Airbourne, The Eastbourne International Airshow is the highlight of the summer season in the town and is one of the best-known seaside airshows in the UK. The show always draws strong support from the Royal Air Force, but in 2018 featured displays from the Belgian Air Force as well as civilian performers from across the UK and Europe.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Airbourne is one of the biggest seaside airshows in the UK brings four days of action to the East Sussex coast. Eastbourne’s location just below the Sussex Downs makes it one of the most picturesque venues during the display season for both the audience and the participants alike. The event has long been an important one for the UK armed forces who provide the centrepiece exhibition area on the Western Lawns. 2018 saw both the Royal Air Force and British Army take the lead with exhibits from No 5131 (Bomb Disposal) Squadron, the Tactical Supply Wing, The Adjutant General’s Corps, Royal Engineers, Household Cavalry, Princess of Wales Royal Regiment and the Army Air Corps.
Away from the flying displays and Western Lawns, entertainment at Eastbourne continued into the evening with live music at the Bandstand on the first three days and family movies shown on a big screen after each day’s flying.
Sadly this year, Eastbourne battled with the weather. Thursday saw just three displays make it to Eastbourne before the allocated display period ended. In contrast Friday’s weather was glorious and Saturday saw an overcast but perfectly flyable day. The major blow however was the Sunday which was a near wipeout with low cloud plaguing much of the South Coast. Sadly this also meant that Eastbourne’s evening flying displays were also cancelled.
In the air, the Royal Air Force gave strong support to Eastbourne in their centenary year. Flt Lt Jim Peterson flew thunderous displays in the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 on the first three days of the show. He had been scheduled to fly on all four days (a first for the RAF Typhoon) but sadly Sunday’s clag stopped him reaching Eastbourne. Thursday and Friday saw further displays from the RAF’s frontline with the Boeing Chinook HC6A display captained by Flt Lt Stu Kynaston. Thursday’s appearance was particularly dramatic as the team appeared out of the murk and drizzle to finally start the much shortened display – it was an effort greatly appreciated by those on the slightly soggy seafront! Saturday also saw the RAF’s third solo display with Flt Lt Andy Sell giving a display of precision aerobatics in the Grob Tutor T1.
No Airbourne would be complete without the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which appeared on Friday and Saturday with the Avro Lancaster B1, Supermarine Spitfire Vb and Hawker Hurricane IIc. The appearance of the flight over chalk cliffs is always poignant. The skies over Eastbourne saw many of the dogfights during the Battle of Britain and Beachy Head, to the west of the town, was a landmark for the Bomber Command crews returning from operations over Europe. Today, the head is home to a Bomber Command Memorial so it always special to see the Bomber set against this piece of coastline.
Completing the RAF line-up were of course the Red Arrows with their nine scarlet BAE Systems Hawk T1s. The team were due to appear on three days of Airbourne starting on the Friday and draw huge crowds onto the promenade for their display. Eastbourne is always a spectacular venue to watch the Reds perform at, particularly during the second half as the synchro pair fly around Beachy Head and the Downs. Friday also saw the team perform the special centenary pass after their display painting the figure ‘100’ in the sky with smoke as they headed back to their weekend base at Biggin Hill. Sadly, Sunday’s display was cancelled due to the poor weather between Eastbourne and Biggin Hill.
The Belgian Air Force made a welcome return to Eastbourne with Agusta A109BAi Solo Display Team. The Belgian Air Force has displayed the A109 for many years, but this was the types first appearance at Airbourne. The A109BAi is now used the battlefield utility role and is operated by 1 Wing based at Beauvechain Air Base. The A109 has always been an incredible airshow performer and Captain Stijn Stoenens together with co-pilot Captain Jo “J.J.” Jacobs gave a superb display on all four days despite the best efforts of the weather.
Historic aircraft always feature well in an Eastbourne flying display with several operators involved. In the RAF100 year it was good to see a number of warbirds from various periods of RAF History. The 1940’s were represented by the Boultbee Academy’s Supermarine Spitfire IX RR232 with display duties shared by Jim Scholfield and Bill Dean, the Bristol Blenheim 1F from the Aircraft Restoration Company flown by John Romain and finally the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s North American P-51D Mustang flown by Lars Ness. Sadly due to technical issues on the Saturday and Sunday’s low cloud, the planned appearance by the Norwegian Air Force Historic Squadron’s Vampire did not take place.
Further to the RAF history were other historic aircraft. John Dodd returned to Airbourne on the Friday with North American P-51D Mustang “Miss Helen” for a lovely solo aerobatic routine. Classic jet action came from Mark Petrie in his BAC Strikemaster Mk82a G-SOAF who displayed on the last three days even managing to get through the low cloud on the Sunday.
Adding some colour, smoke and noise to Eastbourne were a varied collection of civilian displays. Performing over the long weekend were two Airbourne favourites; the Blades Aerobatic Team and the Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers. After making their Airbourne debuts in 2017, both Peter Troy-Davies and Rich Goodwin returned to Eastbourne display the AutoGyro Calidus and Pitts S-2S Special “Muscle Biplane” respectively. Peter appeared on the Friday and really gave the crowd a great display bringing the gyro-copter close into the beach and drawing waves from the crowd. Rich’s displays over the weekend were again truly eye-catching whatever the weather!
Bring all the flying to an end on Sunday evening was Brendan O’Brien flying OTTO the Helicopter. OTTO is actually a Schweizer S300C training helicopter and has been heavily modified for air display work. OTTO was one of the most famous acts on the American display circuit and performed across the continent as well as making trips to Australia and the Middle East. For his evening display, Brendan fits a dizzying array of pyrotechnics to OTTO for a truly awesome twilight spectacular which would have been a truly fitting end to the show. Alas, despite appearing over the beach on time, the visibility and cloud were just too low for a safe display so the crowds only got a short glimpse of OTTO and Brendan before they headed back inland.
It was such a shame weather affected the displays so much on the Thursday and Sunday. When the weather is onside, Eastbourne is just about one of the best seaside display venues of the year for flying displays. Together with the ground shows, Airbourne is always a fun day out on the Sussex Coast and we hope the event has some better luck when it returns in 2019!