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Beached choppers

Tony Osborne was at Weston-Super-Mare for this year's Weston Heli Days, 29 -31 July. All pictures by the author

All too often, it's easy to say derogatory things about British seaside towns - I used to be the same about Weston-Super-Mare until a short afternoon in the town changed all that. I was only able to attend this magic event on the Friday, but for your author, the chance to take in the bracing sea air, the magic of the seaside and to be sandblasted by helicopters was just too good to miss.

For those unfamiliar with the event, like me, the whole show appears to starts on the Thursday with arrival of military helicopters into a secure compound at the former RAF Locking, now home to the famed Helicopter Museum.

Chopper time

There the helicopters remain overnight before flying into the display site along the seafront. The helicopters have to enter between two red flags, by coming in over the beach and sandblasting passers-by - indeed your author was still washing sand out of his hair and various crevices a week later...

Friday managed to attract more than a dozen military helicopters from a number of European nations, including Italy with a trio of choppers comprising an A129 Mangusta attack helicopter, an Army A109 and a rather pristine Agusta-Bell AB412 of the Italian Carabinieri, which is believed to be the first Carabinieri visitor to the UK.

Germany brought along one of its distinctively sounding UH-1s, a Bo 105 and a rather impressively painted Sea King from MFG-5 marking 30 years of Sea King operations - unfortunately your author was not there to see it arrive, much to his disgruntlement.

The Netherlands didn't disappoint either, bringing along two of their insect-like AH-64Ds from Gilze-Rijen, which flew menacingly up the beach during their arrival hunting sand-castles. They were joined by a Eurocopter Cougar which carried the all important cargo t-shirts and baseball caps to be sold to helicopter buffs. Also visiting were a Norwegian Sea King and a Belgian A109, while British participants were thin on the ground with just a Lynx visiting on the Friday.

But it's more than just military helicopters - during the weekend the numbers are swollen with the arrival of dozens more civilian machines, including a number of ex-military Gazelles in rather smart executive paint schemes.

For the photographers amongst you, Friday and Sunday, the arrivals and departures days, are your best chance for some action photographs, and it's pretty good for the family too - just leave them on the beach while you shoot choppers to your heart's content.

This truly is a fantastic little show, completely unconventional, and one of the UK airshow scene's best-kept secrets. All day you could here people saying they never dreamed of visiting before, but they would definitely come again. And it's the same for me too. The organisers should be congratulated for putting on something so original.


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