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Seafront action

A good grade of 'Wet & dry'

Garry Lakin reports from deepest Essex on Southend's airshow. Pictures by the author and Mike Kerr

Bank holiday Monday at Southend was a bit like sandpaper - Wet & Dry. Nevertheless the airshow took to the sky with one or two changes to the programme, forced upon the organisers by the prevailing weather, the display programme becoming a bit disjointed because of a tremendous downpour at midday.

Opening the show in the gloomy grey sky was the RAF Tucano, swiftly followed by the F-86 Sabre (not listed on the programme, but very welcome) low and fast along the seafront, occasionally finding a crack in the clouds to climb into some blue sky. The Lockheed Hercules C-130J dropship of the RAF Falcons parachute team followed with a display of this large transporter's agility, culminating with a breathtaking Khe-San drop as its finale. A Chinook was next up along the seafront, showing off its maneuverability for tight turns and sideways flying. The first true aerobatic display of the day was given by the Technoforce Pitts S2B Special - nice to see a Pitts doing its thing over the seafront.

Only two sets of afterburners at this years show - the first of them was in the shape of the Tornado GR4 entering at low-level over the remains of the pier, plenty of noise thundering as the burners lit up in the dark clouds. The USAAF was next to be represented in the shape of B-17 'Sally B' and a brace of Mustangs - 'Sally B' came in from the right-hand end of the display line with her smoke generator trailing a stream of white smoke from the inboard port engine. You can imagine what goes through the minds of those who can remember them coming back from raids during the Second World War like this.

The Royal Marine Commandos were in action next as a Police launch acted as a target for a sea and helicopter raid. A Sea King HC4, acting as troop carrier and gun ship, worked with the crew of marines on board two inflatable dinghys to attack the launch, lots of noise as gunfire reigned from the helicopter.

The Aerostars in their Yak trainers put on a lovely display as the clouds parted for them and their show. Following on from the Yaks came Will Curtis in the Technoforce Su26, a polished display as ever if not a bit to long though at around fifteen minutes. Next, another plane not on the flying programme but definitely most welcome was 'Foxy Lady', the de Havilland Sea Vixen, resplendent in her Red Bull colour scheme, finding the elusive sunshine of the afternoon. The one thing that Foxy Lady does, which a lot of other large aircraft should do, is give a topside flypast - hope you other big jet pilots are listening!

New this year to the display circuit are the Extra 300s of The 'Blades', tight formations and opposition crossing by this team with ex-RAF pilots. This year's RAF display Hawk was next, wearing its colourful display scheme for this year. Four lovely ladies were up next, on top of their Boeing Stearman planes, as the Utterly Butterly team took off in black skies, but luckily in the dry - the trailing smoke was lit up wonderfully by the sunshine breaking through.

The Royal Navy 'Black Cat' team of Lynx Helicopters was next up - although they put on a good display, unless you manage to get to the centre of the display line teams like this are too far away from either end of the display line.

The penultimate show of the day belonged to Harrier GR7, with clouds looming over the seafront the display was kept to low level. Last but not least, a single-seater Typhoon F2 roared down the line with both tubes fully lit, as they are through most of its display. Stunning is one word to describe the maneuverability of this aircraft. That brought to an end the flying display at this years show - missing on the Monday were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Hunter and Canberra.

So a good show, but dampened by the weather - let's look forward to next year's show, sponsored by the Westcliffe Casino - I wonder if it'll be sunny? Of course, I wouldn't bet on it!


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