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2014 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RAFA Shoreham Airshow

For the past few years, Flightline UK has been proud to be involved with the RAFA Shoreham Airshow. There have been many highs and lows along the way, but the show has remained a firm fixture for 24 years and 2014 saw the event celebrate the 25th show. In this review, we look back at the past 12 months or so and how the 25th show developed into perhaps the most successful in the event's history.

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

2013 was a great year for the RAFA Shoreham Airshow. 2012 has been a difficult year which saw the loss of original show organisers, Don Bean and Peter Eager plus a weekend of poor weather and a low crowd attendance. 2013 could not have been more different, the show weekend proved to be a classic hot summer weekend and the crowds flocked back to the event, particularly on the Sunday when the airfield grounds and car parks came very close to being filled!

It is no cliché to say the planning for the next event starts as soon as the most recent closes. Just three weeks after the car parks closed and the last aircraft left Shoreham, the airshow committee reconvenes for a wash-up meeting and to vote on whether the show carries on. With the 25th show in the offing, it was unanimous vote to hold the show again in 2014.

The office springs back in to life not long after. All the essential bookings for fencing, toilets and other major infrastructure and support for the airshow are made very early. The show enjoys great support from several local companies for offer their support to the show to support the Royal Air Forces Association. Such companies include Winner Plant Hire, Rabbit Skips, Rossets Vehicles, Gemini Print and many others who provide many of the essential services to the show from infrastructure, transport to publicity. Shoreham is lucky to have such support which has helped it grow in to the major event it is today.

September also sees the flying display director, Rod Dean, puts in the all-important bids for military aircraft support. Bids are put in the RAF Events Team (for items such as the Red Arrows, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Falcons, Typhoon, Tucano and Tutor display), Joint Helicopter Command (RAF Chinook Display, Army Air Corps Lynx, Wildcat and Apache Displays) and to the Royal Navy (Historic Flight plus the Black Cats and Merlin displays.)

While the winter months over the Christmas and New Year period are relatively quiet, there is always something going on like the development of publicity material and the inevitable paperwork. This year saw a nice surprise for the airshow office when Derek Harbar, the honourable airshow organiser, was nominated and won one of the BBC Local Heroes Awards for his work with the airshow.

By January, the Airshow Committee are starting to have regular monthly meetings once again starting to formulate plans and counter any of the issues brought up in the previous show wash-up. However, it is not until late February that the results of the bids for military displays start to filter through. While themes for the flying displays are often developed quite early and some civilian acts are booked (mainly ones with very busy schedules such as the Great War Display Team), it is really not until the military allocations are made that Rod is able to start putting together the rest of the display. While military displays are relatively less expensive than those from the civilian world, they still make a significant dent in the flying display budget.

An added bonus this February was as the allocation were made, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum announced its intentions to being its prized Avro Lancaster B.Mk.X across the Altantic to tour with the BBMF Lancaster. Rod was quickly on the case!

The spring sees much of the flying display take shape and the various participants are announced on the show website and via press releases right up until show day. Ticket sales also start to really build up too. May saw Shoreham announced as one of the planned displays within the Canadian Lancaster tour; the effect on ticket sales was dramatic! On top of that, there is a continued influx of traders enquiries, display car applications plus the all-important emergency planning meetings and exercises.

By August this year, advance tickets sales had rocketed to levels more than double those of the previous four years. The public's imagination really latched on to the Lancaster Tour which became headline news on television and the national newspapers. Additional batches of advance tickets had to be printed such was demand!

The final few weeks before the airshow are particularly busy. August sees the final committee meeting, the site build commence, the Press Day and all manner of last minutes issues to sort. The final week was particularly busy this year. Having seen the extra crowds descend on Dunsfold the week earlier and with the show's own impressive tickets sales, there were some last minute adjustments to the airfield to cater for additional parking plus the issuing of advice to use public transport via the media and internet!

Aircraft cancellations are a fact of life, but this year Shoreham seemed to have had more than its fair share with the loss of such items as the Irish Historic Flight, Skyraider plus the Royal Navy Historic Flight. However, the most notable of all was the Canadian Lancaster following its engine problems on Friday 29th August. Such issues with the warbirds are not uncommon and clearly safety has to come first, but it was still a great disappointment for the team as they were looking forward to the Lancaster duo as much as the public!

Despite the cancellations though, it was the best Shoreham Airshow flying display I have been to since I started going to the airshow in 1997! One of the things about Shoreham has always been an incredible variety on show in the picturesque surrounding of the Sussex Downs. Well the variety this year was absolutely superb.

One of the main changes brought in during the 2013 show was a lunch break in the flying. This year this was enhanced with the addition of several large scale model displays. Warbirds, jets and even a glider-tug combination were included and it was great fun to watch.

However it was the model flying finale that gave me, and almost everyone else I've spoken too, their abiding memory of Shoreham 2014; namely the combined display by Mike Williams with his model Extra 300 flying with Chris Burkett in his full sized Extra 300S. It is the first time I have seen the routine and I was transfixed. It was beautifully choreographed with the aircraft perfectly matched in the sky. Most incredible of all were the seamless changes from short solo segments back to the "formation" flying! This is one act that has to be seen more widely next year!

More formation flying came from the Blades Aerobatic Team who returned to Shoreham after a year's break which was very welcome. Further solo aerobatic Local pilot Justyn Gorman has been developing his display in France with champion Aerobatic pilot Diana Britten. What really marks Justyn's display out are some very dramatic gyroscopic aerobatic figures in his World Aero sponsored Extra 300L. Another "local" team in the flying were GliderFX, though this year saw Ian Gallacher fly the MDM-1 Fox in company with Michel Carnet flying his paramotor and Paul Holdnall flying the Pawnee tug.

Two teams have supported the Shoreham Airshow since the start and it is certainly hard to imagine the show without them. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made a chance flypast over the original RAFA Fete held on a corner of the airport. 25 years later they were back, though sadly without the Canadian Lancaster which was unserviceable over the airshow weekend. It was still however a high point of the show weekend that capture the attention of the huge crowds. The other team to have supported every airshow are the AeroSuperBatics Wingwalking Team, currently under the guise of the Breitling Wingwalkers. Team leader Vic Norman rates Shoreham as one of his favourites airshows so it would good to see him leading the display over the weekend with Steve Hicks flying the second aircraft. On the wing for the first time in a pairs display were sisters Stella and Emily Guilding.

As well as the BBMF, the Royal Air Force support Shoreham very well this year. The RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team also appeared on both days of the show taking advantage of the good weather to perform in freefall as well as under the canopy. Flt Lt Andy Preece flew two flawless aerobatic routines in the Grob Tutor T1 while Flt Lt Noel Rees brought the noise with the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4.

Further jet action came from a trio of wonderful classic jets. Mark Petrie brought his BAC Strikemaster Mk82a which is one of the few jets that can operate from Shoreham's short and narrow hard runway. Mark gives a very graceful routine in the jet which is highlighted by display smoke. Further Jet Heritage came on the form of Graham Peacock's beautiful Hawker Hunter T7A which was put through its paces by Andy Hill.

However, it was the Vulcan that stole the show on Saturday. Shoreham certainly seems to be a venue which really suits the Vulcan's display, perhaps because the crowdline is fairly short and there's a great backdrop! Whatever the reason, Kev Rumens' display certainly got everyone's attention.

Setting the 2014 display apart from previous Shoreham Airshow's were the themed part of the flying programme. The early morning display saw a lovely combination of early de Havilland types. The Tiger9 Display Team returned with eight DH82a Tiger Moths filling the skies over Shoreham. They were followed by Mark Miller in his own DH89a Dragon Rapide leading Dan Griffiths flying the beautiful DH90 Dragonfly in a gentle tailchase.

2014 saw the Fighter Collection take a pivotal role in the flying display. Another wonderful formation marking the early war years and the Battle of Britain saw their Gloster Gladiator flown by Pete Kynsey leading Mark One Partners' Supermarine Spitfire Ia flown by Dave Ratcliffe and Peter Vacher's Hawker Hurricane I flown by Carl Schofield. It was great to see such a combination perform outside of Duxford and it was certainly a very memorable occasion.

Further Fighter Collection came with a salute to the US Navy. Sadly it was not quite as large as intended but it was great to see the very rare Grumman F6F Hellcat and Goodyear FG-1D Corsair at Shoreham adding to the very varied line-up of warbirds. Sadly TFC's Bearcat went unserviceable on Start-up on the Saturday and was unable to take part.

Shoreham is famous for its big warbird set piece. 2014 saw a move away from tradition with the D-Day Landings being the theme of the set piece. Shoreham became an airfield in Normandy with Steve Jones leading an airfield attack in P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie supported by Stu Goldspink in TFC's TF-51D Mustang and Lee Proudfoot flying ARCo's Spitfire IXT. The airfield was defended by the Hispano HA-112M1L Buchons flown by John Romain and Cliff Spink who homed in on the allied fighters in a classic tailchase dogfight with pyrotechnics going on underneath.

As the smoke cleared, two Douglas C-47A Skytrains from Aces High and Dakota Heritage thundered through the overhead to complete the main sequence. The bomber forces involved in D-Day were also marked by solo displays by B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B and the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight TB-25N Mitchell.

With good weather, huge crowds on both days and perhaps the best flying displays seen at Shoreham for many years, the show was extremely successful. It is only a success because of the dedication and hard work of the 400 plus volunteers and air cadets that support the event every year raising much needed funds for RAFA. For many their work does not stop once the aircraft stop flying as they work to return the airport to normality and get the equipment back in store or to the suppliers. Shoreham Airshow 2015 has already been pencilled in for the 22nd-23rd August and work on that has already started!

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