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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

RAFA Shoreham Airshow

The Royal Air Forces Association Shoreham Airshow has always been a remarkable event. Run by a dedicated volunteer team for 23 years, the show has raised over £1.7 million for the charity as well as bringing together some very fine flying displays. The show perhaps endured more than its fair share of ups and downs during 2012 but it still produced a fine afternoon of entertainment despite the odds.

Paul Johnon/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

I can’t help but think Shoreham has been given a raw deal when it has come to luck with weather in the past few years. There was a time when the show never failed to enjoy fine weather over part of the show weekend but the past three years seem to have been partially or totally marred by some poor coastal weather. And so it was in 2012 with a warm front bringing mild conditions yet some very low grey cloud throughout both days with persistent drizzle curtailing Sunday’s displays somewhat.

But the weather was one of the difficulties faced by the show in 2012. Shoreham Airport itself is undergoing some major changes in response to financial and operation constraints. A reduction of fire cover made life difficult for some RAF aircraft which would have used the show as a base for Eastbourne Airshow weekend and a refuelling stop during the busy Shoreham airshow weekend denying visitors a chance to see military aircraft up close on the ground.

However, there were plenty of aircraft on show on the ground thank to a large fly-in of invited types which included everything from sailplanes to the classic DC-3 as well as all the usual ground attractions that Shoreham is known for.

At over seven hours, the flying display was extraordinarily long on Saturday when the full programme took place running from 1030 through to after 1730. There were many favourites from the airshow scene alongside one of two very unique moments.

Civilian aerobatic teams featured heavily with the likes of the RAFA sponsored Blades, TRIG Aerobatic Team, SWIP Team and the RedHawks Duo doing battle with the low clouds to fit their displays in.

The GliderFX display team is always heavily involved in the Shoreham flying display as it is Guy Westgate’s home show. As well as the traditional aerobatic glider solo, the team provided an early morning banner tow as well as a very unique salute to the Olympics. Gliding is a sport that very nearly became an Olympic sport but the cancellation of the 1940 games meant it wasn’t to be. For Olympic gliding a single type, the EON Olympia was chosen. Despite the loss of the games, the ‘Oly’ Glider went on to be built and become relatively successful. GliderFX’s Piper Pawnee flown by Paul Moslin towed two ‘Olys’ flown by Ian Gallacher and Guy Westgate on dual tow which is always an impressive sight at low level.

Local aerobatic pilot Justyn Gorman provided further solo aerial thrills in Phoenix Flying’s Super Decathlon and the Scottish Aviation Bulldog (the latter as part of the show’s Central Flying School Centenary theme). Justyn’s Decathlon display in particular picked up high praise for a very exciting and well put together routine in this slightly unlikely aerobatic aircraft. The display also featured one of Shoreham’s longest supporters, AeroSuperBatics, with the Breitling Wingwalkers which never fail to brighten even the dullest day at Shoreham!

However perhaps the most outstanding display and worthy winners of the award for best flying display were the Matadors in their Red Bull coloured Xtreme Air XA41s who performed thrilling routines on both days despite the low cloud base.

A great deal of a Shoreham flying display is given over to historic military types. The Great War Display Team are Shoreham regulars and gave their usual superb account the deadly First World War air war complete with a great commentary from Ben Dunnell. The Central Flying School theme brought in a great number of aircraft representing training types from between the wars. Richie Piper displayed his wonderful Ryan PT22 Recruit while the Axis powers were represented by Will Greenwood in the Bucker Bestmann and Alex Smee in the Bucker Jungmeister.

However, one of the most impressive sights of that of the Tiger 9 team with their iconic de Havilland DH82a Tiger Moths. Despite the large formation size and the relatively sedate performance of the Tiger Moth the team produced a very tight performance over Shoreham on the Saturday.

Another formation of training aircraft came from the Red Sparrows display team with their four de Havilland Canada Chipmunk T10s, perhaps one of the Central Flying School's most iconic types!

As ever, Shoreham marked the Battle of Britain with the now traditional scramble. For the first time, the scramble involved two genuine survivors of the Battle with Peter Vacher’s Hurricane I joined by Mark One Partners newly restored Spitfire Ia. Joining this pair were the HAC Spitfire Vb and Hurricane IIc, ARCo’s Spitfire IXT, the 108 Group’s Bf108 Taifun and ARCo’s Hispano HA-1112MIL Buchon.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight are also key supporters of Shoreham Airshow and while the full formation only managed one flypast due to the low cloud, the crowd were treated to a solo by the flight’s Spitfire Vb. Further heavy aircraft in the flying were Plane Sailing's PBY-5A Catalina and the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B.

Further warbirds came from the Hangar 11 Collection and the Old Flying Machine Company. Peter Teichman displayed his Hawker Hurricane IIb and North American P-51D Mustang beautifully under the low clouds. It was great to see OFMC back at Shoreham after a very long absence. In fact the last time OFMC displayed at Shoreham they displayed as the Breitling Fighters! Brian Smith and Alister Kay put in a stunning close formation duo in Spitfire IX MH434 and P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie on both days despite being limited by the cloud-base which drew applause from the crowds.

The Avro Vulcan was very much the star item of the flying display and managed two displays under the clag. Sunday's display was particularly special with the aircraft arriving in loose formation with the Blades for the first public flypast of its type.

The only other classic jets in the flying were the pair of Jet Provost T3A and Jet Provost T5 flown by Neil McCarthy and Dan Arlett. The pair reprised their duo display they gave earlier in the season at the RAF Cosford Airshow before splitting into solo displays. One of the advantages of the Jet Provost is that it one of few jet aircraft that can safely operate from Shoreham’s narrow short hard runway which was a great bonus.

The poor weather hit modern day Royal Air Force participation quite hard at Shoreham with only the King Air B200 flown by Flt Lt Ian Birchall flying on both days. The Tucano and Hawk displays did however many to put in superb flat displays on the Saturday operating from Bournemouth. The Tornado GR4 Role Demonstration was reduced to a couple of flypasts over concerns of low flying over Worthing, but they were welcome nevertheless.

It is such a shame when weather ruins all the planning that goes in to any airshow, but you cannot help but feel for Shoreham organisers particularly when they had overcome numerous difficulties throughout the year. Top marks must go to everybody for producing two very entertaining flying displays despite the best efforts of the weather.

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