Gary Stedman reports on Lowestoft's Seafront Air Festival 2007, held over 26-27 July
Early in the year, when the Royal Air Force announced its new policy towards supporting airshows it was clear, even then, that 2007 was going to be a tough year for Lowestoft's annual seaside festival.
With the number of visitors that the two-day event usually (given the weather) draws in, being in the school summer holidays and at one of the best beaches on the East coast - it's quite surprising that the RAF failed to realise that this was the very audience that it was supposedly aiming to reach in its 'targeted' approach to the airshow season of 2007 - but more of that later.
Thursday, due to the weather, is best forgotten, although a estimated 80,000 still braved the best the 'summer' of 2007 could throw at them and the air display did still go ahead, with minimal height routines being the order of the day.
As is normal, the Red Arrows closed the airshow on Thursday, and opened the show on Friday, with two flat displays being performed, although the weather had slightly improved on the second day. The Reds are extremely well thought of at Lowestoft, as for many East Anglians this now their only chance in the year to see 'their' display team, and the sense of pride is unmistakeable. The only other RAF display this year was the Tucano solo, with a polished routine of aerobatics and passes.
With the lack of RAF participation, there was an increased emphasis on the UK's civil teams to entertain the crowds, with the Blades leading the way in this, their second year on the circuit. The team's formation flying suffered a little from the strong coastal wind, as the Extra 300 cannot be an easy aircraft to keep steady under the conditions. It must be said, that for such a new team, the Blades have quickly put together a slick and professional package; be it the flying display, their website or even the freebies handed out at the shows (the beachballs at Lowestoft were a great touch!), they certainly set the standard amongst the civilian teams.
If formation flying with Extra 300s suffered in the strong winds, then the 'Dukes of Cassutt' with their three tiny Cassutt racers could be forgiven for thinking better of it. Yet, they came through to give another professional performance in this, their first year as a three-ship team.
Many of the old favourites were there again, with the Team Guinot wing-walkers, Blue Eagles and Catalina amongst the regulars that can always be relied upon to turn out. Another familiar, yet welcome, demonstration is the air-to-sea winch exercise between the Lowestoft based RNLI Lifeboat and a SAR helicopter, slightly more unusual this year with the Royal Netherlands Air Force AB412 taking part rather than the more familiar RAF Sea King.
'Miss Demeanour', everybody's favourite Hunter, was the only real entry in the 'turn and burn' category, which brings us neatly back to the difficulties facing the organisers this year, given the hand they were dealt. Lowestoft is not a venue where you will find many scopes and long lenses, and is not a show that will feature heavily on the aviation enthusiast forums. Like the other seafront shows, it is very much an event that brings out the young family - people who generally don't (or cannot afford to) attend traditional airshows. The festival has gone ahead without the Red Arrows before, when there were other acts that could also provide the 'wow' factor that you need to make a lasting impression on the younger audience, and just maybe start them thinking about a career in the military. Now, you cannot but fear for the festival's future if service participation does not pick up, or, if the Red Arrows were withdrawn at some point in the future.
Frustratingly, the very performance that was needed was actually happening not too far away on Thursday - RAF Marham families' day featured a weather-affected flypast by Tornado GR4s, finished off by a good old fashioned airfield 'beat-up'. Now, allowing for some height and distance changes that would be required at a public venue, even if over the sea, is it really beyond the RAF to repeat the same performance in front of such a large and impressionable audience that they would not reach at the traditional venues? Even just a couple of the GR4s, low and fast over the sea for a few minutes - maybe adding a small raft with a few pyrotechnics (it used to be done) would make such a impact for little additional effort. Surely - even nowadays when both safety and military bureaucracy rules everything - this could be looked at for next year?
Thanks to Tim Callaway and the Lowestoft Aviation Society for their assistance in this report.