Preparing for take-off at one of the UK’s biggest aviation events

The ever-popular simulated airfield attack and aircraft scramble
The ever-popular simulated airfield attack and aircraft scramble

When the last aircraft has taken off to return to base on the Sunday night, the Shoreham Airshow organising team begins the mammoth task of clearing the airfield, ready for it to be returned to normal operational status the next day.

Airshow organiser Derek Harber, supported by wife Lesley and Sue Halfpenny, sets about paying the many bills and collecting ticket-sale money from the different outlets. This takes about two months.

There is then the all-important airshow ‘debriefing’, where the committee goes through the show in fine detail, discussing any issues. This can cover all aspects, from car parking to the flying displays.

Nothing is too small. Once approved by the show’s directors, interim budgets are agreed for the next airshow.

The number-one priority is the flying display. Rod Dean, our display director, contacts the RAF events team to book all aircraft on their schedule. He will not know until March what has been allocated. The same will happen with other military services, as well as some of the important civilian display teams.

Schedules have to be worked out, as there are other displays around the UK. We always try to go for the same weekend every year. Bournemouth’s Seafront show is also on then. It is a different catchment area and we find we can share aircraft.

The fast jets base themselves at Hurn and we have the slower aircraft that can work out of Shoreham’s airfield. One word describes this: ‘logistics’!

Many civilian display pilots class Shoreham as their favourite event – often resulting in a waiting list of aircraft wishing to participate. We try to vary the show each year with a set theme, while at the time retaining some of our favourite scenario slots, such as the airfield attack and scramble.

Each team member has a specific role. Andrew Lamb is Derek’s second in command and looks after the budgets, as well as many other hidden tasks. The way to describe Andrew best is as a ‘networking specialist’ who has an endearing way of communicating with people that brings positive results.

As press officer, I set the ball rolling, booking adverts in the media for the year, working with our sponsors, planning the programme schedule with Geoff Lee, my assistant press officer, and working with Dean Cook, our all-important art designer in planning the programme. Colin Baker looks after all the advertising and getting new sponsors on board.

Ian Taylor is our airshow safety officer, having a proven track record in this specialist field. His brief is to see that the airshow runs to plan without any incident in the air or on the ground.

By the end of December, we know how much we can give to our charity, the Royal Air Forces Association. To date, we have given almost £1.9million – a record equalled by none!

Paul Johnson of Flightline UK works on the airshow website along with James George – this is updated on a regular basis with any airshow news. As the event gets closer, meetings are held with caterers, marquee builders and the toilet providers. Ken Bird liaises with the trade stand owners who always want the best sites. Planning the static aircraft display is left to the experienced Alan Mates. Rod Dean is now at the stage with the display planning where he is working out time slots for each aircraft or display team. As one flies off, another arrives.

Tickets, car passes, programmes, posters, flyers and passes for all and sundry, disabled badges and airfield fencing and markings have to be scheduled, along with the important airfield grass cutting. No rest!

Our commentator, Terence Henderson, a retired Concorde captain, starts to work on his schedule with Rod. If anyone has to look out for last-minute changes, Terence does!

The media team are doing radio interviews, providing editorial, planning ticket competitions and working with regional radio and television to get some valuable air time. The press day comes and goes – an important part of pre-planning with Geoffrey Lee working hard at producing Media CD Roms. In his own right, Geoffrey is one of the UK’s top aviation air-to-air photographers.

It is all go right up until the week before, when our dedicated helpers arrive to help set up the fencing and entrance areas. The Friday sees an influx of people looking for the arrival of most of the display aircraft based at Shoreham. The look-alikes set up their areas – always popular with the crowds.

The organisers are going through last-minute panic attacks regarding the advance weather forecast and cancelled display slots. Hotel accommodation is looked after by Margaret Wards – we take over most hotels in Worthing for aircrew.

Andrew Lamb changes into his ‘shorts’ for the duration of the airshow and commences to consume the odd pint or two of Spitfire Ale between a work schedule most would run away from. Derek Harber and his wife, Lesley, seem to take on the pressures without a murmur – supported by dedicated family members.

A big thank-you must go to the many Air Cadets under the watchful eye of Squadron Leader Kevin Tucker.

The executive marquee is under control, thanks to Pauline Webb and her team, while Maureen Meadows looks after the VIP guest area. Ivor Lewis runs the popular veterans enclosure, which, at times, is not an easy task, trying to please all those wishing to attend. The on-site zone managers and gate managers prepare for the many issues that will come their way over the next two days. Their patience, at times, is stretched to the limit trying to meet many public requests!

Dickie Dore runs the NAAFI feed tent, making sure our many helpers are fed prior to the event and during it. He also donates his profit to RAFA funds. Then, finally, there is a brief hush.

The first display aircraft arrives for the 2014 Shoreham Airshow. We go through the next two days counting to ten, hoping that all goes to plan...

n Tickets for this year’s Shoreham Airshow (August 30 and 31) are on sale now. To book, call 01903 282360 or log on to the website