some of the acts they had attracted for the main airshow the following Sunday. The show not only included civilian display acts, but also displays from international military displays with many displays making use of spectacular pyrotechnics.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from a night to remember. All photography copyright of the Author. Video highlights courtesy of Planes TV.

The little airfield at Sanicole played host to a very special event on the evening of the 17th September, the 1st Sanicole Sunset Airshow. As with all such events, they can be a little dependent on the weather. However, as it turned out it was a beautiful evening for the 2,000 strong crowd and the invited guests of the Sanicole Aeroclub.

Sunset and night time shows have taken place in the United States and even Australia for some time with many display acts adding further twists to their displays for such events. In the UK, the Shuttleworth Collection has run evening displays for many years but they have tended to finish before sunset. The "new generation" of these shows sees them run almost to the legal limit for display flying to get the maximum out of the special effects that many display teams use.

The sunset created a stunning dramatic backdrop for the flying silhouetting the trees against the orange glow of the clouds. The airfield has been busy all day with aircraft arriving and validating for the show, so the early arrivals got an added bonus to the main evening event.

The flying display was opening official by Christian Moullec flying his microlight alongside his flock of Barnacle Geese. His appearances at air displays are always very special, but it was something just a little more special set against the dramatic cloudscape and setting sun.

Christian was followed by the first jump made by the Canadian Forces Skyhawks Parachute Team. This was their flag drop where two parachutists carried the flags of Canada and Belgium set to the nation anthems of both nations. It is perhaps something we are a little unused to on this side of the Atlantic but ended an eye-catching start to proceedings.

The Skyhawks returned later in the evening for their main display. By European standards, their slot was quite long for a Parachute team but their canopy formations and "aerobatics" were absolutely stunning leaving many spectators open mouthed!

First of the main aircraft based participants of the evening were the Breitling Jet Team is their new black and grey colours. The low sun caught the team's smoke trails brilliantly as they performed overhead. The team have also been fitted out to fire flares for a wonderful finale in the evening light.

Following on from the Breitling Jet Team were the Swift Aerobatic Display Team with the combination of PA25 Pawnee and MDM-1 Fox Glider. The team have made some spectacular contributions to evening displays back in the UK at Eastbourne and Bournemouth with the glider's wingtip sparklers so they were the perfect addition to Sanicole.

The Swift Team were followed by another great UK based team, the Breitling Wingwalkers. Their new orange colour scheme looked superb against the grey clouds when they were illuminated by the sunset. By the now the light was changing rapidly as the sun slipped lower behind the horizon.

As the Wingwalkers cleared the runway following their display, one of the evenings star turns took to the air, the Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apache. The helicopter was put through an aerobatic display routine highlighted with liberal use of flares. The effect in the sunset was quite extraordinary providing some brilliant pictures for video and stills photographers!

The pyrotechnic theme continued with the penultimate act, the Twister Duo. Peter Wells has been busy over last few weeks modifying the pretty little Twisters to carry the same wingtip sparklers as the Swift Team glider! The resulting display was extremely well received by the crowd with an audible gasp as the sparklers ignited, particularly with a full moon providing the backdrop over the trees.

The finale to the evening was the Belgian Air Component's F-16AM Fighting Falcon solo flown by 'Mitch' Buelen. By now the light was fading fast and it was very nearly dark. The sight of the F-16's navigation lights and the long flame from engine reheat system made for something truly special as the aircraft was put through its display. The moon now was a prominent feature and there was an amazing clatter of camera shutters firing as the F-16 flew across the moon! But the best was still to come as 'Mitch' was also carrying flares which illuminated the underside of the specially marked F-16 brilliantly towards the end of his display.

The Sanicole Sunset Show cannot be described as anything other than a huge success. It was a quite superb event and worth the trip to Belgium on it's own! Everyone who saw it and those who participated in it were particularly enthusiastic about the event and we're delighted to hear that it will be repeated in 2011! With the growing popularity of such shows in Europe and UK, the number of these events will hopefully increase as they add a certain magic to the air display scene that has been lacking in recent years.

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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