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2013 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RAFA Shoreham Airshow

The Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) Shoreham Airshow has seen a great many changes over the past 12 months. Despite the passing of the two co-founders of the event, Don Bean and Peter Eager, the volunteers from the RAFA’s Shoreham-by-Sea branch have been determined to carry on the spirit of this great event. 2013 is a very important year for RAFA which is celebrating its 70th Anniversary and the show no only marked this important milestone, but also other “70ths” – the 70th Anniversary of 617 Squadron and Ruhr Dams Raid and the arrival of the United States Army Air Force 8th Air Force in the UK.

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

Change can be a difficult thing, particularly enforced change and the end of 2012 was certainly a difficult one for the organisers of Shoreham Airshow losing the two most influential people behind the event, Don Bean and Peter Eager, in quick succession. The drive to keep the airshow going however was overwhelming and it was pleasing to hear the show would go on.

One of the great things about Shoreham is that it has not fallen into the trap of becoming overly corporate. The lovingly prepared handmade painted signs for “Spitfire Way” and “Halifax Road” are just one example of the true volunteer spirit of this event ever since it started as a small fete on the corner of Shoreham Airport. It was also good to see in 2013 such strong support for the show from local and national companies. Spitfire Ales, Air BP and Aerobytes were all major sponsors of the event, but many local businesses such as Winner Plant Hire, Rossetts Commercial Vehicles and Rabbit Skips also do their very best to help with services in kind.

The 2013 event saw Rod Dean take over the flying display director of the show. Rod has displayed at many Shoreham Airshows, both as a solo pilot and as part of the traditional scramble. While wanting to keep the basic formula of the event the same and which has been so successful, Rod also brought some new ideas to the event, particularly in terms of the big warbird set pieces.

2013 saw a number of new “acts” grace the skies over Shoreham. The RV8tors were just one of the first time visitors to Shoreham with their fast paced formation aerobatics. Alongside them were a great selection of civilian teams with the likes of the Tiger Club Turbulent Team with their classic barnstorming, Shoreham favourites GliderFX and The TRIG Aerobatic Team. The Tiger 9 returned again this year, albeit with just the 8 De Havilland Tiger Moths but nevertheless seeing such a large team at Shoreham is always impressive. Home based talent was represented by Justyn Gorman in the Extra 300L based with Phoenix Flying Sussex. The aircraft carries new sponsor logos this yeat for World Aero, a Sussex based aircraft Maintenance Company and Justyn showed the aircraft off very well for the crowd. Yet more solo aerobatics were showcased on Saturday morning by Lauren Richardson who has certainly developed an engaging display in her Pitts S-1S Special throughout the 2013 season.

Special mention must go the Matadors Aerobatic Team. They picked up the award at the 2012 event fir best overall flying display in fairly dismal weather. Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones’ close flying and solo aerobatic routine is nothing short of spectacular with some really imaginative figures.

Also worthy of mention are the Breitling Wingwalkers. The team under numerous guises such as the Cadbury’s Crunchie Flying Circus, the Utterly Butterly Barnstomers and more recently Team Guinot have at least been scheduled to appear at every Shoreham Airshow. It was great to see them back in 2013 supporting the event with Steve Hicks leading Al Hoy and Stella Guilding and Nikita Salmon on top of the wings.

Military aviation spanning over 100 years was represented in the flying. The Great War Display Team returned with a new format to their display and some new aircraft. The earliest type in their display is Matthew Boddington’s wonderful R.A.F BE2c replica which was entering service with the first Royal Flying Corps Squadrons in 1912-1913 as a scouting aircraft. It was joined by the R.A.F SE5as, Fokker Triplane, Junkers CL1 and Sopwith Triplane dogfighting in the skies in front of Lancing College.

Warbirds are always a major feature of the RAFA Shoreham Airshow and perhaps Shoreham’s most famous display is the ‘Scramble!” This year this set piece was slimmed down slightly, but also featured new aircraft. Alongside the Aircraft Restoration Company’s Hispano HA-112-M1L Buchon flown by John Romain was Richard Lake’s example flown by AVM Cliff Spink. They opened the scenario with a pairs aerobatic routine before attacking the small encampment on the fair side of the airfield. Scrambling to see off the invaders was Peter Vacher’s Hurricane I and for the first time at Shoreham, the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Sea Hurricane X AE997 flown by Dan Griffiths. They were joined by the Supermarine Spitfire Vb of the Historic Aircraft Collection and the Spitfire IXT from the Aircraft Restoration Company.

There were other warbird displays two. Axis Air Displays presented an interesting trio of aircraft from the Bucker stable with the Bestmann, Jungmann and Jungmeister. American warbirds also featured well with solo displays from Peter Teichman in his Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk and John Beattie in the Douglas AD4N Skyraider. The naval theme was continued by the Royal Navy Historic Flight who displayed both the Fairey Swordfish and the Hawker Sea Fury T20.

However the major set piece of the day was the commemoration of the United States Army Air Force’s 8th Air Force and the 70th Anniversary of its arrival in the UK. Rod Dean put together a 45min sequence that showcased some of the most famous and perhaps some of the less well known aircraft of the Mighty Eighth. The Piper L4 Grasshoppers of the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar and Robin Roberts definitely fall into the latter but they were amongst the most successful types of the conflict as artillery spotters. The German Army feared them perhaps more than any other aircraft as their presence meant the areas they overflew would soon be struck by allied shells.

The Douglas C-47A Skytrain is amongst the most recognisable aircraft in the world as the DC-3, however their wartime roles saw them operated around the globe carrying everything from mules to ammunition as well as towing (and recovering) troop gliders!

Perhaps the most famous mission of the 8th Air Force was the daylight bombing campaign. The sequence saw two bombers take to the skies and join up for some memorable formation passes. Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress Sally-B is a regular sight at the RAFA Shoreham Airshows and has attended almost every show and is perhaps the type most associated with the 8th Air Force. It was joined by the Royal Netherlands Historic Flight North American TB-25N Mitchell. The B-25 did not see wide service with the 8th Air Force, but did serve with 310th Bombardment Group at Hardwick in Suffolk. One of the most famous commanders of the 8th Air Force, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle also flew B-25s over the carrier USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

The sequence was closed by the North American P-51D Mustang Jumpin’Jacques of Peter Teichman performing a graceful solo display as a fitting finale.

Classic Jets had an impressive showing in the flying display. Mark Petrie made his Shoreham debut was his Ex-Royal Air Force of Oman BAC Strikemaster Mk82 from North Wales Military Aviation Services. Mark’s aircraft has its own smoke system and Mark puts on a very noisy account of the aircraft which is one of the few jet aircraft capable of operating from Shoreham.

It was great to see the North American F-86A Sabre return to Shoreham after a long absence. Mark Linney’s display perfectly highlights the wonderful lines of this early American jet fighter. Another first for Shoreham was an appearance by Graham Peacock’s Hawker Hunter T7A WV372 flown by Chris Heames. Formerly based at Kemble, this aircraft now resides at North Weald from where it flew in from for its display on both days of the show. Sunday should have seen Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 return to Shoreham thanks to the sponsorship of Aerobytes. Sadly it was not to be as a fuel leak cancelled the Vulcan’s appearances that day.

The modern day armed service support came from the Royal Air Force. The 70th Anniversary of 617 Squadron and the Ruhr Dams Raid was marked in the air by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with the Avro Lancaster joined by the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane IIc. The Officer Commanding of the current day 617 Squadron, Wing Commander David Aurtheron was the event’s patron this year and attended on the Saturday.

The modern day Royal Air Force was represented in air by the Shorts Tucano T1 flown by Flt Lt Andrew Flyvie-Rae and the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 flown by Jamie Norris. The Typhoon in particular was a very welcome participant and closed the show on Sunday in fine style. It has been a few years that the Typhoon had been to Shoreham and part of its appeal is that is one of the few big jets that can perform within the restricted airspace around Shoreham due to the built up areas.

The 2013 RAFA Shoreham Airshow was a wonderful event and carried on the fine tradition of this show while managing to incorporate some exciting new items and set-piece displays. Over the past 23 years the show has raised in excess of £1.8million for the RAFA Wings Appeal and this great family airshow will undoubtedly added significantly to that total.

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