Margate's 'Big Event' Report

Saturday 18th June - Sunday 19th June 2011

Like many of the free seaside air shows, Margate's modestly titled 'Big Event' includes the flying display as part of a bigger tourist attraction aimed at bringing visitors to the town. Presumably that was the reasoning behind the change in location from its previous position further to the east, at Cliftonville, with its much appreciated cliff-top viewing areas, to the Main Sands beach area of Margate town. With the town set back into a natural harbour, the display line became more distant to allow it to be the regulatory distance from the outcropping harbour arm and adjacent promenade areas.

Phil Whalley ventured east to cover the Saturday running of this two day show for UK Airshow Review.

Upon arrival in Margate it would have been clear to the enthusiast that the orange marker buoys delineating the display centre line were a long way out into the sea, so that the town's frontage wouldn't be the best place from which to view the flying. Instead it would be better to try to find a spot in the area east of the harbour arm, where the land is further out towards the sea. Beyond the impressive Turner Contemporary gallery building is the beginnings of the cliffs that stretch towards the show's previous location and it is from here that the images used with this report were taken. The weather forecast for the day was changeable, aided by the extremely strong and gusting winds. It turned out to be quite a show of force by Mother Nature. From the wide-vista viewpoint overlooking the sea it was possible to see a number of powerful looking weather fronts move across Kent before just missing Margate and heading out into the North Sea. Jet black and reaching right to the ground, getting caught in one of these would clearly spoil your day.

For the minute though Margate survived, and the oft-cancelled BBMF arrived from crowd-rear into clear blue skies to display. Consisting of Lancaster PA474 and both PRXIX Spitfires - PM631 and PS915 - the Flight looked stunning in the light, with Margate's north facing location positioning the sun in a more favourable angle for the photographer - a rare situation at an airshow! As well as the iconic 'vic' it was good to see that the Spitfires stayed together to perform a pairs and tail-chase routine rather than displaying individually. It does fill the space better. As the Flight cleared from their display, with the Lancaster fittingly departing towards Reculver of bouncing-bomb trials fame, things began to change.

The next item in the display was intended to be the Tigers freefall parachute team but not surprisingly they had cancelled because of the wind strength. This caused a one hour break before the next aircraft, and within this period of time the weather took a distinct down-turn. It became overcast and dark, but still the really serious fronts passed by. The afternoon show recommenced with the RAF solo items, in 'training' order, of Tutor, Tucano and Hawk. As has often been mentioned before, the smaller prop trainers are a distant speck for much of their display, especially for those viewing from Margate town. Flt Lt Juliette Fleming's Hawk appeared out of the gloom, and she just managed to complete her display before the weather closed in. The Hawk display is an improvement on previous years and much more impressive.

It was at this point though that proceedings came to a standstill. A solid wall of weather marched across the town and hit the beach with a hammer blow, throwing clouds of sand into the air and driving the horizontal rain before it. It was a 'biblical' demonstration of the power of nature, much like in JMW Turner's 'The Evening of the Deluge'. Turner spent much of his time at Margate, with the local Kent area being the inspiration behind over one hundred of the artist's works - hence the positioning of the gallery. Clearly the display could not continue in this maelstrom, and it would not have surprised anybody had it been cancelled completely. After a while it had begun to pass through and the aptly named Tornado could be seen through odd breaks in the rain squalls, holding out to sea. Eventually the cloud base was high enough for the RAF's single ship GR4 role demo to begin its display, lighting the dark with the orange of re-heat. It was still raining quite heavily at this point, so those souls who had broken cover scurried back into shelter very probably assuming that would be the show's end.

One final item remained to appear, but the conditions still seemed beyond the limits of the aircraft - that being Avro Vulcan XH558. After a short delay an audible, refined, cheer could be heard as out of the gloom came the familiar profile of the jet bomber. As '558 displayed the dark skies over the sea actually began to part. When she carried out her final pass and climbed up and turned away to the north it was incredibly into clear blue skies - leading to thoughts of another biblical reference!