In April we reviewed one of the first major ‘virtual airshows’ of the 2020 Display Season, the US based ‘Socially DISTANT Airshow’ from the team behind the Show Center Podcast and LiveAirshowTV. In June, it was the UK’s turn with the ‘Armchair Airshow’ orchestrated by Aerobility, a charity which allows people of all abilities and backgrounds to experience flight in light aircraft. Held over a single day, the production went beyond the normal air display industry for a varied four hours of aviation fun and inspiration.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports.

Understandably during the pandemic restrictions a lot of focus has been on the event organisers losing out on the valuable income they would have generated for their own businesses or the wider local economy. However, many charities have lost huge amounts of income and publicity as various events have been cancelled. One such charity is Aerobility which not only often hosts its own events, but is often seen at airshows sometimes with its own aircraft raising funds and awareness to support its aims of offering disabled people, without exception, the opportunity to fly an aeroplane.

During the ‘lockdown’ the charity has hosted a number of online events including zoom based interviews with many personalities from aviation. However, the Armchair Airshow was their biggest and most ambitious event to date with fours hour of content. While other virtual airshows have understandably stuck to airshow performers, Aerobility went much further with a much broader range of aviation and space flight represented from both the past and perhaps the future. Like many of the other livestream events recently, it was free to watch but donations were welcomed via SMS. Alongside the broadcast, Aerobility also ran an auction and a lottery and by the end of the broadcast over £10,000 had been raised. With later views and the continuation of the auction the final result will hopefully be much higher.

The Armchair Airshow’s presentation team would have been very familiar to UK airshow goes with George Bacon joined by former Red Arrows/current Blades pilot Mike Ling plus Jon Windover. They split the afternoon’s broadcast into themes with sections dedicated to Power, Rotary, Heritage and Inspiration with each of the presenters having their own themes to lead on.

Despite some technical hitches which interrupted the broadcast at times, there was really some superb content and insight into the world of aviation and spaceflight throughout the afternoon. It was particularly pleasing to see so much international support. Perhaps the highlight of the international support came from NASA with a behind the scenes look at the final launch of the Space Shuttle alongside commentary from Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson and NASA Launch Director Mike Leinbach. There was also some fascinating coverage of the Breitling Orbiter III and the Solar Impulse projects with input from Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones.

The United States Air Force supported the airshow very well with contributions from the F-22A Raptor, the F-35A Lightning II and the F-16 Viper Demo Teams. Both the F-35A and F-16 pilots both personalised their contributions for the show which was a nice touch. Another special interview recorded for the event was with the Polish MiG-29 Fulcrum solo display pilot talking through his 2018 display at the RAF Cosford Air Show. The Belgian Air Force A109BAi Demo Team went one further with a very nice sequence of footage with a live talk through from pilot Jo Jacobs. Adding to the fast jet line-up was the RAF Typhoon Display Team with Flt Lt Jim Peterson giving a very insightful look at his 2019 display.

As well as the modern hardware there were some great contributions from the heritage sector with the Army Historic Aircraft Flight Trust, Avro Vulcan XH558 and Harrier GR7. There was also a section called ‘Lightning Strikes Thrice’ with footage of Red Bull’s P-38 Lightning, the English Electric Lightning and the F-35B Lightning. This retrospective also included some personal insights into the both the ‘jet Lightnings’ from Geoff Brindle and High Nichol. However, a personal favourite from the heritage section for me was the look at the Norwegian CF-104D Starfighter project with pilot Eskil Amdal.

UK display teams were not left out with interviews with the Blades Aerobatic Team, the Airborne Pyrotechnics display team plus GliderFX. Both the Blades and GliderFX showed off some very nice 360° camera footage from their travels in the Middle East.

Aerobility themselves had some very inspiration pieces in the production with a look back to their flypast over the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony, the Bader’s Bus Company Display Team and the incredible story of Jessica Cox.

Closing out the afternoon were the Red Arrows with both Red 1 Sqn Ldr Martin Pert and Red 6 jon Bond joining the show. As well as some of the more familiar footage from their North American toue they showed off some of the footage collected just days earlier when they flew with La Patrouille de France to mark the 80th Anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s broadcast from the BBC in London to the people of France.

Aside from the technical gremlins, the Armchair Airshow was a superb effort from all involved. In particular the personal touch from so many of the contributors made for a unique and enjoyable event in these difficult and strange times.