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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Airbourne 2011, Eastbourne International Airshow

August is marked by two very large seafront airshow ‘festivals.’ The first and the longest running is Eastbourne’s Airbourne. The show has been running for many years attracting some very exciting display acts from around the world. For 2011 the show was even streamed on the internet live around the world. Though the show takes place just off the promenade, there are plenty of viewing opportunities from the surrounding countryside with the area around Beachy Head proving very popular.

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

Like all seaside airshow, Airbourne showcases the town of Eastbourne as a tourist resort and provides a lot of business to anyone connected to the tourism filling the local hotels and restaurants for four days in mid-season. It is quoted that Airbourne brings in excess of £20million of business to the local economy making the event very important to the town.

The show has always been a popular event for the military with all services present on the Western Lawns for the ground show. There is also an arena which this year featured the Essex Dog Display Team, numerous bands and even an evening film screening! The finale to the event is a large fireworks display off the pier bringing the event to a explosive and colourful conclusion.

With four days to fill, the event’s flying display build generally build through Thursday and Friday to the full shows over the weekend. Sadly some typically miserable summer English Channel weather prevented much flying taking place on the Thursday. Friday saw some improvement in the weather which allowed most displays to get underway, but both the main weekend days say glorious conditions for the most part.

Like Bournemouth, Airbourne adopted new technology for 2011. The event featured giant screens on the beach and live internet streaming from ‘Airbourne TV.’ This new technology allowed the show to reach an extra 60,000 people across the globe according to SQ Magazine and is likely to a part of the future of such events, though it does give some of the commentary away from the flying a very commercial radio feel with constant adverts for Zoos, charities and the armed forces.

The afternoon flying displays featured large participation from the Armed Services. The British Army’s Tigers Parachute Display Team has long been a favourite at Eastbourne jumping into the water rather on land. Unusually in 2011, the team jumped from the Royal Navy Lynx helicopters of the Black Cats display team. Sadly, the team were reduced to just a solo Lynx following some technical difficulties but it was great to see the Royal Navy back at Eastbourne after a long absence. Also from the Royal Navy was the Raiders Parachute Display Team also jumping from the Lynx. Unlike the Army, the Navy jumped onto the relative dry land of Eastbourne’s shingle beach!!

The British Army’s contribution was the Tigers Parachute Display Team from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. Their display was something of a display of inter-service operations as they jumped from the two Royal Navy Lynx helicopters.

The Royal Air Force has always been at the centre of Airbourne. The Red Arrows managed appearances on three days of the show, though the planned evening appearance on the Friday was soon aborted due to the low clouds rolling in from the west. However the team went on to perform two full displays over the weekend. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s aircraft are also Airbourne regulars and were present with the full complement of Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane.

As well as the major display teams, the Royal Air Force was also represented by all of the services solo displays. Friday saw Flt Lt Leon Creese display the Beechcraft King Air B200 for the first time at Eastbourne. The Tutor, Tucano and Hawk displays performed throughout the remaining three days of the event. On Saturday and Sunday the Tornado GR4 role demonstration team also joined the action with their recreation of Afghan operations by the type.

Seafront airshows are as much as about smoke, colour and noise as they are for promoting the work of the armed services and Eastbourne welcomed a clutch of the very best civilian display teams. The Blades have long been supporters of Airbourne and were joined by a number of duos. The RV8tors and the SWIP Team both represented home-built types in the display with very different, but slick displays of aerobatics both in close formation and synchronised form.

Moving up the scale to full unlimited aerobatics with the new Sbach 300 competition aerobatics machines were the Matadors pair of Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones. The move over from the punch Russian Sukhoi Su-26 to the sleek shark like Sbach has seen the team lose none of their impact with their usual blend of extreme tight formation flying and tight mirror loops. A very different duo, but always a favourite with the Eastbourne crowds are the Breitling Wingwalkers which always bring a touch of showbiz to the Sussex skies.

However, Eastbourne in recent years has become known for presenting a wide range of historic types within its flying displays. Classic jets were well represented this year with displays from Jonathon Whaley’s unique Hawker Hunter F58 Miss Demeanour and Golden Apple’s F-86A Sabre appearing over the weekend. Piston warbirds came from Airbourne regulars John Romain and Peter Teichman. John performed his traditional Spitfire solo with the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Spitfire IXT while over the four days Peter displayed his Hawker Hurricane IIb, P-40M Kittyhawk and P-51D Mustang.

Both the Spitfire and the P-40M Kittyhawk featured in special formations over the weekend with what was perhaps Eastbourne’s star turn, the Belgian Air Component’s F-16AM Fighting Falcon solo display flown by Mitch Beulen. Saturday saw the American formation with the P-40 while Sunday say the Spitfire joining up with the F-16. As ever though, the Belgian F-16 display was quite simply outstanding keeping the big jet close in with plenty of flares to boot!

The weather may have been a little more unsettled that in previous years, but there’s no finer place to be in mid-August than Eastbourne for the four days of Airbourne. Unlike some of the other large seafront airshows, the enclosed feel of Eastbourne seafront creates its own special atmosphere and the vantage points at Beachy Head add their own unique attraction to the event.

Thanks to TSA Consulting Ltd.

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