Sanicole Sunset 2011

Sanicole Sunset Airshow (September 16th, 2011)

This was the 35th edition of the Sanicole airshow, the largest civilian organized airshow in Europe. To keep with the newly started tradition in 2010, this year also saw the airshow divided into 2 days. On Friday September 16th , the second Sanicole Sunset airshow was held, with the main airshow being held on Sunday September 18th .

This year's edition was built along the following themes: 65th anniversary of the Belgian Air Force, 60th anniversary of the Hunter, 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 40th anniversary of the Westland Lynx with the Royal Navy. Plenty to look forward to…

The success and perseverance of the organizers of the Sanicole airshow was rewarded in the form that they were presented with the prestigious Paul Bowen Trophy for best European airshow 2010 at the European Airshow Council. A great honor and a fantastic recognition for the effort of all the people involved in planning and organizing this truly wonderful annual event.

Unfortunately, due to the passing away of a relative of the teamleader of the Spanish Patrulla Aguila, the team had to cancel at the very last moment. Nevertheless, the organization succeeded in adding a few gap-fillers in the final moments before the show.

Since we could only be present at the sunset airshow, the bulk of this report will only cover the displays held on Friday.

What is the essential thing one needs to have a great sunset airshow? That's right, a sunset! Sanicole could count on some bright skies again on Friday which were soon covered in a nice golden glow as the sun began to set. Unlike last year, no clear skies and full moon during the dusk displays though because the clouds started to form over the Sanicole airfield once the sun was down.

The Friday display started with a nice, but unusual demonstration of Melissa & Rex Pemberton, with Melissa flying the Extra 300 and her husband flying in a wingsuit. Melissa, now 27, is an experienced airshow and competition aerobatic pilot. Despite her youth, this is her eighth airshow season. She has been flying aerobatics since she was 17 and competing since she was 19 years old. Melissa grew up flying basic aerobatics in Pennsylvania with her grandmother in a Cessna 150 Aerobat. In 2006, she became the youngest female to ever make the US Unlimited Aerobatic Team when she was just 22.

Melissa first met Rex when she was in Australia, but they soon moved to America. With their passion for challenging sports, it was only natural that Rex and Melissa would soon try to find a way to use their talents in the airshow business. "We decided we wanted to try to find a way to combine our skills and create a new, exciting, and unique airshow display;' said Melissa. "That's when we came up with the idea of combining wingsuit skydiving with aerobatics:'

Wingsuits are a type of skydiving jumpsuit which essentially turns the human body into an airfoil by attaching fabric between the body and the arms and between the legs. A wingsuit pilot can then manipulate the shape of their body to create the desired amount of lift and drag.

The toughest part of trying to fly a high performance aerobatic airplane with a regular skydiver in freefall is trying to match the skydiver's high rate of descent with the airplane's forward speed. But the increased lift-to-drag ratio that a wingsuit creates makes it possible for an airplane to keep up.

"When I flywith Melissa, I need to be as fast as possible and cover as much distance as I can across the ground;" says Rex. "I can get a consistent glide ratio of about 3:1 with my wingsuit," This means that for every foot Rex falls, he will go three feet forward. This glide performance allows Rex and Melissa to fly up to three laps of the show line together.

In order to maintain the high rate of descent and keep the same forward speed as Rex in freefall, Melissa performs descending barrel rolls around her husband, creating a "corkscrew" effect in the sky.

When they reach the end of the crowd line, Rex reverses his direction of flight and Melissa will reverse the direction of her barrel rolls.

Once Rex reaches his opening altitude, he will then deploy his parachute and fly safely to the earth at airshow center. At this point in the act, Melissa will circle Rex under canopy in her Edge, and as he lands, she flies knife edge in the opposite direction providing a classic photo finish.

The second display of the evening was reserved for the little Gripen, which brought some noise in the Sanicole skies.

Always a nice addition to the Sanicole line-up are the Breitling Wing Walking team. Officially called the AeroSuperBatics Breitling Wingwalker Team, they are a UK based (Rendcomb) display team consisting of 4 Boeing Stearman aircraft painted in a nice white and orange paintscheme. As their team name mentions, they are sponsored by Swiss watch manufacturer Breitling, who have agreed to continue sponsorship through the 2013 season.

The team is the only aerobatic wingwalking formation team in the world and have been displaying all over the UK and Europe for over 27 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 motion.

Time for some more formation aerobatics in the form of the British civilian demonstration team “The Blades”. The Blades fly a formation of four Extra 300 aircraft and 2011 marks their 6 th display season. The pilots are all former Red Arrow pilots and between them they have more than 20 years of display experience on Harriers, Jaguars, Hawks, Jet Provosts and even Boeing Stearman biplanes. The Blades' experience, expertise and dedication to perfection means that they are one of the most highly respected teams in the world.

A favorite with the public is a manoeuver they call “Crazy Flying”, where Blade 1 flies at the front at an angle and Blade 2 & 3 lean slightly outwards while Blade 4 flips upside down.

As the sun almost disappeared below the horizon it was time to commemorate an event which had something to do with the land of the rising sun, namely the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

At the beginning of World War 2 Japan sealed a pact with Germany and Italy, promising each other military support in case one of them would be attacked. With the United States taking the side for the United Kingdom, this meant indirectly that the USA was facing Japan as an enemy. The USA felt threatened and searched for a base in the Northern Pacific Ocean to have an operating base closer to Japan. Pearl Harbor seemed to be very suitable and so the USA sent a big fleet towards Hawaii's Pearl Harbor. Japan on the other side wanted to control the entire Pacific area en was secretly working on a ‘Plan Z' to attack Pearl Harbor, despite the continual negotiations between the United States and Japan to come with a solution. Japan was in possession of the biggest aircraft carriers and staked all six (with 423 planes) to eliminate the American fleet in Pearl Harbor by a surprise attack. On the 7th of December 1941 it seemed that attempts of negotiation would lead to nothing and so Japan ordered his fleet to start attacking, causing unseen damage for the Americans.

The actual attack involved 353 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo aircraft, who launched from six aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku ) in two waves. Damage report after the attack was 4 battleships sunk (Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia and California), 3 damaged and 1 grounded, 2 destroyers sunk and one damaged, 3 cruisers damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed (155 of them on the ground) and 159 damaged. 2402 people were killed.

It was not a complete success for the Japanese however because of 2 reasons: the US aircraft carriers were not in the port and the attack drew the US into WWII in both theaters. The Japanese also neglected to send a third wave of attack, leaving Pearl Harbor's fuel and torpedo storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities pretty much intact. If these would have been destroyed, Admiral Chester Nimitz, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, stated that the war would have been prolonged by another two years.

The event was remembered at sanicole by a Naval Aircraft Factory N3N, 2 North American AT-6 Texans, one converted to resemble the Mitsubishi Zero and a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, all coming over from the Ferté-Alais airfield in France for the occasion. Two belgian Harvards also joined in on the display with the addition of some pyrotechnics.

Time for some rotary aircraft action in the ever darkening skies of the evening in the form of the Royal Netherlands Air Force AH-64D Apache Longbow display. The Squadron providing the team are the 301 “Redskins” stationed at Gilze-Rijen airbase.

They are the only Air Force in the world with a dedicated display of the Apache helicopter. For the 2011 season, their routine was changed slightly to be able to display at a lower altitude, thus making the display more compact. The Apache used for the 2011 display season has a new special paint scheme, dedicated to the display team. The special design is applied in the form of special printing which can easily be removed from the helicopter in case it were to be used for operational missions.

As with last year's display season, the Apache is equipped with flares, stored in so-called AMASE pods ( Apache Modular Survivability Equipment). These pods each contain three Northrop Grumman AAAR-54 sensors and two flareboxes. The goal of these pods is protection against heat seaking missiles (flares) as well as infrared guided missiles. The pods are attached to the helicopter at the very end of both wing stubs. The flares are used at certain points during the display to add an extra dimension to it, especially at dusk.

For the display, t he Hellfire racks and rocket pods are removed from the helicopter in order to save weight and as a result, enabling the Apache to speed up faster in between the individual manoeuvres.

Pilot in command this year is Major Roland “Wally” Blankenspoor. The new first officer is Captain Paul “Wokkel” Webbink. Both are instructor pilots and are among the top helicopter pilots of the Netherlands Air Force.

Next up was team Iacarii Acrobati with their three Yak-52s. The Yak-52 is a training aircraft which is often used for basic and advanced aerobatics. They are a Romanian civil demonstration team. The formation leader Ioan Postolache, right wing Dan Stenascu and left wing Dan Conderman are all former members of the Romanian National Aerobatic Team.

For this sunset airshow, they also brought along their pyrotechnic extras.

Show closer was our very own Michel “Mitch” Beulen in the F-16 Fighting Falcon of the Belgian Air Force. Mitch, 36, started out with the Belgian Air Cadets in 1992, before starting his basic flight training on Marchetti SF-260 in 1997. After advanced training in the Alpha Jet he received his wings on December 17th , 1998, and moved to Kleine Brogel AB for his operational conversion in the F-16. He joined the 349th Fighter Squadron in September of 2000.

He totalizes over 2250 flight hours (of which 2000 are in the F-16) and participated in various military exercises in various parts of the world.

The BAF F-16 solo display team enters the second period of three years to be flown by the same crew and is now in its final year of displaying before handing things over to Renaud “Grat” Thys of the 350th FS at Florennes AB. Grat will be displaying the F-16 until the end of 2013.

The aircraft used in the display is a specially assigned demo aircraft, FA-110, painted in special demonstration colors. The aircraft is dubbed “Vortex”.

The show for the 2011 season was completely new and demonstrates the limits of the F-16 and the pilot flying it. The figures the pilot flies with the F-16 are standard figures which every F-16 pilot within the Belgian Air Component masters. The only difference between real life operations and this demo is that these manoeuvres are flown in a smooth pattern and at very low altitude ( around 500 ft (150m)).

The display is also pimped a little using flares at certain points during the display. This effect is further enhanced whilst flown at dusk.

Thus ended another successful airshow at Sanicole where the organizers succeed each time in producing a magnificent event. Hoping for more beautiful sunsets for years to come Sanicole!