Bournemouth Air Festival

Thursday 29th August - Sunday 1st September 2019

With the Red Arrows departing on their North American tour, 2019 from the outset looked like a challenging year for the Bournemouth Air Festival. With some criticism over the last couple of years about the lack of awe-inspiring displays and ill luck in securing the RAF Typhoon, it could be argued the organisers were fighting a losing battle even before the show started. Nevertheless, with no Red Arrows, it provided Bournemouth a chance to finally escape the same-old and focus on delivering something special to fill the void. Whether what was on offer was enough to please families and enthusiasts alike, remained to be seen.

Jakub Zurek made the most of the Bournemouth Air Festival, spending Friday evening and Saturday at the seafront and Sunday at the airport. Additional photography from Scott Perry.

Whether you love them or hate them, seaside shows are everything that epitomises the British culture of airshows. Red Arrows, ice creams and sand are all that is needed for a family to have a successful day out. It is no doubt a large part of why airshows on our shores are so popular, letting air displays be accessible to all. Bournemouth in particular truly loves the Red Arrows and the team have a deep connection with the town. However, with the news coming early in the year that the Reds were going to be absent from British airshows after RIAT in mid-July, organisers of the Air Festival were no doubt left scratching their heads at how they would encourage visitors to still attend in their thousands, as the massive draw of the Red Arrows cannot be denied.

Worries were quickly forgotten though when at the start of this year's build up to the show, the RAF Typhoon's participation was confirmed. Much missed over the Bournemouth seafront, last attending in 2016, the general public have been begging for more 'noise' in the air display. Historic jets such as the MiG-15 and Vampire pair from the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron are often overlooked by the public as nothing quite makes the ground shake like an afterburning jet.

The truly outstanding highlight of the 2019 Air Festival though was from a completely different era of jet aircraft. With its first flight occurring in 1955, an iconic Saab Draken from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight was a much welcome, yet surprising confirmation a few months before the show. Undoubtedly jumping through hoops and working closely with the CAA to let the Draken display over British shores, this addition was worth attending for alone. Featuring RIAT and other events on its provisional calendar year in year out, all enthusiasts know to take the SwAFHF calendar with a pinch of salt. That is, until the Air Festival team confirmed the jet on their social media, representing a truly magnificent addition, coming all the way from Sweden to perform for the adoring Bournemouth crowd on all four days, though its first appearance on Thursday lunchtime was an unannounced display practice.

This aircraft in question was the recently restored single-seat J 35J Draken and though what felt like a brief appearance over the sea, the display saw plenty of afterburner used throughout. The iconic double delta shape of this classic jet was certainly a unique sight over Bournemouth and thrilled onlookers with its noise and presence. One can hope this signals the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between the Bournemouth Air Festival team and the SwAFHF. The potential for the show welcoming another of Saab's finest would certainly bring an unparalleled level of excitement to the 2020 edition of the show and surely please the crowds yet again.

Amongst airshow classics such as Rich Goodwin in his Pitts muscle biplane, the Chinook and The Blades, the rest of this year's Air Festival featured some other noteworthy acts to attract enthusiasts. The Ultimate Fighters team were brilliant as usual, with a tight formation performance on all four days. The mix of the Merlin's familiar musical tone with the Thunderbolt's dull rumble and the differing silhouettes of four Second World War fighters is an impressive sight no matter the venue. Reminiscent of the Breitling Fighters, it is good to see the team becoming a regular on the circuit. Another debut at the show, this time a humble looking trainer, was the T-33 Silver Star courtesy of the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron. Taking part in a thoroughly enjoyable display sequence, the T-33 flew alongside the regularly seen MiG-15 before a mock dogfight ensued, after which each jet proceeded into its solo display. The Norwegian classics contribute massively to the classic jet scene at UK airshows, and with this new addition to their fleet, have gone from strength to strength.

The ever-popular night air part of the Bournemouth Air Festival took place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, with Friday featuring a one-off Typhoon dusk display. A chance to see the RAF's frontline jet in front of a smaller crowd just as the sun sets and day turns to night, the evening display schedule is perhaps an aspect that could be expanded on in future years. Before the sunlight disappears, giving way to the Fireflies and O'Brien's Flying Circus to light up the sky with fireworks, an additional chance to see any of this year's highlights such as the warbirds or the Draken would certainly appeal to a lot of visitors and make the most of this unique part of the Air Festival.

Another unique feature of the show are the multiple vantage points such as the two piers or the East Overcliff, providing a chance to experience the airshow and familiar displays from a new perspective. Bournemouth airport also offers a chance for different angles, with local roads around the airport perimeter attracting many spectators, all with varied levels of interest and knowledge. Nonetheless, with some restrictions around the airport for the duration of the airshow, it would be refreshing for the airshow team to work with Bournemouth airport to provide an open-day or evening of some sorts, much in the style of Jersey airport. The proximity of the airport to the seafront means the airport is always going to be busy with visitors, and this should be embraced by the organisers.

In summary, this year's Bournemouth Air Festival featured enough to warrant spending at least a day in and around the seafront. With a variety of debut displays mixed with firm crowd favourites, the organisers got the line-up pretty much spot on. With the Air Festival moving its dates to two weeks earlier in 2020, we look forward to seeing what aircraft the Air Festival can attract next year.