Airbourne, Eastbourne’s International Airshow celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2017. During those 25 years, the four-day festival has grown in to one of the UK’s very best airshows bringing in thousands to the East Sussex resort. While the English Channel provides the backdrop for the flying, the town of Eastbourne is surrounded by the beautiful rolling Downland around Beachy Head which makes for a very unique display venue.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from the opening two days. All photography by the author.
Eastbourne’s Airbourne has been one of the leading seaside airshows for 25 years. It has had ups and down like many long lasting events but has become a firm fixture on the town’s calendar. Though council budgets are being squeezed, the importance of the event cannot be overstated. Like the Tennis Championships held in Eastbourne ahead of Wimbledon, it provides a vital boost to the local economy with visitors flocking to the town filling hotels and keeping restaurants busy at the height of the summer season.
The show has also become a vital engagement tool for the UK armed forces. Their display on the Western Lawns has grown over the years and now features displays from all three armed services. Like other big seaside events, Airbourne is more than just flying displays and features all sorts of entertainment throughout every day of the event. This year, as well as the traditional live music around the bandstand, each evening saw an open-air cinema on the beach immediately after the end of the flying displays.
The focal point of the event is of course the flying displays. Over the four days these build and build with more added to the line-up with Sunday seeing flying extend into the evening with pyro displays and fireworks providing a spectacular finale to the festival.
Complementing the RAF displays on the ground were most of their display teams. Headlining were the Red Arrows and the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 who flew in the displays from the Friday through to Sunday. Eastbourne came on the end of a difficult week for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Maintenance on one of the flight’s Hurricanes revealed some engine issues which led to a pause of flying of all Merlin-engined aircraft. Thankfully, the BBMF were able to support Eastbourne and a number of other shows over the weekend with their beautiful Supermarine Spitfire PRXIX flown by their flight’s officer commanding, Sqn Ldr Andy Millikin. Sunday also saw the Boeing Chinook HC4 solo from RAF Odiham.
The British Army also had a good presence at the show. Returning were the ever popular Tigers Freefall Parachute Display Team from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. Despite from gusty conditions the team jumped on three of the days much to the delight of the crowds who get to see the team land at very close quarters on the central beach area. The Historic Aircraft Flight Trust also appeared flying a solo Westland Scout AH1 on the Thursday and Friday.
But perhaps the star military participant was the Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon of the Belgian Air Force flown by Cdt Tom ‘Gizmo’ de Moortel. Like many of the other military acts Tom had a busy weekend supporting Biggin Hill as well as Eastbourne. Having appeared on the opening day with his usual display jet ‘Blizzard’ the team encountered some snags with their aircraft. Friday morning the team left Biggin Hill early for their base at Kleine Brogel to get the jets replaced and made it back in time to close Friday’s display. This was amazing commitment to the shows they supported and very much appreciated by the organisers and crowd alike. Free from overland restrictions and in clear blue skies, Tom was able to fly his full display routine firing beautiful salvos of flares during his powerful and noisy routine.
Eastbourne always attracts a very varied selection of historic aircraft. Eastbourne regulars John Romain and Peter Teichman gave solo displays in the Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon and Hawker Hurricane IIb over the weekend. New to Eastbourne were the Boultbee Fight Academy who sent two of their aircraft solo solo displays. They supported the show on all four days with a North American P-51D Mustang. John Dodd flew a very nice solo display in “Miss Helen” in the sunshine while the Academy’s Supermarine Spitfire IX RR232 appeared over the weekend. Adding to the variety over the weekend were two heavies on the form of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina and Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress ‘Sally-B’, the latter being a very welcome late addition to replace to the grounded BBMF Lancaster.
Classic jets were also part of the Eastbourne line-up. Mark Petrie put on a very elegant aerobatic display in his BAC Strikemaster Mk82a on all four days leaving delicate smoke and vapour trails in the blue skies. The weekend also saw the return of the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron with their Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15UTi.
As ever, the military and historic aircraft were complemented by a selection of the best civilian displays. The Blades and Breitling Wingwalkers are regulars at Eastbourne and are always amongst the most popular performers at the event. Team Raven were really impressive over all four days of the show filling the sky with their six-ship of Vans RV4 and RV8 aircraft. The team are relatively new to the scene but have really developed their display into a real crowd pleaser.
Thursday and Friday’s displays saw the Eastbourne debut of Peter Davies and his Calidus Autogyro. Peter clearly had great fun despite the lumpy conditions make full use of his dispensation to fly closer to the ground entertaining everyone from the Pier to the Western Lawns. The weekend also saw the amazing solo aerobatics of Rich Goodwin in his Pitts S-2S Special and the precise formation duo flying of the Fireflies Aerobatic Team flying a pair of Vans RV4s.
As has become a tradition at Eastbourne, the flying displays were brought to a close on Sunday evening by pyrotechnic displays. In this 25th Anniversary year the evening display was doubled with two displays. The Fireflies returned and were joined by the Twister Aerobatics Team to round off a spectacular four days on the South Coast. Its been a great 25 years and here’s to the next 25.