Jets, aerobatics and the wingwalkers – 39th Sanicole International Airshow

Sanicole Airshow, the thirty ninth edition. This is an amazing number, isn´t it? During all this years, the Sanicole International Airshow become the most know Belgian airshow and one of the most interesting aviation events in Europe.

The 2016 edition was organized in the year of two celebrations: the 70th Anniversary of the Belgian Air Force and the 55th Anniversary of the NATO Tiger Association. The feeling of anxious anticipation of the Sanicole anniversary 40th edition, that was already rumoured to be a very special edition, was also present in the air.




The programme of 39th airshow was very promising, unfortunately there were some last-minute cancellations, among them the Polish F-16 Tiger Demo Team, RNLAF Apache Solo Display Team or the Golden Knights parachute team. Despite those cancellations, the organizers prepared more than seven hours of the flying displays, offering the spectators the diverse aviation overview. The programme included gliders, aerobatics specials, team aerobatics, helicopters, warbirds and modern transport and fighter military aircrafts.




Sunday morning welcomed the Sanicole visitors with just some clouds on the blue sky, but unfortunately as the day was growing, there were more and more clouds that finally turned into the grey dome over the airfield. Apart of being the dull background, the low clouds also limited the possibility of the aerobatics displays, but the weather is the factor that couldn´t be changed.

No matter if the sky was blue or overcast, the programme of Sanicole Airshow assured that no one would be bored during the show. The 2016 edition opener was the Sea King Mk.48 from Belgian Air Force, performing the solo SAR display. Sea Kings are going to be retired soon – the 2015 parallel Sea King and NH-90 display already seemed like passing the baton – but the process goes more slowly than expected previously.




The next display offered the spectators another David – Goliath perspective as the Sea King was replaced by the Magni Gyrocopter. Those initial presentations were soon followed by the aerobatic warm-up section – Pitts S-2C Special, Blackshape Air Combat Team and Bücker Jungmeister (this Jungmeister was the replica built in Poland, using the Czech manufactured Zlin engine). Two Belgian teams performed the joint display – The Victor Formation Team (celebrating in 2016 their 10th anniversary) started their performance by flying the formation together with the Red Devils.




Belgium hasn´t yet finally decided about the aircraft to replace the ageing flotilla of the F-16 fighters and, similar as in 2015, the manufacturers of the potential new Belgian jet fighter were advertising their aircrafts during the Sanicole airshow. In 2015 it was mainly Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon with their promotional stands and flying presentation of the French fighter, this year there was again the Eurofighter demonstrator at the static display (no flying display in 2016 either) but the main presentation was performed by SAAB. There were not only the brand new Gripen E and SAAB promotional stand at the static display, but primarily the presentation of SAAB aircraft during the flying displays.




They included the historical part performed by the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight, and the first roar of the jet engine that Sunday morning announced the SAAB 29 Tunnan.  As the show continued the spectators could watch the other Swedish jets – the solo display flown by Draken and Viggen fighters and the formation flight of all four aircrafts from the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight (the three already mentioned ones and the SAAB 105). The presentation of the Swedish airplane manufacturer was completed in the afternoon by Czech Air Force JAS-39C Gripen solo display.




Jean-Marc d´Hulst repeated his Friday display flying his Stolp Starduster Too, being followed by another Belgium based aircraft, OV-10B Bronco. The gliders – Magansky S-1 Swift (Skydance Airshow Team) and then MDM-1 Fox (GliderFX Display Team) – brought some moments of silence and although the glider displays were the ones most limited by the low clouds on Sunday, their pilots still managed to fly the interesting aerobatic sets.




Those who also attended the Friday show were certainly anxiously waiting for Brendan O´Brien and his „happy chopter “. The Sunday show was not so glittering as the sunset one, due to the obvious reason that this time it was flown in the middle of the day, but no one should be disappointed by the sparky display performed by Brendan piloting the smiling Schweizer 300C.




AeroSPARX team followed, with their Grob 109b motor gliders gently dancing around the sun, shining through the clouds. The silhouette of the one of the most beautiful World War II airplanes – Spitfire IX from the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight – announced that the warbirds would not be missing during the 2016 Sanicole Airshow. Then the sky was taken over by another historical airplane, Pilatus P-3. This Swiss trainer aircraft developed in 1950s was shown during the team formation display performed by P3 Flyers.




Lockheed C-130H Hercules flypast was the second display of the Belgian Air Force. Even though Hercules is one of the most known transport aircrafts, it is rather a rare participant of the airshows, especially if considering the flying displays. The Belgian C-130 done a set of flypasts, including the breath-taking steep tactical approach. Then the Red Devils returned to the Sanicole sky, this time flying the formation with Fouga CM170 Magister.




Extra airplane is one of the icons of the modern aerobatics and the spectators at Sanicole airfield could see Extras in both solo and team aerobatic displays. The solo was performed by Mark Jefferies in his Extra 330SC and again it was an amazing and breath-taking set of airplane aerobatics. The only pity was the cloudy sky wasn´t the best possible background for Mark´s display. Group aerobatics meant four Extra 300Ls of the Royal Jordanian Falcons, the team already known from many airshows across the Europe.




Those piston engine powered displays were divided in two by the sound of four jet fighters coming from the nearby Kleine-Brogel airbase. That airfield is the home of Belgian 31st Tiger Squadron and the ´Tigers´ display is usually one of the strong points in the airshow programme. This year the four aircrafts formation was led by the amazingly painted F-16 we could already see this year at the several airshows in Europe. This special Tiger painting scheme was made for the 2016 Tiger Meet in Spain but during this year the competition was strong and the Best-Looking Tiger Aircraft award was taken by Czech Air Force Mi-35 ´Alien Tiger´.




And there were even more jet fighters at the Sanicole airshow. One of the most interesting displays on Sunday was flown by the Spanish Air Force EF-18M Hornet. The show was dynamic and aggressive, with the astonish look of the Hornet in the special, orange tone scale ´tiger marking´.




Further participants of the Sunday show arrived from Hangar 7 in Salzburg – the pair of the famous World War II warbirds, P-38J Lightning and F4U Corsair from the Flying Bulls collection.




Another show that could be seen both on Friday and Sunday was the Breitling Wingwalkers display. There is nothing more to say than Emily Guilding and Florence Rolleston-Smith (the wingwalkers) and their pilots, Dave Barrel and Martyn Carrington, again performed a perfect and amazing show. I dare to say that this was one of the most spectators´ warm welcomed displays during the 39th Sanicole International Airshow.




Of course, there would be no Belgian airshow without ´Gizmo´ and the blizzard-painted F-16. As usual, his display over the Sanicole airfield was long, dynamic and with additional effects of smoke and flares.



The final display at Sanicole is usually performed by the aerobatic team and the 39th edition was no exception to this rule. There were two Swiss teams to close the 2016 Sanicole airshow – Super Puma Display Team and PC-7 Team. Both teams performed the joint formation flight, followed by solo display of AS332 Super Puma and then by the new PC-7 team display programme.




39th Sanicole International Airshow was, again, the great aviation event with plenty of captivating flying displays and its special good atmosphere. Taking under the consideration that this is only a small aeroclub airfield with the very limited space for static displays, those static presentations were a valuable addition to the flying displays and included F-16, Eurofighter, Gripen and Chinook displays and the 70th Anniversary of the Belgian Air Force exhibition in one of Sanicole hangars.




There is no possibility to forget about the commentators´ team – Chris Christiaens and Ric Peterson together were making the perfect team, keeping the eye on the entire show, sharing the stories from the backyard and adding many interesting information to the flying displays. Most of the commentary was in English, allowing the foreign visitors to enjoy their show.




The spectators that arrive to Sanicole airfield could watch more than seven hours of flying and the programme offered the diverse blend of aircrafts, from gliders to the supersonic jets. The Sanicole airshow team did the great job again, the only issue that might be mentioned when speaking about the 2016 edition was the huge traffic jam after the show, that completely blocked the traffic in the Hechtel-Eksel direction.




In 2017 the anniversary 40th edition of the Sanicole International Airshow will take place on 10th  September and the organization team is already announcing that this would be a very special edition. Please save the date for another aviation weekend at Sanicole!




Please also check our other reports from the 39th Sanicole Airshow and 6th Sanicole Sunset Airshow for more photos and information!