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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

Southend Air Festival

The Southend Air Festival is the first seaside airshow of the year, and the longest running being in its 27th year. Whereas the last few years have seen fairly mixed weather, the 2012 event saw wall to wall sunshine with no clouds in sight. Southend also welcomed a new title sponsor for 2012 too after a few years without sponsorship in the form of low-cost airline EasyJet whose scheduled services have transformed London Southend Airport.

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

Seaside airshows are in uncertain times at the moment. Council budgets are shrinking and the overall costs of staging events are not getting cheaper. It was therefore great news for the industry that Southend were able to secure sponsorship from EasyJet at the beginning of the year. The sponsorship deal reflects the transformation at Southend Airport which now hosts scheduled flights with not only EasyJet, but also Air Lingus. The airport now has a brand new terminal building and an extended runway as well as new transport links. To mark EasyJet’s arrival at Southend, the flying display on Saturday included a flypast by the airline’s 200th Airbus A320 complete in its special Orange paint scheme.

Despite the change to the Bank Holidays, Southend stuck to its traditional late may slot which led to an unusual ‘clash’ with Duxford which was hosting its Jubilee Airshow the same weekend. However the weather could not have been better with clear skies and a cooling easterly sea breeze.

Traditionally seaside airshows always see great support from the Royal Air Force displays though sadly the Red Arrows were not able to attend this year. All of the RAF’s training displays were in attendance with the Tutor, Tucano and Hawk displays. The Hawk display suffered a minor drama opening Saturday’s display when the aircraft’s ram-air turbine deployed during the early part of Flt Lt Phil Bird’s routine forcing him into an early return to Southend Airport. The King Air B200 from 45R Squadron and flown by Flt Lt Ian Birchall made its Southend debut too completing the line-up of RAF training types

Perhaps the most welcome participant from the Royal Air Force was the first public display of 2012 by the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 from 6(F) Squadron based at RAF Leuchars. 6(F) Squadron are the first operational front line RAF fighter squadron to provide a solo display since 25(F) Squadron provided the Tornado F3 solo during the 1990s. This year’s Typhoon display sees the return of Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran as display pilot who last displayed the potent jet in 2009 when he was part of 29R Squadron, the operation conversion unit. His display draws from his 2009routine and is certainly a noisy account of the RAF’s main fighter.

The Royal Navy were also in evidence with one of the first public displays for the Black Cats Helicopter Display Team. The team have a brand new display for 2012 and it was certainly well received by the Southend crowds.

Seaside airshows always contain a fair degree of smoke and colour. With the absence of the Red Arrows it was left to a number of civilian displays to draw delicate smoke trails in the clear blue skies over the Essex coast. British aerobatic champion Gerald Cooper gave an eye-popping account of his Sbach 300 with an extraordinary amount of flicks, rolls and tumbles.

Formation aerobatics were provided by a pair of contrasting duo displays. The TRIG Aerobatic Display Team of Richard Grace and Dave Puleston gave a spirited display in their Pitts S-1D Specials speeding their way around the coast. Their display includes some dramatic formation breaks and some interesting mirrors passes and opposition passes.

The SWIP Team returned to Southend following their debut last year with a brand new display routine of grace formation barrel rolls, loops and synchronised aerobatic to the theme from ‘Harry’s Game’

No seaside display is complete without the Breitling Wingwalkers who had a busy weekend with teams in France as well as Southend. Southend saw pilots Steve Hicks and Al Hoy joined by wingwalkers Sarah Tanner and Stella Guilding for the usual mix of daring antics on the wing, aerobatics and low passes along the seafront.

There was some great warbird action at this year’s show. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight have long supported Southend and returned in 2012 with the Lancaster, Spitfire PRXIX and Hurricane IIc. Local collector Peter Teichman gave an elegant display his Curtiss P-40M Kittyhawk on both days of the show. His aircraft still carries the markings it wore for filming of George Lucas’ “Red Tails” which is being released within the next month.

It was also great to see the aircraft of the Old Flying Machine Company taking part in the show. Legendary display pilot Nigel Lamb displayed Spitfire LFIXb MH434 on both days of the show in his own unique style. Sunday saw the added bonus of Alister Kay flying OFMC’s P-51D Mustang Ferocious Frankie down from Duxford to display with his usual panache.

There was also classic jet action from Jeff Bell’s BAC Jet Provost T5 XW324 flown by Andy Hill. The addition of the JP was particularly apt in 2012 as the Central Flying School is celebrating its 100th Anniversary. To mark the anniversary CFS decals have been added to the tailfin of the aircraft which is a superbly presented example which has won the’ concors d’elegance’ at the Royal International Air Tattoo.

The Southend Air Festival may have lacked the Red Arrows, but it did not stop a large crowd enjoying some great entertaining flying over the two days in stunning weather. It is certainly good to see such strong support from the Royal Air Force at such event as it is to see a company like EasyJet getting involved. We hope to be back next year for the 28th show.

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