Airbourne: Eastbourne International Airshow returned in August marking its 29th anniversary. Always a hugely popular event, Airbourne brought in audiences from across the UK for four days of air displays and ground entertainment in the East Sussex resort. There was some good support from the Royal Air Force and a familiar mix of civilian favourites and historic aircraft in the air.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Eastbourne with its view over the English Channel and the surrounding beauty of the Sussex Downs is a perfect place for an air display. Airbourne is one of two key events held in the seaside resort – the other being the International Tennis Tournament. The fact that Airbourne is celebrating its 29th anniversary is a testament to its importance to Eastbourne and the high regard the event holds amongst the air display community.
It is however an event having to adjust to the time. Councils have less money to spend overall and are looking for new ways to fund their key events. Like other major seafront airshows, Airbourne is moving towards self-funding through the sales of souvenir brochures, car parking spaces, grandstand seating, hospitality, and so on. In 2022, this proved successful with the event passing the threshold set that year for the event to continue into 2023. It however has not been easy with costs associated with the running of the event getting ever higher. Hopefully, those attending have been generous once again and Eastbourne’s target for the 30th Anniversary show is met.
Complimenting the flying was a whole range of ground entertainment. The Western Lawns were home to the traditional military village displays and trade shows. The revamped Bandstand was also back in action throughout the four days with live music in the evenings and as well as shows such as The Invisible Man in Eastbourne theatres.
Putting the flying together over four days is never an easy task. Eastbourne is quite remote from the operating airfields such as Shoreham, Lydd, Southend, Headcorn, and Redhill. The opening two days were complicated further by some tricky weather and other circumstances beyond the control of the organisers. Thursday saw the loss of the Red Arrows while the entire Hawk fleet underwent checks and strong gusty winds lashed the Sussex Coast resulting in the Tigers Army Parachute Display cancelling their drop. Friday started wet but it soon dried up. Unfortunately, the rain and humidity left a persistent sea mist that never really cleared, though the Chinook, Red Arrows, Typhoon, and Tigers all managed to put something on towards the end of the day. Sadly, it did cost Eastbourne some rare airshow participation from a USAF KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall. By the weekend, the weather cleared with two beautiful days with clear blue skies drawing in massive crowds.
The cornerstone of the Eastbourne flying displays is support from the Royal Air Displays. Despite missing the first day, the Red Arrows headlined the line-up drawing the biggest crowds of the show. Friday saw the team do their best in very trying circumstances with the sea mist while both Saturday and Sunday’s display enjoyed gin clear skies.
But perhaps the highlight of the RAF participation and perhaps the whole show was the combined displays from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the RAF Typhoon Display Team. The BBMF presented their standard three-ship to open the combination with the Avro Lancaster flanked by Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910 and Hawker Hurricane IIc PZ865. However, following the solo displays from the fighters, the Avro Lancaster returned with the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 flown by Flt Lt Matt Brighty in close line-astern formation. The pairing performed a number of passes before performing an eye-catching on-crowd split with the Typhoon powering into its solo display. On Saturday, the Typhoon produced some spectacular vapour as it turned and burned in the blue skies.
Joining the Typhoon was the Grob Tutor T1 display flown by Flt Lt David-John Gibbs. It has been several years since the Tutor has displayed at Eastbourne and ‘Gibbo’ flew a very sweet sequence of flowing aerobatics showing the nimble handling qualities of the elementary training.
Completing the RAF contribution to the show was a display from the Boeing Chinook HC6A on Friday. Appearing out of the low sea mist, a huge roar went up from the eastern beaches as the Chinook pulled up to start its sequence after a frustrating few hours of nothing happening. Sadly, it was over all too quickly as a Chinook suffered a technical fault during its display.
The final military display in the flying was the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team. They were bolstered with additional jumpers from the Royal Logistics Corps and gave some exciting displays as they jumped onto Eastbourne beaches at the end of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s displays.
The civilian line-up for the flying displays became quite a fluid cast list due to the withdrawal of the Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers and some serviceability issues. Team Raven took up the mantle of providing the formation aerobatics display from the Blades with great aplomb with an attention-grabbing routine in their Vans RV4s.
Some graceful solo aerobatics came from Rod Dean in the Redhill-based Slingsby T67M-160 Firefly despite the very bumpy conditions. By contrast, Rich Goodwin tore up the skies with his jet-equipped Pitts S-2S Special. The clear blue canvas allowed Rich to indulge himself with some smoke art leaving a perfect white spiral of smoke over Eastbourne as the little Biplane powered itself skywards. He was also able to perform some quite loud and visibly stationary hovers in the brisk winds before rolling off into forward flight!
Eastbourne has always had good involvement from historic aircraft operators. Opening the show on Thursday was Supermarine Spitfire IX RR232 flown by Neil Parkinson. The Spitfire was a late addition to cover for cancellations but was the perfect opening for the Airbourne weekend with a smooth aerobatic display of a classic piston fighter. The Rolls Royce Heritage Flight added to the collection of Spitfires with its Spitfire PRXIX piloted by Mark Discombe joining the North American P-51D Mustang flown by Alistair Williams.
One of the stand-out displays of the weekend came from Steve Jones flying the Hawker Fury II from Fighter Aviation Engineering Ltd. The Fury is an incredibly potent aircraft, but Steve flew a very polished and tight routine in the big piston fighter.
Saturday and Sunday also saw some classic jets join the flying displays. Both days saw the duo of BAC Strikemaster Mk82s from the North Wales Military Aviation Services perform in the Sussex skies with a routine of close formation and opposition aerobatic figures. Sadly, technical issues forced the de Havilland Vampire FB52 from the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron missed Saturday’s display but it was fixed in time for its own smooth aerobatic display on Sunday in the hands of Kenneth Aarkvisla.
While it may have been a familiar line-up, Eastbourne still produced some very enjoyable afternoon flying displays. The Great British public seemed to agree with some massive crowds flocking to the Sussex resort, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. Next year Airbourne should celebrate its 30th Anniversary and we cannot wait to see what that brings.