Salthill Air Show 2007 Title Image

Salthill Air Show 2007 Review

Sunday 24th June

The 15th annual Salthill Air Show took place on 24th June 2007 in the spectacular setting of Salthill seafront, overlooking the famous Galway Bay. The show has grown from humble beginnings as a festival with a small aerial element to Ireland's largest free airshow, able to attract rare and exciting participation from throughout the world. For the visitor from the UK or Europe, Salthill also offers the opportunity to view rarely seen displays from the Irish Air Corps, which, combined with the legendary Irish hospitality, makes Salthill a very attractive proposition indeed.

Paul Dunn reports from the Emerald Isle for UKAR. Additional photography from David Dunn.

Salthill's organisers have a reputation for attracting unusual aircraft, many of which are rarely seen at shows in the UK, and this year was no exception, with the highlight of the show being the debut Irish appearance of the USAF Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration Team and their F-16s. In fact, the USAF attended in force, also sending a number of other aircraft to take part in the flying display, including some very rare aircraft indeed.

The Sunday of the show brought clear blue skies and plenty of optimism about the weather for the day of the show. The show itself was not to start until 1500, but several helicopters arrived in the morning for the static display. The 2 main attractions were large helicopters from the UK armed forces in the shape of a Merlin HC3 from 28(AC) Sqn RAF, and a Sea King ASaC.7 from the Fleet Air Arm. The early arrivals in the crowd were treated to a couple of low passes before the helicopters took their place in one of the seafront parks, allowing members of the public very close access to these large machines. The park was also to act as a "taxi rank" for crews staying in the Salthill area, with helicopters coming and going throughout the day ferrying crews from their accommodation to their aircraft, either at Shannon or Carnmore Airports.

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As the day went on, the weather started to get somewhat more threatening, and there were several heavy showers, although this did not seem to deter the crowd too much, with many people taking their places on the promenade and the beach. The show got underway on schedule with the appearance of an Aer Arran ATR 72. This particular aircraft has only recently been delivered and was presented in a new "Celtic rings" colour scheme. The aircraft made several low passes in clean and dirty configuration, while doing the crew did their best to avoid some of the heavy showers now crossing the bay, and the aircraft made a spectacular and unusual sight low over the water.

With the ATR72 display over, it was the turn of a local man Jim Griffin to fly a display in the Yak-52, the first of 2 Yak demos during the day. Jim gave a good display in the bright yellow painted Yak, although the small size of the aircraft meant that it was slightly lost on the long crowd-line along the promenade.

No such problems for the next item. A slight change of pace brought the first contribution from the RAF to the flying display, the Eurofighter Typhoon F2. Flt Lt Jim Walls gave the crowd a superb display, with much use of afterburners, which showed up very well against the dark sky. Having seen the Typhoon display at Duxford earlier in the year, I was impressed by how well it worked in the sea front environment, especially the high speed arrival and closing fast pass and hard pull up into the low overcast, which resulted in the formation of lots of vapour from the topside of the wing.

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The weather caused the cancellation of the next display, which was supposed to be a parachute display by the Black Knights, the Irish Air Corps display team. They had intended to jump from an Alouette III helicopter, but high winds associated with a passing shower led to the sensible decision to abandon their appearance.

The next item on the agenda brought the first Irish Air Corps (IAC) participation, with a spirited display from the IAC's maritime patrol aircraft, the CN235 Persuader.. The aircraft itself was returning from a patrol mission over the Atlantic, with the crew taking time to display the aircraft on their way back to Baldonnel airfield.. With the crew obviously at home at low level over the water, in bad weather, the display was tightly flown and remained close to the crowd throughout, and was a very welcome and unusual sight for the crowd.

There was more IAC participation next in the form of the EC135 training helicopter, one of 2 operated by 302 Sqn at Baldonnel. The first of several displays from Irish operated helicopter, the agility of the EC135 was impressive, and the display was very well flown.

The organisers of the Salthill Airshow, work very hard to bring something unusual to their show every year, and possibly the highlight in 2007 was their securing of not one but two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 81 FS of the 52 FW, USAFE. The squadron is normally based at Spangdahlem in Germany, but are currently operating from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, UK. Two aircraft were brought across to take part in the show, their only appearance in a flying display in Europe this year!

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The pair appeared in tight formation, before breaking and flying a series of demonstration flypast s, before reforming together for a final paired pass with gear, flap and airbrakes all deployed. The A-10 display was not particularly low, or really a display as such, rather a series of flypasts, but the rarity of the appearance still meant that their participation was very welcome and one of the highlights of the day.

The next display was Dave McCoy in the Yak-50. The timing of this display was very unfortunate as it coincided with the heaviest shower of a day of heavy showers, and most people watched from underneath the safety of umbrellas, but Dave still gave a good display, especially considering the poor visibility and wind associated with the shower...

After a slight improvement in the weather, it was time for more USAFE participation in the form of the very rare C-21A. These aircraft are based at Ramstein, Germany, and operated by the USAFE for staff transport and liason duties. Based on the famous Learjet, the aircraft's appearance in the flying display was extremely rare and most welcome. As with the A-10 display, the aircraft remained fairly high throughout and conducted a series of flypasts, but again its rarity made it a very welcome participant.

The newest aircraft on display took the stage next. The IAC are in the process of receiving 4 Augusta Westland AW139 helicopters for support of the army. These highly advanced helicopters are the source of great pride within the Irish military and will be a useful addition to the service for many years to come. The example on display had previously arrived in the static park before flying a very impressive display, with the white painted rotors catching the rays of the sun, which was trying desperately to break through between the showers! After completing its display, the aircraft arrived in the static park, allowing the Irish public a close view of their country's newest and most capable helicopter.

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The next period of the display was blessed with the best weather of the day. Firstly there was the usual technically excellent display from the RAF Tucano, flown by Flt Lt Bobby Moore. As usual, the display was well received although it did seem somewhat distant from the crowd in comparison with some of the earlier displays.

Also benefiting from some sunlight was the Sikorsky S-61 SAR helicopter from the Irish Coast Guard, which put in a great display in conjunction with the Galway lifeboat. Brightly painted in red and white, one can only imagine what a tremendous sight this large, impressive helicopter must be for the many grateful people rescued by the crews of the Irish Coast Guard every year. The helicopter and crew are based at Shannon airport and along with other helicopters based at Dublin, Waterford and Sligo receive around 400 calls a year, to come to the aid of those in peril on the seas, and their appearance at the show enabled the crowd to appreciate what a fantastic and hazardous job these crews do 365 days a year.

The best weather of the day coincided with the appearance of the Blades display team with their Extra 300 aircraft. The team put in a tremendous and very well received display over the sea front. Having first seen the team display last year, and been very impressed at the time, I was further impressed by how much their display had improved in the intervening 12 months. This improvement is hardly surprising though, given the extent of the experience gathered together in the teams pilots, all former fast jet weapons instructors and including former members of the Red Arrows.

The Blades were received extremely well by the large crowd, who remained enthusiastic all day despite regular soakings, and some dark rumours circulating the crowd regarding the cancellation of the main attraction of the show. Every cross over and flick was greeted by audible gasps form the crowd and on conclusion of the display, the team received a spontaneous ovation from the grateful crowd.

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With impeccable timing, just as the Blades finished their display, the heavens opened once again, and there was a brief pause in the flying program, before the headline act took to the air. The Thunderbirds' commentary team took the opportunity to play Rihanna's "Umbrella" through their PA during the shower which raised a few smiles in a crowd eager for the weather to clear to allow the Thundebirds to display.

On several occasions during the day, the commentator had felt it necessary to reassure the crowd that the Thunderbirds would be displaying, despite rumours sweeping the crowd that the weather had forced their cancellation. The timing of this particular shower sounded like it caused some anxious moments for the team, and there was quite a gap in the display. This gap was actually very sensible as the team delayed their departure from Shannon to allow the worst of the shower to go through, and the relief was evident in the commentator's voice when he was able to announce that he had been informed that the Thunderbirds were now taxiing out for departure and would be appearing imminently.

Now, like many others, I have raised a cynical English eyebrow at the Thunderbirds and some of their perceived "excesses" in the past. I have been lucky enough to witness their display on 2 occasions in the past and been impressed, so I was trying hard to retain an open mind about their display…. And I have to say I was impressed. The whole team were obviously thrilled to be displaying in Ireland for the first time, and their own commentator had taken the trouble to learn a brief introduction to their display in Gaelic, which was well received.

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When the team appeared in the distance before curving around behind the crowd for their arrival from crowd rear, the relief and excitement in the crowd was tangible. The sense of occasion was not lost on the crowd or the team, who seemed determined to put in a great performance on their Irish debut.

The display itself was very good - I always feel it unfair to compare the Thunderbirds with teams like the Red Arrows or Frecce Tricolore, as they are trying to do different things. The Thunderbirds display mainly consists of very tight formation flypasts of the main formation, interspersed with individual and paired maneuvers from the other 2 aircraft, and they are very good at what they do. In fact, the main formation fly one of the closest formations of any team which I have seen. Admittedly, there is not a lot of variety in the formations they fly, and they always seem more comfortable in the 4-ship diamond than any of their other formations.

But, airshow flying is all about entertaining the crowd, and the Thunderbirds certainly did that. Their display was flown in conjunction with a commentary, which was fairly restrained when compared with some of the USAF solo demos witnessed in the past in Europe, and also some well chosen music, which never became too "cheesy" or embarrassing!

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With the display over, many people stayed out to watch the departure of the helicopters form the static area. It was then that the only negative incident of the day took place, when the RAF Merlin lost an emergency exit door on take off. The door fell onto the beach, injuring several people, which was a very unfortunate end to the day.. Fortunately, their injuries were fairly minor and it is to be hoped that the incident does not reflect badly on either the airshow or the RAF's helicopter crews and cause a change in policy for either.

Overall, the Salthill Airshow was another great success for the organising team. Despite being cursed with some really atrocious weather over the course of the 3 hour display, only one item had to be cancelled due to the weather, that being the appearance of the Black Knights parachute team. This was a very impressive fact in view of the heavy showers that plagued the day. The overall impression I got of the display was of a very relaxed and flexible attitude on the part of the organisers, but backed up by very impressive and professional organisation.

The team organising the show should be applauded for their continuing determination to bring something different to the Irish public. In particular, securing the USAF participation was a real coup. The weather was the only downside to the whole show, and that is the one thing the organisers cannot affect. I can't recommend a trip to Salthill highly enough - a great show, with plenty of variety and some real gems, held in a beautiful part of Ireland, where a very friendly welcome awaits...