Each year there are two massive four day seaside airshows on the South Coast, the first of which is held in the East Sussex town of Eastbourne. These events, which are much more like town festivals than pure airshows draw thousands of tourists into the towns for a great mix of entertainment on the ground as well as in the air. This year saw the weather presented many challenges to those organising and flying at the show, but nevertheless there was an eclectic mix of aircraft old and new performing over the famous Sussex coast.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Thursday 13th August will go down as a very memorable day on the South Coast. Sitting at Shoreham Airport, just a few miles to the west of Eastbourne we sat watching sheet lightning all around and rain bouncing off the tarmac for much of the day. Over at Eastbourne, conditions were even worse. The Park and Ride car parks had to be closed to protect them for the main influx of visitors and there was flooding in the town centre. Ultimately the entire flying display was cancelled and only the Royal Navy’s Sea King HC4 made it into Shoreham in preparation for the show.
Friday too was less than kind weather wise. As is often the case, Eastbourne was bathed in sunshine but the rest of Sussex and surrounding areas were stuck under clag once again. However a good number of displays made it through to the small pocket of clear skies that sat over Eastbourne. Fortunately, for the bigger and busier days of the weekend, the weather was much kinder allowing all the scheduled acts to reach the show site and operating airfields.
It is great to see Eastbourne Borough Council continue to support and develop the event. Much like Bournemouth Air Festival there is now entertainment throughout the day with live music on the beaches after the flying has finished. The Saturday of the event took on added significance too dubbed “Super Saturday” with a bigger concert and a night time pyrotechnic flying display. This came from the new AeroSPARX display team who fly a pair of Grob 109b moto-gliders which have been modified with wingtip pyrotechnics and impressive LED systems . Team pilots Tim Dews and Guy Westgate fly a very graceful routine of sweeping steep turns and gentle loops in the large motorgliders which are the first display aircraft certified to fly after civil twilight.
Alongside the AeroSPARX was a great selection of other civilian display team. The RV8tors made it through the clag on Friday and Sunday to perform their fast paced close formation aerobatics for the crowds. Another familiar team were the Blades who performed on all three days of flying in their Extra 300LPs. Adding to the international flavour were Patrouille Reva from France. Poor weather in France prevent them from reaching Eastbourne until Saturday with their three Rutan Vari-Ez canard light aircraft. They have been to Eastbourne many times, but put on a very different performance to UK acts presenting a very elegant aerial ballet. The Breitling Wingwalkers are also Eastbourne favourites bringing “Barnstorming” to the Sussex coast in their brightly coloured Boeing Stearman. The team’s busy schedule of shows in Europe this year has meant many UK shows have missed out this year so it was great to see them back at Eastbourne.
Eastbourne always has a good selection of historic types in the flying. The Aircraft Restoration Company had both their Supermarine Spitfire IXT and the Bristol Blenheim IF in the flying displays, both demonstrated beautifully by John Romain. The Blenheim was making its first appearance at a free seaside airshow thanks to donations from local individuals. Also from Duxford and a late addition to the displays was North American P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie which performed over the two main airshow days with typical flair.
Historic jets played an important role in the flying too. Jeff Bell’s immaculate BAC Jet Provost T5 is a regular at Eastbourne these days but two other jets were amongst the standout stars of the weekend. The Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron Mikoyan MiG-15UTI was a most welcome international addition of the flying. It flies a very smooth gentle routine, but it is great to see the shape of one of the most famous Soviet aircraft back in the skies over the UK. Also from the Historical Squadron came their lovely pair of de Havilland Vampire FB52 and Vampire T55.
By far the biggest attraction to Eastbourne though was Avro Vulcan B2 XH558 on the Saturday of the event. It drew massive crowds to the town and the surrounding countryside with people eager to capture a final glimpse of the famous delta winged bomber. It made quite an arrival at the Beachy hold rather upstaging the preceding act which was just finishing its display at the time.
As ever, the UK armed forces were out in force at Eastbourne. The showground area was packed with displays from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. In the air, the solo Royal Navy participant was a Westland Sea King HC4 performing a role demonstration with the aid of the local lifeboat. The Sea King will be out of service by early 2016 so this was a final visit by the type to Eastbourne and it was certainly an interesting display which involved fast-roping members of the Royal Marines Commando on to the offshore lifeboat before recovering them.
The Tigers Freefall Parachute Display Team from the PWRR had the honour of representing the British Army jumping in to Eastbourne over the three flyable days. Friday saw the team jump into the sea while the tide was high, but the weekend saw the team hit their marks on the beach in-front of the crowd. New for this year, the team also had a pair of wingsuit jumpers adding to their display dramatic tracking across the seafront at speed before deploying their ‘chutes.
The Royal Air Force had nearly all of its display teams on show. It was great see to the Grob Tutor T1 flown by Flt Lt Andy Preece paired with the Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1 flown by Rod Dean for their opening passes. It was a lovely piece of heritage flying marking the role each aircraft has played not only in Elementary Flight Training, but also in air experience for Air Cadets and training in the University Air Squadrons. As ever, both solo displays were first class too.
The training theme was continued by the new BAE Systems Hawk T2 Role Demo. The team from IV [R] Squadron really have come up with a great addition to the display circuit with a highly engaging display that explains how the Hawk T2 is used in training the next generation of fast jet pilots.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight added to the varied warbird displays with the Supermarine Spitfire IX, Hawker Hurricane IIc and Douglas Dakota III. The latter was a very welcome late addition as it has suffered from unserviceablity this season. Bringing the RAF fighter story right up to date was the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 solo routine flown by Flt Lt Jonny Dowen which certainly enthralled the crowd over all three days it attended. Also catching the attention of the crowd with the unmistakable sound of blade-slap was the incredible Boeing Chinook HC4 display captained by Flt Lt Brett Jones.
However, as at all seaside shows, the Red Arrows were the main highlight for the crowd. As with the Vulcan, the crowds on the seafront swelled as their display time approached and they react to almost every pass.
Airbourne 2015 was another great edition of the event with several highlights including the Blenheim, Vulcan, MiG-15 and many of the usual favourites. Hopefully the crowds were kind in their donations too and 2016 will be just as enjoyable.