Cleethorpes Airshow Report

Saturday 26th - Sunday 27th July 2014

With the Cleethorpes Airshow now in its third year it has become one of the key seaside events of the British airshow calendar, attracting a number of high-profile display acts over previous years and acting as a "local show" for the RAFAT Red Arrows and the RAF Typhoon. The prospect of good weather for the duration of the weekend and a strong line-up certainly looked promising, but could the show build on the success of its previous two years?

Dan Ledwood travelled to the East Coast seaside town for UK Airshow Review, with bucket and spade in tow.

The build-up to this year’s show at Cleethorpes was a somewhat quiet affair, with very little being shared with the public via the display organisers as to what could have been expected to attend. However the acts began to start confirming, particular highlights being the Red Arrows, P-51D Mustang "Ferocious Frankie" and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Despite these promising additions some of the public were, rather exuberantly, illustrating their disappointment in the likes of XH558 not being included in the display schedule on various social media sites. This was clearly something that had been noticed by the organising team, with commentator Melvyn Hiscock explaining on the day that the cost required for the Vulcan to perform an 8 minute display was £14,000. A payment that high would have almost certainly made the display schedule considerably shorter, plus with the somewhat hit and miss performances by Vulcan this year, would it have been money well spent?

There were various other, frankly ridiculous, comments being made on social media sites about the show, a particular highlight being "Why has the Belgian F-16 been taken off the list?" Unfortunately a sense of reality has to be taken into consideration, however, better communication between the organisers and public via social media could alleviate problems such as this.

Despite these slight niggles, Cleethorpes was set for a good weekend, with the forecast predicting favourable weather conditions. The show kicked off in earnest on both days with the British Army Red Devils, who jumped twice on each day. They certainly seemed to engage the crowd with plumes of red smoke, various landing configurations and one exceptionally large 2000 square foot Union Flag.

Support from the military also came in the guise of the BBMF, who performed with the Lancaster, Spitfire Mk19 (PS915) and Spitfire Mk9 (MK356) trio on the Saturday and the Hurricane replacing the Spitfire Mk19 due to unserviceability issues the previous days. Complementing the Memorial Flight line-up on the Saturday was the immaculate Dakota III. The RAF also provided the Tucano, with Dave Kirby using the spare aircraft, and D-Day Typhoon FGR4 on the Sunday. The Red Arrows were tasked with closing the show on Sunday, resulting in Red 10 being deposited onto the beach via an RAF Squirrel HT1, and the team displaying about an hour later. It's safe to say that the largest cheers were saved until last, with a thunderous applause from the large crowds on every single pass. It's easy to see, from an aviation enthusiast's point of view, why the Red Arrows are so loved for those aged from 6 to 99.

The Typhoon certainly brought plenty of noise and it was pleasing to see the aircraft perform its full display, the only criticism being that the aircraft displayed at least a further 50 metres from the display line. Whether this was distant display was due to unforeseen regulations governing reheat capable jets or if it was the pilot's preference, it's a real shame as the display seemed very energetic.

Warbirds were further featured in this year's display, with the Humberside Airport based aircraft of Richard Lake thundering through the skies on both days. The addition of Richard Lake's aircraft was certainly gratifying, with the eagerly anticipated P-51D Mustang "Ferocious Frankie" being cancelled a couple of weeks before the show, along with the RV8tors. Richard Lake was even kind enough to provide both of his Spitfires, with his recently restored Spitfire Mk18, SM845, being displayed by the man himself on Saturday, and the "tear-drop" canopy Spitfire Mk16, TD248, flown on the Sunday. Both of Richard's displays were very smooth, a gentle display which showed off the aesthetic prowess of both machines rather than aerobatic routines. The latter was left to Cliff Spink, who was hurtling the desert-schemed Hispano HA1112-M1L Buchon across the skies in what has to be one of the most amazing warbird aerobatic displays I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

Changing pace but certainly not slowing down the action were the Aerostars, with the Yakovlev Yak-50 team flying on both days. Six aircraft were pirouetted around on the Saturday and five on the Sunday due to, as Melvyn Hiscock put it so eloquently, "one of the aircraft snapping its rubber band." Nevertheless, the Aerostars still performed flawlessly and are arguably one of the best civilian formation teams in Europe, and will even put some national display teams to shame.

There was no shortage of Pitts aircraft this year, with three different displays. The first, and attending only on the Saturday, were the pair of Pitts S-2s of Wildcat Aerobatics. These were then followed by the astonishing display of Rich Goodwin in his Muscle Pitts, who demonstrated to tremendous effect how an aircraft can be taken beyond its flight envelope. The display was pin sharp with a myriad of avalanches and lomcevaks, plus smoke aplenty. In a complete contrast was the aerobatic performance by Lauren Richardson in her diminutive Pitts S-1S, which was flown immediately before Rich Goodwin to illustrate the contrasting displays. Despite Lauren not having ample amounts of power in her aircraft, the energy management used in her display was most impressive, and should be further applauded for managing to fill the display line and engaging the crowd with a "Mexican wave".

Rounding out the display acts over the weekend was the Rotorsport Calidus, which has attended all three Cleethorpes shows since its inaugural display in 2012. Despite the display not being particularly revolutionary due to the non-aerobatic capabilities of the gyrocopter, Peter Davies managed to ensure he kept close to the crowd due to the differing regulation on the slow flying autogyro. Rounding up the displays was Chris Jesson in his immaculate Stampe SV4, who performed perhaps the surprise of the airshow. The short display demonstrated the very capable aerobatic performance of the Stampe, all of which was set to music which really captivated the audience as Chris rolled and looped his aircraft.

On the whole the flying was very strong this year, it could be argued that this was the best year to date due to the quality of the flying. For a fledgling airshow that could still be considered in finding its feet, the organisers have done a promising job in booking the key acts. The only criticism I could provide is to possibly vary the line-up for next years show, perhaps the inclusion of a helicopter display or a classic jet such as the Strikemaster or Hunter would even further compliment the show. Flying aside, the commentary done by Melvyn Hiscock and Trevor Graham was excellent, with a good balance found by both gentlemen between family-orientated comedy and aviation related knowledge. A massive round of applause to both of them.

The only gripe I have is the lack of support by the local council. Unfortunately the show is wholly supported by volunteers, with no input made from the council. This resulted in issues such as copious amounts of waste, very few toilets and minimal traffic management. The organisers did their utmost to ensure that traffic was handled appropriately, but alas, some of the tailbacks were ridiculous.

Despite these problems though the general consensus was that the show was a massive success, with 200,000 attending over the weekend. The show was categorically better than previous years, and I have the strong belief that if backing was received from the council then the next edition of Cleethorpes in 2015 could well be one for the record books.