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2011 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RAFA Shoreham Airshow 2011

The annual Royal Air Forces Association Airshow at Shoreham Airport has become one of the best loved airshows in Southern England. Over its 22 year history it has raised in excess of £1.6 million for RAFA and grown into a relatively large event from very humble beginnings as a fete on the corner of the airfield. 2011 saw the event celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Royal Air Forces Search and Rescue Force. Shoreham itself was an important station during the Second World War for “Air Sea Rescue” operations over the English Channel with 277 Squadron become one of the most famous ASR units.

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

It would be impossible for me to review the Shoreham Airshow completely without some bias as Flightline UK currently oversees the event’s website for which I’m very proud to be part of the airshow’s committee. Instead I thought I would try and summarise the story of the airshow since the last event in 2010.

2010 was undoubtedly a difficult year. The weekend saw a very thin area of bad weather sit over the South Coast preventing a lot of flying both at Shoreham and at the Bournemouth Air Festival which truncated both event’s flying displays. Add in an unfortunately landing accident at Shoreham involving the Swift glider and perhaps understandably all the volunteers felt slightly deflated.

A month after the show, the committee who are all volunteers held a wash up meeting allowing everyone to air their views on how things went and to decide whether to hold an event next year. Two major issues were identified from that meeting from the 2010 show. First off, it was the first event in the show’s history where both days had been affected by such bad weather and there really was not a “plan” in case of such conditions. The second was the lack of information being passed on via the commentary and public address systems. With an overwhelming vote to hold a 2011 event, planning could official start for the next show.

A small core of the committee local to Shoreham run a small ‘broom-cupboard” office in the Terminal Building throughout the year. This small room is the nerve centre of the operation where everything is organised from sponsorship to the orders for fencing, toilets and of course the all-important flying display acts! Monthly committee meetings start in December running right through to the show where anything and everything to do with the show is discussed. There are often disagreements aired, but this is only a natural part of the planning process which leads to a successful show.

Securing aircraft for the show is often a difficult process. Much of what appears at the show centres on the all-important Royal Air Force allocations. Bids have to be submitted in the preceding autumn to the show, and it is not until February or March that the airshow office receives official confirmation of just what the RAF Events team is willing to send to the show which gives an idea of how many more acts needs to be booked and how much budget there is for the more expensive civilian operated aircraft. .

Generally, the acts booked to appear at the show are a mixture of “wanted” items and those new acts who put in attractive proposals. Although by May the show organisers have a pretty good idea of the shape of the show, booking acts can run up to just days before the show as was the case this year. A number of aircraft including the Vulcan which were booked on became unavailable fairly late on so replacements had to be made. As the aircraft are firmed up, their information is passed on to Shoreham’s flying display director Peter Eager who has the tough job of producing a workable flying display fitting in the displays around commitments they have with the Bournemouth Air Festival and Oxford’s airshow in particular. As well as the main flying display items, extra aircraft are sought to fit the static park and the theme of the show. Thanks to various contacts, and a great deal of help from RAFA HQ displays for the SAR 70 theme including a static Chinook HC3 were secured for the show. Sadly a static Sea King was withdrawn late on due to a lack of available airframes.

It’s not just aircraft that needs planning. The run-up to show keeps the office staff busy sorting the various traders, charities and other show facilities which is very time consuming. Online ticket sales are also a time consuming task processing the orders and dispatching them. The week before the show see approximately 40-50% of the total sales which run from early spring to the week before the show. Other members of the committee look after such diverse tasks as the promotional material for the show, emergency planning and the accommodation for the aircrews as well as more visible tasks such as the show entrance gates, air cadet help and the classic cars.

The busy week before the show sees the Press Launch coinciding with the start of the site build. Press Day was far from straightforward this year with some poor weather preventing any press or dispay flying, but Justyn Gorman and the GliderFX display team did put on an impressive static display for the local press and photo-opportunities. The day before the show is also a busy one with the traders and aircraft starting to arrive and the showground taking shape for the weekend’s show.

So what about the actual show? Well it’s a busy time for all the volunteers as anything can happen, and it usually does! The flying display was affected by the tragic events at Bournemouth Airport which claimed the life of Flt Lt Jon Egging as the airport was closed for a short period in the aftermath of the accident. That caused some very late changes to the running order for flying display director Peter Eager. Sunday’s display was also affected with the loss of the Hawk solo from the display.

Well, what about the show in 2011? Well the last minute addition of the de Havilland Sea Vixen, Justyn Gorman’s solo displays in the Decathlon and Extra 300L, the Gnat pair as well as the rare four-ship display from the Breitling Wingwalkers on Saturday were the clear highpoints!

The show’s main theme of the 70h Anniversary of RAF Search and Rescue was represented by two different displays; Plane Sailing’s Catalina and on Saturday only, a Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Sea King HAR3A from RAF Wattisham. While the Sea King was display, a RNLI inshore lifeboat was driven around along the crowd line to demonstrate how closely they two rescue services work together which was a nice touch.

Shoreham’s Battle of Britain Scramble scanerio however seemed a little less inspiring this year, perhaps due to the fewest number of participating aircraft in the sequence since it was started in 2006. It is still a great concept but perhaps the sequence could be changed and perhaps shortened a little, particularly bearing mind the amount of other Spitfire and Hurricane displays from Peter Teichman and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were included in the display.

Lots of the post-show feedback has pointed at the lack of jets. Sadly a number of jet displays were lost due to various reasons in the run up to the show including the Vampire, Strikemaster and Vulcan. However the North Weald based Gnat Pair did make it and put on an elegant display both mornings. Also very welcome was Jonathon Whaley with his stunning Hawker Hunter F58a Miss Demeanour that gave a very lively display.

As well as the Spitfires and Hurricanes, there were other warbirds too. Maurice Hammond and Dave Evans gave a superb display in the pair of Hardwick Warbirds P-51D Mustangs and even joined up with B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B during Saturday’s display. Much earlier air battles were brilliantly recreated by the Great War Display Team with a collection of seven replica aircraft including SE5a, Sopwith Triplane, Junkers CL1 and Fokker Triplane.

It was also a delight to see the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Fairey Swordfish back at Shoreham. The large torpedo bomber biplane looked superb in the air and on the ground in front of the art-deco terminal building throughout the weekend.

The aerobatic art was represented by a number of display teams. GliderFX, the Yakovlevs, Pitts Pair, the SWIP Team and the Blades all showed off great team work during their displays. Buy perhaps some of the most stunning team displays were those from the parachute teams. Saturday saw the Red Devils make an impressive entrance with some great canopy work. Sunday saw the RAF Falcons drop in with the RAFA Wings Appeal flag to mark the official start of the Wing Appeal 2011 at the show. After missing out last year due to the weather it was finally great to see this important fund raising appeal get underway at Shoreham.

Another hugely popular act with the Shoreham crowd was O’Brien’s Flying Circus. Brendan’s “understudy” Captain Boogaloo was great fun to watch with his crazy flying and attempts to land on a trailer on Shoreham’s short runway.

The modern day Royal Air Force was well represented too. The Tutor and the Tucano put in superb displays which were only made better on the Saturday as they both operated from the Shoreham allowing the crowds to get a close up view of them on the ground. The Hawk display (only seen on the Saturday due to the grounding of Hawks on the Sunday) also drew applause from the crowd. On the ground, the only RAF aircraft on show this year w as a Boeing Chinook HC3 from RAF Odiham. Those who stayed late on Sunday afternoon were treated to a couple of flying appearances by the mighty twin-bladed helicopter as it took some local air cadets for a local flight in the early evening light.

All in all, it was a great two days at Shoreham though it would be nice to see some new and different displays at next year’s show. I still think though that Shoreham’s mix of flying and ground attractions makes for superb family day out at the picturesque Shoreham Airport with its stunning surroundings. Keep an eye on for news on next year’s show.

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