RAFA Shoreham Airshow Report

Saturday 20th August - Sunday 21st August 2011

The airshows at Shoreham have gained a reputation for being friendly, family oriented events, held in aid of the Royal Air Force Association and the Wings Appeal. It was therefore especially saddening to witness the almost washed-out event in 2010 when very few of the displays were able to perform. Thankfully 2011 witnessed far better conditions allowing for a full day's flying on both days, which even included brief spells of blue sky.

Phil Whalley travelled to the south coast to cover the Sunday of the two day show.

Vulcan XH558's fuel tank issues led to it being replaced at Shoreham by the far too seldom seen de Havilland Sea Vixen G-CVIX now owned by Drilling Systems Ltd and operated from Bournemouth. To many this was an added bonus with the Sea Vixen having had little chance in showing off the smart Royal Navy scheme applied in 2007. Its display was a highlight of the show. Flown by Simon Hargreaves, the routine included a high speed top side pass with flashes of vapour, which just emphasised the fact that this high performance classic needs a wider audience. The impressive vintage jet line-up was added to by the equally revered Miss Demeanour and the Gnat Display Team's pair of Folland built trainers, although both the originally billed Strikemaster and Vampire were also unable to attend.

For a relatively small show Shoreham really does stand out as an excellent day's entertainment, not the least of which part is the Battle of Britain airfield attack set-piece which has become synonymous with the event. Clive Denney in the Me108 and John Romain in the Buchon gave the airfield a right hammering - with bomb 'explosions' and pyrotechnic 'strafing' runs - whilst the ground defences filled the air with air bursting anti-aircraft fire, and Dad's Army let loose with everything they had - which was a hell of a lot more than I remember them ever having for the TV show! So often with simulated scenarios such as this there is far too much of a delay with the pyros, or a total lack of choreography with the aircraft, so as to make the set-piece unbelievable. This was easily the best such attack sequence I've witnessed. Two Hurricanes managed to get airborne whilst the 'attack' was still in progress, and were followed by a three Spitfire scramble. The subsequent dogfight was followed by a number of formation passes and tail-chases - that of the three Spitfires being particularly of note.

Other warbird content at Shoreham included the familiar pair of Hardwick Warbirds - P-51 Mustangs Janie and Marinell - contrasting with the much rarer sight of two of Peter Teichman's Hangar 11 stable in the air together, with the owner flying his Spitfire PRXI alongside Stu Goldspink in Hurricane MkIIB 'Pegs'. Larger warbirds were represented by B-17 Sally B, the Plane Sailing Catalina and the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, with accompanying fighters. Now finally able to make regular airshow appearances, the RNHF Swordfish was especially good to see, as was a home based T-6 Texan flown by John Drake. The Great War Team filled the sky with a whirling dervish of First World War aircraft, all seemingly intent on getting onto the tail of another. It is an incredibly intense choreographed set-piece, illustrating the extraordinary manoeuvrability of these small machines.

The Breitling Wingwalkers attended in force, with the full four-ship on the Saturday and three on Sunday, whilst other civilian teams included the SWIP pair, and the related Glider FX team, The Yakovlevs, The Pitts Pair and The Blades - winners of the 'Display of the Weekend'. Perhaps also applicable to this group is Christian Moullec with his accompanying geese formation, which is very popular with the crowd, but unable to repeat his Saturday appearance due to the higher winds on the Sunday. Similarly the efforts at flying by Brendan O'Brien's alter ego 'Captain Boogaloo', with crazy flying and an attempted truck-top landing went down well. Justyn Gorman displayed in two aircraft which initially look to be entirely different in capability, but in fact when put through its paces the American Champion Decathlon was much nearer in performance than you'd think to Justyn's Extra 300L which he had appeared in earlier.

The RAF contribution consisted of just the solo - and distant - Tutor and Tucano, plus the Falcons parachute team who made their salute after their jump to ice dance champion Jayne Torvill, patron for the event. Jules Fleming displayed on the Saturday in the RAF Hawk, but was unable to attend on the Sunday because of the grounding of the RAF's Hawk fleet in the aftermath of the crash at Hurn of the Red Arrows' example.

The weather gave Shoreham Airshow the chance to shine again - and that it did, hopefully raising plenty of cash for its worthy causes. It also gave the Sea Vixen the chance to show airshow organisers that there is an alternative classic jet able to get people to their feet, clapping wildly.