Southend Airshow 2005 Review
Sunday 29th May - Monday 30th May
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Southend Seafront Airshow; a show which has in the past attracted all sorts of goodies from air forces around the globe, albeit largely down to a military airshow that used to be held in Suffolk over the same weekend! To celebrate the milestone, the organisers were promising some special items, but without Mildenhall Air Fete to 'borrow' some foreign participants from these days, they were going to have to look elsewhere for some star items.
and spent the Bank Holiday weekend of May 29th and 30th getting wet at the Airport. Additional photography from .
There was a fairly large amount of expectation surrounding this years event at Southend; with it being the 20th Anniversary show, the official website had been building it up as "the biggest and best ever" with "special flying items" to mark the occasion. But, what exactly did the organisers have planned? A glance at the participation list on the official website threw up the usual suspects, but there were a handful of items that raised a few eyebrows.
Firstly, they'd managed to secure a rare appearance from the French Breitling team, who operate 6 L-39 trainer aircraft. For a team that has made only one appearance in the UK in each of the past three years, this was clearly a major coup for the organisers.
Two more civilian treats were on the list, but unusually they were both commercial airliners. Since South African Airways made a memorable appearance at Duxford 2 years ago in one of their 747-400s, flying displays from SAA and other Airlines haven't been uncommon at UK shows, and Southend enticing a pair of them was testimony to that. With military participation so hard for smaller shows to attract these days, any new items at airshows are welcomed with open arms, and the DHL 757 and Scot Airways Do.328 were to be great additions to the seafront flying display.
However, perhaps the most impressive of the star items came from the RAF. With a provisional show calendar containing few events, it speaks volumes for Southend when the RAF confirmed the Typhoon would be making an appearance at the show on both days. This was also to be the first ever full display by an RAF Typhoon at a public airshow, with last years limited appearances only being short "role demonstrations" rather than a full flying display.
In addition to the Typhoons, the RAF once again turned out in force to support the show, with all of the front line fast jets (barring the Tornado GR.4) appearing on both show days, as well as Hawk and Tucano trainers, the Falcons parachute team, the BBMF and of course, the Red Arrows. Rotary activity was provided by the RAF Merlin, which joined the Royal Navy's Black Cats and a Royal Navy Sea King.
The flying display was completed with the remaining handful of civilian display items - Red Bull's Sea Vixen making it's third successive appearance, and further Red Bull participation from the Matadors Aerobatic team. Family favourites, the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers made the now almost guaranteed appearance, and local aerobatic team the Aerostars once again flew direct from North Weald to present their polished display. Finally, the Honda Dream team were on hand again to wow the crowds at the seafront.
With a line up many a show would envy, anticipation was high, and you suspected something had to give. Unfortunately, it was mother nature who wasn't playing ball. In recent years, Southend has been extremely lucky with the weather, both 2002 and 2004 enjoying scorching heat waves over the show weekend, and 2003 wasn't unpleasant either. Indeed, Essex had enjoyed unseasonally good weather on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the show, but come show day, the clouds had rolled in and the Sunday was a particularly grey affair. Monday proved to be the better of the two days with some good spells of sunshine, but it wasn't without it's moments, twice being hit with torrential downpours and thunder storms!
Regardless, the weather didn't have too much of a negative effect on the show at the seafront. The cloudbase on Sunday was high enough to allow full displays from the RAF aircraft, and the rain on the Monday only prevented the Jaguar from completing a full display, with all the other acts shuffled around to display in more favourable conditions. Credit to the organisers for a professional job, because the show ran smoothly with few gaps between participants even with the reshuffling. One incident did arise on the Sunday, when Will Curtis suffered an oil leak moments into his display, although he managed to recover the Airport without further incident.
Of course, co-inciding with the Seafront Airshow the Airport opens it's doors for their annual Open Weekend, which offers a completely different experience to the seafront. Superb for photography and viewing, the airport offers many advantages for the enthusiast over the sea front, not least the chance to see a high speed taxi run from resident Vulcan, XL426. Of course, a day at the airport will prevent you from watching the flying displays, but the compromise is well worth it if you plan to attend any other airshows later in the year, where you will inevitably see the bulk of the participants again.
In a slight change to the format though, this year admission to the airport was free, where it had previously been charged at £5 per person. The only noticeable difference to the punter was that the open top bus ride around the ramps had disappeared, but you can't help but think the organisers missed a great opportunity to raise funds for themselves or local charities.
A knock-on effect of the airport's decision not to charge an entry fee initially resulted in the Vulcan Restoration Trust having to make the sad announcement that they could not afford to operate the big delta bomber's taxi runs without the fuel funding previously supplied by a part of the gate revenue. Thankfully a television company stepped in with an offer of some cash in return for being able to film the run on the Sunday. An eleventh hour decision from the airport to supply fuel for an additional run on the Monday meant that the VRT team were faced with their usual busy weekend of servicing the old Cold War veteran for her public appearances.
It was planned to deploy a brake chute on the Sunday for the cameras, but go without on the Monday due to the lack of time to re-pack the giant volume of material into it's tiny bag, which has to be carried out in a strict folding sequence to deploy correctly. The filming contributed to some initial delays in the Sunday taxi run, but the crowd were soon treated to the inimitable ‘Howl' of the Vulcan as she accelerated to 100 knots and then decelerated in the sadly short length of the Southend runway with the aid of a successful - though brief - deployment of the brake chute.
Monday's run was timed to coincide with the Typhoon display in that the Vulcan start up procedure was to be carried out on the taxiway whilst the RAF's newest piece of kit was showing of it's party tricks over the seafront, and thence to move off to hold leaving the taxiway clear for the returning fighter. Being ever the show girl the Vulcan decided to spit out her air start hose, which though not taking long to fix, meant that the Typhoon had to be carefully manoeuvred around the static V-Bomber. An added treat for the viewing public but a little embarrassing for the Vulcan team. Happily the rest of the run went without incident, and was again met with applause from the members of the public who'd stayed until the end of the day to see her in action.
Despite the weather, the show once again lived up to it's high standards. A varied and interesting flying display with some new acts joining the familiar faces, there's no doubt it's an entertaining day out and is unbeatable value. Whether or not it lived up to the organisers pre-show hype though, is a matter of personal opinion.