Peerless over the pier
Garry Lakin and Damien Burke review Southend's Airshow, held over the Bank Holiday weekend 30/31 May. Additional material by Gary Parsons. All photography by the Garry with two 'r's and Damien.
Sunday - review by Damien
"Not really one for the enthusiast, but a chance to soak up the early summer sun by the sea" said the calendar here on Air-Scene UK. Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of enthusiast - any show with a Sea Vixen and a Catalina turning up has got to be worth a look! I can however see why our esteemed Ed thinks this, with this year's line-up being almost identical to last year's show. Thankfully the weather was a lot better, and while it got gloomy from time to time all of the storm clouds drifted past either north or south of the seafront and there was never more than a few specks of rain.
Kicking off with the aforementioned Sea Vixen, which thankfully this year got some sunshine to sparkle off its mostly silver Red Bull paint scheme, the show seemed to flow together a lot better this year with fewer cancellations and shorter gaps between participants. The Air Ambulance helo turned up, unlike last year, and wandered up and down the beach a bit to show off its migraine-inducing bright yellow and green paintwork. The RAF Falcons parachute display team jumped in next, dealing with a stiff medium-level wind as if it wasn't there and landing bang on target as usual. This looked to be one of the most popular acts with the crowd, with a definite surge of people towards the drop zone.
Both Tucano and Hawk displays were a little more sedate than at Abingdon a few weeks previously, but still damn good demonstrations. The Extra 300 pair of the Extreme Team were next, unusually flying one of their own and a borrowed one after a mishap with their second Extra earlier in the year. Needless to say the paintwork didn't affect the quality of the display, which was a tight jet-like formation and opposition routine for the most part. I'm not sure they'd have appreciated the exchange I overheard between a nearby child and his father - "What are they then?" "That's the Utterly Butterlies, son".
The star of the show, however, was undoubtedly Plane Sailing's new Catalina. Popularly dubbed the 'Rasta Cat' on account of its rather Jamaican style colour scheme (to be replaced by a military scheme for next season), it was a great pleasure to see a Cat back on the show scene. Large and loud and spending plenty of time near the crowd, it's a joy to watch but sadly a low tide for this year's display dates meant no water landing could be carried out.
As with last year the RAF SAR Sea King did its bit mostly towards crowd center, and the multiple-Yak team of the Aerostars had much of the crowd pointing at "...the Red Arrows!" as they trailed smoke in the distance to begin their display. The varied paint schemes of the team's aircraft certainly show up well against the varied - mostly threatening - clouds. One of the few rounds of applause I heard during the day (the others being reserved for the Falcons and the Red Arrows themselves) greeted their final break.
The BBMF were up next, and it proved to be a bad day for them. Arriving in formation the Lancaster and Hurricane exited stage right while the PR Spit (now complete with invasion stripes) put on an excellent display. However at one point it puffed smoke which was a bit concerning, and on its final pass a hazy smoke trail could be discerned. The Hurri and Lanc put on their own solo routines and then the trio formed up again, by which time the Spit could be seen with a steady stream of light grey smoke issuing from underneath the fuselage. The BBMF abandoned their display at this point and went directly to Southend Airport. It has turned out since that the Spit's engine had lost pretty much all of its oil, and requires a complete rebuild. The Hurricane's radiator failed after landing and the Lanc had a minor engine problem of its own, but this was repaired in time for the next day's appearance. Not a good day for the Flight really.
Making the most of scattered patches of sunshine and dark rain clouds the silver Golden Apple T-33 performed next, followed by no less than four of the Utterly Butterly Stearmans while the sky steadily clouded over. With the RAF Jaguar and Red Arrows out of the way, the wind having picked up considerably and the sky looking seriously threatening we decided to make a move back to the car as the remainder of the line-up included nothing we wouldn't see elsewhere. While doing so the RAF Nimrod put on the usual impressive display and on the walk down the beach we saw a single RN Lynx from the 'Black Cats' pair beginning its display. The other of the pair was grounded at the airport with a serious engine problem; something similar afflicting the advertised MH-53 from RAF Mildenhall.And that was it for us - we had some brief glimpses of the remaining acts over the rooftops as we returned to the car, particularly Hunter Miss Demeanour and the RAF Tornado F3, but only heard later that the Hunter had been damaged in a landing mishap at the end of its display. Quite a run of bad luck at Southend, then, with no fewer than six of the participants suffering some sort of problem. Thankfully though, nobody hurt - and no ammunition for the less sensible portions of the media to bang on about. As for the threatening weather that made us decide to leave early - it never arrived. Typical eh!
Monday - review by Garry
If I had believed the weather reports on the TV and Radio during the previous week, then the weather was going to make this year's airshow at Southend a washout. They got the rain in the West Country and oop North, but Southend had glorious airshow-friendly blue skies most of the time, with nice white fluffy bits for good measure on the Monday especially.
Monday's events were due to start at 13:30, but at 13:15 there was an almighty noise as Sea Vixen 'Foxy Lady' surprised the crowd by starting its display early, with a fast entry over Southend's famous mile-long pier - this turned out to be the best display I have seen this aircraft perform. Straight after the local Essex Air Ambulance Eurocopter EC135 gave a nice display along the seafront, showing off the skills needed by the emergency services in its vital role.
Next up were the RAF trainers, the Tucano and the Hawk - out of the two aircraft the Tucano's agility won over the Hawk's speed in the 'crowd pleasing' factor. The next display was by the Extra Duo, a very tight display by a pair of very manoeuvrable aircraft. Then it was eyes up to the sky, as a Hercules C3 dropped its payload better known as the RAF Falcon parachute display team. Smoke trails left by the team formed their version of the Red Arrows 'heart' in the blue sky and then, as always, their precision was shown to its best as they landed in formation. Of course, the Hercules ended the display with the customary flypast at low-level.
There followed a much more graceful aircraft, the Catalina Flying Boat. This aircraft was formerly used for fire-fighting in Canada and France, but is now based at Duxford, owned by the 'Plane Sailing consortium', and is a welcome return to the UK airshow scene for the type.
Very impressive were the five Yak-50s and one Yak-52 of the Aerostars, tight aerobatic manoeuvres from an all-civilian team of pilots who have been together at shows since 1997. The BBMF were next on the bill, but with the Spitfire's engine problems it and the Hurricane had to sit this one out and left the Lancaster to star all on its own. Next it was back to the jets and this time it was a really good vintage crowd pleaser, the T-33 Silver Star, built under licence in Canada and restored and displayed by the Aircraft Restoration Company from Duxford.
They say of some people 'Butter wouldn't melt in their mouths' - tell that to the girls who came in strapped to the top of the 'Utterly Butterly' Boeing Stearman biplanes. Once again, tight formation flying and aerobatics - just don't ask them what they had for dinner. Next on the menu was a fast cat, the Jaguar from 16(R) Squadron with low quick turns over the sea impressing the enormous crowd along the seafront, south of the pier. Its exit after the display was impressive, with a fast climb pulling vapour across the top of the wing.
Nimrod - it speaks for itself - the largest aircraft in the show, powerful and agile with an unbelievable climb. The Royal Navy 'Black Cats' Lynx display was a solo due to the mechanical problems besetting its mate, but nevertheless was so tight that a lot of people further along from the centreline didn't really get to see this very good display. Next, the Sukhoi 26 of the 'Honda Dream Team' flown by Will Curtis, who pushed and pulled the aircraft through manoeuvres that took everyone's breath away including a 'double Cobra'.
It was time for really heavy metal, in the shape of a XV Squadron Tornado GR4, whose deafening roar from its afterburning display certainly caught the crowd's attention. The penultimate display of the day was also one of the noisiest, the Harrier GR7 from 20(R) Squadron performing at high speed along the seafront and hovering forwards, sideways and backwards along the crowdline. With the announcement of the final act in the display, it was like a moth to a flame as a mass invasion was made onto the beach in true D-Day style. The Red Arrows were on their way and they did not disappoint the enormous crowd. Precision is the only word to describe their performance at Southend, it looked immaculate and was well received by everyone.
All in all a very entertaining show, especially considering that it's free to one and all - well done Southend, and I look forward to next year's show!
Photos for sale can be found here