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Southend Airshow, 30 & 31 May
Gary Parsons reports: So we couldn't go to Mildenhall, and Southend was the only airshow offering of the Bank Holiday. True to form, after a glorious Saturday Sunday dawned grey, windy and cool, with a hint of rain threatening the air. No matter what displays may contain, a bit of sun always makes the difference.
Southend is traditionally recognised for the free flying displays along the seafront, stretching from Leigh-on-Sea past the famous mile-long pier and almost into Shoeburyness, but this year the airport at Rochford also threw open its doors, combining a static show of airshow participants with a small motor show. For a very reasonable £3, close access was possible to the RAF and FAA aircraft participating in the flying displays, including a free photobus and various demonstrations by Lamborghinis and Ferraris tearing up the disused runway in impromptu races. At least six Countachs were noted together with a Diablo and Ferrari F40, who all had a jolly good time but probably burnt quite a few clutch plates in the process! An added bonus on the Sunday was a 'thunder run' by Vulcan XL426, the sound of Olympus engines briefly howling across the Essex countryside as she enjoyed a very brief return to life.
Excellent views were afforded from the photobus of the military participants, which included four machines from Lossiemouth in two Tornado GR1s from 15(R) Squadron (ZA322/TAC & ZA360/TC) and two Jaguars from 16(R) Squadron (T2 XX838 & GR1A XZ381). The other RAF contingent comprised a brace of Tornado F3s from 56(R) Squadron at Coningsby (ZE255/AY & ZE294/AS) and a lone Harrier GR7 from 20(R) Squadron, Wittering (ZD433). The Navy provided Sea Harrier F/A2 ZH801 from 899 NAS and Sea King HC4 ZF124. Parked on the grass were the Blue Eagles of the Army Air Corps, and to complete the picture the Aerostars display team from North Weald were there with their various Yak trainers.
Undoubtedly the show suffered from the cancellation of Mildenhall as the latter has provided many of the display items in recent years, especially those from foreign nations. Consequently there was a definite lack of variety in the fast jet department, as the Tornado GR1 and F3 displays, interspersed with the Harrier GR7 and F/A2 routines, meant only two different displays from four participants. One must give credit to the RAF however in its support of the show, as without it very little else would have happened; with the previously mentioned displays, a Nimrod MR2, the Red Arrows, BBMF and Falcons most of the show was courtesy of the boys in blue. The only downside was that Lancaster PA474 of the BBMF suffered an engine malady on the Sunday so diverted into the airport, sitting out the weekend while repairs were effected.
Monday provided better weather, although not until later in the day when the sun broke through, but a vast armada of yachts and small boats had assembled under the display line for a closer piece of the action. Opening act were the Blue Eagles, the action continuing throughout the afternoon without too many pregnant pauses, until the Falcons closed the show in the early evening. Civilian participation included Canberra WK163 from Classic Aviation Projects at Bruntingthorpe, a quartet of the OFMC's Fighters (Buchon, Corsair, P-40 and P-51) including full pyrotechnics and the ubiquitous wingwalkers of the Utterly Butterly team, formerly of Crunchie fame. Some dazzling routines were provided by a Sukhoi Su29, Extra 300 and Pitts Special, but such is the vast arena of the Thames Estuary that they did seem to become insignificant on occasion. This particularly affected the helicopter displays, who just couldn't move quick enough along the display line and the Swordfish, which took an age to get from one end to the other!
A crowd of 500,000 was expected over the weekend, but no-one ever really knows the actual score as the show is free and available to most of the town. The traffic leaving on Monday night signified that the show must have been its usual success, even though it was low-key compared to recent years. More power to Southend Borough Council who support the event, and to the Airport for opening its doors; if only the weather would play ball!