Frank Togher reports on Shoreham's 2007 airshow, rocked by tragedy on its first day. As widely covered in the national press, Breighton-based pilot Brian Brown tragically died whilst flying Hurricane XII G-HURR, which crashed into the Sussex Downs a mile north of the airfield.
The accident occurred mid-way during the show during a mock dogfight sequence commemorating the Battle of Britain. Our thoughts go to his family and friends at this difficult time. This review is dedicated to Brian. Pictures by the author, Gary Parsons, Bob Franklin and Andy Hare
Shoreham's Air Show has gone from strength to strength, now with a six-hour flying display, strong RAF presence and top drawer participation from around the country. 2007's show had a definite sense of purpose, taking place on the official Battle of Britain weekend in September, whilst giving a closer historical link with the Royal Air Force Association, which organises and financially benefits from the event. This was highlighted when both show days opened with a drumhead ceremony remembering the Second World War, closely followed by a solo display by Caroline Grace in Spitfire ML407, adding a certain dash and gravitas to the ceremony.
The organisers are very proud of their financial achievements and have raised some £1.1m to date in support of the ongoing Wings Appeal Charity that extends welfare, care and comradeship to ex-RAF personnel. Based upon advance ticket sales, up some eighty percent on 2006, they hope to exceed £1.25m this year. With a record twenty thousand-strong crowd on Saturday, this looks a very likely achievement.
Wg Cdr Bill Nicholson said "Shoreham has consistently provided more funding annually for RAFA charities than any other branch." The stated aim is to provide a family based airshow with a friendly feel - the event has its origins some eighteen years ago when the local RAFA branch held 'Bring and Buy' sales on the airfield, normally raising some £200 on the day. On hearing the BBMF was transiting through the area, the airport control tower asked for a flypast. This brought the locals out in numbers and as a result the sale netted £3,000! Don Bean and Peter Eager immediately saw the potential and organised a small airshow and fly-in the following year, from which they never looked back.
The comradeship at the airshow extends to ex-servicemen who are invited from near and far as guests of the show, in particular veterans from Southdown House, which is local to Shoreham and cares for the elderly and infirm. Typical of the veterans on the day were Squadron Leader Ian Dick of IV(AC) Squadron that flew Lysanders on special ops during the War; Flight Lieutenant George Dunn who flew Halifaxes, Wellingtons and Mosquitos, and Squadron Leader Ken Chapman, who served in more countries than I wrote down. All took time out to share their remarkable wartime experiences, and for that I thank them. Not to be outdone by the RAF, John Rickson, who served both in post-war Germany and the Korean War, proudly wore the 5th Tank Regiment colours and represented the Army.
Being close to Brighton, it is just too tempting not to invite celebrities and over the weekend, wing walking Jan Leeming, Donald Sinden and Chris Evans were spotted as well as the cast of the TV series 'The Bill'. All were only too willing to pose for the camera during the day though Chris came a bit more expensive, requiring a fee of a packet of biscuits (…glad to help out Chris!).
To coincide with the show, the onsite Northbrook Aviation College throws its doors open for visitors and has recently restored Hawker Hunter GA11 WT806 to static condition. Interestingly this airframe served both with the RAF and Royal Navy, finally ending its days with FRADU until it was retired in 1994. In the hangar, a pair of BAE Jetstreams reside alongside a wide selection of engines, ranging from Rolls-Royce Darts to a mighty RB211, all of which are worked by the students with many of the smaller engines been run up regularly. With an intake of about eighty students a year, the College boasts some of the best training facilities in the UK, training students from Virgin Airlines and as far as United Arab Emirates.
In a similar vein the organisers encourage various preservation groups to 'pitch their tents', which included the two Vulcan restoration groups - VTST and VRT XL426. World-renowned collector, Jim Pearce, was also there with his ongoing FW189 project and his recently re-recovered Me109E from Russia, which is up for sale. He intends to use the proceeds of the sale to continue funding the `189 'Owl' project that he still hopes to get airworthy before he retires. Jim, as many enthusiasts know, has over the years recovered some fifty aircraft from storage and crash sites across the world with many examples now flying in UK, USA and New Zealand.
In the small static park there was another opportunity to clamber aboard the 'Aces High' C-47 G-DAKS, which was involved in the D-Day landings. Bought for £1 in 1979 it has subsequently appeared in a number of films and TV series. With the recent European Directive on aircraft insurance, the C-47 was found to be only twenty lbs shy of falling into the same insurance category as B-17G 'Sally B', which would most likely have grounded the war veteran.
Sadly RAF cutbacks resulted in the Merlin display team having to pull out of airshow displays, although 28 Squadron from RAF Benson did take the opportunity to bring along one of its recently acquired Merlin HC3As from Denmark for the static display. Though very similar to the RAF examples in service, the metallic green paint and minor differences in the avionics set it apart. Four more helicopters will follow soon.
As mentioned previously, Caroline Grace opened the show on both days in Spitfire TIX ML407, reminding all that this was the Battle of Britain weekend. What followed was a good mix of RAF aircraft, warbirds, historic jets and aerobatic displays, the latter including the Blades, a Team Guinot four-ship, the Yakolevs and John Taylor in his Extra 300.
Despite the current stretch in the RAF due to overseas commitments, participation was excellent and included a flypast by the Red Arrows on Saturday and full displays by Typhoon, BBMF and Chinook along with the RAF trio of trainers Tutor, Tucano and Hawk on both days.
Without doubt the centrepiece of the display was a Second World War scenario that commenced with an airfield attack by two Me108s - as they bombed the airfield, giving rise to some big bangs and flashes in the pyrotechnics department, John Romain joined in by flying 'top cover' with the first appearance of the Spitfires Ltd.'s Me109 'Buchon' at the show. A lively airfield scramble ensued with first two Hurricanes and then five Spitfires in order to see off the Luftwaffe. It was during the ensuing 'dogfight' that tragedy struck when Brian Brown and his Hurricane crashed. Saturday's scenario was naturally curtailed, but Sunday's went ahead with the Spitfires finishing the set-piece with a fitting 'missing-man' formation.
Further warbird participation included Plane Sailing's Catalina, the Duke of Brabant's B-25, B-17G 'Sally B' and a T-6 in US Navy colours. A strong North Weald contingent included Peter Teichman's P-51D and P-40 Kittyhawk from the Hanger 11 Collection and some rare visitors to southern parts, including a Folland Gnat duo, Jet Provost and Vampire T11.
Finally, a sight not to be missed was the flypast of the Royal Navy Heritage Flight's Sea Hawk and Kennet Aviation's Seafire in a series of stunning topside passes along the crowdline followed by solo displays. If that wasn't enough to tempt you to the South Coast next year then nothing ever will … oh, and did I mention the two days of warm weather and sunshine, a rare commodity this year?