Southport's stormy show
Kieran Lear (age 12) dodges the raindrops at Southport on 12 September
Although there were stormy clouds at about midday on the Sunday afternoon, I grabbed my camera and headed down for the annual Southport Military Air Display in Merseyside.
As I arrived, the first thing that caught my eye was the model display, with spectacular flying from a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Vickers Wellington, Focke Wulf FW190 and Heinkel 111 - it was brilliant! (Even though the winds caught them offguard). They were centre-stage for about three hours before a Gazelle, part of the Blue Eagles team, appeared to the rear and landed before taking off again to nearby Blackpool (where all the scheduled aircraft to appear were based). Shortly after the Gazelle a Lynx HAS8 (part of the Royal Navy 'Black Cats' team) did a few flypasts before going back to nearby Blackpool airport.
On the ground there was plenty of entertainment, including a plastic Harrier and Hawk, a C-130 model fuselage, simulators, a couple of Army Gazelles and a special medical tent (with a couple of mannequins with fake blood and injured body parts).
By half-past one there was a thirty-knot wind onto the beach (you can probably guess what's going to be cancelled!) and it was time for the flying display. First up should have been the RAF Falcons parachute team, but of course they had to cancel because of the wind. So it was a Dutch Air Force Bell AB412 helicopter that opened the show, and what a display it gave, including a 'madman' hanging upside down with only a rope for support! Next came the Consolidated Catalina in its 'Jamaican' colour scheme, pilot Keith Sissons brightening the airshow up a bit under the grey skies. Its gentle noise soon faded with the arrival of the Lockheed T-33 'Silver Star' buzzing the crowds with its aluminium fuselage and orange wings in the stormy skies. His display included an immaculate loop, fast and low passes with a roll away to finish.
A few minutes passed, then circling above were six tiny dots, not making a sound. Before long, smoke could be seen and six Yak 50s soared up in the sky, beginning their display with a graceful loop before returning with a gentle pass - the Aerostars had arrived! All in different colours, highlights of their routine included a corkscrew, synchronised crossovers, aerobatic manoeuvres, an over-the-top break, gentle clovers, loops and passes, finally ending with the traditional Canadian break. A magnificent display in my opinion, best so far.
Other highlights included the Army Air Corps Blue Eagles helicopter display team, the RN Lynx Pair of the 'Black Cats', a Eurocopter Squirrel, a dazzling display by the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers, and Jonathan Whaley's beautiful Hawker Hunter 'Miss Demeanour'. RAF participation was high, with appearances from the Hawk T1A, Boeing Chinook HC2 and a tactical demonstration from the Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, showing us that it doesn't need a runway to do its full demonstration.
Hands up if you think Will Curtis may be crazy! Well, I think everyone who watched his display in his Su-26 at Southport would have put their hands straight up. Arriving with a few aerobatic turns in the centre of the beach, he went straight into his first stall-turn before plummeting down again with a loop before coming back with the 'F1 loop' - basically a loop with non-stop turning. Then a couple of 'lonshavaks' before a few turns and loops before rolling down from a loop, seemingly out of control. Ending his display, Will did a slow wingover from left to right of the crowd.
By now most of the aerobatics displays were nearly over - what was left was the beach attack on - you guessed it - the beach! 4 Para arrived, not in a Hercules, but in a Chinook helicopter! Not actually jumping, they landed before running out of the ramp and letting the Chinook do its solo display. After that, there was a beach attack with another Chinook and a solo Hercules C5 before it went quiet to let the commentator speak about the next participant. He said it had something to do with HMS Invincible - it was obvious he wanted to raise the tension... Soon after, there were four shapes in the distance, going at top speed. Moments later they zoomed past the crowd and circled again for another pass. Everyone was cheering. Why? Not for the Red Arrows, but IV(AC) Squadron's four Harrier GR7s with bombs and guns slung underneath the wings. Before long the Harriers lowered the undercarriage and slowed, before stopping right in front of the audience for the traditional hover. After dumping fuel, they bowed and left the arena ready for the next and last fast jet of the day...
Black smoke against the grey sky - another jet was coming. Nearly at top speed, the Tornado F3 accelerated and turned ready for a rather noisy display to conclude the beach attack scenario. Before long the Tornado gave an almighty roar as it speared into the sky, disappearing back to RAF Leuchars in Scotland.
Then there were nine lights in the distance - the Red Arrows arrived with smoke on and pulled up into a roll. Unfortunately no loops could be done due to the low cloud but the Arrows still kept the crowds in awe, even as the heavens started to open. It was just in the nick of the time, for as the Red Arrows performed the 'Vixen Break' the heavens opened for the night. What a perfect way to end the show - not!!
There were a few cancellations on both days, with no sign of the BBMF, Jaguar and Nimrod displays, but all-in-all a perfect day out with plenty to do and watch. Let's just hope for better weather next year - see you there, Southport!