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Sanicole International Airshow

20 July 2008

Nowadays, it is almost demanded to list every single programme item of an airshow in advance, quite a difference from just 15 years ago when one just went to a show and with a bit of luck might know 5 aircraft attending, the rest being a complete surprise. This trend takes away some of the fun of the whole show experience, so it was particularly nice to see the Sanicole flying programme listing a couple of items as 'surprises'.

Once again, Sanicole had managed to gather a nice collection of aircraft, even with some cancellations for technical reasons, such as Sally B and the Dutch Hunter. However, as seems to be traditional this year, the weather was not going to play ball, welcoming visitors with some severe showers.

While the aircraft in the morning programme, like the Harvard, Yak-52, Belgian Alouette III and the organizer's performance in the Marchetti SF260 suffered less from the low cloud, extremely low cloud would stop the opening act of the main programme and one of the absolute hightlights dead in its tracks: after just a few passes, the Royal Air Force Red Arrows had to halt their display as low cloud prevented the public from seeing them. Later in the afternoon, as they returned to the Farnborough airshow, they greeted the Belgian public a final time, but again in heavy weather, a grave disappointment not just to the audience, but also to Red 8, Flight Lieutenant Greg Perilleux , who is of Belgian descent and was looking forward to a 'home' game.

The low clouds slowly lifted, though they still curtailed the display of the Spanish Mirage F1, but apart from the Czech JAS-39 Gripen that displayed in heavy rainfall, the fast jets enjoyed nice weather at the end of the show, with the Dutch F-16 performing in clear blue sky, whereas the French Mirage 2000 and Belgian F-16 had some clouds in the background to add perspective. For a show like Sanicole to boast such an impressive line-up of fast jets, in addition to aircraft like the Czech L-159 ALCA, RAF Tutor and Tucano trainers, all flying precise and varied shows, is a compliment to the hard work of the organizers. Even the USAF made a rare airshow appearance, though their B-1B fly-bys seem to get staler with each passing year.

Another military act during the afternoon involved F-16s from 31 'Tiger' squadron performing some fly-bys in formation. The Belgian A-109 was restricted to some fly-bys rather than a full display and the ever-popular Seaking performed a search & rescue demonstration.

The special acts also involved military aircraft. First and perhaps foremost were the formation passes by the Red Arrows together with Mickey Artiges, the Belgian F-16 solo-display pilot, now in his final season. Later on, a Jetairfly Boeing 737 played the part of intruder to be intercepted by F-16s. A moving tribute to demonstration pilot Michel Duvivier, who crashed at the Sanicole airshow with his Mirage V in 1988, killing himself, came from 3 Belgian F-16s with a French Mirage 2000 pulling up to perform a missing man formation. Near the end of the display, the Dutch F-16 teamed up with the Dutch B-25 for a heritage flight, rounding off the list of surprise acts. These acts are what set a show apart from others, so the organization should be applauded for paying special attention to this aspect.

The B-25 and a the French C-47 in the colours honouring the Air France/KLM cooperation were the only World War II aircraft in the main programme, with other classic aircraft coming from the jet age, brought by Swept Wing Ltd from North Weald in the United Kingdom: a duo performance by 2 Gnat jet trainers and a demonstration by a solo Huey, with its famous rotor sound.

As always, Sanicole also presented a number of nice civilian acts, with solo aerobatics from an Extra 300 and Ali Ozturk in his upgraded Pitts S2, formation action by the Romanian Iacarii Acrobati with 2 Yak-52s and the Italian Pioneer Team, both performing for the first time in Belgium, the Belgian Victors with 4 PA-28s, the Breitling Jet team putting on a spirited performance with their L-39s and the Royal Jordanian Falcons putting on their familiar polished act.

From such a varied line-up, filled with unique acts, it should be clear that Sanicole had much to offer for every taste and indeed, the programme did not leave anything to be desired from the record crowd of 25000, even if the operations people must have had a busy day reshuffling around the worst weather.

Listening to the show commentary was also a much more rewarding experience this year, with airshow legend Sean Maffett, together with producer Jonathan Ruffle, bringing his usual style and class to Sanicole, joining the Belgian Dutch-speaking commentator. Mr. Maffett clearly outclassed the Belgian commentator and one can only hope other shows follow suit bringing in such quality voices, as they really do add to the event.

The rain took its toll on the showground, with the western part of the airfield becoming slippier than a used car sales man greased in oil. Perhaps this was also one of the reasons the crowd stuck to the eastern part of the airfield, causing some overcrowding there, resulting in some problems with regards to lines at food stands in that area. These problems did not occur near the club house, reportedly, suggesting this is a problem of crowd management rather than capacity problems, though at 25000, Sanicole does seem to be nearing its limits. Some issues also arose over the placement of the VIP-stage, with it being a little far off-centre, but given the limited number of people affected, it would not merit being labelled a major issue, as this is something that is easily remedied, particularly as the organizing team is open to suggestions from the audience.

Overall, Sanicole offered an enjoyable day out, despite the weather, with an imaginative and varied programme, excellent participants and positive athmosphere, proving how much motivation can do for a show.
In 2009, the Sanicole airshow will be held in September, in combination with the Tiger Meet at Kleine Brogel. Undoubtedly, the organizers will put together another excellent event. Not to be missed!

Report by Chris Janssens

Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present