Towards the end of another busy airshow season, the
final seaside airshow took place at Southport. Southport is different to other
seaside venues in a number of respects: Firstly, it has a dedicated showground
area for which an admission is charged. Secondly, it's one seafront venue where
aircraft can actually land with temporary runways rolled in the flat sandy
beach. Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. Photography copyright of the
The North West of England is an area of few major
airshows. The last is the show at Southport, held every September over the
Birkdale Sands. It is a unique environment, and nature dictates the show dates,
chosen for the lowest tides. Autumnal weather conditions can have a huge impact
too, 2008's show was preceded by heavy rain which left rivers and lakes of
standing water, preventing use of the sand runways for all but one team. 2009
was completely different.
The show site is just to the south of the Southport
Pier, an amazing construction in it's own right that links the Town Centre to
the Pier Head over a distance of 1.1km making it Britain’s second longest pier.
Birkdale Sand has a fascinating aviation history. In 1919, it was one of the
destinations for the UK's first scheduled passenger services linking Southport
with Manchester and Blackpool. Since then it has been a licensed runway made
famous for it's pleasure flying activities with De Havilland Fox Moths.
Performing over the sands before the full-sized displays were an
impressive mix of large model aircraft, including Lancasters, Wellingtons,
Jungmanns, Extras and Piper Cubs
For the airshow weekend, the historic runways were
reinstated allowing a wide variety of aircraft to operate just in front of the
crowds. As well as the usual mix of Microlights, a number of light aircraft
flew into the arena included Luscombe, Tiger Moth, Chipmunk and Hornet Moth aircraft as
well as helicopters like the Bell Jetranger and Hughes 300. A
collection of Radio Controlled Models also performed as well as some very
skilled formation Kite flyers. Away from the air-based activities, there were
displays from the armed services around the showground as well as all the usual
fun fairs, and trade stalls.
Southport's air display was the usual mix of
military, warbirds and civilian displays that you would expect from any major
seaside airshow, with flying displays taking place throughout the afternoon.
The majority of the display aircraft were based for the weekend at either RAF
Woodvale just to the south, or Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport.
As with most seaside airshows, it's the military
displays that form the backbone to the afternoon's flying. The Royal Navy took
a leading role at this year's show with three displays, perhaps saluting the
fact that Liverpool would be hosting a major celebration of the "Fly Navy
100" Anniversary the next month. The naval line-up was headlined by the Black
Cats who wowed the crowd with a spirited routine of helicopter flying.
Appearing on Sunday only due to technical issues was the Merlin HM1 from
RNAS Culdrose. The large helicopter put on an impressive routine showing-off
both it's agility and role as a search and rescue platform. The Fleet Air Arm's
illustrious history was represented by two very different types in the flying
display. Appearing both days after a long period of absence from the airshow
circuit was the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Hawker Sea Hawk FGA6. The
Sea Hawk is an elegant performer and was joined on Sunday by Kennet Aviation's Seafire
XVII for an enjoyable pairs display of piston and early jet naval air power.
Southport airshow marked the final appearance of Vic Norman's
wingwalking team under Guinot sponsorship with the contract expiring at the end
of September. The team are looking for a new sponsor for 2010, but will
certainly be on the circuit even without - such is the popularity of the team.
Naturally, Naturally, the Royal Air Force was heavily involved
with the flying displays. For many of the pilots taking part, it was their last
major public display of a busy year. Flt Lt Bill Ramsey rounded off his first
season displaying the Tutor T1 while Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran gave his
final UK display in the Typhoon FGR4. November will see Scott and his
aircraft head east to fly at the Dubai Airshow along with his compatriot from
the US, Major David "Zeke" Skalicky in the awesome F-22 Raptor -
quite a match up!
It was also the final display for Flt Lt Leon Creese
and Chris Enwright in the King Air. The King Air has been a welcome
addition to the display circuit for the past two years, and we hope to see it
again in 2010. Flt Lt Matt Barker flew the patriotic Hawk T1 but unlike the other RAF Hawks in the
display, had a further flight planned for the Duxford Autumn Airshow in
October. It was however the last display for the Red Arrows and for Wing
Commander Jas Hawker who has presided over three very successful years with the
team. He has lead tours to the United States, Canada as well as the Middle
East. Even though low clouds dictated a flat display at Southport, the two
displays were as impressive as ever.
The RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team were
also displaying for the last time, though they had to jump from a civilian
aircraft following the withdrawal of all Joint Helicopter Command assets from
the show in the weeks preceding the show. Their commentator also won the prize
for the longest monologue, trying desperately to keep the crowd entertained
while the drop plane circled looking for gaps in the cloud.
The historic side of Southport's displays were headed
by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight which appeared on the
Saturday with their Dakota, Spitfire IX and Hurricane IIc. The
only civilian warbird to take part was Plane Sailing's Catalina looking
very much at home over the maritime backdrop and gray skies.
Civilian teams at the show included the ever-excellent
Blades with their precise and spectacular display. It was the
final time we will see Team Guinot on the display circuit as the
sponsorship deal came to a close at the end of the September. The team are
still looking for a new title sponsor for the 2010, but we expect to see them
back next year. It was also the Swift Aerobatic Display Team's final
appearance of 2009, a season which has seen them cover more the globe than ever
before with displays in the United Arab Emirates, Holland, Sweden as well as in
Closing the show on Sunday was the final 2009 display
(and flight) of Avro Vulcan B2. It's display in the early evening light
over Southport was perhaps made even more poignant that it could very well be
the last time the mighty V-bomber is seen at an airshow if the winter
find-raising fails to meet the £2.5 million target.
Southport provided all the action you could wish for
in an air display with something for everyone. It's "End-of-term"
feel and unique location made something of a special atmosphere despite some
biting winds coming off the Irish Sea. Southport airshow will return on the
18th-19th September 2010.
The author would like to thank Dave Walton and Ray
Thilithorpe of TSA Consulting and the Swift Aerobatic Display Team.