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2014 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Bournemouth Air Festival

Closing the season of South Coast seaside airshows is the Bournemouth Air Festival which is now certainly the biggest event of its kind. Spread over four days, the Air Festival not only includes some great daytime flying displays, but also three "Night Air" flying displays and other entertainment. 2014 was the 7th edition of the event which provides the Dorset resort with it biggest tourist weekend of the year.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. Photography by Ian Revell and Paul Johnson/Flightline UK.

It has been estimated that over 1.2 million people descended on Bournemouth during the 2014 Air Festival with over 850,000 visiting during the Saturday and Sunday. The Golden beaches rapidly turn black with people during the days and over 1,000 boats form an incredible amphitheatre around the flying display area. It is amazing to think that the Air Festival is only 7 years old!!!

This incredible attendance came despite the sad news that the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Avro Lancaster would be unable to attend following some major engine problems. While it was certainly a downer, it certainly didn't stop the Air Festival being immensely successful and enjoyable for all.

Opening the Air Festival this year were the Royal Marines who abseiled down the cliffs. In the flying, the opening act was 94 year Tom Lackey wingwalking on Mike Dentith's Boeing Stearman. On any normal day, it would have been an incredible feat but Tom also had to content with a very nasty rain shower which struck Bournemouth just at the wrong time!

Like many seafront airshows, Bournemouth enjoys strong ties with the military who see such events as major public relations opportunities. While the RAF takes the lead at most, it is the Royal Navy that dominates Bournemouth. Their participation is not limited to aircraft; Bournemouth now enjoys a flotilla of Royal Navy ships which participate at the event with public visits and a set piece role demonstration with the Royal Marines on Bournemouth's sandy beach. This year saw the RFA Argus, HMS Mersey and HMS Westminster along with small patrol vessels. The flotilla was international again this year with a Minesweeper from the French Navy which also took park in the role demonstration.

In the air, the Royal Navy sent two helicopter displays. The Westland Merlin HM2 from 824 NAS at RNAS Culdrose made a welcome appearance showing off it multiple capabilities including search and rescue. The Black Cats Helicopter Display Team were also on hand with a rare pairs performance with the Westland Lynx HMA8 flying alongside the AW159 Wildcat HMA2 making its Bournemouth Debut. The presence of ships off the coast also meant that the public were also treated to the sight of helicopters operating from the deck of Argus and Westminster throughout the Festival.

Further Lynx action came from the Army Air Corps with the final Bournemouth appearance by the award winning Lynx AH7 solo display. The Lynx's aerobatic antics continue to amaze as it is so rare to see big helicopters perform aerobatics at such close quarters. It's dramatic displays will be missed in future years once the heavier Wildcat AH1 takes over.

The Royal Air Force clearly values the Air Festival very highly too. The RAF Village at the town end of the Beach was particularly large this year with all of the display team igloos and trailers joined by further representation from various trades and of course the careers stands. In the air, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was just as well received as it would have been with the Canadian Lancaster.

The BBMF's Lancaster B1 PA474 was joined for the weekend by two of the flights later mark Spitfires with the Spitfire IX MK356 flying with Spitfire XVI TE366. Completing the BBMF's contribution was the Douglas Dakota III.

The Red Arrows displayed on all four days of the Air Festival for the first time. Following the tragic events of 2011, the team share a special bond with Bournemouth and the Air Festival crowds remain amongst the most appreciative of the team's displays anywhere on the circuit.

Alongside the BBMF and Reds were all of the RAF's solo displays. Flt Lt Andy Preece's routine in the Grob Tutor T1 is superb as even at seafront venues, he keeps the aircraft close into the crowd. The Tucano T1 flown by Flt Lt Dave Kirby also proved popular, though he was without the special marked "Poppy" Tucanos.

The Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 display is always a highlight of any show, but particularly the big seafront airshows. Flt Noel Rees gave a great account of the RAF's premier swing-role fighter in front of the massive crowds.

It was a notable weekend for the Chinook Display Team. Bournemouth was not only their last display of the season, but also the final ever display using the Chinook HC2 variant. As ever, the Chinook amazes with its agility and size plus the incredible "blade-slap" generated from the aircraft large rotors. We look forward to seeing the upto date HC4 or HC6 variants out and about next year!

Sadly, weather was out of limits for the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team on the opening two days, but the British Army's Tigers Parachute Team did manage to drop in over the weekend not only showing their skills under the parachute, but also in Freefall and with wing-suits.

As well as the modern military, there were also plenty of displays by historic military aircraft. The Rolls Royce Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX gave some wonderful performances during Air Festival in the hands of Phill O'Dell, Bill Dean and Mark Lewis both during the daytime and Night Air Displays. The weekend also saw Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B make welcome appearances in the flying displays representing the United States Army Air Force contribution and sacrifice during the Second World War.

However, it was the Classic Jets that featured prominently. DS Aviation's de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 made a welcome comeback from its engine issues to display at its local show. The Sea Vixen officially only appeared on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the Air Festival but early vistors would have seen further displays on Thursday and Friday as pilots Simon Hargreaves and Jonathon Whaley rehearsed their display sequences. Jonathon also displayed his lovely Hawker Hunter F58a Miss Demeanour which has been an Air Festival favourite from the start. On the Friday, he had a very special day flying both jets at various points during the day!

The final day saw the Midair Squadron Canberra PR9 join the Air Festival. In addition to the usual solo display, the Canberra performed a "Heritage Formation" with the Hunter and Sea Vixen providing a very special moment for the closing day.

Following last year's disappointment, it was good to see the Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 back in the skies over Bournemouth. It had been planned to only display on the Saturday, but with some kind donations and the loss of the RR Spitfire following technical problems, a second display on the Sunday was arranged at the last minute!

The flying at Bournemouth continues well in to the evening with the very special and atmospheric Night Air displays. It was good to see some changes this year too. Opening the Night Air Displays on Friday and Saturday were the Blades Aerobatic Team flying their four Extra 300/330LPs. The team had a busy weekend taking in Bournemouth, Rhyl and Shoreham Airshows over three days but it was great to see them in the early evening light which highlighted their smoke trails even more.

As mentioned earlier, the Rolls Royce Spitfire PR XIX also flew displays during Night Air. A Sunset display by a Spitfire is always very special, particularly when it is set against such dramatic cloudscapes.

Pyrotechnic displays provided the finale to Night Air. The first of these was a combined display Brendan O'Brien in his highlight modified Piper J3C Cub and Jon Gowdy flying the Silence SA1100 Twister. It was good to see both Brendan and Jon flying a coordinated routine that meant there was action in front of the crowd at all times and no pauses while the aircraft climbed to height to fire their fireworks. Brendan's fireworks in particular was spectacular illuminated the shoreline with an explosion of colour while Jon flew some lovely smooth aerobatics trailing delicate streams of light from his wingtips.

The British Army's Red Devils closed the aerial elements of Night Air with a spectacular drop into Bournemouth with pyrotechnics on their feet and glow sticks on their suits. Fireworks closed the event on Friday and Saturday nights with entertainment continuing on Music stages on the expansive sandy beaches.

No other aviation event offers such a complete weekend as Bournemouth. The aviation action this year was once again of the highest quality with several memorable moments right from the start to the very end. If you haven't tried the Bournemouth Air Festival yet, you have been missing out!!! The Air Festival returns next year between the 20th and 23rd August.

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