Southport Airshow 2009


Airshow Control
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The Blades
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The Swift Team
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Merlin Magic
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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 Author.

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.

R/C Models

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.

Farewell Guinot

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 the UK!

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.

The Fly-in
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RAF Displays
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Black Cats
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