Photographing aerobatics at Sunderland International Airshow

The 30th Sunderland International Airshow took place from 27 to 29 July in the north-east of England. It’s an event I enjoy attending for outstanding opportunities to photograph aerobatic displays by the likes of The Blades and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows.

Over the past three decades the annual event has become established as one of Europe’s biggest free-to-visit air shows. It’s a popular family day out, attracting thousands of visitors to Sunderland’s seafront. Live music provides part of the pull. So too do military stalls and aircraft simulators in Seaburn Park and on Roker Cliff Park.

Flying up-side down at Sunderland International Airshow.
Flying up-side down at Sunderland International Airshow.

Photography at Sunderland International Airshow

The air show is also popular among photographers. Some of the lenses being used on the promenade were, quite frankly, immense. I spotted a handful of tele-zooms with an upper length of 600mm. Quite a few of the fellas wielding long tele-zooms were overweight and had thinning hair, so I suppose I fitted right in!

Red on blue....the Red Arrows flying in formation at the 2018 Sunderland International Airshow.
Red on blue….the Red Arrows flying in formation at the 2018 Sunderland International Airshow.

I decided to use a 100-400mm L series Canon lens, so that I had an element of flexibility in what I could photograph. The results, I think, showed that was a good choice.

The poppy markings on this North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco are a commemoration of Remembrance a century on from the end of World War One.
The poppy markings on this North American Rockwell OV-10 Bronco are a commemoration of Remembrance a century on from the end of World War One.

Weather during the air show

The summer of 2018 has been glorious. Long hours of sunshine and blue skies have characterised June and July. It was such a shame that the fine weather broke just ahead of the Sunderland International Airshow.

Pilots display flying skills at Sunderland International Airshow.
Pilots displaying flying skills during aerobatics at Sunderland International Airshow.

Checking the weather forecast prior to the weekend event revealed that thunder storms and high winds were predicted. The cloudy sky on Friday night also hampered opportunities to view the century’s longest lunar eclipse — folk elsewhere had spectacular views of a reddish ‘Blood Moon’. The seafront fireworks display went ahead despite lightning forking through the North East sky.

Ultimately the poor weather meant several of the displays scheduled during the weekend’s programme had to be postponed or cancelled. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight — featuring a Lancaster Bomber, a Spitfire and a Hurricane — and the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team were just two of the attractions forced to withdraw due to blustery conditions.

The RAF Red Arrows perform at the 30th Sunderland International Airshow.
The RAF Red Arrows perform at the 30th Sunderland International Airshow.

A barnstorming wing walking show

I’d love to think I was brave enough to get out of the cockpit of an aircraft in mid-flight and stand on top of it as it loops through the sky. Frankly, though, I’m not.

Some people will do anything for extra leg room.
Some people will do anything for extra leg room.

The performance by the AeroSuperBatics Wingwalkers was spectacular. Members of the crowd were muttering oohs and wows while the two orange biplanes went through their manoeuvres.

The women on top of the aircraft showed their agility while the planes trailed vapour.

A wing walking display featuring biplanes at the 2018 Sunderland International Airshow.
A wing walking display featuring biplanes at the 2018 Sunderland International Airshow.

Historic aircraft and aerobatics

It wasn’t so long ago that the world lived under a constant threat of obliteration by nuclear war. The modern threat of terrorism meant that approach roads to Sunderland’s seafront were closed — blocked by concrete barriers and one tonne bags of sand.

During the Cold War Soviet aircraft frequently tested the prowess of the Royal Air Force to defend the air space above the United Kingdom.

A silver Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jet flying in blue sky above Sunderland.
A silver Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 fighter jet flying in blue sky above Sunderland.

The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 was one of the USSR’s most produced fighter jets. A silver Mig-15 with Soviet markings flew above Seaburn Beach during the air show and was later joined by two de Havilland Vampires, a jet fighter flown by the RAF from 1946.

The Blades is the UK’s only full-time civilian aerobatics display team and flew four Extra EA-300s off Sunderland’s coastline.

The Blades are the only full-time, civilian aerobatics team based in the United Kingdom.
The Blades are the only full-time, civilian aerobatics team based in the United Kingdom.

Watching a double-rotor Chinook helicopter displaying a series of manoeuvres above the North Sea while I was being buffeted by wind at ground level made me wonder how tricky it was for the pilot to fly in the gusty conditions.

A Royal Air Force operated Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter being flown at the Sunderland International Airshow.
A Royal Air Force operated Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter being flown at the Sunderland International Airshow.

The Red Arrows in Sunderland

With the sky darkening, the Red Arrows streaked out above the North Sea trailing red, white and blue vapour.

The team’s precision flying always impresses me. I can’t imagine what it must be like to hurtle towards an oncoming jet aircraft trusting in the skill and training of my colleagues.

The Royal Air Force, of which the aerobatics display team is part, turns 100 in 2018.

Hopefully the weather will be kinder for next Sunderland International Airshow. Still, the 2018 edition had some spectacular moments.

Aircraft trailing vapour during the 2018 air show in Sunderland.
Aircraft trailing vapour during the 2018 air show in Sunderland.

Further information

Like the idea of visiting the North East for a future edition of the Sunderland International Airshow? The See It Do It Sunderland website has information about attractions and places to stay on Wearside.

The Visit England website also has ideas about things to do and see in the country’s north-east.

The photographs of the aircraft flying at the Sunderland International Airshow photography are by Why Eye Photography, a north-east based photography company. Want to commission a shoot? Get in touch by calling 07947 587136 or via the Why Eye Photography website.

Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning journalist based in the north-east of England. He is available for commissions and can be contacted via this website.

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The Red Arrows breaking in the sky above Sunderland in North East England.
The Red Arrows breaking in the sky above Sunderland in the north-east of England.

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