Eastbourne ‘Airbourne’ 2022

Our second air display of the summer was one much closer to home as we headed 30 miles down the coast to Britain’s sunniest place, Eastbourne. Brighton’s bustling cousin is home to the world’s biggest seafront airshow, Airbourne, a superb seaside show but one faced with an uncertain future.

With rumours swirling of this being Eastbourne’s last ever Airbourne due to spiralling costs and economic concerns, and £400,000 needed to keep the show going, it was perhaps understandable the flying display would suffer. Mainly through the loss of the display’s star turn, the headline act, the crowd puller. Although we had already seen the Belgian Air Force F-16 strutting it’s superb stuff at RIAT, it’s late withdrawal from Eastbourne was a huge shame. The loss of the F-16 two days before the show was due to a combination of last minute paperwork glitches and logistical challenges.

However, none of these challenges diminshed four excellent days of aerial entertainment. The Thursday and Friday are almost like preview days, building up to the largest programme of displays over the weekend. We went on Sunday, with the display opened shortly after lunch by a solo sequence from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire (the Lancaster got a bird strike en route and the Hurricane was also unserviceable).

Several seaside show favourites featured heavily throughout the afternoon and into the early evening. The Army’s parachute regiment display team, The Tigers, caught the eye with their dramatic descent on to the beach with a combination of soloists and some neatly choreographed canopy work.

The Tigers FFT (Photo: Chelsea Gibson)

Equally impressive were Eastbourne regulars Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers – serviceability issues meant only a solo routine on the first two days but they were back up to full strength by the weekend. It was great to see this popular team back in full working order following a mishap down in Bournemouth the previous year.

More smoke and aerobatics came from Rich Goodwin and his simply sensational Pitts S-2S Special. Rich pushed the tiny and highly modified aerobatic craft to its absolute limit and again enthralled with his full array of tumbles, knife edge passes, spins, stall turns and his piece de resistance ‘The Tower of Power.’

Locally based aviation legend Rod Dean lowered the tempo and the wow factor but a man who has flown over 50 types of aircraft gave a very elegant and precise demonstration in his Redhill-based Slingsby T-67 Firefly.
There were, as ever, a nice selection of vintage warbirds in the Eastbourne display. The throaty roar of the Rolls Royce P-51D Mustang was one of the highlights of Sunday’s programme, with another civilian operated aircraft, John Romain in his Spitfire PRXI, appearing on the Saturday.

Another highlight for me was the rare sight of the Hawker Fury FB11 as Andy Durston put on a tremendous demonstration of power and agility in the mighty piston engined fighter on its Eastbourne debut.

There were some lovely classic jets featured in the flying, too. Ian Brett displayed the BAC Strikemaster Mk.82 on all four days and Kenneth Aarksvila ensured Eastbourne was an international event with the ever popular Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 UTI complete with music and Soviet markings.

The biggest participation, however, came from closer to home with all of the RAF’s traditional display aspects on show. As already mentioned, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were bereft of the Lanc and the Hurricane on Sunday, but their Spitfire was lovely to see and was joined by all of the home favourites. The Chinook turned in it’s ever popular solo routine as well as a really unusual and never-seen-before link up with the four Extra 300s of the Blades Aerobatic Team to promote the RAF Benevolent Fund. Sunday’s display also featured a rare airshow appearance by an RAF-Benson based Puma HC2 helicopter which conducted a solitary flypast along the crowd line. A shame it was so brief, but it was a welcome addition from an aircraft I’ve never seen before.

Photo: Chelsea Gibson

The Blades, in turn, put on their always exciting aerobatic four-ship routine before the Red Arrows gave Eastbourne a welcome boost with their seven ship display on all four days. The Typhoon FGR4 brought a captivated seafront to a standstill with a typically thunderous performance to close the show in loud and dramatic style on Sunday.

Photo: Chelsea Gibson

It would be churlish to compare Airbourne with RIAT – they are two completely different shows with two completely different budgets and type of audience. But Eastbourne was a very enjoyable day out and as the show most local to me it makes a cheap day out (the display itself is free) and it isn’t far to travel.

As the dust settled on another brilliant four days on the Sussex coasts, with record breaking crowds and an entertaining and varied flying programme, there came some good news. The show would indeed return for 2023 for it’s 30th year – I, for one, cannot wait!