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2012 European Airshows : REVIEW

3rd Sanicole Sunset Airshow

Two years ago, Flightline UK were fortunate enough to cover the 1st Sanicole Sunset Airshow, the first of its kind in Europe. So successful was it that it has become an annual event ahead of the main International Sanicole Airshow. The Friday evening event is much more exclusive than the main airshow with just a small audience of 4,000 enjoying a two hour show. The Sunset Airshow is remarkable as it combines some specialist civilian ‘night’ display acts with some exciting modern military hardware that use flares and reheat to add to spectacle.

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

The organisers of the Sanicole Airshow maintain close links not only with the European airshow scene, but also show across the Atlantic as a member of the International Council of Air Shows. The inspiration for the Sanicole Sunset show clearly comes from the spectacular evening events held in the US and Canada that we often look on at with some envy.

The Sunset Airshow takes place on the Friday before the main show which doesn’t take place until the Sunday. It is a very pleasant relaxed affair with just a small limited audience of 4000 and is centred on a much smaller area around the VIP area.

The show started in some wonderful clear early evening skies and warm sunshine. Opening the show was a civilian parachute team, Hayabusa, who compete around the world in parachute competitions. They jumped from a Belgian Air Component C-130H Hercules who concluded the opening act with a low fast pass for the spectators. The Belgian team were not the only parachutists as Sanicole welcomed back the Royal Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Display Team, the SkyHawks, who perform some very different parachute formations and skydive techniques.

The Middle East was also represented in the evening flying display with the Royal Jordanian Falcons performing the first formation aerobatic routine of the evening illuminated by some wonderful golden rays from the setting sun. Solo aerobatics came from Pierry Marmy in the Breitling sponsored Sukhoi Su-26.

Further modern military action came from Belgium and some of its neighbouring countries. The Royal Netherlands Air Force sent its solo F-16AM Fighting Falcon to open the fast jet flying. The ‘Orange Lion’ special display scheme looked absolutely spectacular in the evening light and the display also offered the first flare firings of the evening.

Performing exclusively for the evening show was the French Air Force Rafale C solo demo. Though the aircraft did not fire flares its reheat looked really dramatic against the rain clouds which encroached on Sanicole rapidly during the display. The Rafale is an immense performer with some very rapid rolls and unparalleled agility in the sky.

Following its solo display, the Rafale joined up for a flypast with the Breitling Jet Team. By this time the weather was deteriorating quite quickly with a heavy shower encroaching on the airfield. However, the Rafale still managed a spectacular departure from the formation.

Full credit must go to the Breitling Jet Team for at least starting their display, but they were forced to abandon the display about three quarters of the way through as the visibility worsened as the shower went through which also sent most of the crowd running for cover! Sadly the Breitling Jet Team’s performance during the sunset display proved to be their last at Sanicole as they were forced to cancel their performance at the main show following a successful ejection by one crew during a repositioning flight on the Saturday.

Two British display teams performed their specialist twilight displays complete with aerial pyrotechnics. Brendan O’Brien appeared in his Piper J3 Cub which has been modified with various lighting and pyrotechnic effects which looked superb against a now slightly angry looking dark sky!

Closing the civilian flying displays were the SWIP Team. As well as their own lights, the stormy clouds that surrounded Sanicole produced their own slightly odd lighting on the pair of Twisters. The SWIP Team’s own wingtip fireworks were accompanied by some spectacular ground based effects!

The Belgian Air Component display teams also provided displays during the evening complete with flares. The Agusta A109BA display team put on a great performance of their helicopters agility but they also added a couple of spectacular flare releases to their routine which looked superb.

The evening was brought to a close with Major ‘Grat’ Thys in the solo F-16AM Fighting Falcon display. The light was failing rapidly during his display, but the impressive reheat cone emanating from the rear of the jet and the twinkling navigation lights made for a unique sight. ‘Grat’ also made great use of flare which illuminated the specially marked F-16 superbly during the display.

The Sanicole Sunset Airshow remains unique and a very special event. Despite the best efforts from the weather the 2012 edition was as spectacular as ever and we cannot to visit another Sanicole Sunset Airshow!

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