Bournemouth Air Festival is particularly renowned for its night flying. This is is Brendan O'Brien in his Cub
Bournemouth's Air Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2017 and in that decade has become the best-attended seaside airshow in the UK.
The Festival is well supported locally and has a reputation for innovation. In 2010 it was the first show to introduce dusk flying with LEDs and Fireworks. It has good support, too, from the RAF teams and a naval contribution.
The undoubted highlight of 2018 will be the display by the 6 L-39 Albatros jets of the Breitling Jet Team, the world’s largest professional civilian flight team flying jets. The team are due to perform three daytime displays and one display at dusk. These are the only displays the team are currently due to perform in the UK in 2018.
Bournemouth Air Festival
Bournemouth's first airshow, called the Bournemouth Air Festival, was held in August 2008. It has grown in size and popularity since then, rivalling traditional seaside airshows such as Eastbourne.
Like Eastbourne's Airbourne, it is held from Thursday to Sunday along the seafront and offers sea-based events and static displays as well as military, historic and aerobatic air displays. Expect some kind of beach assault or air-sea rescue re-enactment, a lot of participation by all three armed services and some dusk or early evening flying.
Bournemouth's sea front is seven miles long. The air displays can be seen from most points, including the balconies of sea front hotels, but the best viewing is from the centre of the flying line, between Bournemouth and Boscombe piers, either at sea level or from above on a road called East Overcliff Drive.
Aircraft due to fly
Red Arrows (Thurs 5pm, Fri 3pm & Sat at noon)
Breitling Jet Team (3 day displays & 1 dusk display)
Dakota, Spitfire and Hurricane (BBMF) (Thurs, Fri & Sun)
B-17G 'Sally B' (all four days)
Team Raven (All 4 days)
The Blades (Sat & Sun)
Swordfish W5856 (Navy Wings) (all 4 days) (TBC)
Tigers Parachute Display Team
Great War Display Team - around 6 WW1 fighters (Sat & Sun)
Brendan O'Brien & Otto the helicopter (Thurs, Fri, Sat)
Strikemaster pair, G-SOAF and G-RSAF (Sat, Sun)
Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers (all four days)
Fireflies (joint display with Twisters)
Twisters (joint display with Fireflies)
Vampires FB.52 and T.55 Flying in close formation with the Strikemasters
2 pilots from 'Take on Gravity' in personal jetsuits
All appearances are subject to technical, weather and other constraints
Bournemouth Air Festival
31st August - 3rd September 2017
Eight of the Red Arrows break over RFA Argus on Friday
This was the tenth anniversary of one of the UK's premier seaside airshows with input from the RAF, Army and Royal Navy, as well as civilian displays.
A special show might have been expected for such an occasion and there was certainly plenty on the ground for the whole family around the pier and along the entire stretch between Bournemouth and Boscombe piers, both at sea level and in East Overcliff Drive above.
There was also a great dusk programme, with excellent variety: a flowing, aesthetic display from the Twisters; dynamic multi-coloured fireworks from Brendan O’Brien in Otto and both solo and combination descents from the Red Devil Parachute Display Team. For such an anniversary, however, many might feel that overall the flying displays were not as auspicious as the occasion warranted.
The Bournemouth festival is usually well supported by the the naval fraternity, with several Royal Navy vessels and generally one or two from France, too. However this year, because of 'operational and resource pressures' there was just one ship; one of the regulars, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship RFA Argus. It is normally possible to visit a naval vessel but this year that option was not available: there were no visits by members of the public on board although it was possible to take a 45-minute trip in a private boat that sailed around the outside. (... continued below the pictures)
Fireworks from Brendan O'Brien in Otto
Red Arrows fly 'The Goose' over Bournemouth Pier
Red Arrows fly the Tornado
Great War Display Team over the bay
Sally B and the Blenheim
RFA Argus was the landing platform for the Merlin helicopter that supported an assault demonstration, when troops and heavy vehicles showed how they would deal with a threat on the beach. There was a practice on Friday and a full demonstration on Saturday and Sunday: the Saturday assault accompanied by rather fast and distant passes by a pair of Hawks from RAF Culdrose. On Sunday the Merlin supporting the beach assault demonstration, but without the Hawks, was the only flying. All other displays were cancelled because of poor visibility, high crosswinds and the forecast of rain. Cancellations are always a pity, but Sunday's cancellation was especially unfortunate because it promised to have one of the highlights of the weekend: a six-ship vintage jet display to complement the 'Vintage Sunday' theme. Most of the jets, a Strikemaster, a Jet Provost, the MiG-15 and the Vampire pair had taken part in the Festival earlier in the week, but Sunday would have added a second Jet Provost and would have been the only opportunity to see all six. There is no fault on the part of the pilots or the Bournemouth team, who really had no choice given the conditions, but it was a pity that the weather got the better of the best efforts of the Festival Organisers.
Although the Festival was well-served by the five vintage jets that did fly, many people bemoaned the lack of a modern jet, especially in the wake appearances by the Belgian F-16 at Eastbourne and Biggin Hill. The RAF did lend its usual support but it was without the Typhoon, which was committed to displays in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Lancaster, whose displays had been paused, along with other Merlin-engined BBMF aircraft, because of a technical issue. On the positive side, there were two appearances by the RAF Chinook: a flypast on Thursday and a full display on Friday. The Chinook was only booked for 11 public UK airshows in the whole of 2017, so the Friday display was a relative rarity this year.
The Red Arrows were as popular as always. Red 9 was suffering the effects of food poisoning on Friday, so there was a chance to see an eight-ship display, but the full complement of nine flew on Thursday and Saturday. It was noticeable how the number of spectators walking around reduced, and the numbers along the barriers looking skywards increased, as Red 10 Mike Ling announced their arrival and took the hundreds of thousands of spectators through the team's manoeuvres. However, other Festival highlights are harder to identify.
For us, along with the superb dusk-flying, at which the Bournemouth Air Festival excels, the combination of B-17G 'Sally B' and the Blenheim was certainly a contender. Seeing either of these WW2 bombers is always a treasure, but seeing them together, and being able to contrast their size and form, is not something that happens frequently, even though they share a home at Duxford.
The Strikemaster is always a pleasure to behold, especially with the added dimension of a pairing with a Jet Provost on Saturday, and it was also good to see seven of the aircraft of the Great War Display Team, whose routine incorporating passes and tailchases easily puts the spectator in mind of the dogfights that would have ensued between the actual WW1 machines of which the display aircraft are excellent replicas.
Overall, the Festival was a huge success. Despite a brief downpour on Thursday, and the weather cancellation of nearly all flying on Sunday, there was still plenty to keep the whole family joyfully occupied from after breakfast through to the dusk flying at 8pm and the fireworks at 10pm. The military villages were buzzing with activity and excitement and military music filled much of the interval between daytime and dusk flying. The beach concerts, including the free ones, were varied and to a high standard and children will have found lots to keep themselves and their guardians dipping into their pockets for rides and treats. Or for no money at all there are miles, literally, of sandy beaches, and one or two lawns for those who prefer grass, from which to watch the flying: a schedule of the aircraft is in the table.
Despite this undoubted success there will be many who may question whether, despite some great performances, the total flying package was as special as a 10th anniversary event might deserve. We also felt that breaking the displays into three sessions on Thursday and having to give way to other priorities at Bournemouth airport meant that sequence was sometimes rather fragmented. Overall, as a family seaside festival we thought it was great. As an airshow we felt it was rather underwhelming.
There was free live music on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Thursday: Rooster, a party band; on Friday: The Nick Ross Orchestra with Sam Merrick and on Saturday the beach was crowded for a superb Stevie Wonder tribute band called The Wonderband.
There were also concerts (not free) at the Immense Air Aerobar on all four days featuring, through the week, Ed Sheeran Experience Tribute Act, Rio Carnival, Koh Pha Ngan Full Moon Party and Vintage Day and postcard pin ups. Not quite a match for last year's Kaiser Chiefs but tickets were only £5 in advance.
There were fireworks at 10pm from the end of Boscombe Pier on Friday and Bournemouth Pier on Saturday.
Red Arrows (Thurs 6 p.m. Fri 3.30 p.m. Sat noon. No display Sunday)
Chinook (Thursday (flypast) and Friday)
Hawker Hurricane Mk X (Sat, Sun*)
Spitfire TR lX (Thurs, Fri)
Spitfire Mk lXb flying with
Hispano Buchón 'Black 8' (Sun*)
Blades (Three-ship, without Ben Murphy) (All four days*)
Sally B (All 4 days*)
Strikemaster Solo (Fri)
Strikemaster Pair (Sat, Sun*). [In practice, Strikemaster solo with Jet Provost XW325 on Saturday]
Jet Provost T.5 (Sun*, flying with Strikemaster pair)
Vampire pair (Sat, Sun*)
Mig-15 (Thurs, Fri, Sun*)
Wingwalker solo (Thurs, Sat, Sun**)
Twisters, daytime displays (Thurs, Fri)
Great War Display Team. Seven WW1 types on Saturday (Sat & Sun*)
P-51D Mustang 'Miss Helen' (Thurs, Fri)
Bristol Blenheim (All four days*)
Gerald Cooper Xtreme Air XA41 (All four days*)
Yakovlevs (Sat [2 Yaks] & Sun* [4 Yaks])
Tigers Parachute Display Team (All four days*)
Merlin HM2 (Supporting beach landings, Sat, Sun & practice Fri)
Hawk T1 (x2) (Supporting beach landings, Sat, Sun & practice Fri)
* All Sunday flying, except the Merlin in support of the beach landings, was cancelled
Dusk displays: Thurs, Fri & Sat
Red Devils Parachute Display Team
Otto the helicopter - Brendan O'Brien
Once listed but subsequently cancelled
Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane (Thurs, Fri) An issue with Merlin engines in the BBMF fleet is being dealt with. In the meantime, the Lancaster is airworthy and fighters are being brought back as they are cleared, although displays by some Merlin-engined BBMF aircraft remain paused.
Dakota, Spitfire, Hurricane (Sat, Sun) An issue with Merlin engines in the BBMF fleet is being dealt with. In the meantime, the Lancaster is airworthy and fighters are being brought back as they are cleared, although displays by some Merlin-engined BBMF aircraft remain paused.
Swordfish W5865 (unserviceable)
Plenty of action despite weather disruption
AeroSparx on Thursday
Unfortunately, even shows as well organized and as well supported as the Bournemouth Air Festival can suffer when the weather is unfavourable. And unfavourable it was. It was especially bad on Saturday, when there was no afternoon flying. Huge credit to the team at Bournemouth and the pilots. With conditions this bad, some shows would simply have cancelled. But Bournemouth managed to retain a huge chunk of the flying and move it along four hours, turning what could have been a disastrous flying day into a good dusk to evening programme.
The Festival had already been affected, as shows invariably are, by cancellations ahead of the event. Bournemouth had been the only show in the UK to be awarded two displays by the Swiss Air Force. Unfortunately, the F-18 was subsequently cancelled, although the Super Puma did remain on the programme: the only UK show to be awarded the Swiss Super Puma in 2016. The show was also privileged to be allocated the Typhoon for three days, scooping a dusk display on Friday, and was the only show to have the Red Arrows and the Black Cats scheduled for all four days.
Brendan O'Brien with Otto
The Bournemouth festival is always very well supported by the the naval fraternity. In 2016 both Royal Navy and French vessels: HMS Monmouth, HMS Grimsby, HMS Tyne, RFA Argus and FNS Sagittaire were all offshore adding to the spectacle, providing a photogenic backdrop to the views and to the flying displays and, in some cases, supporting amphibious Royal Navy and Royal Marine beach assault demonstrations when troops and heavy vehicles invaded the beach with support from helicopters launched from the ships.
The small boats were moved further away from the display line following an extension of the maritime exclusion zone. The flotilla of small ships nevertheless also adds to the ambience, as do several of the coastal formations, such as the Needles to the east and 'Old Harry' to the west.
Against this welcoming background the number and variety of aircraft involved in the flying was rather weaker than at previous Bournemouth Air Festivals. The cancellation of the Swiss F-18 was an early disappointment and the lack of a crowd-puller, such as previous years' Vulcan display and the absence of the hugely popular Chinook or the Sea Vixen appeared to have an affect on visitor numbers, further reduced by poor weather for much of the weekend. The official estimate for one of the better days weather-wise was 187,000 on Thursday.
Against this background, Thursday's action in the air lifted to mood somewhat, with a plentiful programme including a bonus appearance by the BBMF with the Lancaster at official opening time around 10.30, and unprogrammed displays by the Swordfish, in formation with the Black Cats, and Sally B during the afternoon. Once again, the action began with a series of passes by a pensioner wingwalker, this year 85 year-old Dawn Goodson raising funds for a motor neurone disease charity, and continued more-or-less on programme, including a rolling display by the Red Arrows, ending with a spectacular series of dusk displays. The Fireflies, Otto the helicopter and AeroSPARX all lighting the dusk skies with LEDs and fireworks off the wings followed by a parachute jump by the Red Devils, who did keep everyone waiting quite a while as they kept gaining height, eventually to 5,000ft.
Tap / hover over icon for more detail
Red Arrows (RAF)
Eurofighter Typhoon (RAF)
Puma helicopter (Swiss Air Force)
Black Cats (RN)
BBMF Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane
B-17G 'Sally B'
Breitling Wingwalkers (Friday cancelled)
Great War Display Team (Sunday cancelled)
Tigers Parachute Display Team
Gerald Cooper Xtreme XA41
Otto the helicopter (Brendan O'Brien)
Cancelled before the show.
F/A-18C 'Hornet' (Swiss Air Force) CANCELLED
King Air Display Team (RAF) CANCELLED
RAF Chinook CANCELLED
Day two, Friday, began very wet, leaving many spectators fearful that the afternoon's flying might be affected. In the event the start was delayed by an hour but then, for the rest of this day at least, the elements allowed most of the flying to go ahead. The conditions were still gloomy to begin with but the low cloud lifted and even gave way to blue skies periodically although the gusty wind prevailed. The Swordfish was replaced by the Fireflies in the schedule but the weather at the end of the afternoon caused the cancellation of the Wingwalkers, Tigers and Red Devils. The evening flying did go ahead, though, including the Typhoon with a rare dusk display and its second display of the day.
The weather forecast for Saturday was so bad that it was announced on Friday that Saturday's programme would not go ahead as planned. The organisers did manage to run an abbreviated deferred programme from about 5pm, however, although the dusk and evening activities were all called off. On Sunday the Great War display Team were cancelled and the Tigers didn't jump.
The weather that disrupted the flying displays also caused the cancellation of ancillary events. The visits to the ships were affected by the weather and were cancelled on Saturday and Sunday and particular weather casualties were the music shows. The show area had to be cleared early on Friday because of exceptionally high tides, causing the star act, the Kaiser Chiefs, to be cancelled and all shows on Saturday were cancelled because of consequent damage to the stage.
Getting to the Show
From the east, the M27 and A31 will get you close, then follow the signs. From the west, use the A35. Post Code (for sat nav) BH2 5AA will get you to Bournemouth pier but ignore the sat nav in favour of local directions signs as soon as you see them. There are links to route planners in the Travel Advice column if you prefer to plan ahead or don't have sat nav. Bournemouth and the surrounding roads are extremely busy during festival week so the organisers recommend the use of the (chargeable) park & ride schemes.
National Express have coach services from London, Gatwick, and along the coast from Weymouth and Poole.
Bournemouth is served by SouthWest trains to London and towns in Hampshire and Dorset; Virgin trains to the north, sometimes direct and sometimes via London or Coventry and by Southern's West Coastway service to Sussex towns via Southampton.
The variety of rail tickets and fares can be very confusing. Trainline and Raileasy web sites list all ticket and fare options for the time and day of travel you choose but they both levy an admin fee. Click either of the blue ticket agency names to go to their web site.
It is best to book as far as possible in advance. This is not only because nearby hotels and guest houses tend get booked up well before the date of an airshow but also because prices can be better when you book early online.
There are plenty of booking agencies. We find that many of the well known ones are better at finding hotels from international or larger UK chains and may suggest hotels in main towns or cities quite a distance from the show site.
Expedia lists a good selection of smaller, as well as bigger, hotels and will find accommodation in villages and small towns as well as the main centres. They also give, and take, Nectar points.
Click the blue Expedia name for a list of hotels and guest houses near the show. The venue is already built into the link, so when the list comes up you just have to adjust the dates, number of rooms and guests as necessary.
Trivago will list competitive prices for a range of hotels, but they might not necessarily find them all, because some chains do not subscribe to their service. You may also get a better rate if you book direct with an hotel, especially if you are a member of a loyalty or rewards scheme.
For other hotels, the International Hotels Group have a Holiday Inn Express in Poole, about 10 miles to the west; Premier Inn have three hotels in Bournemouth and one in Christchurch, about 5 miles away.
Weather for the show area
The Met office seven-day forecast includes maximum, minimum and "feels like" temperatures, the likelihood of rain, wind direction, gusts and visibility: the latter can have an impact on the viability of displays.
The BBC's five-day forecast has overall conditions including temperatures, UV range and a description that may help to determine how pleasant the day will be for the visitor.
Click the blue-text link to go to the forecast. The location is already built into the links.