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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Bournemouth Air Festival 2011

This review is a very different one to that I thought I would have written after the second day of the Bournemouth Air Festival. Sadly most of those of you reading this review will no doubt be aware of the tragic accident that occurred during the Red Arrows recovery following their display to Bournemouth Airport on Saturday 20th August which resulted in the death of ‘Red 4’ Flt Lt Jon Egging. Our thoughts are very much with Jon’s family and friends, as well as all within the Red Arrows. What was very heart-warming following the tragedy was the public reaction both in Bournemouth and around the country, particularly online. It was an outstanding demonstration of the true affection the British public has for the team. Sunday’s displays continued as planned, though without the Red Arrows and Hawk displays which were grounded while the accident was investigated. It goes without saying the mood was particularly sombre during Sunday’s displays which started with a moving tribute to Flt Lt Egging.

The accident cast a shadow over what was a return to form for the Bournemouth Air Festival after a weather hit event in 2010. Even so, the opening Thursday was almost totally cancelled due to very localised flooding around Bournemouth and Poole putting huge demands on the emergency services. The Friday could not have been more different with Bournemouth seafront looking very Mediterranean with deep blue skies and waters. The action continued into the evening too with some very special flying displays complete with pyrotechnics in the golden sunset over Bournemouth.

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

The Bournemouth Air Festival is one of the newest seafront airshows, but it has become a force to be reckoned with thanks to some very forward thinking organisers. Like Eastbourne, the event is much more of Town Festival than just an airshow with events taking place throughout Bournemouth. Thursday extreme rainfall did eventually end up in a day totally lost due to the damage caused within the town and the flooding with the arena designated for the Night Air activities. For Friday and Saturday they were moved to alternative venues.

The seafront at Bournemouth does make for a unique viewing experience. As with most seafront airshows, the beaches offer the closest vantage points to the flying displays as well as an arena area. However immediately behind the beaches are the cliffs which off vantage points 150ft up allowing spectators to almost look down on some of the flying displays. The cliff tops of the show are dominated by hotels making the event very accessible for those wishing to stay in town throughout the event. Many of these lay on special barbeques and outdoor bars during the festival for all visitors which are very pleasent distractions from the usual 'chain' burger vans that dominate similar events.

Charity is often at the centre of most airshows up and down the country. Bournemouth this year has set itself the target of raising £30,000 for three charities nominated by the three armed services. The Royal Navy nominated the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity, the Royal Air Force supported 'Hounds for Heroes' while the Army put forward the Army Benevolent Fund. To mark the £1 donation made from each sale of the souvenir brochure each purchaser also got a Red, White and Blue 'Festival' wristband which were sponsor by local companies.

Last year Bournemouth introduced its own "TV Channel" relayed on big screens and streamed on the internet. That concept was also repeated this year but Bournemouth did not rest on it's laurels either. After the flying, there were marching band displays, Royal Marines Commando demonstrations and the usual evening entertainment held around the show site. New for 2011 was a large concert stage on the beach which saw evening talent competitions as well as various tribute bands all as part of 'Night Air!'

The Night Air flying displays also made a very welcome return for 2011, though only took place on Friday night thanks to the weather. The dusk displays were opened by the Tigers Parachute Display Team jumping complete with glow sticks fitted to their jumpsuits. They were followed by three different acts all flying with special pyrotechnics. First up was a very different crazy flying routine flown by Brendan O’Brien in his Piper J3 Cub. He was followed by the GliderFX and SWIP Team displays. The GliderFX team were the first to appear with the glider firing some brand new red ‘flares’ from the it wingtips before climbing for a little more height leaving the stage clear for the SWIP Team and their very popular night display with wingtip waterfall fireworks. The evening was closed by the return of GliderFX with yet more waterfall pyrotechnics before a short traditional fireworks display from the beachfront.

The main daytime flying displays saw a wide range of display acts. Opening the event were the Royal Navy with an impressive beach assault display. This was supported by two large ships including the RFA Mounts Bay and HMS Tyne. The two ships helped deploy a number of landing craft deploying Royal Marines and vehicles on the beach to rescue hostages. In the air a Sea King HC4 helped redeploy marines between ships and landing craft throughout the scenario.

In the main flying displays, the sole Navy participation was the Westland Merlin HM1 which gave a role demonstration of its secondary Search and Rescue role.

The Royal Air Force was out in force with the Red Arrows and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight headlining their participation. Solo displays from the RAF included the Tutor, Tucano, Hawk and King Air displays. The main weekend days saw the RAF contingent was boosted by the Tornado GR4 role demonstration which was reduced to just a solo aircraft.

Civilian displays covered a range of different teams. The SWIP Team also displayed as part of the weekend day displays, and were joined by the Breitling Wingwalkers, Matadors and the RV8tors. The RV8tors were appearing in partnership with Kemble based charity Fly2Help which is running a competition this year to win a flight alongside Spitfire IXT SM520. To highlight competition, the Spitfire appeared in formation with the team before performing a short solo over the weekend flown by Phil O’Dell. However the star of the civilian displays was Gerald Cooper who was flying his new Sbach 300 for the first time in 2011 with some extreme tumbles and mind boggling changes in direction!

As well as the Spitfire, a number of other historic types also took part. B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B made a rare appearance at a seaside venue over the weekend where it was also appearing at Shoreham airshow 70 miles to the east. However it was the selection of classic jets that proved to be the stars of the show. Sadly the Vulcan was unserviceable for the weekend, but the pair of Jonathon Whaley’s Hawker Hunter F58a Miss Demeanour and DS Aviation’s stunning De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW2 more than satisfied any hunger for jet action. The withdrawl of the Vulcan meant it became a busy weekend for the Sea Vixen which was only due to fly on the Thursday and Friday at Bournemouth. It rapidly added both weekend displays to its schedule as well as appearances at Shoreham and Oxford’s Fly to the Past event.

The Bournemouth Air Festival is one of the most outstanding events on the airshow calendar. While it is one of the largest events, it retains a great atmosphere and novel twists such as the Night Air flying displays surely make it one of the ‘must-attend’ events on the South Coast. Sadly memories of 2011 for all that attended or participated will be sombre ones of the accident that claimed the life of Flt Lt Jon Egging of the Red Arrows on the Saturday afternoon. Blue skies Jon.

Thanks to TSA Consulting Ltd.

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