Cloudbourne @ Eastbourne
Garry Lakin was at Eastbourne during 2004's attempt at a British summer
Well, what a contrast to 2003 - Sunday started off grey and pretty well stayed that way. Clouds occasionally parted occasionally to allow the sun to shine on the thousands along the Eastbourne seafront and brighten up a few of the displays.
The show opened with the RAF Chinook helicopter and RNLI giving a display of air-sea rescue, an amazing sight from such a large helicopter. Next on the bill were the Aerostars in their Yaks, a very tight display by the civilian team. The RAF Falcons were the next to display, their jump restricted to only 2,500 ft due to the cloudbase, the team hastily deploying their chutes as soon as they exited the Hercules. As they approached their landing spot in the main arena the heavens opened, but this didn't stop them landing with pinpoint accuracy on their target. At this point the show was halted, which gave me and the rest of the crowd a chance to run for cover.
The Dutch F-16 'Teamwork' display restarted the show after a brief interlude and how, with its large afterburner glowing in the dismal weather, pilot Christian van Gestel pulling plenty of vapour in his tight turns. Denny Dobson appeared next in the CSMA-sponsored Extra 300, and as usual his display had you wishing you had not had that extra slice of bacon for breakfast.
The Belgian Air Force Magister seemed very tame after that, but the Blue Eagles Army helicopter display team put on a very good display, with the Lynx looping more than half-a-dozen times during its act. The RAF Jaguar from 16(R) Squadron came in low and fast in the murk, which may have been an excuse for the commentator describing it as a normal GR3A when in fact the display was by a two-seat T4.
After the thunder of afterburners came the grace of a brace of Boeing Stearmans in the shape of the 'Utterly Butterly barnstormers', followed by more prop action with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, consisting as usual of the Lancaster and two Spitfires. Somehow airshows without this display just don't seem right...
Next up was a very interesting and rare display - a RAF Puma helicopter acted as a drug runner hunter, with a RNLI offshore inflatable dinghy acting as its prey. Spent blank ammunition could be seen falling from the helicopter as it fired on the boat - at least they said they were blanks...
The Honda 'Dream Team' with Will Curtis behind the stick of his Sukhoi Su-26 gave his customary display talk while putting the aircraft through stomach-churning manoeuvres. A Squirrel helicopter of the Defence Helicopter Flying School then arrived with 'Red 10' on board ready to describe the display of the Red Arrows later in the show. At this point the weather again started to get heavier and the cloudbase even lower - would we see the day out?
Next along came the RAF Tucano, a very good, tight display along the seafront in worsening conditions, promptly followed by the Tornado GR4 from XV(R) Squadron, a real crowd-pleaser with its vapour-covered wings and glowing afterburners. The solo Hawk came in to display along the crowdline, did one turn and returned straight to the airfield as the cloud had dropped to 100 ft and was deemed unsafe by the pilot. The Nimrod MR2 should have been next on the list but instead went off to recce the incoming weather for the Red Arrows. Thankfully the cloud lifted slightly and a nice display was performed by a Spitfire LF XVIE, owned by the Silver Victory Collection at Duxford.
Then the announcement came over the tannoy system which would upset a lot of the crowd - the Nimrod had reported no letup or breaks in the weather and so the Red Arrows display would be cancelled. A shame, because the Reds were going to fly in formation with a Gnat, the former steed of the team. It wasn't the best four days for the Reds, as the previous day had seen a light aircraft encroach the airspace along the seafront while the they were performing, which prompted the Reds to clear the display area immediately and return to base.
With the weather worsening again the crowd's spirits were somewhat lifted by the arrival of the Harrier GR7, which gave a low-level display of hovering along the seafront that was much appreciated. End of the show? Not quite - the Belgian F-16 pilot decided that he did not want to let down the audience and flew a low-level full-afterburner flypast under the low cloud. This concluded the flying for the Sunday, but other events and sideshows entertained the crowd and a tremendous fireworks display at 22:00 ended the four-day show.