Airbourne: Eastbourne International Airshow 2009 Review
Thursday 13th August - Sunday 16th August
B&Bs, Retirement homes, geriatrics and the General Electric CFM-56/F-108 turbofan! Yes, the popular seaside show, Airbourne, returns. This year with continually slashed defence budgets and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, hopes were not high with many expecting a loss of quality airshow performers at Eastbourne. These worries have been compounded by Airbourne's inability over the last four years to attract a major sponsor to finally take over where the CSMA left off. As a result, the organisers have tried to raise finance in a variety of other ways. Last year it was decided to charge a £5 entry fee to the flight line sections of the beach; a measure that was met with angry opposition by many travelling to the show, as well as locals, but with last year's show having made a whopping £380,000 loss, it needs to be self-funding this year if it is to continue. The desperation to bring money in was echoed by the commentary team, who were keen to emphasise the urgent need for funding. It's no exaggeration to say that Airbourne's future is very much hanging in the balance. Just days after the event, The Eastbourne Herald stated - "A chamber spokesperson said, "Put simply, under the worst circumstances, there will not be an event in 2010 – a situation that those of us committed to Eastbourne and its prosperity would find unpalatable."
reports from the south coast. Photography by the author and
2009's fundraising was carried out in the traditional way, with people shaking buckets and collecting donations around the town. In addition, Airbourne introduced a scheme whereby the flight times each day were only handed out to those who had purchased a programme for the four day event, at a cost of £3. The programme contained four vouchers that airshow goers could exchange for the flight times. I did this myself and despite being a simple system that proved no trouble whatsoever, sadly, my perception was that very few people had paid out the £3 asking price for a programme as many of those around us were unaware of flight times or the order of the flying programme.
So with the do-or-die threats looming, could Eastbourne live up to its billing as the premier seaside show in the UK? There is certainly no shortage of absent acts that were available for booking, none more high profile than the Vulcan, which would have been some sight from the Pier! Many enthusiasts had also suggested the likes of the Hunter "Miss Demeanour" and the Sea Vixen as ideal additions to the flying programme. We must presume that finance was the overriding reason that these acts did not attend. However, any reservations over unbooked acts were thankfully swept away when the show began on the Thursday as the opening day was blessed with near perfect airshow weather, bequeathing the serious aviation photographers and the general public with bright blue canvas on which to watch the airborne theatre unfold.
Eastbourne always offers the public a varied show and this year was no different. Thursday's slightly slower show still boasted the likes of the Team Guinot, the fabulous John Romain, displaying a Dutch marked Spitfire TrMk9 Spitfire alongside the heavy metal of a Mildenhall based KC-135R, who have been very supportive of airshows in the UK this summer. The KC-135 gave a couple of respectable flypasts flying with the boom down and low, for a Stratotanker, past the Pier then performing a tight turn to face crowd centre before banking away to depart. The display on the Friday was not quite as tight and during the manouvering on the aircrafts second pass many residents of Parisian suburbs may have witnessed the tanker lining up. Sadly the KC-135 was only available to display on the Thursday and Friday. John Romain deserves a special mention though for what was a really high energy Spitfire display, contrasting the more sedate showing from the BBMF; constantly manouvering the beautiful aircraft during his performance, John maximised the amount of time in front of the crowd.
The undoubted star of the flying programme though was F-16 of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Having often supported Airbourne in the past with, amongst other aircraft, their PC-7 trainer, the RNLAF returned in 2009 with their outstanding F-16 display, which shows off the red-blooded Viper to its full. The dynamic and precise flying on show from Ralph 'Sheik' Aarts was everything a fast jet display should be; powerful and 'in your face'! 'Sheik' showed off the impressive turning radius of the Viper as well as introducing some aeriel ballet with a manoeuvre described by the Dutch commentator as the "washing machine", which saw Sheik climb high into the deep blue sky, while rolling the aircraft with only one of the wingtip smoke generators lit, before spiralling back down in a similar manner, leaving two coils of smoke in the sky. The display caught the imagination of many in the crowd on the Pier who exclaimed loud gasps of awe throughout the demonstration. Display flying at its best.
As good as the F-16 was though, understandably, much of the pre-show promotion centred around the display of the Red Arrows. Present for all four days of the event, they certainly did not disappoint, flying the impressive high show on Thursday and Friday and the lower show for the remainder, on Saturday and Sunday. The displays featured all of the precision one would expect of the Red Arrows, while those at the end of the Pier had a far more intimate experience, especially with syncro-pair, who flashed past the Pier giving those standing next to Camera-Obscura the impression that they were nearly within touching distance.
Eastbourne itself is a very friendly seaside town, perhaps most famous for the amount of pensioners that retire there. However it was probably best that none settled into their comfy-chairs for a snooze after 6PM on Friday because if they had, they would have been in for loud awakening from the sound of two EJ200 afterburning turbofans as the RAF Typhoon started the much anticipated evening show, which was a first for Eastbourne. Solos from the Typhoon, Spitfire and Peter Teichman in his beautiful Hurricane Bomber were joined by the Gnat Pair and The Blades on a wonderful sunny evening. The Typhoon was flown with typical aplomb by Flt Lt Scott Loughran, who displayed the aggressive handling characteristics and the high alpha envelope of the aircraft to its full. The crowd were also treated some rather spectacular atmospheric conditions as huge clouds of vapour hugged the Typhoon's upper surfaces as Flt Lt Loughran threw the aircraft into its tight turns. With The Blades finishing off with a precise set of formation flying, the evening display was a real success with many of the aviation photographers remarking positively about the light as the setting sun lit up the aircraft. Many of the general public also remained behind to watch the evening display. Another success for Airbourne that will hopefully be repeated next year.
The show featured two main commentators, George Bacon and Brendan O'Brien, who described the event with an ever enthusiastic tone which again helped to engage and involve the public in the more complex facts of the aircraft that were displaying. George and Brendan were joined by several guest commentators throughout the show, including Squadron Leader Graeme "Baggers" Bagnall of the Red Arrows and Katherine Nicoll of The Blades, but perhaps the most entertaining of them all was Captain Chris "Omelet" Vaneker who described the Dutch F-16 routine, "Omelet" explained the pilot's callsign but refused to divulge the reasons behind his own, revealing nothing more besides the fact that "it's not a polite story!" He also went on to describe the spiralling 'washing machine' manoeuvre by saying; "You feel like a monkey who's been thrown in a washing machine." A worrying thought for monkeys around the world. He also went on to passionately explain how the RNLAF F-16 Team likes to display in the UK as it is an "airshow nation".
The excellent displays continued on Saturday and Sunday in slightly cloudier weather, at least untill mid afternoon on both days, however, this had no effect the standard of the excellent performances. With the KC-135 unavailable at the weekend, the very photogenic F-86 Sabre substituted in what may be one of her last shows this side of the Atlantic, and on Sunday a T-6 Texan also performed.
The Eastbourne Herald reported record crowds attended Airbourne 2009, although no official figures have been released yet, so tentatively, we may be looking forward to a show at Eastbourne in 2010. Airbourne is always a great show and this year was no different. If next year's show matches this year's it should be pencilled in to not only the diaries of the Eastbourne Council but also the diaries of all serious aviation enthusiasts.