I went to Shoreham Airshow yesterday. Unlike Last year it was a cracking day, blazing sunshine and no cancellations. As well as a stellar programme of flying displays as always they had a full and varied bunch of static displays. Dad’s Army seem to be an annual fixture, as are Haurel and Lardy. With such an impressive cast its almost impossible to pick out highlights, but I’ll try and do my best!
The first display was a real rarity, a Strikemaster in the markings of the Kuwaiti Air Force, flown by an Englishman! Its an American built plane, sold to second and third world countries as a counter insurgency attack craft. Next up were the Team Guinot wingwalkers, who have to be seen to be believed – young girls wingwalking and performing gymnastics on biplanes, all sponsored by a make up company! The Gnat display team is made up of ex-red arrows pilots, and it shows. A real treat was the Great War Team, flying a collection of replica Sopwiths, Fokkers and Messerschmitt’s… those magnificent men in their flying machines indeed, very evocative.
The afternoon saw the noisy and aggressive entrance of the RAF’s new Eurofighter Typhoon, an aircraft that seems to be able to do whatever its pilot asks of it, while making a hell of a lot of noise at the same time. Staggering to think that we’ve ordered almost 200 of them! We were treated to a flypast by the Red Arrows – literally, just a flypast. This was rather disappointing, considering that they performed all 3 days at the Bournemouth Airshow, which is a freebie, whereas the Shoreham airshow is to raise money for the RAF Association.
Another rarity was Sally B, the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress. Happily, the RAF did manage to get something right, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight gave a great display consisting of their Avro Lancaster bomber, complete with distinctive engine tone, and a lone Hurricane. An annual fixture of Shoreham is the Battle of Britain airfield scramble, where the airfield is ‘attacked’ by the Luftwaffe, complete with pyrotechnics, before the Spitfires and Hurricanes scramble and defeat the Hun. Its the same every year, and a little contrived, but I guess its fun for the kids.
The highlight for a lot of people was the first appearance at Shoreham of XH558, the legenday Avro Vulcan Bomber. Flown by Martin Withers DFC, who piloted her sister plane XM607 on its epic raid on Port Stanley in the Falklands War. XH558 is limited as to what maneouvres it can make, due to the astronomical cost of keeping her flying and the potential for stress on the airframe. It was still an impressive moment, however, and the classic delta wing shape and camoflaugued paint finish is recognisable anywhere. Truly a flying legend, how sad that it comes down to a group of dedicated volunteers to keep her flying. Meanwhile, the Govt pays millions to buy a Titian painting.
After that, the Fleet Air Arm Black Cats display team arrived in their Lynx helicopters, an aircraft we see fairly frequently over Portsmouth! Finally, we were treated to a display by the RAF Falcons parachute display team, jumping out of an RAF CH47 Chinook at 10,000 feet. Maybe not as good as the Red Devils, but then I am biased!
The highlight for me, however, was the unexpected opportunity to climb on board a C-47 Dakota, a static exhibit at the show. My Grandfather, Private Henry Miller, was an Arnhem Veteran and would have jumped out of an idential plane in 1944. It was very emotional to be able to sit in the metal bucket seats, stand up and see the static line hook, and the red and green lights near the door.
It only remains for me to summon up the courage and find the means of parachuting out of one…. some day I hope!
But back to Shoreham… sunshine, spitfires, hurricanes, Lancaster, Vulcan, and we won the Ashes… would more could you hope for on a summers day?