Southend 'Air Festival' Report

Sunday 30th May - Monday 31st May 2010

Now in its twenty-fifth year and titled the 'Air Festival', what was, and is still generally referred to as, the Southend Airshow has managed to carry on despite the lack of corporate sponsorship. Its content has suffered with that lack of funding, and the weather has played a part in recent years to further reduce the show's ability to live up to the shows of the past, especially those where it had shared items from the now extinct Mildenhall Air Fete. How will 2010's offering fair?

Phil Whalley was there for UK Airshow Review. Photos by the author.

The show's run of bad luck continued early for the 2010 show with the loss from the display schedule of the Red Arrows after their March accident during training in Crete. The Reds offer an iconic image over the seaside venues, and are particularly popular amongst the higher percentage of non-enthusiasts drawn to this type of event. Display director David Walton was faced with filling a large chunk of the display programme with very little funding, illustrating the value for money that the RAF's premier team offers. The display list when published was in no way to be sniffed at, and not only for its content, but its operating locations. Southend has gained a reputation as a double-location event, with the airport hosting the display aircraft and opening its doors to the enthusiast to view the operations. For 2010 the decision had been made that the construction work towards the expansion of the Essex airport would preclude its ability to host such an event. Probably with the knowledge that there would be a risk of large numbers of 'spotters' turning up despite this decision, the airport directors made an arrangement with the Vulcan Restoration Trust to make their pan around XL426 available to the public for a fee which would go towards the Trust's continued work on the V-bomber.

Being British, we'll start with discussing the weather, as once again the climate played a major part in shaping the weekend. I'd decided to spend the Sunday as part of the VRT's team, whilst skiving off my duties and taking in the seafront show on the Monday. Although Sunday enjoyed some long spells of sunshine, it and the show suffered greatly from the strong winds. It was no surprise that the BBMF couldn't leave their Lincolnshire base, nor the Falcons jump. The Gnat from North Weald also stayed at home. The big lens wielding photographers in the enclosure complained of serious weather-cocking, whilst their 'WAGS' sat well wrapped up against the chill, despite often clear blue skies. The prevailing wind direction meant that the displaying aircraft taxied out past the enclosure, giving the punters a wave. Tom Saunders in the Hawk made a welcome show of his smartly painted steed whilst holding on the taxiway, and most of the aircraft treated us to a 'run and break' on their return from the seafront. Gerald Cooper in the CAP232 won the prize for most gravity defying departure, the current British National Aerobatic Champion hanging his machine from its prop after a vertical climb, with a bunt over to head off to display. The RAF's Tucano and Tutor, the Blades, Plane Sailing's Catalina, the single Black Cat and Team Viper were also amongst the acts operating from the airport. Despite the aforementioned problems, it was still an enjoyable day, and a nice boost for the VRT's funds.

The winds had dropped for Monday's show, and so had the cloud base, with little chance of improvement during the day. Early-comers the Vampire Preservation Group's WZ507 and the always impressive Blades illustrated how challenging the conditions would be for the photographers throughout the day. The Sywell based team are back in a blue colour scheme, this time with RAF Association 'Wings Appeal' logos. They are still easily the most impressive team of their type, even in these conditions. The only bright orange in the seaside sky came courtesy of the Breitling Wingwalker's two Stearman biplanes, very easy on the eye as always. The 'Festival' had gained the RAF's three training syllabus displays, that of the Tutor, Tucano and Hawk. The Tutor stands out as showcasing the art of aerobatics in a small, low powered machine, whilst both of its larger brethren showcase the art of the spray painter, as seen in more detail elsewhere within the UKAR pages. The BBMF rarely leave Southend with the same number of aircraft than that which they arrive, and 2010 was no exception. During its solo section of the display the Lanc had a clear problem with the undercarriage, with the port leg finally retracting with a long delay after the starboard unit. The Hurricane, PZ865, landed with an engine snag. Both made it back to Coningsby during the week.

Plane Sailing's PBY suited the conditions, displaying over the sea in weather which would have been fairly normal for a wartime sortie. Also at home in this environment were the two rotary items in the display. The Royal Navy's Black Cats 'team' are currently a single Lynx, as 'Black 2' Lt Chris Chambers is currently away on paternity leave. Holding the baby, in the non-literal sense, is Lt Becky Frater who was educated locally at the Westcliff High School for Girls. At least she was able to display in a Lynx with the Black Cat scheme, rather than the standard grey machines we sometimes see. Joining Becky on the cyclic were the Royal Netherlands Air Force in a bright yellow Agusta-BellAB 412, who demonstrated a SAR scenario with the help of the local RNLI. Team Viper, consisting of three Strikemasters, was a highlight of the day, with their break perhaps the stand-out manoeuvre of the show. Kev Whyman displayed the single Gnat T.1 from North Weald, Stu Goldspink surprised us by appearing in Hangar 11's P-40, which is the first time that I've seen any of Peter Teichman's stable being flown by anyone but himself, and Gerald Cooper again threw the Cap232 into various shapes. Two further classic jets added to the very respectable event. The Golden Apple Sabre is a regular at Southend, but it was good to see the RNHF's Hawker Sea Hawk making a rare appearance. It was a replacement for the billed Swordfish, which will hopefully make it to other shows during the year, if the RNHF's luck ever changes for the better. Flt Lt Tim Clements closed the show in a Typhoon FGR4, with a display of extreme power and sound, in a routine including negative 'G', and plenty of vapour thanks to the damp air, which went down a storm with the crowd. So ended the twenty-fifth show at this venue, which for many years has been at risk of cancellation due to lack of funding. You can virtually guarantee, should the axe finally fall on the show, that the first May Bank Holiday without a Southend airshow would be blessed with stunning weather. It's so unfair!