Southend-on-Sea Airshow, 29/30 May - part one
Garry Lakin reports on Sunday's show
Well, what a difference to last year's Southend Airshow - the day started off grey and basically stayed that way for the whole day. Monday was brighter, but splashed with tempestuous thunderstorms.
The pre-show display by the RNLI hovercraft was not the most spectacular way to start the show - you could have outpaced the craft on foot, even wading through the thousands of visitors to the resort. The airshow 'proper' started off with the RAF Falcons parachute display team performing a low-altitude show, jumping from a Hercules C3. The first fast jet of the day was a Tornado F3 from 56(R) Squadron, shaking the crowd into life with afterburners aplenty, although a technical fault forced the crew to use the spare that carried 111 Squadron 'Lightning' marks, something appropriate the next day.
Then it was time (a bit early in the show for me) for the Red Arrows to take centre stage. As usual, a polished performance low over the sea, the cloud being high enough for them to give a full display, although still very grey. The next item was a pleasant change from the norm, a RAF Merlin HC3 from 28 Squadron based at Benson, deciding "If the Reds can trail smoke, then so can I". A very polished display from such a large helicopter, showing off its agility.
Now then - I like the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and after this show I like them even more. The Lancaster came along the seafront solo to start their display and as it cleared the display line the two Spitfires on duty started in towards the spectator line and turned to cross each other - a different way to start their solo displays thought I, but no! The pair put on a most polished flying display with plenty more crossovers and mirrored manoeuvres - stunning! The Lancaster then reappeared for his more sedate but graceful display and then it was business as usual with the final flypast in formation.
You knew this was a seaside airshow when the next item arrived along the prom - a very nice display by a Dornier 328-100 of Scot Airways. I just hope it wasn't a diversion with a full passenger load - pass me a sickbag please! What more can be said about 'Foxy Lady' than "More of the same please!" This lady knows how to perform before an audience - brilliant topside flypasts in both directions and a wonderful climb out at the climax of her display. The display Jaguar from 41 Squadron at Coltishall gave the crowd another dose of heavy metal, will this be its last show at Southend? Let's hope not.
Aerobatics were next to be served up on the menu. The Yaks of the Aerostars - very smooth, very polished and very part time, but it doesn't show. Will Curtis did his customary welcome to the crowd as he dived in to start his display, but he then climbed vertically with a few twists and turns followed by a pushover and a retreat to Southend Airport - this was due to a sailor in a yacht who didn't know the meaning of EXCLUSION ZONE, which was displayed prominently all along the seafront. The police boats were in rapidly to see that this so-called sailor was dispatched back to his mooring.
On with the show. Noise! What else could it be than a Harrier GR7, hovering up and down the crowdline. The organisers set up a tarpaulin on one of the boats as a marker, but the Harrier soon put paid to that. Get your bread out as the next item was four Stearman wing-walkers from the Utterly Butterly barnstormers - rather them than me. A brace of Sukhoi SU26s were next on the bill of fare as the 'Matadors' display team flew an extremely tight display, which included a tight formation figure-of-eight double loop with one of the aircraft inverted throughout.
The Royal Navy had their say in the flight programme - the 'Black Cats' Lynx pair flying in formation, very close, very neat. One of your parcels may have delayed as the next item was a Boeing 757 from DHL. A nice display low over the sea and a rapid climb-out at the finish of its turn. You don't often see an Albatros, then all of a sudden six turn up at once! The Breitling display team's six L-39 Albatros jets put on a great display towards the end of the show with tight formations that were greatly appreciated by the chilling crowd. The Royal Marines were the penultimate display of the day - using a Sea King HC4 and boats they took back a hijacked boat played for the day by the local constabulary launch. Lots of gunfire, bangs and smoke and the Marines do it again.
The finale of the day was well worth waiting for - a Eurofighter Typhoon from 29(R) Squadron, flown by Squadron Leader Matt Elliott came in, its afterburners glowing like furnaces. At last a full display by this aircraft now in service with the Royal Air Force. Noisy, but who cares - nobody seemed to mind and why should they. A new shape in the sky for the Southend Airshow. The only thing that could make this show better for next year would be the weather. Fish & chips and a free airshow - what more could you ask for, see you next year Southend!
Part two - from the airport