Eastbourne is one of those shows that had been on our whishlist for some time. One of those reasons, aside from the great surroundings and atmosphere, being those great topside shots from the cliffs with the sea in the backdrop.
This year we finally made the trip and visited Airbourne on Saturday. The main reason being the chance to capture the mighty Vulcan one last time in this beautiful setting before she retires, probably and sadly for good.
The Eastbourne airshow, commonly referred to as Airbourne, is really a great annual event for several reasons. It is a four day event, starting on Thursday all the way through Sunday and takes place on a beautiful piece of coastline in southern England (East Sussex). The main display takes place near the pier at the seafront and extends extends towards the cliffs of Beachy Head at the west.
It is one of the UK's largest free shows. The flying display usually starts at around 12:30pm and goes on until approximately 5pm.
The show first started out in 1993 and is run by the Eastbourne Borough Council. Besides the aerial displays on all four days, there are many other events on and around the beach to attend, such as several concerts, an impressive fireworks display and even an evening aerial display.
The weather started out miserably on Thursday but the forecast for the weekend was looking promising.
Saturday turned into Super Saturday for one reason and one reason only: the Avro Vulcan. Several thousand attended that day because it was the only and final day that the Vulcan would display at Airbourne. It would be one of the busiest days at Airbourne in 22 years, resulting in huge traffic jams, but in the end it was all worth it!
We opted for a spot at the cliffs of Beachy Head, about 530ft above sea level. Display center is located in front of the beach near the pier but Beach Head is the spot where aircraft usually hold before they are cleared to display and where most exit when their display is finished. As mentioned before this can result in some really great images from above their flight level with the sea in the background. The downside is that not every aircraft runs in from that side and that capturing the actual displays is nearly impossible as the display center is much further away to the east.
This year however, it turned out to be an excellent decision as the Vulcan really made an entrance at Beachy Head and treated everyone on the cliffs with a fabulous private pre-show display.
Airbourne each year receives a great deal of support from the RAF. This year was no different with the RAF displaying the Tutor, Chinook, Hawk Duo Role Demo, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the BBMF and the other main act of the show: the Red Arrows.
First aircraft to appear from the west was the RAF Chinook HC.4. The RAF Chinook display team is made up of personnel from No. 27 Sqn based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire.
For their 2015 routine they display in a HC 4 type for the first time. The HC 4 is an updated version of the Chinook initiated under the project name Julius. It includes an all new digital flight deck incorporating multifunction displays, a digital moving map and upgraded engines.
Apart from the US Army, the RAF operates the largest fleet of Chinooks, comprising out of approximately 40 aircraft, several of which are in Afghanistan. The Chinook Wing forms the heavy-lift element of the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) and is based at RAF Odiham. It consists out of three operational squadrons (No. 7 Sqn, No. 18 Sqn and No. 27 Sqn), as well as the Operational Conversion Flight where new pilots and rear crew learn to operate the Chinook.
The Chinook was flown by Flight Lieutenant Brett Jones.
It was followed by the Aerosuperbatics Wing Walkers, commonly called the Breitling Wingwalkers, in their colourful Boeing Stearman biplanes.
The team is based in the UK (Rendcomb) and consists out of four Boeing Stearman aircraft painted in a nice white and orange paintscheme. As their team name mentions, they are sponsored by Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling.
The team is the only aerobatic wingwalking formation team in the world and have been displaying all over the UK and Europe for over 28 years now. Each aircraft consists of a pilot and a wingwalker girl. The girls strap themselves on top of the wing before taxiing and take-off. Once in the air, the pilots perform a breathtaking sequence of acrobatic manoeuvres, including loopings, barrel rolls, stall turns and even inverted flight, all with the wingwalkers on top of the wing. During the display the girls demonstrate their skills by doing acrobatic manoeuvres while they are strapped to the top of the wings of the aircraft. The girls face speeds of up to 150mph and up to 4G of g-force. They even climb back into the cockpit when they have finished their display, all whilst the aircraft is still in the air.
They represent a combination of barnstorming and wing-walking, which historically portrays the “roaring-20s” in aviation.
A nice selection of historic jet aircraft would also display at Airbourne this year. Jeff Bell's immaculate BAC Jet Provost T5 was the first of those to present his aircraft to the public.
The BAC Jet Provost is a British jet-powered trainer aircraft used by the RAF from 1955 up to 1993.
In the 1950s the RAF issued a requirement for a new dedicated jet training aircraft. Hunting Percival developed the Jet Provost from the piston-engined Percival Provost basic trainer. The type made its first flight on June 16th , 1954.
The RAF formally accepted the type in 1957 and it was under continuous development until it was retired and replaced by Short Tucanos in the early 1990s.
Other historic jets to be displayed were the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron Mikoyan MiG-15UTI. Also from the Historical Squadron came a pair of de Havilland Vampire FB52 and Vampire T55. Their displays were a bit too far to catch on camera however.
Not usually making its run in from Beachy Head was the RAFs current top fighter: the Eurofighter Typhoon. This year it did however fly in below the cliffs and performed a thrilling display piloted by Flight Lieutenant Jonny Dowen.
The RAF Typhoon Display is flown by 29 (Reserve) Squadron stationed at RAF Coningsby.
Flt Lt Jonathan “Jonny” Dowen, joined XI(F)Sqn after completing his flight training and as a Typhoon pilot took part in multiple overseas deployments and exercises to India, Oman, United Arab Emirates, USA and the South Atlantic.
On completion of his tour he was subsequently posted back to 29(R) Sqn as a Qualified Pilot Instructor (QPI) in early 2013.
The Typhoon FGR4 is a single-seat Block 5 or later variant of the Eurofighter. The Block 1s were Initial Operational Capability, the Block 2s had Air-to-air capabilities and with the Block 5s the addition of air-to-ground capabilities made the Eurofighter Typhoon the first and only current Royal Air Force fast jet to be declared Multi-Role capable from June 2008 onwards.
The Typhoon was followed by a piece of British history: the Supermarine Spitfire. The one flown at Airbourne was that of “The Aircraft Restoration Company” and was flown by John Romain. It was the dual control Mk. IXT.
Another RAF demonstration was provided by the Grob Tutor T1 flown by Flt Lt Andy Preece. It was paired with the Scottish Aviation Bulldog T1 which in turn was flown by Rod.
Flight Lieutenant Andy Preece joined the RAF in 1991 initially as a Navigator and flew backseat in the Tornado GR1. During his time on the Tornado, he flew numerous missions over. He then retrained as a pilot and has since flown the Tornado GR1, Hawk, Tucano, Harrier GR7 & T10, Dominie and the Grob Tutor. He is currently a Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) and a Qualified Pilot Navigator Instructor (QPNI).
The aircraft itself is a carbon composite materials, general aviation fixed-wing aircraft which is used primarily for flight training. It is built by German based Grob Aircraft.
The E variant with a 3-blade variable pitch propeller is in Royal Navy, Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force service as an elementary flying trainer.
In this role, it is replacing the BAe Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1. The elementary trainer aircraft are owned and operated by private industry and contracted to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In this case, the Tutor fleet is owned and maintained by a civilian company, Babcock, and carry British civilian registrations under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme, painted overall white with blue flashes and UK Military Aircraft roundels.
The type operated is the Grob 115E which has a 3-blade variable pitch propeller.
It was now time for the highlight of the show, the pièce de résistance: the Avro Vulcan.
Vulcan XH558 was the last remaining airworthy example of a total of 136delta winged strategic nuclear bombers operated by the RAF during the Cold War.
She was the last Vulcan in active military service, her career starting on July 1st , 1960, with No. 230 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Waddington. In 1973 she was one of nine Vulcans which converted to a SR2 Maritime Radar Reconnaissance configuration with No. 27 Sqn.
In 1983 she was one of six Vulcans which were converted to the K2 aerial refueling tanker variant. She was withdrawn from active duty as the last of her type on September 17th , 1984. She continued to fly with the RAF Vulcan Display Flight until 1992. She was sold to the Walton family and continued to perform ground runs at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome in Leicestershire.
The decision to restore her to airworthy status was taken in 1997. It proved a risky and time and money consuming effort (approx. 7 million pounds were raised by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust), but on October 18th , 2007, she finally made it back.
It was given the civilian registration of G-VLCN by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and an exemption was made to allow it to fly in Royal Air Force markings as XH558. She was dubbed “The Spirit of Great Britain”.
On June 9th , 2008, XH558 flew its final test flight, a 98-minute journey from Bruntingthorpe, which included a display in front of examiners from the CAA. Deemed a success, an application for a permit to fly at air shows was submitted to the CAA. The first public event in 15 years was to be at the RAF Waddington Airshow. XH558 was granted permission by the CAA to fly from Bruntingthorpe to Waddington on Thursday July 3 rd , but authorisation for display flights was not granted until the Friday, allowing the first display flight, lasting 5 minutes, to go ahead on the Saturday in front of an estimated crowd of 125,000. An electrical fault prevented it from flying on the Sunday.
No need to say that she attracted a vast deal of enthousiasts wherever she displayed over the following years. However, a combination of factors resulted in a decision at the end of 2012 to retire XH558 after the end of the 2013 season. After another feasibility study the decision was reversed and a major funding drive was launched. As a result, the required engineering work could be done to ensure that she was able to fly for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
The inevitable decision came on May 15th , 2015, when it was announced that 2015 would be XH558's last flying season, due to the fact the three companies assisting the project with technical expertise (BAE Systems, Marshall Aerospace and Defense Group and Rolls-Royce) were unwilling to support the aircraft beyond that, meaning it would no longer have the necessary CAA approval to fly.
Their reasons were firstly the fact that XH558 had already performed 10% more flying hours than any other Vulcan, and secondly, the increasing difficulty in obtaining the necessary expertise, particularly with regard to the engines.
As a result, Vulcan XH558 started its Farewell to Flight display season with a display at Trockmorton, Worcestershire, on June 6th , 2015. Its final ever flight occurred on October 28th , 2015, with a small display at its Robin Hood base. Its future at this time is still uncertain.
At Airbourne, the Vulcan flown by Kevin Rumens stunned everyone at Beachy Head with several low flybys, wingovers and even a head-on pass before commencing its actual display. A fitting and emotional tribute to the last of its kind…
Because pictures only tell so much, here's an awesome youtube video made by Wonkabar007 so you can get a glimpse of what the feeling was realy like to be there:
While the Vulcan was taking center stage at Beachy Head, the Royal Navy was performing its own demonstration at show center with their Westland Sea King HC4. The Sea King performed a role demonstration which involved a fast rope demonstration where members of the Royal Marines Commando onto a local lifeboat. The Sea King will be out of service by early 2016 so this was probably the last visit by the type at Eastbourne.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight also sent over a couple of warbird displays with the Supermarine Spitfire IX, Hawker Hurricane IIc and the Douglas Dakota III.
The C-47 Dakota (military variant of the Douglas DC-3) was manufactured in the USA by Douglas in March of 1942 and initially issued to the United States Army Air Force. In September that year the aircraft was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and served in Canada during World War Two. It was subsequently deployed to Europe with the RCAF until declared surplus to requirements by the Canadians in 1971.
ZA947 was acquired by the BBMF in March of 1993. In 2004, an original and authentic floor and interior was re-fitted to the Dakota, returning the cabin to the original, wartime specification.
Within the BBMF, she serves as an important training asset used for initial training of aircrew for the BBMF multi-engine aircraft and for renewing the currency of the Flight's Lancaster pilots each year.
She also displays on her own on many occasions as part of a BBMF formation. She continues to be capable of para-dropping and is used in that role for special commemorative events.
Currently she is painted to represent Dakota FZ692 of No. 233 Squadron, around the D-Day period in 1944. This aircraft, which was named ‘Kwicherbichen' by her crews, was involved in Para-dropping operations on the eve of D-Day and subsequently in re-supply and casualty evacuation missions into and out of forward airfields in the combat areas.
Another RAF participation followed in the form of the RAF Hawk T2 Role Demonstration Team. The demonstration is provided by No. 4 Flying Training School (4FTS) based at RAF Valley, who's mission is to train the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy fast jet pilots of the future who will transition to the Eurofighter of F-35 Lightning II.
The Role Demo Team consists of two pilots: Ninja 1 is Flight Lieutenant Ben Polwin and Ninja 2 is Flight Lieutenant Toby Keeley. They fly, as the name of the team states, the Bae Hawk T2 which is a fully aerobatic, low wing, transonic, 2-seat training aircraft with mission avionics that are representative of front-line aircraft.
Another beautiful sight to behold was the presentation of the newly restored Bristol Blenheim IF which was also neatly demonstrated by John Romain.
The Bristol Blenheim is a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company that was used extensively in the early days of the Second World War. It was adapted as an interim long-range and night fighter, pending the availability of the Beaufighter. It was one of the first British aircraft to have all-metal stressed-skin construction, retractable landing gear, flaps, a powered gun turret and variable-pitch propellers.
The Blenheim Mk I G-BPIV was restored by the Aircraft Restoration Company. The restoration is based upon a restored Bolingbroke (Canadian built variant of the Blenheim) airframe together with a restored Blenheim Mk I nose section. At long last, after 11 years of painstaking work, on the 20th of November 2014 Chief Pilot John Romain and James Gilmour as Flight Engineer took Blenheim Mk I on its maiden flight at Duxford for a successful 26 minute test flight, following some minor adjustments a further two test flights were carried out.
It received its full Permit to fly at the end of 2014.
The Blenheim Mk I outran most biplane fighters in the late 1930s but stood little chance against the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 during daylight operations, though it proved successful as a night fighter. The total production count of the Blenheim Mk I in England was 1,351 aircraft.
Blenheim units operated throughout the Battle of Britain, often taking heavy casualties, although they were never accorded the publicity of the fighter squadrons.
Late addition to the show and the final warbird presentation was Duxford based North American P-51D Mustang “Ferocious Frankie”.
Show closers were the second largest crowd favorites for once: the RAF Red Arrows.