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Southport Airshow 2016

 

 
 

"...the acts themselves began to feel a bit “samey” for air show regulars"

This year saw the 25th anniversary of the North Wests largest sea side air show, with a three day long planned event including an evening flying programme with fireworks finale on Friday 9th. Sadly the weather beat any possible flying on Friday 9th September and consequently led to a cancellation of that days show programme; every air show organisers nightmare. Luckily Saturday and Sunday proved to be more favourable with some lovely blue skies and late summer light.

Sefton council have been putting on the annual air show on Southport’s coastline since 1991 with great success and have managed to bring in star attractions over the years including last years display from Vulcan XH558, which included a formation flypast with the Red Arrows as a tribute the Cold War Delta Bomber which performed its final display year in 2015.

This years show came with a lot of anticipation and hype given the 25th anniversary theme of the event. As a regular attendee of Southport’s Air Shows, it must be noted that the attendance figures did feel a little lower than previous years, especially when you looked across the beach parking area and crowd lines which felt a little sparse in places.

That being said the flying programme looked quite promising with a broad selection of historic and present day military aircraft along with a clutch of separate aerobatic type displays from civilian owner operators.

As usual with a lot of air shows the entertainment started early with some model flying from the Scale modellers down on the beach. Various types including small jets and rotary models took the sky, but probably the most popular was the model Lancaster, mocked up as a member of the Dam Busters with the bomb cradle, but apparently missing its bomb.... maybe this had hit its target?

The flying programme opened a few minutes earlier than the advertised 1pm with the appearance of the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in three ship formation consisting of the Avro Lancaster PA474 along with Spitfire Mk Vb and Hurricane Mk IIC. The trio displayed both in three ship formation and as solo displays acts before departing for other displays around the country scheduled in for that weekend. It was fair to say that the Lancaster was certainly a site for sore eyes for many at the show, as in general it hasn’t been able to attend that many shows of late due to serviceability issues which have followed on from 2015’s missed season due to an engine fire. Towards the end of the year PA474 will be landing for a prolonged stay at the Aircraft Restoration Company hangars based at IWM Duxford for a major overhaul.

As one flying trio departed another arrived in the form of an early Cold War formation from the Norwegian Historical Squadron. The formation consisting of Mig 15 UTI and de Havilland Vampires FB52 & T55, all in a fantastic matching silver livery. The display saw some fantastic tight formation flying showing all three air frames together, along with pairs displays from the Vampires as well as some brief aerial tail chases. The aircraft choices for the squadron depict aircraft used by Norway in the case of the Vampires, and aircraft that were often seen probing the border of Norway; in this instance the Mig. Viewers of the Sunday show were a little more fortunate than those on Saturday attendance as the classic jets were unable to attend on Saturday due to poor weather down at Duxford where they had been based for the weekend. Fortunately Sunday’s weather was much more suitable.

A brief break gave the chance for the Tigers Freefall Display Team to get airborne to check weather conditions at jump altitude. More of an act for the families within the crowd than for the air show regulars, the team leapt from a Jet Ranger Helicopter before pulling their rip cords to gently descend to the sand.

Back to the flying, it was the first of two appearances from Peter Teichman of Hangar 11, firstly in his freshly painted P51D Mustang, now wearing the livery of “Tall in the Saddle”, which was one of the legendary “Red Tails” of the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group . The Hangar 11 Boss, a regular at Southport Air Show, showed off the glorious looking Mustang with his usual vigour and professional yet energetic display routine which frequently includes some of the best topside passes you will see from any display pilot in the UK. This particular airframe is very special indeed, being that it is a true WWII veteran and an actual Red Tail. The original war time pilot of “Tall in the Saddle”, 91 year old Colonel George Hardy is planning to visit the UK and his wartime steed later this year.

The first of three civilian aerobatic display teams, Team Raven were next to enter the viewers airspace in their Vans RV4 & RV8 light aircraft. The team perform some great maneuverers and routines; though not quite as slick as The Blades they still provide a pleasing site for the families out on the crowd line.

As the display returned to military aircraft, the crowd got a rotary themed display from the Hughes OH-6A Cayuse “Loach”. This Vietnam veteran is a local based piece of flying history, usually accompanied by a Bell UH1H “Huey”; this year was a solo display. The display was pretty routine with regards to a series of straight and level passes followed by sweeping & climbing turns before coming back into crowd centre. This particular Helicopter saw action in the Vietnam War before being deemed beyond economical repair whilst “in country” after receiving 11 hits from small arms fire in South Vietnam during a low level recon mission. In other lives this airframe saw service with the DEA back in the USA in the early 90’s before being disposed of at auction in 2004.

A rare treat for the beach crowds was the Royal Netherlands Air Force Historic Flight B-25 Mitchell; a rare visitor for this part of the UK. The twin radial engine medium bomber entered the display line from the left and climbed out over the end of the pier. The arrival brought with it a lovely aroma of warm engine oil and aviation fuel, a real treat for the true aviation fans out there. For a larger aircraft, the pilot managed to give a spritely display before departing to refuel prior to returning home to its home base.

Keeping with Warbirds, the second of Hangar 11’s fantastic WWII airfcraft entered from the right, this time the Curtiss P40 Kittyhawk, painted to depict P-40N-1 Warhawk 44-2104590, "Lulu Belle”, along with Skull livery on the nose of the airframe. The immaculate P40 came in and gave another rousing display with the final topside passes feeling so close to the end of the viewing pier that you could almost touch it. A slight exaggeration on this reviewer’s part, but nevertheless a fantastic spectacle.

As the crowds waited for the next flying item a Naval themed display formed up from the left with the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Swordfish accompanied by two of the Royal Navy’s newest pieces of hardware, a pair of Agusta Westland AW159 Wildcats. The partnership of a 1930’s designed bi-plane and the cutting edge of 21st Century Naval Aviation was a scene repeated from 2015’s show, but this time in clearer skies. The crowds were treated to a number of formation flypasts before a split for solo displays from the Swordfish and Black Cats Display Team I the Wildcats. The old Naval “String bag” piloted by Lt Commander Chris Gotke performed a nostalgic display, showing just how slow the bi-plane could go, depicting its part in the sinking of the Bismarck. Once complete the Wildcats returned to perform their Black Cats Display. I think it is fair to say the display isn’t as energetic or crowd wowing as it used to be in the old Lynx Helicopters, one can only assume this is due to how new the airframes are compared to the well explored capabilities of the Lynx.

The show continued on with some more aerobatic displays from The Blades Team and Fireflies Display, which have begun to feel a bit like an over saturated element of some air shows of late. Although the ability of the display pilots and the skill needed has to be appreciated, the acts themselves began to feel a bit “samey” for air show regulars. Perhaps definitely acts more suited to families and casual air show visitors as opposed to harder aviation fans. The show also saw what felt to be a ‘close in’ display from a Jet Provost along with the ever entertaining Autogyro display before the closing act was spotted out towards the South, holding prior to display.

The final display of the day came in the form of the Royal Air Forces Typhoon Display, this year piloted by Flt Lt Mark Long. This was not only to be Southport Air Shows final display of 2016, but also the Typhoons final display of the 2016 season. This being the case it felt like the flying display was a little more special, with the display finishing in style with Flt Lt Long taking the aircraft from 250 feet above the deck all the way up to 15,000 feet in the most impressive power climb I have ever witnessed. Special permission was granted for this prior to the manoeuvre, where the Delta Winged Fighter pulled up and climbed skywards like a home sick angel before disappearing out of view, but not out of ear shot!

This brought the 2016 show to a close in spectacular fashion. This year’s show was another great success for Sefton Council, albeit Friday evening which had to be cancelled due to the unfavourable weather conditions experienced on the Southport Coast. This year’s show saw a slight increase in price at £8.50 for per pre-booked ticket plus £6 car parking; that being said it is still one of the cheapest air shows to attend especially when you look at the kind of aircraft they manage to include within their flying programmes. As mentioned earlier, the show itself did feel a little quieter than previous years, with gaps and spaces on the first row of the crowd line visible throughout the day (completely unheard of at any of the previous years attendance).

Southport Air Show also offers VIP, or premier viewing from along the pier, which includes private toilets and marquee which provides a picnic style lunch. Priced at £70 for adults and £50 for children it isn’t cheap, and some may wonder if the location and the included extras warrant the cost.

 
2017’s Southport Air Show is once again planned to be a three day event with Friday evening flying programmed, scheduled for the 15th to the 17th September.

 

 

Review by Jonathan Wintle

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