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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

Folkestone Jubilee Airshow

It is always good to welcome new venues to the display circuit, but sometimes the return of an old favourite after many years absence from the display calendar is even better. During the 1990’s and very early 2000’s the Shepway Airshow held off the Folkestone Seafront gained legendary status with pilots and public alike. The Leas provided one of the most thrilling viewpoints for any airshow in the UK with aircraft performing at or just below eye-level. Therefore when Folkestone TCM announced it was bringing the show back for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations it quickly appeared on Flightline UK’s must attend list.

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

The Shepway Airshow was very special for a number of reasons. The unique viewing from the Leas was one, and a very different type of seaside display was another. During its heyday the show was organised by Duxford’s flying display director Jeanne Frazer. Her influence brought in some stellar line-ups from the Fighter Collection and some memorable finale formations of warbirds. The Royal Air Force also played a key part with not only the regular display teams but also involvement from 25(F) Squadron and its Tornado F3s. Not only did the Squadron provide a unique formation of aircraft on its own, but for the 2000 event it also flew its aircraft with some of Duxford’s warbirds such as the Hurricane and Blenhiem.

Sadly the early 2000’s also brought about council budgetary pressures and increases organising costs leading to the 2003 Airshow being the last for some years.

The show however was always seen as a popular and important event to the town of Folkestone and for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Folkestone TCM had secured the much need funding through sponsorship to bring an airshow back to Folkestone. The newly titled ‘Folkestone Airshow’ however would differ from its Shepway forerunner in many ways. The new show had a new organising team with Folkestone TCM joining forces with Heritage Special Events and Synergy Events to produce the show. The show site also moved slightly as fears over the Trees on the Leas blocking the view meant the main show area was moved further down towards the Seafront and Lower Sandgate Road. The entire show was spread over the top of the Leas and the Lower areas and had much more of a community feel to other shows with local organisations and charities taking a leading role. In reality, I don’t think the Leas were any worse in terms of view as they were nine years ago and there were plenty of spectators able to enjoy spectacular views of the flying.

The flying display was very different too. The display saw much more emphasis on Kent based flying alongside the Royal Air Force acts with nearby Headcorn providing much of the civilian participation which in many ways was good to see. It certainly kept the airshow’s unique flavour over other events. Though the Bank Holiday weather was extremely kind to Folkestone with blue skies and good visibility, poor weather elsewhere did cause the Breitling Wingwalkers to cancel their appearance.

Many of the acts came from the Tiger Club. Many will be familiar with the Tiger Club Turbulent Team which was making a very rare appearance over water! Without an airfield below them and the usual 100ft base for seaside airshows the team showed more of their formation flying skills and opposition passes for their display.

Also from the Tiger Club came a couple of displays featuring the Stampe SV4 which has long been an airshow favourite. Chris Jesson first appeared a solo act showing why for many years the Belgian bi-plane was the aircraft of choice for aerobatic competition. Later in the flying programme, he returned leading a fine three-ship formation of Stampes each wearing their own unique colour scheme which looked fantastic against the blue backdrop of the clear skies and English Channel.

A very different aerobatic display came from Sam Whatmough flying the Yakovlev Yak-55, a very rugged and unusual looking aerobatic beast from the Soviet era. In many ways, the Yak looks similar to the Sukhoi Su-26 but being of metal construction but retaining the some aggressive sound from its radial engine.

Warbirds have always been important to the Folkestone Airshow, and there were important contributions from the Royal Navy Historic Flight and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The RNHF flew its powerful Hawker Sea Fury T20 which was put through an excellent aerobatic routine. It is always emotive to see the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight appear at displays over Kent, but few display venues can be more emotive for the team than Folkestone with the backdrop of the English Channel and the cliffs of Northern France on the horizon. The BBMF presented their standard three-ship with the Spitfire IX, Hurricane XII and Lancaster B1.

The modern day Royal Air Force was out in force with all the current solo displays; Tutor, Tucano, Hawk, King Air and Typhoon. The Typhoon display which was the penultimate was particularly well received by the crowd making the most noise of the afternoon. However, perhaps the most significant RAF participation was the appearance by the Red Arrows. The team were making their public debut for 2012 seven ship display. It is absolutely marvellous to see the team back displaying after the very challenging period the team has faced over the winter. Sadly for Folkestone crowds, a radio failure experienced by one of the synchro pair meant they had to abandon their part of the display which must have been very frustrating for the team.

The traditional finale to Shepway Airshows were massed formations of the participating warbirds known as the Shepway Salute. For 2012 it was good to see the tradition revived for the Folkestone Show with the Tiger Club participants providing a large seven ship formation known as ‘Jubilee Formation’ with the three Stampes joining by four Turbulents to close the flying in style.

Folkestone Airshow was clearly appreciated by those who attended, and was a very enjoyable and relaxed affair. The only slight negatives were the lack of PA on top of the Leas where there were traders and spectators and perhaps too much of gap between each display. However, for me it was just really good to see an old favourite back on the calendar and executed in such style by the new organisers.

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