Airbourne: Eastbourne International Airshow

Thursday 15th August - Sunday 18th August 2019

August is the time for fun, frolics and flying by the seaside. A welcome, more relaxed series of weeks following on from the likes of the larger military shows. Eastbourne plays host to one of the largest of these with its Airbourne International Airshow. Regularly attracting participation from fast jet displays or display teams from the continent, the show is known and loved for its international flavour and varied viewing points, from the Eastbourne Pier to the east and Beachy Head to the west of the display line.

Scott Perry reports on the weekday editions of this year's Airbourne for UK Airshow Review. Additional photography from Dan Butcher, who focused on the movements for the airshow at North Weald over the two weekend days.

The Airbourne week runs from Thursday to Sunday, offering a differing experience over each of the days. A smaller selection of displays begins the week on Thursday; growing on Friday and reaching full capacity for the weekend shows, culminating in a Sunday Evening display slot. The weekdays in particular present a relaxed affair, with a less busy crowd than one may otherwise encounter. Especially this year with the Red Arrows' absence seemingly affecting the strength of the crowd – although that could also be due to the less than promising weather forecast for the Friday. As it turned out, the flying display continued uninterrupted by the weather and, luckily, without those who braved the windy conditions getting wet. The anticipated downpour waiting until about half an hour after the display.

Due to the aforementioned absence of the Red Arrows, it was the Breitling Jet Team that the show turned to as its headline act. Pleasingly, the team were booked to display on all four days of the show, unlike the show's other international participants – the T-33 Shooting Star and Mig-15 from the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron – who were only down to display on the Saturday and Sunday of Airbourne. Jacques Bothelin's team, in the final year of their Breitling sponsorship, put on a typically stylish routine, complete with their flaring finale, adding a real spectacular moment to the show. The team's display stretching out to the west, making them one of the few acts for which the Beachy Head viewing point proved worthwhile for photographers. Beachy Head is renowned and loved as a place to watch the show from and, in the past, to photograph the participants on the run in to their display, offering a unique perspective of the aircraft over the sea. Alas, following new regulations post Shoreham 2015, the aircraft no longer come close enough for photographers to benefit, instead disappearing high and far out from the cliff tops. However, the hill between the Beachy Head lighthouse and town centre, where the show operates a park and view site for a very reasonable £6, represents a great place to get views of larger aircraft and display teams as they perform their displays.

Closer into the town and to the eastern end of the display line Eastbourne pier offers another unusual perspective of an airshow, away from the typical crowd line. The pier offers the chance to get closer to the displays than from the beach and looking down the A-axis as the aircraft display parallel to the coastline. Once again, the aircraft no longer come as close to the crowd as in times gone by, however, acts such as the Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers still have great presence here. Display teams like these thrive in environments such as Eastbourne, with an adoring public enjoying the spectacle of multiple aircraft sharing the airspace and operating in formation with and in opposition to each other. Acts such as the Wingwalkers and the Blades are often dismissed by enthusiasts as 'filler' acts, but here at the seaside they come into their own. The smoke from the Stearman pair, the size and presence of the two aircraft filling the airspace with their dynamic routine and imposing sound, the action-packed display was a joy to behold and possibly the most engaging of the day.

Airshows represent a great opportunity for the Royal Air Force to show its wares and inspire the next generation of aviators. With the Red Arrows out of the country, the other support that the Royal Air Force provides to airshows has increased importance in fulfilling this role this summer. One of the RAF's other crowd favourites, the Typhoon FGR4, did its duty by putting in a commanding performance. The jet may have been camouflaged well against the grey sky, but the sound and glowing afterburners really stood out from the rest of the acts on the programme. The RAF's other presence came in the shape of the Shorts Tucano T1 in its final year on the display circuit. Once again, the vantage point of the pier offered a stunning view of the trainer's final pass as the aircraft approached and pulled up into a roll. An impressive sight to see head on, rather than a typical side on view.

The spectacle of an airshow is as much about sound as sight and nothing typified that more than the P-51D Mustang 'Miss Helen'. Its distinctive whistle made great impact as the aerobatic routine was performed, although a few more low passes along the length of the crowd line would have been welcome. The graceful aerobatic routines are enjoyable to watch; however, a closer view of the aircraft is always desirable, built into the routine. Further warbird action was presented in the forms of the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation's Sea Fury T20, which suffered from technical issues and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, who were unable to attend due to the weather. Classic Jet action was provided in the form of a solo display from one of the Strikemaster Pair, that are a familiar sight on the display circuit. The two pilots sharing display duties on the weekdays of the show with Mark Petrie displaying on Thursday and Ollie Suckling on Friday; coming together to perform their pair display over the weekend, when the pilots were joined in the cockpit by Sgt Hurri Cane – a teddy bear who has been flying in an amazing array of aircraft and will be part of a raffle, along with his log book and photo album, at the start of October to raise money for the Royal Air Force Association.

One of the weekend's main talking points was undoubtedly the landing of one of the Tigers Parachute Team into the crowd, rather than the sea as planned. Happily, it was soon reported that the parachutist only suffered minor injuries and grazes from the landing. The team are a regular sight at Eastbourne, opening the show by dropping into the sea, adding a different dynamic to the display than at a land based show.

The show may not have offered a great deal of unique or special displays to entice the majority of enthusiasts to the show on the Friday and a few more will have been tempted by the additions for the weekend days of the show, such as the classic jets from Norway and the new Ultimate Fighters Team. Ultimately though, that is not the show's prime audience. The show's objective is to entertain, to educate and to inspire those who turn up to watch the show, whether as an enthusiast, family or causal passer-by. The lack of international military participation that we are often treated to at Airbourne certainly left the show without a certain punch and prevents this from becoming a standout year in the show's history. That is what Airbourne is renowned for and has built its reputation on. However, the show's unique viewing points give it a unique offering and character and makes it one of the finest seaside shows of the year.