Southport Airshow 2008


Fly Army!
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The Blades
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Team Swift
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The Reds
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The Southport Airshow is a unique show on the UK airshow circuit. Essentially it is a seaside airshow but has two major differences. Firstly, it is one of the few coastal show that charges for access to the seafront where the display line is situated. Secondly, it takes place over the extensive and featureless sands that are a feature of the North West Coast rather than over water. 2008 saw the show become part of the Royal Air Forces "Priority One" events featuring all the solo displays and the award winning "Role Demonstration." The show celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force and the 75th Anniversary of Liverpool's John Lennon Airport. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

Tutor's new clothes

The RAF's Tutor display aircraft finally gained some special display markings for the Southport show with some light blue chevrons on the upper wing surfaces and a large RAF roundel on it's belly like some of the other RAF display aircraft this year. It's been a long wait for display pilot Andy Preece who was flying the Tutor for his second and final display season.

The first weekend of September was a busy weekend for airshows with large shows at Duxford, Portrush and Southport as well as a number of smaller shows planned. The weather in the week leading up to the weekend was once again a major factor in show planning. Persistent rain and strong winds for much of the week caused the cancellation of the "Victory Show" at Cosby and threatened to spoil the weekend shows too. The Friday was heralded by some truly awful heavy rain and strong winds making any transit flights to the various shows very difficult with just the military types and the Swift glider team making to their operating bases for the Southport show. Bad weather prevented the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Great War Display Team and Team Guinot reaching Southport from their bases over the weekend.

One of the highlights of the show for 2008 was to have been the use of the sands as a temporary runway for a selection of "heritage" aircraft to celebrate the Southport's aviation connections as well as a collection of microlights from West Lancashire Microlight School. The overnight rain had saturated the sands off Southport to the extent they were unusable on Saturday for the heritage aircraft and microlights. Sunday was drier and allowed a runway to be rolled in the sand and a number of Microlights made the trip onto the sands. Joining them was a solitary "heritage" aircraft in the form of a Piper Vagabond.

Using the sand runway on both days were the three aircraft of the Swift Aerobatic Display Team. Saturday's damp conditions on the beach prevented plans for the whole team to operate from the beach. Instead the team arrived from their overnight roost at RAF Woodvale with the Pawnee, S-1 Swift and Silence Twister with the Swift Glider landing on the saturated beach after it's solo part of the display. Later on in the afternoon after the flying display had finished the team's Pawnee flown by Paul Moslin returned to pick up the Swift flown by Guy Westgate. Sunday saw the team return to plan "A" with Pete Wells in the Silence Twister joining their other two aircraft operating from the beach runway. The only other "civilian" team to make it through the weather to perform at Southport were The Blades led by Andy Offer. The Blades were one of the acts to perform at both Southport and the other side of the Irish Sea at Portrush making for a bust afternoon of flying.

RAF Role Demo hits the sea!

After the cancellation of the Sunderland version of the role demo, Southport proved to be first display at the coast for the Role Demonstration Team 2008. Southport itself is used to having "beach attacks" from RAF aircraft at previous shows. Southport's sand flats proved an ideal location for the display with large areas of space for helicopter landings and the all important pyrotechnics. All did not go according to plan "A" however with Saturday's display being lead by the reserve commander in the second Tornado F3.

Rounding off the weekend's flying was the Avro Vulcan B2 XH558. It's been a difficult first season for the aircraft with a number of event cancellations due to weather and unservicability. This weekend was no different. Though the Vulcan had made's it first post restoration appearance at Duxford on Saturday, weather between Duxford and Southport prevented the aircraft making the trip north. It's appearance was hastily rescheduled for Sunday but weather again played a hand prevented the Vulcan meeting it's original slot time at Southport. The crew delayed take off time until later in the afternoon. The weather between RAF Brize Norton and Southport improved enough to allow the might delta to provide the show finale but it did mean it also missed out on a second appearance at Duxford. The appearance of the Vulcan was entirely appropriate as the aircraft were designed and constructed at nearby Woodford airfield.

The majority of the flying program at Southport was from the armed services. Opening the display was the Royal Navy Westland Lynx HAS3 solo display from 702 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton at Somerset. The stormy backdrop was the perfect accompaniment for the display. Another Lynx came from the Army Air Corps, this time the Lynx AH7 from the School of Army Flying at Middle Wallop with it's aerobatic antics. Also from the Army came the Apache AH1 solo display. Augmented by some pyrotechnics it has been a successful first season for the Apache display which has been well received everywhere it has appeared. Completing the helicopter line up was the RAF's Chinook HC2 solo display which always impresses.

The Royal Air Force committed all it's solo displays for Southport. The Tutor T1 appeared for the first time in it's full display scheme with light blue chevrons and and a large roundel on the underside. Joining it were the anniversary marked Than T1 and Hawk T1 solos for displays of the RAF fast jet training aircraft.

Making a welcome appearance was the RAF's newest type on the display circuit; the Beech King Air B200 flown by Fl It Leon Creese and crew. This aircraft is displayed in it's standard service scheme and it puts on a display of steep turns and wing covers culminating with a steep approach. Along with the RN Lynx, the King Air displayed twice on Saturday to fill the gaps left by a couple of cancellations before the arrivals of the Red Arrows.

Star of the RAF's solo display line up is the Eurofighter Typhoon F2/T1A displayed by Flt Lt Charlie Matthews. The Typhoon puts on an excellent display and the moist air over Southport led to some really spectacular flash condensation over the wings of the swing role fighter. While the Typhoon displays the agility and aerobatic qualities of the RAF's front line, the RAF's Role Demonstration Team spectacular 45 min display presents a highly watchable look at some of the real roles the RAF undertakes. It's an initiative that has really captured the public's imagination ever since it first appeared at Biggin Hill Air Fair in 2007

However, the stars in the eyes of many spectators are of course the Red Arrows. The Reds are always in high demand and like many weekends throughout the summer they appeared other venues throughout the weekend. Red 10 Sqn Ldr Andy Robbins arrived by Squirrel helicopter each day with Flt Lt Zane Sennett. Andy was about to take some leave from the Arrows and was inducting Zane into the world of being the safety officer and commentator for the Reds. At the end of October, Zane will join the team as one of the new pilots for the 2009 season.

It was our first visit to the Southport Airshow and it is a show that impresses with a large ground exhibitions covering everything from aviation heritage to the current armed services and more. The only thing missing from the 2008 was some summer weather, something that has been missing for much of the 2008. Next year's show will take place over the 26th-27th September - here's hoping for warmer sunnier days!

Models and Microlights
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The Royal Air Force
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Solo Cat
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