Southport Air Show 2008 Review
Saturday 6th September - Sunday 7th September
Southport is now North-West England's only major air display. First staged in 1991, it's grown over the years into a full-blown event taking in extensive military participation and the finest items from the civilian display community. Southport is unique among UK events; it's the only airshow that takes place on a beach! With a huge expanse of firm sand, the beach serves as the car park and showground and the raised, curved seawall on which many visitors sit creates an 'amphitheatre' feel to the venue.
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This year the organisers exploited this natural resource to the fullest advantage, mounting take-offs and landings from the sands. A number of microlights from the locally-based West Lancashire Microlight School landed on the beach, as did a Piper Vagabond. The Vagabond was an appropriate attendee - there's a long history of pleasure flying off Southport sands, and this was one of the aircraft used during that era. Additionally, the Swift Aerobatic Team trio of Pawnee, Swift S1 glider and Silence Twister also operated from the beach, generating further interest.
The sands also served as a quite outstanding location for one of the show's big attractions, the RAF Role Demonstration, but more of that later…
With a deep low pressure system across the UK, the omens were not looking good for a successful weekend. However, the weather did not prove as bad as expected. Saturday still suffered from somewhat mediocre conditions, but Sunday enjoyed pleasant sunshine (despite a fierce on-crowd wind) - an unusual experience at a British airshow this year!
Sunday's highlight was the appearance of the Vulcan. She was originally scheduled to display on Saturday, but poor weather prevented her from making the journey north from RAF Brize Norton. Thankfully, conditions improved enough to allow XH558 to fly up to close Sunday's programme. And what a performance Dave Thomas, Martin Withers and Barry Masefield provided, generating copious amounts of vapour as they flew this most majestic bomber in the late afternoon sunlight. The crowd received the Vulcan enthusiastically, with reports of applause as the aircraft arrived to begin its display. How appropriate, too, that The Mighty Delta should display in the North West - it was in the region that the Vulcan was developed.
Another delta-winged aircraft that captivated the crowd was the RAF Typhoon. This year's display pilot Flt Lt Charlie Matthews from 29(R) Squadron has been providing a tight, muscular routine that always impresses with its sheer power. Befitting a show classed as Priority 1 by the RAF Events Team, the rest of this year's RAF solos - Tutor, Tucano, King Air, Hawk and Chinook - all appeared, providing their customary well-flown routines. The Red Arrows are of course perennial favourites at the seaside, and their 2008 display is one of the best sequences they've put together in recent years. Sadly, the RAF's other "top team", BBMF, couldn't make it through the clag further south to display the Dakota and two Spitfires.
The Army and Navy also contributed. The AAC Lynx AH7 display this year is quite something, with loops, rolls and back-flips galore - seldom has the Army Lynx been displayed quite this dramatically, even during the Blue Eagles' heyday in the mid-1990s. The menacing Apache AH1 also gave its solo display, supplemented by pyrotechnics. The Senior Service's contribution was a Lynx HMA8, pilot illness unfortunately reducing the planned Black Cats display to 'Black 2' Lt Dave Lilley's well-flown solo.
However, the weekend's military highlight was the RAF Role Demonstration. Appearing in the northern UK for the first time (the Sunderland performance having been cancelled due to poor weather), Operation "Summer Lightning", as everywhere, was a hit with spectators. The location, with the sands stretching away for miles, gave a somewhat different perspective on the Demo - the Tornados and helicopters looked great as they ran in low. Needless to say, the beach also made the huge explosive effects all the more impressive! Sqn Ldr Andy Pawsey has done an excellent job with the Role Demo; it is tight, noisy, and maximises the time aircraft spend in front of the crowd - something all good multi-aircraft military displays should do.
Owing to weather elsewhere, the only civilian contributions were the ubiquitous Barclays Blades and the aforementioned Swift Aerobatic Team. Both did an excellent job entertaining the crowds - extra kudos to them for the smoothness of their routines in the gusty conditions. Guy Westgate's Swift aerobatics are always a pleasure to behold; he provides something special for British airshows with his display of exquisite flying skill. Guy also set an unofficial World Record for rolling a glider whilst on-tow with the Pawnee - no fewer than 11 consecutive rolls!
In short, Southport delivered plenty of high-quality action. The lack of a warbird may have disappointed some dyed-in the-wool enthusiasts, but airshows should more than anything provide entertainment and sheer spectacle. On this point Southport, as every year, scored highly, thanks in no small part to the North West's very own Cold War warrior.