Frank Togher reports from Shoreham's most successful airshow to date. Pictures by the author and Bob Franklin
Don Bean and his team moved the date of Shoreham's airshow from its traditional
early September slot to coincide with the Battle of Britain weekend on
the 16th and 17th of the month. With no competing displays they were able
to secure first-rate support from the RAF, along with the pick of the
display teams and warbirds on the airshow circuit to give a five-and-a-half
hour flying display on both days. Also, with 2006 being the seventieth
anniversary of the Spitfire, this just had to be something special.
A key centrepiece for the airshow was a Battle of Britain re-enactment complete with Dads' Army and armoured cars protecting the airfield on the ground. This kicked off in fine style with air raid sirens followed by a runway 'bombing' with superb pyrotechnics as Dan Griffith beat up the airfield over and over again in his 'Me-108'. An engaging dogfight then followed before Dan was shot down by a pair of hastily scrambled Hurricanes flown by 'Shiny' Simmons and Keith Dennison.
The seventieth anniversary of the Spitfire was also celebrated in fine style with the arrival of Duxford's 'Big Wing' of five Spitfires on the Saturday to provide top cover for the Hurricanes, just as they finished off the 'Luftwaffe'. The Spits, led by John Romain, then performed a five-ship tail-chase across the airfield, possibly the best I have ever seen. On Sunday John led a five-ship Spitfire scramble before repeating the tail-chase. This all brought back many memories to the Second World War veterans attending the show - typical of these was W/O Tuck (aged 84) from Ringwood, who told how, after training, he flew Spitfires before transferring to P-51D Mustangs to support the daylight bombing raids over Germany in 1944 before being shot down near Deepholtz after a number of raids. Another veteran, W/O Goodall, an ex-Hurricane pilot, recalled that his last visit to Shoreham was sixty-three years ago in November 1943 flying a Boulton-Paul Defiant during air gunnery practice.
The airport itself was also celebrating an anniversary of seventy years as a municipal airfield, the current Grade II listed Art-Deco Terminal Building opened in 1936. The first flight from Shoreham took place in May 1910, only seven years after the Wright brother's first flight, when Harold Piffard flew his Humming Bird biplane from the grass airfield. The airport itself was officially opened in June 1911 with the first commercial flight to deliver a load of Osram light bulbs to Hove Lawns in a Valkyrie monoplane. The airport, whilst proud of its history, does not overly dwell in the past and is a thriving modern airport with many businesses on site including the Transair Pilot Shop, numerous Flying schools and Rockhopper Airlines with scheduled flights to the Channel Islands and Le Touquet.
Also based at the airport is Northbrook Engineering College, which took the opportunity to open its hangars to show us how it is helping to develop the next generation of engineers who will help keep our civil aircraft and warbirds in running order. Geoff Sperling, College Manager, took the time to outline the aims and objectives of the College at Shoreham - under the Government's COVE initiative the college is working closely with Farnborough and Brooklands to become a centrepiece to help address the shortage of aircraft engineers in the UK. Indeed, the College undertakes the first year apprenticeship training for Virgin Atlantic at Gatwick. Later Will Curtis, prior to displaying his 'Road Angel' Sukhoi 26, spoke of his links with Northbrook as a number of his engineers at Gold Air International, which operates at Biggin Hill, originate from Shoreham.
As already mentioned RAF support for the show was first-rate this year with the all the major training types displaying - Tutor, Tucano, Hawk - along with the Chinook and all four aircraft of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane and Dakota. Flt Lt Pete Keenlyside, displaying the 20(R) Squadron Harrier GR7, gave us a little excitement after his display had finished on Saturday by blowing both of his mainwheel tyres as he landed. Would you believe it, the squadron back-up team were there quicker than any Kwik-Fit fitter to sort things out - well done boys! In addition a Merlin and Typhoon gave their first-ever displays at Shoreham.
Peter Teichmann brought along all three of his Hangar 11 warbirds from North Weald - the Spitfire XI, which opened the show on both days, P-51D 'Jumpin Jacques' and his recently acquired Kittyhawk P-40, another first for the show.
With the impending end to the eight years of Utterly Butterly sponsorship (which was much praised at the airshow by the Products Marketing Manager), Vic Norman and his Superaerobatics team flew their last ever 'Utterly Butterly'-painted four-ship display over the weekend in the distinctive yellow and blue corporate colours. Some good news post-show is that Vic announced his new sponsors - Guinot Cosmetics. The Stearmans will receive a new pink (!) paint job over the winter.
Now something you don't see every day - a world record no less was claimed on the Sunday when Denny Dobson in his Extra 300 first flew underneath then cut fifteen ribbons attached to hand-held poles on either side of the runway held by fifty brave souls. The 'Guinness Book of Records' people were on hand to witness the amazing sight.
Another first for Shoreham and possibly one of the show highlights was Brian Grant magnificently displaying the 'Red Bull'-sponsored Sea Vixen. On the Sunday he had one extra manoeuvre up his sleeve that delighted the crowd - being twenty years to the day when Brian last landed at Shoreham, he was given permission to mark the occasion by performing a touch and go - you had to see it to believe it! Magical stuff.
All in all a great two days of sun and fun was had by all at Shoreham. For me, the show has finally made the transition this year from being a small seaside show into one of the top-ten UK shows - the aircraft participation was top drawer mixing RAF, civil display teams with one of the best listing of warbirds outside of Duxford.