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2013 UK Airshows : REVIEW

25th Sunderland International Airshow

The Sunderland International Airshow is one of the biggest airshows of the year, and is certainly one of the biggest public events in the North East. 2013 saw the 25th event and the newly formed Sunderland Live company certainly went to town to celebrate this milestone with an expanded Friday Evening Launch party and a great selection of acts from across the UK and Europe.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author. Video highlights from Planes TV.

Held off the beaches of Roker and Seaburn, the Sunderland International Airshow boasts some of the largest crowds of any airshow in the UK Being run for the 25th time, the show has been an important part of tourism calendar for the North East attracting anything up to 1 million people over the weekend.

The 25th running of the event is a very important milestone for the event and Sunderline Live started the event in great style on the Friday evening with a great 'Launch Party.' In previous years this has been an evening of music with a couple of supporting flying displays. This year this was expanded upon greatly with more music and flying displays. The event was opened by the first sunset flying display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which looked very evocative over the sunlit clouds and clam waters of the North Sea. The were followed by the Red Arrows giving a rare sunset display. The Reds display looked better than ever in the golden skies with the smoke trials lingering for longer perfectly highlighting the precise formation changes and aerobatics.

Later in the evening further action from the Royal Air Force came from the Typhoon FGR4 solo display flown by Flt Lt Jamie Norris. In the late evening light, the Typhoon looked even more aggressive and potent than usual with the long flames of the reheat showing up against the dark skies

As has become recent traditional, the evening flying display was closed by the SWIP Team Twisters complete with wingtip pyrotechnics. For the first time, the team displayed as a three ship with the new aircraft, G-JINX flown by Jon Gowdy, joining the traditional pink and blue aircraft flown by Pete Wells and Guy Westgate. It was certain a spectacle enjoyed by the crowd on the seafront with plenty of ooo-s and arrr-s as the pyrotechnic effects painted different colours on the sky.

For the main weekend displays the weather was largely very good. Sunday morning was very damp following some heavy overnight rain and the organisers did face some challenges with their main car parks being flooded. Fortunately it didn't seem to put people off and both days saw very large crowds.

As with all the main seaside airshow, military displays take centre stage both in the air and on the ground. The flying display featured all of the RAF's main display assets. The aforementioned Red Arrows, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and Typhoon displays were joined by the RAF's Tucano solo display and the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. The Falcons are particularly popular at Sunderland landing on the sandy beach right in-front of the crowds and earned a well deserved round of applause on Saturday jumping from nearly their full display height.

The Royal Navy made a great contribution to the show with helicopters on the ground and in the air. The Black Cats Helicopter Display Team share a special link with the South East as Sunderland Football Club are also known as the Black Cats. Both Black Cats are keen to display their links and the Royal Navy's Westland Lynx HMA8 spent the weekend operating from the football club's academy and training grounds. On top of the the solo display, the team also flew in formation with the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Fairey Swordfish marking over 70 years of naval flying history.

A rare participant from the Royal Navy was the Westland Sea King HU5 from 771 NAS based at RNAS Culdrose. The venerable 'SK' and its crew put on a search and rescue demonstration with the local lifeboat crews giving the crowds on the promenade a very close up view of the operation.

The Army Air Corps was not left out either with the Westland Lynx AH7 giving a wonderful display of 'helicopter aerobatics' during the afternoon.

By far the star of the show for enthusiasts and the crowd alike was the Royal Netherlands Air Force Boeing AH-64D Apache adding an international element to the flying. The team had spent a couple of weeks in the UK displaying at RIAT and RNAS Culdrose before heading to the North East. Without the restrictions of operating from an MoD airfield, the Apache was able use flares throughout its display which looked simply spectacular!

As ever, there was a multitude of civilian display teams mixing it with the heavy metal. The Blades made a welcome return to Sunderland back in their original orange colours on both days of the show. Sunday, which didn't see the Red Arrows perform due to other commitments, also saw the return of the SWIP Team plus the Breitling Wingwalkers. Solo antics came from Gerald Cooper in his Xtreme Air XA41 performing some incredible quick-fire freestyle aerobatics.

But the star turn of the civilian displays were the Matadors also flying XA41s. Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones always put on an incredible display of close formation flying and aerobatics and the Red Bull paint scheme looked awesome against the blue skies. However the team put in a special manoeuvre just for Sunderland painting a big '25' in sky to celebrate the 25th airshow.

There was also a host of historic aircraft in the flying. Classic jets were well represented over thee weekend. Both days saw Jonathon Whaley putting Hawker Hunter F58a Miss Demeanour through her paces in flamboyant style. Sunday also saw Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 appear with a particularly menacing approach from the North Sea at low level to open its display.

The highlight of the flying however was a Second World War Scenario played out by a quartet of warbirds simulating a search and rescue mission. It was opened with a downed pilot in the water and the arrival of Plane Sailing's PBY-5A Catalina 'Miss Pick Up.' The big 'Cat' performed a number of passes in various configurations before making a spectacular simulated water landing. Set against the backdrop of the harbour wall, the low pass looked epic from the promenade. As the Catalina approached however it was 'bounced' by the Aircraft Restoration Company's Hispano HA-112-M1L Buchon flown by John Romain playing the role of a Luftwaffe Messerchmitt Bf109. The Buchon loitered over the area seeing off the Catalina before it was finally intercepted by a pair of American fighters in the form of Hangar 11's Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk 'Lulu Belle' flown by Peter Teichman and Hardwick Warbird's North American P-51D Mustang 'Janie' flown by Rob Davies. A wonderful flowing tail-chase headed by the Buchon ensued before both the Kittyhawk and Mustang gave solo displays. It was great to see such superb sequence of warbird flying over the water and proof that seafront displays are every bit as imaginative as the airfield based events!

The Sunderland International Airshow was a great weekend and certainly a very popular one. On Saturday the seafront was absolutely packed and despite the overnight rain and lack of Red Arrows Sunday saw a very good crowd too. The flying was very good with superb contributions from international and historic participants providing the perfect celebration of the 25th show!

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