Shoreham Airshow 2006 Review
Saturday 16th September - Sunday 17th September
The weekend of the 16th and 17th of September saw the 17th Royal Air Forces Association Shoreham airshow. Time to get in contact with a few UKAR people and arrange to meet faces new and old. Airshows are not only about getting all the photographs you desire, but are also about sharing experiences with fellow enthusiasts, most of whom you have probably met through our website. So, I'll be getting my gear packed up, full of excitement and anticipation for the day's events, but not for the 185 mile drive.
attended on Saturday 16th on behalf of UK Airshow Review. All photography by the author.
It was with great pleasure that I attended my first ever air show at Shoreham by Sea, to join in the celebrations on Battle of Britain weekend, and what a fantastic venue it is too. As Britain's oldest airport, celebrating its 70th year, it boasts a magnificent back-drop of hills and the beautiful architecture of Lancing College's Chapel. Far more interesting photographically than many of the larger air shows, I might add.
It was hoped that this year's spectacular would push the total money raised by the Shoreham air show for the RAFA in excess of £1 million, fingers crossed that goal was achieved.
On arrival on the airfield I noticed that the positioning of the static aircraft was quite different from other events recently attended. Rather than a regimented line of barriers with all the aircraft facing the same way, they were arranged in a kind of circular fashion. This all added to the "hands on" feel and certainly aided the photographer with different lighting at varying times of the day.
However, as with most British events the weather is much more than just a lucky dip. The Saturday brought poor to fair visibility with a high degree of haze, not pleasing the photographers but not bothering the families too much, judging by the amount of attendees. Sadly though, a feature that has become all too common at today's air shows was everywhere to be seen. The windbreak and tent brigade were very much in evidence, staking out their little piece of the airfield where no one other than friends and family can set foot. It was like a scene from Carry on Camping, especially with one of UKAR's finest by my side. Superhero you say? Oh Matron.
The flying commenced around 11am with the Peter Teichman's Spitfire PRXI, taking off from a traditional grass strip, rather than "dirty" concrete as is the norm. In fact this was another of Shoreham's charms, using the grass strip allows the aircraft to take off and taxi back far closer than a conventional runway departure. Getting covered in grass and nearly blown away by a Spitfire turning around all adds to the fun of the fair.
The Spitfire was then quickly followed by the Yakovlevs, an exciting four ship display team flying three Yak 50's and one Yak 52. Normally based at Compton Abbass airfield in Wiltshire they were operating out of Shoreham for the weekend. They performed a dazzling display of skilful formation flying and produced a smoke heart in the sky together with some excellent opposition passes.
The Red Bull Matadors and Will Curtis both flew SU-26 aircraft on the Saturday and proved that they certainly know how to put these supremely agile aircraft through their paces, with breath-taking precision and stomach -churning manoeuvres.
The pace, and certainly the noise increased with the arrival of the truly beautiful Sea Vixen, flown by Brian Grant from its home at Bournemouth Airport. This aircraft was, from a personal point of view, the highlight of the show. Having never witnessed its unconventional lines at close quarters, I was really delighted to get the opportunity to shoot topside shots on several passes and for that, Mr Grant, I am most grateful.
The continuation of the nautical theme saw the arrival of the Sea Fury from RNAS Yeovilton. Sadly its jet powered companion, the Sea Hawk, couldn't make it, due to a lack of "safe" starter cartridges, but that's another story entirely.
Denny Dobson then thrilled the crowds with some high level aerobatics and some low level passes. In fact, they were that low that technically speaking it was less of a flyby and more of a very very fast taxi!!! Denny's mastery of the Extra is outstanding. Even when taxiing back to his parking position, he "flew" the tail of the aircraft, at just a few knots, impressive to say the least.
One of the shows larger participants took to the air in the shape of the PBY Catalina, a beautifully ugly and indeed quirky aircraft but a delight to photographers. Not bad for an aircraft that is nearly 66 years old. The 2006 display season saw the Catalina repainted and flown in the colours of USAAF OA-10A Catalina of the 8th Air Force 5th Emergency Rescue Squadron. There are so many different and interesting angles which can be captured with this aircraft in flight and its light paint scheme was certainly appreciated on such a misty day.
Team Merlin changed the tone for a while with a spirited display in the Merlin HC Mk3. To see a helicopter this size being thrown around the sky is a real attention grabber for the crowd. Devoid of last year's orange smoke and eccentric on a tractor, the display was still very impressive and provided some excellent photographic opportunities. The head-on shots towards the crowd and very steep nose down attitude are a firm favourite for many an aviation snapper.
The warbird theme then continued for most of the afternoon, hardly surprising, given that it was Battle of Britain weekend.
Peter Teichman's P51 Mustang, named "Jumpin Jacques" and P40 Kittyhawk then took centre stage. The Kittyhawk was restored in 1982 and became a resident at Duxford in 1985. To date, the airframe has only flown around 1100 hours and for an aircraft that is 62 years old, will ensure that she will be around for many years to come.
Jumpin' Jacques must be one of the most authentic Mustangs flying, as she has never had a major rebuild. This is evident from battle scars behind the pilot's position on both side and a puncture repair on the fin. There is something quite special about the Mustang, it somehow pushes the right buttons in flight and just looks "right".
The USAAF theme continued with the arrival from Duxford of the B17 Flying Fortress "Sally B". Sally B is the last airworthy B17 in the UK and has been in residence at Duxford since 1975, when its owner, the late Ted White, brought it to these shores. The aircraft was one of the last to be constructed and never saw active service. After being accepted in the USAAF on 19th June 1945 it was re-designated as a TB-17G and transferred to Wright Field, Ohio.
It then became an EG-17G and undertook a variety of experimental trials, before being sold to France in 1954 for survey and mapping work.
The feeling of the air show then took a turn from nostalgia to fun. Although from a similar era, the Utterly Butterly Stearman aircraft seem worlds apart from the low vis war birds. Resplendent in the now familiar livery of their sponsor, they never fail to impress. A coup for Shoreham was the appearance of not the normal two aircraft, but three on the Saturday and four on the Sunday!! As three Stearman take off, the noise from the supersonic tips of the propellers, can not only be heard, it can be felt. The routine was polished as always and far more exciting with three aircraft and of course, three lovely ladies! Quite how these young woman have the "ahem" nerve (that's the word I shall use) to stand on top of these aircraft is beyond me. At 150mph and pulling up to 4g, they really must like the taste of flies.
One of the next displays was the airfield attack by a Bf-108 Taifun, one of 885 built for the communication liaison and ambulance roles, so it was not altogether authentic that it was portrayed as an attack aircraft! Having said that, most people would simply see the German cross and be none the wiser. Nevertheless the Taifun (Typhoon) made some impressive passes and the pyrotechnics were quite spectacular. Add to that the excellent RAF period gunners on the ground and Dad's Army home guard look-alikes, this made the whole set piece really entertaining. Two Hurricanes came to the rescue and soon saw off the Taifun as they seemed to out turn it very quickly.
Not far behind was the Duxford Spitfire wing, with no less than six aircraft arriving in formation and performing some great "follow the leader" passes in front of Lancing College and once again delivering stunning topside views for not only the photographers but the crowd in general. Incidentally, this many Spitfires had not been seen at Shoreham since World War Two, making this another special occasion for this marvellous show.
After the Spitfires had thrilled the spectators, they all landed and positioned themselves along the crowd line. They were so close that you could almost touch them. It all added to the impression that you had not only been to an air show, but had participated in one.
It was now time for the modern RAF to flex its muscle. Having said that, it was the Tutor, flown by Flt Lt Chris Knight that commenced the modern section, less muscle, more little fingers. Perhaps that is a little unfair as the Tutor really does put on a fantastic display. The only criticism of RAF displays is that they all seem to be flown at 500 feet (apart from the hovering part of the Harrier display). This is of course for safety reasons, but does detract from the impact of what is a very good display. The Hawk is another victim of a small aircraft versus a 500 feet minimum display altitude. It was simply too high and too far away. This is in no way a criticism of the Shoreham show, as the same displays have been viewed at several air shows, such as Kemble and RIAT, and all were flown at the same height. Thank goodness the Tutor didn't display at Farnborough, that's all I shall say on that matter!
Another firm favourite for young and old is the BAe Systems Harrier GR7, this season flown by Flt Lt Pete Keenlyside (in a 20sqn machine on the day). The Harrier display is of course unique. No other aircraft can perform such manoeuvres and it is always the hover which is the most impressive part of the display. The noise of the aircraft in the hover is ear splitting and adds to the appeal of this certain crowd pleaser. Sadly, on the Saturday the excellent display finished and seconds later a "popping" sound was heard. The GR7 blew both of the main undercarriage tyres and came to a halt just off the end of the runway. Fortunately, RAF ground crew saved the day and had the GR7 up on jacks before too long.
It was the job of the second Typhoon of the day, to continue the modern military section. "Slightly" noisier and faster than its aged German counterpart (the BF-108 Taifun), the Typhoon F2 flown by Sqn Ldr Matt Elliot never fails to impress. The sheer power is plainly evident, particularly from a slow pass to a climb out. The turn rate of the Typhoon is outstanding and the way it barrel rolls in a "corkscrew" fashion can only be described as being equivalent to a car over steering around a corner. The Typhoon display is good, no, really good but it just lacks a couple of very fast passes. From a photographer's point of view, the Typhoon is fun to shoot. At any moment it can (conditions permitting) emit a whole cloud of vapour, maybe only for a split second, but if you manage to capture that moment and the image is sharp, you can come away from your day trip a very happy shopper!
One of the more unusual displays is an Extra 300 towing a glider. That doesn't sound too unusual, it happens at gliding clubs all week long. Not like this it doesn't. One of my fellow snappers on the day told me to watch this display closely and I scoffed. Once again I had had been hasty in my assumption. The Extra suddenly turned upside down!! Then the glider did!! Then once more. Excellent!!
The Fox glider, once free from its tether, performed a superb display and quite possibly gets the vote for the lowest loop/roll of the day, although Denny Dobson may question that claim?
The finale of the show saw the arrival of the BBMF from their home base at RAF Coningsby. As always, a polished routine followed, with the aircraft flying together and each also displaying individually. The three together make for a nostalgic sight and are always a fitting tribute to the men and women of the RAF who served and gave their lives during World War Two.
As the flying display came to an end, the crowd slowly left. Unlike some air shows where people rush to leave before the last act so they don't get stuck in the traffic, everyone seemed far more relaxed. They needn't have worried anyway, there was very little delay exiting the site and although a little slow, the traffic kept moving.
I came away from the air show with a real sense of enjoyment. I spent the day in great company in passable weather conditions with a great variety of aircraft to photograph. What more could you ask for? Well, perhaps a little less mist!
As I said at the start of this report, I had never been to RAFA Shoreham air show before. I will most definitely go back next year, why not give it a try?