REPORT: 2016 in review

We always knew that 2016 would be a difficult year. The tightening of display regulations post-Shoreham and a dramatic increase in fees for airshow pilots and organisers in the UK promised to dampen the British airshow season, and Avro Vulcan XH558 promised to leave a large whole in the airshow scene. Little did we know that it was about to get much worse, with a string of four major jet team crashes in less than a week, two of which were fatal. The result was a major scaling-back of the Blue Angels’ and Patrouille Suisse’s airshow commitments and the loss of two well-respected pilots. What turned out to be a tragic year in North America, with five airshow-related deaths, was blissfully fatality-free in Western Europe, and with the fallout from Shoreham continuing, that is exactly what we needed. So instead of bemoaning what transpired to be one of the most difficult airshow seasons in history, this is instead a celebration of the people and their aircraft who contributed to some unforgettable moments.

A Hawker Hurricane banks over a hedgerow on approach to Old Warden. Photo: Roy Gore

It has been an excellent year for historic aviation. B-29 “Doc” has just become the second flying example of its kind, and Avro Lancaster NX611 “Just Jane” has just begun an intensive maintenance programme with the intention of making her the world’s third flying Lancaster. In the UK, The Shuttleworth Collection proved once again that their classic airshows are second-to-none, with their Fly Navy Air Day becoming the only event to receive a perfect 40/40 score from our reviewers.

A trio of Hawker warbirds was among the rare sights of the Fly Navy Air Day. Photo: Roy Gore

Classic jets are still something of a taboo in Britain, but are alive and well in North America, where Art Nalls’ team is moving ever-closer to flying their two-seat Sea Harrier. Europe has excelled, however, in fast jet action, including the final ever display by Ramex Delta, a stunning pairs routine by two Dassault Rafale Ms at the Yeovilton Air Day, an incredible airfield attack scenario at Luchtmachtdagen Leeuwarden and the international debut of the F-35B Lightning II JSF at RIAT and Farnborough; such quality and variety was very much in demand given the Royal Air Force’s dismal commitment to airshows this year. Meanwhile, the prize for fast jet demonstration of the year needs to go to the Royal Malaysian Air Force and their scintillating Sukhoi Su-30MKM display at the Singapore Airshow. Special mention must also go to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who hosted the first airshow in the nation’s history. Foreign enthusiasts rate it as one of the best events they have ever attended.

A USMC F-35B performs a dramatic role demonstration at RIAT. Photo: Alex Prins

We haven’t been short of major international tours this year: the Breitling Jet Team have wrapped up a very successful two-year stint in North America, the Red Arrows made a rather less successful trip to Asia (unless you ask their PR team, of course) which included their first ever show in China. Also in the news for military aerobatic teams was the inauguration of New Zealand’s Black Falcons, who will debut early in 2017, and the addition of two further aircraft to India’s Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team.

The Blue Angels flew much of this season as a 5-ship after the death of Jeff Kuss (left). Photo: Nathan Thompson

It’s been a big year for civilian teams on both sides of the Atlantic, with Team Raven adding a sixth aircraft to their routine and Team AeroDynamix taking a small number of aircraft on tour to China. Rich Goodwood continues to push the limits of what is possible in a Pitts Special, adding fireworks and pyrotechnics to his display and introducing a ribbon cut manoeuvre. He has also announced plans to fit a jet engine to the underside of his aircraft. O’Brien’s Flying Circus created waves when “Otto the Helicopter” joined their fleet, bringing sparkling dusk displays to the Bournemouth Air Festival.

Civilian aerobatics is a fluid field, with teams and performers coming and going. Photo: Roy Gore

Planning is well underway for next airshow season, including a US tour from the Patrouille de France, global celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force and a host of new events, including the RAF Scampton Airshow and the inaugural World Formation Aerobatics Championship in China. There will be major challenges to overcome, but with the wounds of August 2015 and May 2016 fast fading, 2017 is very definitely looking positive.


This Year in Airshows: 2016

  • 21st-23rd January: India’s latest combat aircraft, the Tejas LCA, makes its international airshow debut at the Bahrain International Airshow.
  • 26th January: Lockheed Martin announce they will display the F-35 at UK airshows in 2016. They had initially attempted this in 2014, but engine problems grounded the entire fleet.
  • 27th January: an AM6 Zero makes its post-restoration flight in Japan, becoming the first airworthy Japanese-owned example of the type.
  • 1st February: the Civil Aviation Authority propose new CAP-403 regulations that will dramatically increase the cost of holding airshows in the UK. Several airshows are cancelled as a result.
  • 3rd February: P-51C Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen” of the Commemorative Air Force lands with her gear up in Dallas, USA. She is returned to flight 8 months later.
  • 5th February: P-51D Mustang “Big Beautiful Doll” crashes in Arizona, killing the pilot.
  • 6th February: Roger Buis’ much-loved US airshow act “Otto the Helicopter” joins O’Brein’s Flying Circus in the UK. Otto goes on to perform chopperbatics and dusk displays with pyrotechnics throughout the year.
  • 16th-21st February: the Singapore Airshow sees a one-off duo display of F-15SG and AH-64D Apache from the Republic of Singapore Air Force.
  • 19th February: the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust agree to host an airshow at RAF Scampton from 2017 in replacement of the Waddington Airshow.
  • 21st February: record-holding British test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown dies, aged 97.
  • 28th February: A PBY Catalina makes its post-restoration flight in New Zealand.
  • 3rd March: SoloTürk is added to the El Centro Airshow flying display. It is due to be the team’s US debut until they cancel their appearance two days before the show.
  • 11th-12th March: the Red Bull Air Race World Championship begins in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Rookies Peter Podlunsek and Petr Kopfstein replace Peter Besenyei and Paul Bonhomme.
  • 12-13th March: the Blue Angels begin their 70th airshow season in El Centro, California. On the same weekend, the Thunderbirds perform their first show of the year in Arizona.
  • 19th March: Super Constellation VCA-121A “Columbine II” makes its first flight in Arizona.
  • 27th March: a T-6 Texan of the Roaring Forties Aerobatic Team suffers a runway excursion at Warbirds Over Wanaka.

      

  • 8th-10th April: the annual Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in in Florida hosts a one-off Red Bull Air Race demonstration and the Breitling Jet Team’s first display of the year.
  • 14th April: the Civil Aviation Authority release their final report into 2015’s Shoreham Airshow crash and tighten safety regulations.
  • 17th April: Juan Miguel Garcia is killed when his Extra 300 crashed during the Cozumel Aero Show, Mexico.
  • 8th May: the Red Arrows begin their airshow season at the Shuttleworth Season Premiere Airshow. It is the first time they have flown at Old Warden in over 30 years. Their display is interrupted when a helicopter intrudes on their airspace.
  • 9th May: the Commemorative Air Force’s P-63F Kingcobra makes its post-restoration flight in Houston.
  • 14th May: Greg Condell is killed at the Good Neighbor Air Day, USA, when his Wolfpitts failed to recover from a half-cuban.
  • 15th May: the Commemorative Air Force’s PBJ-1J Mitchell makes its post-restoration flight in California, USA. It is the only airworthy aircraft of its kind.
  • 19th May: Vulcan to the Sky Trust announces the commencement of a return-to-flight project on record-breaking English Electric Canberra WK163. They aim to fly her for the RAF’s centenary in 2018, but that date is soon delayed due to lack of public interest.
  • 20th May: the RAF’s King Air Display Team are stood down midway through their 2016 training when safety issues and technical problems are discovered. The team had been inactive since the end of 2011.
  • 20th May: the Military Aviation Museum’s Bf109G Buchon makes its post-restoration flight in Virginia, USA.
  • 24th May: Blue Swallow Aircraft undertake the first engine run of their 1918 Curtis JN-4.
  • 28th May: Durham Tees-Valley Airport hosts the inaugural SKYLIVE Airshow.
  • 28th May: Bill Gordon is killed as his P-47 crashes into Hudson River near Manhattan on a publicity flypast for the Bethpage Jones Beach Airshow, USA.

      

  • 2nd June: a faulty throttle causes Thunderbird solo pilot Maj. Alex Turner’s F-16 to lose power after a flypast in Colorado. Turner ejected safely after turning to avoid houses.
  • 2nd June: Blue Angels solo pilot Capt. Jeff Kuss is killed in a fatal crash in Tennessee when he enters a split-S too low and is unable to recover. The entire team is stood down.
  • 9th June: two F-5s of the Patrouille Suisse clip during a rehearsal for Luchtmachtdagen Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. One pilot lands safely, the other ejects and receives minor injuries. The team perform as a 5-ship for the remainder of the year.
  • 9th June: the Throckmorton Airshow is cancelled two days before the event due to increased insurance costs. After several years of poor PR and mixed feedback, it is unlikely the show will ever return.
  • 9th June: Russian Knights pilot Sergei Yeremenko dies when he suffered a stroke in his jet and crashes after a flypast in Russia.
  • 10th-11th June: the F-35 Lightning II makes its international airshow debut at Luchtmachtdagen Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Two F-35As from the KLu take part in an airfield attack demonstration with RNLAF F-16s.
  • 10th-12th June: the inaugural Torbay Airshow is held, featuring a sunset display.
  • 12th June: the Collings Foundation’s TF-51D Mustang “Toulouse Nuts” makes its post-restoration flight in Florida, USA.
  • 17th June: Bruce Evans is killed at the Cold Lake Airshow, Canada, when his T-28 dives into the ground.
  • 18th June: the Thunderbirds return to airshow flying at the Ocean City Airshow, USA.
  • 18th June: a Red Arrows risk assessment leads them to cancel their planned displays at the Farnborough International Airshow. The team are limited to flypasts and ground activities.

     

  • 2nd July: Navy Wings, an amalgamation of several British Naval warbird operators, is launched at the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day.
  • 2nd July: the Blue Angels return to airshow flying in Traverse City, but display with just five jets following the death of Capt. Jeff Kuss the previous month.
  • 5th July: Hawker Fury SR661 makes its post-restoration flight from Sywell, UK.
  • 8th-10th July: the F-35B Lightning II makes its international airshow debut at the Royal International Air Tattoo, UK. The jet flew in formation with the Red Arrows.
  • 9th-10th July: the USAF Heritage Flight F-22 Raptor and P-51D Mustang appear at Duxford Flying Legends, UK. It is the first time a jet aircraft has participated in the show’s air display.
  • 9th-10th July: Ramex Delta perform their final air display at the Royal International Air Tattoo. One of their Mirage 2000s wears a special paint scheme.
  • 11th-17th July: the Farnborough International Airshow takes place in the UK. The event comes under heavy criticism; the Red Arrows don’t display and fast jet demonstrations are toned down. Development near the airport has lead to heavy display restrictions on the flying display. Heavy rain forced the evacuation of the site on the first trade day.
  • 11th July: the US Navy announce Cmdr. Frank Weisser, a former Blue Angels pilot, will return to the team until the end of the 2017 season to replace Capt. Jeff Kuss.
  • 13th July: a skydiver is seriously injured when he slams into the ground and hits his head on an aircraft during an airshow in Grand Island, USA.
  • 14th July: bombarded by strong criticism following the CAA’s tightened airshow regulations, the Shuttleworth Collection receive permission to move the display line closer to the crowd.
  • 17th July: North Weald Heritage Aviation is established in the UK. They own a Sea Fury, Hawker Hunter, P-51D Mustang and Spitfire Fr.XIVe.
  • 17th July: the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Avro Lancaster PA474 “Thumper” returns to flight after an engine fire in early 2015.
  • 17th July: B-29 “Doc” makes its post-restoration flight in Kansas, becoming the second airworthy example of its kind.
  • 22nd July: Randy Harris and passenger Dale Shillingdon are killed when their Skybolt crashes at Vance AFB, USA, while preparing for the base’s anniversary airshow.
  • 25th July: the Red Arrows announce a major tour of the Asia-Pacific region, to be held later that year. The tour is a part of the “GREAT Britain” campaign.
  • 25th-31st July: EAA AirVenture Oshkosh runs for a week in Wisconsin. The Snowbirds perform at the show for the first time in over 30 years. After making its debut at the event, the Martin Mars water bomber is damaged in a bird strike. A-26 “Silver Dragon” suffers a minor landing accident when the nose wheel collapses.
  • 28th July: the US Navy confirm that the Blue Angels’ F/A-18A/C Hornets will be replaced by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the 2018 airshow season.

      

  • 4th August: Hangar10’s Hispano Bf109G-12 makes its post-restoration flight in Germany.
  • 5th August: the Royal Air Force cancel the remainder of the Chinook Display Team’s season, citing concerns over airframe fatigue.
  • 9th August: the Blue Angels’ support plane, C-130 “Fat Albert”, is withdrawn from service for the remainder of the year for intensive maintenance.
  • 14th August: an aircraft of the Turbulent Team ditches in the sea when the plane loses power at the Herne Bay Airshow, UK, with no injuries.
  • 20th August: a Dewoitine D.26 overruns the runway and flips on its back at the Wittingsburg Airshow. The pilot is unhurt.
  • 27th August: former aerobatic champion Michel Leusch is killed while displaying an XA-42 at a general aviation expo in China.
  • 27th August: Marcus Paine is killed at the Airshow of the Cascades, USA, when his aircraft fails to recover from a loop after take-off.
  • 30th August: the Shackleton Preservation Trust is disbanded when volunteers cause major problems within the trust. A select group are continuing to look after the aircraft.
  • 1st September: Spitfire Mk IX BR601 of the Collings Foundation makes its post-restoration flight in the UK after restoration by the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar.
  • 3rd September: the Blue Angels perform their first 6-ship airshow since June’s crash in Cleveland. Cmdr. Frank Weisser replaces the late Capt. Jeff Kuss as the opposing solo.
  • 9th September: Red Bull Air Race pilot Hannes Arch dies during a private helicopter flight in Austria. He is replaced by Cristian Boulton for the remainder of the season.
  • 10th September: two ultralight pilots are killed when their aircraft collide with a glider on approach to the Flugplatzfest Grossrückerswalde airshow in Germany.
  • 11th September: IWM Duxford stage a formation and tailchase involving 15 Spitfires as the finale to their airshow season.
  • 14th-18th September: The Reno Air Races are held in Nevada. Thom Richard narrowly avoids injury when his plane is hit by another aircraft at high speed as he waits on the runway. Chiwami Takagi-Read makes an emergency landing and escapes without injury when her Glasair I catches fire midflight. A de Havilland Vampire crashes near the airport after a bird strike and is written off. The pilot is unhurt.
  • 15th September: the WWI Heritage Aviation Trust’s Albatross DVa crash-lands in a field in the UK following an engine failure on a ferry flight. The aircraft is damaged but there were no injuries.
  • 15th September: a Xiaoying Kitty Hawk 500 crashes during a joy flight at the Shijiazhuang General Aviation Exhibition, China, killing the pilot and all three passengers.
  • 16th September: the report into June’s fatal Blue Angels crash is released. The main factor in the accident was pilot error.
  • 20th September: the Blue Angels adopt a reduced show schedule to decrease strain on pilots. Their appearance at the upcoming Patuxent River Airshow is cancelled.
  • 23rd September: a pilot dies when his Pitts S-2 crashes into the runway at an airshow in Taean, Republic of Korea. The pilot didn’t have the clearances required for aerobatic displays .
  • 23rd September: Terry Martin’s UK-based Westland Wasp is forced to land in a field during a ferry flight when collective pitch control is lost, damaging the aircraft.
  • 23rd September: the Russian Knights receive their first Sukhoi Su-30SM. The Su-30 will replace the team’s Su-27s for the 2017 season.
  • 24th-25th September: North Korea holds its first airshow. The Wonsan Air Festival features displays from Air Koryo and the nation’s air force, receiving critical acclaim from visitors.
  • 24th-25th September: the Malta Airshow includes a sunset display and is held over water for the first time. Headline act Team Iskra of Poland are limited to flypasts as they are unable to fly aerobatics over water.
  • 26th September: Avspecs in New Zealand complete and fly de Havilland Mosquito TV959.
  • 28th September: the Red Arrows depart Scampton on their 2-month Asia tour.
  • 28th September: a civilian-owned CF-104D Starfighter makes its post-restoration flight in Bodø, Norway. It is the only airworthy example of the type outside the USA.

      

  • 1st October: B-29 “Doc” makes its second post-restoration flight.
  • 2nd October: Hawker Hurricane Mk.XII 5481 makes its post-restoration flight in Scone, Australia.
  • 2nd October: An 80-year-old passenger dies when P-51D Mustang “Janie” crashes in a field near Harwick, UK. Pilot and owner Maurice Hammond is seriously injured.
  • 2nd October: with an insurmountable number of points, Germany’s Matthias Dolderer is confirmed as the 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Champion in Indianapolis, USA.
  • 5th October: Hurricane Matthew causes havoc in Florida, leading to the cancellation of the Wings Over Golden Isles Airshow.
  • 7th October: Maltese media revealed that DARTS Aviation is establishing a 9-ship aerobatic team on the island using the L-39 Albatross. The team will debut in March 2017, touring the world with the DARTS Aviation Cup, a dogfighting competition.
  • 8th October: India’s Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team make their debut with six Hawks at Air Force Day near New Delhi. Poor visibility prevented the Red Arrows from displaying.
  • 8th-9th October: the Thunderbirds fly their only display of the year outside of the US mainland. The event takes place near San Juan, Puerto Rico.
  • 8th-9th October: Cartouche Doré perform their final displays at the Free Flight World Masters in St. Maxime, France, before being temporarily stood down.
  • 15th-16th October: the final round of the Red Bull Air Race is cancelled due to weather. Matthias Dolderer is crowned Champion with Australia’s Matt Hall in second place and the late Hannes Arch in third.
  • 17th October: the Historic Aircraft Collection’s original Sopwith Pup makes its post-restoration flight from Duxford, UK.
  • 17th October: a Sopwith Pup replica with a Le Rhône engine makes its first flight in Spokane, USA.
  • 18th October: the World Formation Aerobatics Championships is officially launched. Featuring top civilian teams from around the world, the event will be held in May 2017 in Zhengzhou, China.
  • 18th October: P-38 Lightning “White 33” makes its post-restoration flight in Colorado.
  • 19th October: the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre announce the commencement of an intensive return-to-flight project for Avro Lancaster NX611 “Just Jane”.
  • 21st-23rd October: the Breitling Jet Team conclude their 2-year North American tour at the inaugural Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow in Florida.
  • 25th October: airshow legend Bob Hoover dies, aged 94.
  • 28th October: the Vulcan to the Sky Trust announce they will be downsizing and streamlining their operations, including moving Vulcan XH558 from Hangar 3 to a smaller space in Hangar 1 at Robin Hood Airport.
  • 29th October: a return-to-flight project is launched at Goodwood, UK, for Hawker Typhoon RB396. The project should be complete for the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

     

  • 1st-6th November: the Red Arrows display in China for the first time at Airshow China in Zhuhai. Meanwhile, in the UK, defence secretary Michael Fallon confirms the team’s future is safe, but a replacement for their ageing Hawk T.1s has not been decided upon.
  • 12th November: Yu Xu, the first female pilot to fly the J-10, is killed on ejection from her J-10 during a training flight for the PLAAF August 1st aerobatic team in Hebei province, China.
  • 11th-13th November: the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels wrap up their airshow seasons at Aviation Nation in Las Vegas and Pensacola in Florida respectively. In addition to the Thunderbirds, the West Coast Ravens prove to be a highlight of Aviation Nation, with a complex 24-ship routine.
  • 16th-19th November: Iran hosts its first airshow since the lifting of sanctions under the Iran nuclear deal. The Baltic Bees Jet Team and Russian Knights are the stars of the show, along with flypasts by Iranian F-14 Tomcats.
  • 30th November: it is revealed that the Patrouille de France will perform at airshows in the USA for the first time in over 30 years in  early 2017.
  • 2nd December: the Red Arrows return to Scampton, marking the end of their Asia tour.
  • 4th-8th December: the International Council of Air Shows hold their annual convention in Las Vegas. Schedules are released and plans laid for the 2017 airshow season.
  • 13th December: airworthy de Havilland Mosquito TV959 arrives in the USA from New Zealand.
  • 14th December: Maj. Alex Turner is cleared when a report found he was not to blame for June’s Thunderbirds crash.
  • 15th December: plans to build housing on Dunsfold Airfield in the UK are approved, signalling the eventual end of the popular Dunsfold Wings & Wheels show.
  • 16th December: organisers of the popular Rockford AirFest near Chicago announce that the event has been suspended indefinitely.
  • 17th December: CAC Mustang A68-199 owned by Peter Gill makes its first flight in over 40 years in Tyabb, Australia.
  • 19th December: Art Nalls’ second Sea Harrier runs its engines, moving closer to a post-restoration flight.
  • 21st December: the last USAF QF-4 Phantoms are retired at a commemorative event at Holloman AFB, New Mexico.

2016 accident record

Number of fatalities directly attributable to display flying by region, 2016:

  • North America: 7 (from approx. 400 events)
    • USA: 5
    • Canada: 1
    • Mexico: 1
  • Asia & Middle East: 3 (from approx. 100 events)
    • China: 2
    • Republic of Korea: 1
  • Europe: 1 (from approx. 300 events)
    • Russia: 1
  • Australia/Pacific: 0 (from approx. 30 events)