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A greener airshow

Mick Britton reports from Sunderland on the UK's first eco-friendly airshow, held over 28-29 July

This year's Sunderland International Airshow deserves to have carved itself a niche in aviation history by laying claim to be the world's first ever 'Carbon Neutral' airshow. Well organised by Sunderland City Council, it has long laid claim to being Europe's largest free event, but this year the Gentoo Group took up 'carbon neutral' sponsorship of the show with the aim of reducing and offsetting all the event's carbon emissions. Using figures from previous events, the Council's Sustainability Team calculated the carbon emissions of performing aircraft and the public's travel to the show, at the same time reviewing flight configurations and promotion of the Park and Ride scheme, calculating the carbon footprint at 404 tonnes of CO2 - it is intended to offset this by financing local energy saving projects to achieve an equivalent reduction, mainly through the provision of better insulation for homes and other buildings. A more efficient recycling scheme was also put in place, aiming to recover or recycle sixty percent of the rubbish left by visitors and traders.


The good news for airshow devotees is that these laudable aims did not detract in the slightest from the quality of the show, which was probably even better than previous years. This was quite an achievement, given the notable reduction in RAF participation as a result of both the retirement of certain aircraft types, operational commitments in the case of others, and the monopoly of the new role demonstration that has graced only a handful of shows. Another type of role demonstration seen for the first time at this year's show, and a most unusual one for an airshow, was a beach assault by Royal Marines from HMS Albion, a Landing Platform Dock Ship, which was anchored offshore and provided an impressive backdrop for the show (attendance by Royal Navy vessels has become a regular feature of the Sunderland show in recent years). This set piece involved two Zodiacs, four landing craft (Infantry) and two landing craft (Utility), which disgorged a beach recovery vehicle and two Volvo all-terrain vehicles, better known as Snowcats. Needless to say the Marines succeeded in securing part of Seaburn beach against a force of picnicking families, many with troublesome kids, but it was an impressive and rarely seen demonstration nonetheless.

Sunderland's true International status was amply demonstrated once again by Dutch and Belgian Air Forces participation, two air arms that have long supported this show. This year both fielded the F-16, whose routines were even more impressive with the flare ejections, and the Dutch Agusta Bell 412 from Leeuwarden once again performed a convincing sea rescue routine in conjunction with the local lifeboat - these never succeed when performed on airfields as they require just too great a suspension of disbelief on the part of the crowd.

Another performer in its element at Sunderland was Plane Sailing's Catalina, a share of which is still available at £17,500 according to an ad in the programme (which at £3 must still be one of the cheapest around ) but unfortunately it was not for touching down on the sea, as the need to wash off the salt water afterwards is a time-consuming hassle. In common with a number of other display items it departed for the East Fortune Display shortly after performing.

Other warbirds were somewhat lacking this year with only the Scandinavian Historic Flight's P-51D Mustang 'Old Crow', a last-minute substitute for the Royal Navy Merlin (a late cancellation for operational reasons), and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, which appeared as separate elements, the Lancaster making only a very brief appearance as a flypast on route from East Fortune to the obvious disappointment of many. Other RAF participation included the Falcons (forced to abort their display on the Saturday owing to the strong wind), Chinook, Hawk, Tucano, Tutor, Typhoon and the Red Arrows, who provided the show's finale on the Sunday. The Navy once again contributed the 'Black Cats' Lynx Display team, which is an ever popular act at Sunderland as they share the nickname of the local football team! Civilian participants included the ubiquitous Team Guinot wing walkers, Will Curtis in his Su-26, the Yak 50s of the Aerostars and the Blades on the Saturday.

All in all a most entertaining show, made all the more enjoyable by being a freebie and because of the summer weather, something of a rarity at airshows this year.


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