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The first seaside airshow of the year is held at Southend and now how the honour of hosting many of the first public displays for many RAF display teams since the demise of the Mildenhall Air Fete. The 2006 show was the 21st Edition of this very popular show - around half a million people are estimated to attend over the two days. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK Reports. All Photography copyright Paul Johnson/Flightline UK.

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The lack of any display by the Red Arrows seemingly didn't dent the crowd numbers that filled the seafront promenade at Southend for the 21st Edition of the show. Though it wasn't classic "Bucket and Spade" weather at least it was a big improvement over the previous weekend at Duxford!!

As with any show there were a few last minute cancellations. The Hunter FGA9 suffered a leak from it's jet pipe after departure from it's base at Exeter forcing it to withdraw from the flying display. Also not quite making airworthiness in time for the show was Air Atlantique's Canberra, but at least a suitable replacement was found elsewhere.

Opening the show on the Saturday was the Sea King HAR3A, the first part of a very impressive RAF contingent. Being by the sea is always an advantage for SAR helicopters as they can demonstrate what they do that much more effectively, particular as was the case at Southend displaying with the local lifeboats. The crew winched survivors out of the sea and then winched them down to the lifeboat. Another example of the Sea King was involved in the flying display, this time a Sea King HC4 from the Royal Navy carrying a troop of commandos in a daring rescue on board the local police barge! The local Essex Air Ambulance, a Eurocopter EC135, provided the civilian rescue services rotary involvement in the flying display with a number of flypasts down the display line. Military helicopter displays have made something of a comeback in the last couple of years and both the RAF and Royal Navy had two more rotary displays in the programme. The Black Cats flying a pair of Lynx HMA8 helicopters put on their new display for 2006 which builds on their already established displays with a number of new twists. The RAF's Chinook HC2 display was as impressive as ever over the sea at Southend and really has become a highlight of any show it appears at.

As with most Seaside shows, the RAF provide the bulk of the participation. The service sees these shows, perhaps the best attended on the calendar, as ideal recruitment exercises to fill the ranks. As such the RAF tries to send as many displays as possible to Southend. All fast jet types currently being display were present. Making the biggest noise and getting the most faces looking up was the Typhoon F2 making the single seaters public debut. Not to be outdone were the Tornado GR4 and Harrier GR7A displays both of which impressed. Training was represented by the Tucano T1 and by the 208(R) Squadron Hawk T1 display in it's striking new display scheme. The latter is very different to the 100 Squadron display from Strike Command showing off different profiles and things such as a slow loop and roller coasters.

Sharp Flying

Brand New for 2006 are the Blades formation and aerobatic display team. The Blades Pilots are all highly experience military and civilian pilots. The team are formed from the aircraft and instructors of 2Excel Aviation which provide advanced flying instruction, corporate days, team leadership and management training as well as displays private and public. Led by former Red Arrows leader Andy Offer, the team includes two other former members of the Red Arrows (Andy Evans and Myles Garland) and a highly experience civilian display pilot, Bruno Van Waeyenberghe. The display encompasses many familiar routines from Red Arrows and other team displays along with a few novel twists and some superb solo flying.

Though Southend was the teams first fully public display, they had flown their first display the week before at David and Victoria Beckham's party for the England Team ahead of the World Cup. The aircraft have been suitable adorned with the flag of St. George on the lower surface of the starboard wing.

An unusual military participant for a seaside show is the C-130J Hercules C5 display. However, with the new more developed display for 2006 the display seems somewhat less odd at a venue which the aircraft cannot land and can now really demonstrate the performance advantages over the older Hercules. The Herk also acted as the transport for the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team who at last seem to have found some safe working smoke canisters!

Older historic aircraft were slightly fewer in number for 2006. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was reduced to just it's fighter pair after the Lancaster had engine problems at Southend Airport.  The only civilian warbirds in the display were B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B and a pair of P-51D Mustangs from Maurice Hammond and the Old Flying Machine Company. It had been planned for Rob Davies to formate with Maurice Hammond in Janie but Rob suffered a lost canopy on his P-51 whilst traveling to the Berlin Air Show earlier in May. Alistair Kay flew in usual polished routine in OFMC's Ferocious Frankie.

Two slightly younger historic aircraft were also included in the programme. Air Atlantique's Twin Pioneer put on a display of STOL capabilities pretty early in the display after it had dropped off some pleasure flight passengers at Southend airport. De Havilland Aviation's Sea Vixen was the replacement item of the Canberra flown by Brian Grant and was the only classic jet in the flying display.

A family show such as Southend always has a good mix of civilian items. Largest team display of the day was provided by local team, the Aerostars in six Yakovlev Yak-50 with their usual mix of formations and solo aerobatics. A completely different shape in the skies over Southend were Patrouille Reva who fly three modified versions of the Rutan VariEz known as AcroEz. The aircraft have been structural modified for aerobatics and have a smoke system fitted. An old team with a new name are Team Road Angel. Will Curtis no longer has sponsorship for his displays but Road Angel have stepped in to be the title sponsor. Joining Will was Justyn Gorman making one of his first displays for the team in the Pitts Special aerobatic biplane. The Utterly Butterly Barnstormers returned with their fourship routine and some new faces amongst the Wingwalkers for 2006, but still remain a firm favourite with the crowd.

As ever, Southend provides a varied and entertaining display by the side that everyone can enjoy. The weather was very kind on Sunday while a few showers interspersed Mondays displays. The large crowd certainly seemed appreciative of the displays despite many late changes. The good news is that the event's future seems secure for the next few years as Westcliff Casino have extended their sponsorship.

 copyright Flightline UK