Frank Togher reports on Shoreham's 2008 airshow, held over 30-31 August. Pictures by the author and Gary Parsons
"Will the Vulcan turn up? Will the awful weather turn to sunshine?" With a week to go, these were two of the key questions in the run up to this year's Shoreham airshow, as with every other of 2008. As we now know, XH558's brake problem at Brize Norton the previous weekend prevented its much awaited appearance over Lancing College; the weather, however, was a game of two halves with blue skies and sunshine on Saturday followed by a thunderstorm, rain and low grey clouds on Sunday. The contrast between the two days couldn't have been more different, with record crowds on Saturday, but a smaller audience on Sunday.
Being one of the last remaining airshows to commemorate the Battle of Britain specifically, the Shoreham team skilfully recreate an atmosphere that takes even the most reluctant back to the forties - Spitfires and Hurricanes parked up at Quick Reaction Alert with the famous bell and blackboards, actors in wartime uniforms, Dads' Army cycling around the crowdline with stockings in their top pockets and that ever so gentle piped music from the war years… are you there yet?
Organised by the Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA), the objective is to raise money for the Wings Appeal to support members and ex-members of the RAF who have served this country so well. Now in its nineteenth year, Shoreham's airshow has become the single biggest contributor event for the Appeal and to date has raise some £1.25 million pounds, having raised £150,000 last year.
On static once again was the RAF Merlin display team in their desert fatigues next to the Airport terminal, parked next to the Chinook, Duke of Brabant's B-25J Mitchell and Plane Sailing's Catalina for close inspection prior to the displays.
Alongside the visitors was Northbrook College's Hawker Hunter G11 WT806 and its Rolls-Royce Avon engine. The college always opens up its hangar for the airshow - it's one of the largest learning places in the country specialising in training civil aircraft engineers, with two Jetstreams and various aero engines (including the mammoth JT9D from a Boeing 747) on display. The College plays a key role at Shoreham with some eighty students and is part of the Government's CoVE initiative alongside Farnborough and Brooklands. Students from the college go on to work within the civil aviation industry with companies such as Thomson, Excel and Virgin Airlines.
Unsurprisingly, the flying participation majored on RAF participation and the Second World War. The latter theme included the now famous airfield attack sequence with a Me108 and Me109 pair strafing and bombing the airfield, followed by a dogfight with a Spitfire and Hurricane pair. This spellbinding routine with pyrotechnics was followed, after downing the Huns, by a mass scramble of five Spitfires led by John Romain in PL344. A spectacular tail chase sequence followed - marvellous stuff.
Top-notch Second World War warbird participation was bolstered by the Battle of Britain Flight, Peter Teichman's P-40M and P-51D, the B-25J, Catalina and Carolyn Grace in Spitfire T9 ML407, who opened the show each day.
Though not a RAF 'Priority one' airshow, the air force's participation could not have been much better with all the trainers - Tutor, Tucano and Hawk - displaying alongside the Typhoon and Chinook. On Saturday an eight-man Falcons parachute team once again showed their prowess with their C-130J cab also landing following its flypast!
hosted a total of five display teams over the weekend (not including the
BBMF); a five-ship Team Guinot with its Boeing Stearmans, the Blades;
the four-ship Yakovlevs; new to this show the Cassutt Racers led by Richard
Grace (son of Carolyn Grace) and what can only be described as a one of
the most unique display teams on the UK circuit, Guy Westgate's Swift
Glider display team. This display includes a solo Swift S1 glider display
flown both on and off tow coupled with a Piper Pawnee P125 Tug and a Silence
Twister aerobatic aircraft in a team display - definitely worth seeing
"Comments received have heaped praise for running such a spectacular event this year with some stunning flying using the backdrop of Lancing College and the Sussex Downs, which makes the Shoreham venue so different to many other shows" said Don Bean, MBE, Airshow Organiser.
Air Marshal Philip Sturley CB MBE, President of the RAF Association, said "Shoreham have done it again with one of the best shows in the UK supported by so many wonderful pilots resulting in more funding for the Association which can only support members of The Royal Air Force past and present."
John Periam, Airshow Press Officer added "We were of course disappointed that The Vulcan could not display on the Saturday due to undercarriage related problems and at the last minute the Royal Navy Swordfish had starter problems - but one must remember these aircraft have just been rebuilt and safety comes first - to keep them in the air flying for many years is of the utmost importance and we look forward to seeing them in 2009. We owe the display pilots a big thank you for making the most of flying slots on Sunday before the low cloud came in late afternoon resulting in several crews having to base at Shoreham for the night."
Next year's airshow will be the twentieth, and major celebrations are being planned - it'll be one not to miss!