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2013 European Airshows : REVIEW

Sanicole Sunset Airshow

The International Sanicole Airshow is always one of the major highlights of the European Airshow Calendar. Based at a small general aviation airfield just outside the town of Leopoldsburg, the event is one of the most varied and international air displays in the world bring together a wealth of military and civilian participants. The main show is held on the Sunday of the weekend, but as a prelude the event also runs the Sanicole Sunset Airshow on the proceeding Friday which is biggest of its kind of in Europe.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author. Video highlights from the Sanicole Media Team.

Now in its 4th Edition, the Sanicole Sunset Airshow is an incredible event. We have long been used to “Sunset Air Displays” in the UK with the wonderful evocative events at Old Warden, the Sunderland International Airshow Launch Party and Bournemouth Air Festival’s Night Air events. However the Sanicole version is on a different scale bring together a two hour flying programme featuring parachute teams, big jet display teams, historic aircraft, solo fast jets and military helicopters lighting up the sky with flares and reheat plus several specialized evening acts firing pyrotechnics from their aircraft.

While the main International Sanicole AIrshow attracts a large crowd on the Sunday, the number of tickets available for the Friday Sunset show is limited giving the event a very exclusive feel. It is still however a highly anticipated event.

Sadly for 2013, the weather did its best to make things difficult for the organisers and participants. Poor weather across southern parts of Europe prevented many of the Red Bull elements of the flying display reaching Belgium in the first place. Friday also saw some difficult low cloud building during the latter parts of the afternoon with the threat of drizzle – hardly the conditions to be flying in in the low light of early evening! However the worst of the weather managed to miss the airfield until after the main flying at finished allowing the full contingent of participants to perform.

Opening the show was something very familiar to UK visitors, the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team jumping from Tony De Bryn’s Shorts Skyvan. The team managed to perform their low show until the grey overcast landing perfectly in front of the VIP enclosure to kick off the event.

Next up were the Baltic Bees Jet Team flying five Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros jets. The team are a particularly interesting one and are the youngest jet team in the world. Based in Latvia, a country without its own fleet of military fast jets, the team is privately owned. The private company that runs the team also leases L-39s to the Estonian Air Force, one of which has also been active on the display circuit this year. Founded in 2008, the team has become well known across Europe and the Middle East performing a number of high profile events such as the Al Ain Aerobatics Show and several big military events. Their display has certainly developed very rapidly and has become much more dynamic and engaging.

One of Sancole’s major sponsors is the Swiss Chronographers Breitling. The first of their acts in the show was the Breitling Wingwalkers who are always very popular participants at Sanicole with the rasping sounds of their Stearman and the daredevil wingwalkers on top of the wings!

Equally colourful as the Baltic Bees and the Wingwalkers was the French Air Force contribution to the evening with the Dassault Rafale C. The Rafale always puts on an exceptional display, but the flat show being performed at such a small venue made for a very dramatic spectacle with the aircraft reheat illuminating the vapour trailing off the aircraft’s wing. Also making the aircraft stand out was a colourful Tiger Paint scheme which made the aircraft show up well against the grey backdrop.

Breitling’s second contribution to the display was the wonderful Lockheed Super Constellation. Seen only very rarely in flying displays, the beautiful prop-liner made a series of passes for during the show with the flaming exhausts clearly visible in the now rapidly diminishing light.

A late addition to the evening flying display was the Belgian Agusta A109BA. The near aerobatic helicopter is an impressive performer, particularly when it releases flares during it’s numerous climbs and spiral descents.

In complete contrast to the noise of the helicopters, pistons and jets were the two Let L13 Blanix gliders of the Red Bull Blanix Team. The low cloud meant conditions were not ideal for the team who performed a very graceful aerial ballet with thick smoke trails streaming from their wingtips and some very bright flares which illuminated the polished silver gliders very well against the darkening skies.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apache was the next to fly. Seeing the big attack helicopter firing flares in the evening light was truly spectacular as they lit up the sky and the crowds. It was also apparent the weather was slowly deteriorating with drizzle starting to encroach over the airfield and making the flares appears as enormous globes of light!

The final military act of the night was the Belgian Air Force F-16AM Fighting Falcon. By the time it start its display the drizzle and poor light made the aircraft very difficult to see for the first part of its display unless the aircraft was in reheat or releasing flares into the gloom. Actually it was during this aircraft’s display that the big screens set up on the far side of the airfield came into their own as Planes TV’s cameras (who were providing a live feed as recording a DVD) were able to track the F-16 as it pounded around in the murk. Fortunately towards the end of the F-16s performance, the drizzle cleared again and the visibility improved significantly.

Closing the flying in association with some ground based fireworks were two UK based teams that specialize in evening pyrotechnic displays. First off were the SWIP Team flying a pair of Silence Twisters flown by Peter Wells and Guy Westgate. The team have become well known for their “Pyro Display” firing graceful “waterfall” style fireworks from the wingtips of the aircraft. Despite the low cloud they put in a great display before landing in front of wall of fireworks!

Closing the show were GliderFX with the Piper Pawnee flown by Paul Holdnall and the MDM-1 Fox flown by Ian Gallacher. Like the SWIP Team they struggled a bit with the cloud base having to fire the forst stage of pyro while still on tow. However once release fron tow Ian was able to fire a second salvo of roman candles of his wingtip. Even following the landing of the two fixed wing aircraft the team’s performance was not at an end as Michel Carnet got airborne under his paramotor with LED on and around his prop and pyrotechnics firing under his feet!

The Sanicole Sunset Show as always was a very special airshow experience, one that remains unique in Europe thanks to the scale of the event and incredibly varied display. Special mention must go to everyone behind this event who made it happen despite the challenges of European weather!

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