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2010 UK Airshows : REVIEW

Southend Air Festival 2010

Programme CoverThe Southend "Airshow" has always been a true marker that the airshow season has got underway. Southend hosted the very first "seaside airshow" 25 years ago (Please look at our Feature Article celebrating 25 Years of Seaside Airshows) providing the blueprint for all the other events that are now held up and down the UK. 25 Years later, the name may have changed and aircraft have come and gone, but the atmosphere has stayed the same. The May Bank Holiday Weekend always produces mixed weather, but at least for Southend both days saw good conditions a bright but windy Sunday and a grey but calmer Monday.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from the essex coastline. All photography copyright of the Author.

The May Bank Holiday just happened to coincide to what is often referred to as the "European Monsoon" season when there is often warm, but very unsettled weather across Northern Europe. Luckily for Southend, the weather fronts did their worst over the day leading up to the airshow leaving the show days somewhat more favourable to flying.

The "run-up" to the event was not without it's difficulties however. The star act, "The Red Arrows," suffered a training accident in Greece in March. Luckily, all involved escaped, but due to injury Flt Lt Mike Ling was unable to complete training. The time needed to bring in another pilot to complete the display meant their season has been delayed and therefore the team were forced to withdraw from the Southend Air Festival. The loss of the team left a fair hole in the display programme for the event's flying display director, Dave Walton, to fill. In these uncertain times with limited budgets, it's a task easier said than done.

Sunday's show saw brighter conditions with blue skies, but strong winds across the country did mean a few acts were unable to take off in crosswinds. Monday saw a more complete show but under a grey overcast for much of the day.

Seaside events are very popular with the armed forces. They provide a larger audience than traditional airfield based airshows which better suits their "engagement strategies!" Southend provided the first opportunity for many to see the new RAF Typhoon FGR4 solo display for 2010 flown by Flt Lt Tim Clements. The new display is very different to previous displays with some impressive touches, notably a very noisy full power vertical climb to close the display.

The Royal Air Force also contributed all of it's solo displays including the Hawk T1, Tucano T1 and Tutor T1. Appearing on the Sunday only was a Wattisham based Sea King HAR3A which flew alongside the RNLI Lifeboats which are such an important part of the Festival organisation. The modern day Royal Navy was also represented by a solo Westland Lynx HMA8 from the Black Cats dislay team.

Southend was also blessed with early foriegn military participation in 2010 with a search and rescue demonstration from the Agusta/Bell AB412 from No 303 sqn of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The crew performed a role demonstration rescuing a casualty from the water as well a transfer from a lifeboat to the helicopter. The AB412 is a particularly welcome participant as it's due for replacement in the near future.

There was a strong "historic" theme to this years flying displays. Warbird action was provided on both days by the Hangar 11 Collection P-40 Kittyhawk flown by Stu Goldspink. Sadly, Sunday's strong winds mean the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were grounded at Coningsby but they did make it on the Monday for a poignant reminder of events 70 years ago. Plane Sailing's Catalina also displayed representing all maritime operations during the Second World War.

There was also a fine selection of classic jets in the display. Cliff Spink clearly loves displaying Golden Apple's F-86A Sabre with a wonderful smooth and flowing display. Matt Hampton also made a last minute appearance on the Monday with the Vampire Preservation Group's Vampire T11 based just up the roada at North Weald and joined the solo Gnat T1 flown by Kev Whyman.

One aircraft making a very welcome appearance was the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Hawker Sea Hawk FGA6 after a couple of troubled seasons for the unique aircraft. 2010 should see the flight back up to full strength with the Swordfish and Sea Fury nearing airworthiness.

In the absence of the Red Arrows, it was left to Team Viper to give the only jet team display of the afternoon. The team have just returned from an epic tour of the Middle East taking in displays in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. It was a highly appropriate region for the team to tour as the Strikemaster was used by a number of air forces in the region.

The Blades made their public display debut at Southend with their new colours which mark a new partnership deal with the Royal Air Forces Association Wings Appeal. Though their display format has not changed radically over the winter, the team line has altered slightly with addition of a new display pilot, Chris Carder, who will fly as Blade 2 for a number of shows. The Breitling Wingwalkers also displayed at Southend for the first time in their new colours which look stunning whatever the weather!

However, show star for you author was the incredible antics of British Aerobatic Champion and World No.7 Gerald Cooper. Gerald flies the CAP232 which is an aircraft often overlooked by many airshow pilots but Gerald's precise daredevil flying was absolutely jaw-dropping stuff!

Southend was an thoroughly enjoyable show with a rich variety of different displays set against the backdrop of the Thames. With nearly 500,000 attending over the weekend, it's still a hugely popular show with the public after 25 years and long amy it continue.

What did you think of the show? Which displays did you enjoy? What didn't you enjoy? Let us know on our Facebook page!



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