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Blackpool Airshow 2016

 

   

"...as a free air-show this was certainly well-worth the effort"

The popular seaside resort of Blackpool hold claim to the longest running air show in the world. Air displays have been taking place here since the very early days of powered flight. With the first such event being held in 1909, technology has clearly moved on since then, but judging by the large crowds on the seafront the popularity has not dwindled. Whilst waiting for the flying display to commence the public could view a handful of ground exhibits and stalls which included an authentically restored replica Spitfire which fans could sit in for a small fee.

Sadly, very strong winds blowing towards the crowds forced early cancelations from the De Havilland Chipmunk and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who were due to appear with the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster which had recently been returned to airworthiness following an engine fire last year. The weather can always play a large part in the success of any air show but thankfully Lauren Richardson was able to change her display time and open the show with a stunning display of daring aerobatics in her Pitts Special S1-S.

The nature of Blackpool seafront which includes two long piers means that the display line can appear distant from the promenade which unfortunately takes away some of the energy and impact from some of the aerobatic displays. However the skill of Lauren Richardson’s flying was still evident particularly in the strong winds. At only 29 it’s remarkable that this is her 6th season as an aerobatic pilot.

 
 

Next up was the RAF Typhoon which flew in from the right close to the maximum permitted speed with a deafening sound putting up a large flock of gulls from the beach and sending a shock of adrenaline into the crowd. Flt Lt Mark Long gave a dynamic display demonstrating the capability of this remarkable aircraft. Currently the RAF’s only multi-role fast jet, from the routine it is easy to see just how versatile this aeroplane is as Mark Long was able to fly-by slowly with the gear down one moment and then launch vertically into the sky with astonishing power the next.

With a complete change of pace, the Breitling Wingwalker Team provided the next spectacle. The origin of wingwalking goes back to the First World War and seems quite appropriate for a historic seaside display such as this. However, the sudden contrast in pace to the Typhoon made this item seem a little sedate at times. Given the high winds credit must go to the brave wingwalkers, Nikita Salmon and Florence Rolleston-Smith who still held immaculate poses and smiles in the bracing conditions.

The BAC Strikemaster MK82A was the sole flying classic jet on the day. Mark Petrie flew the aircraft superbly but the display had clearly been limited by either the high winds or the new CAA regulations, none-the-less it was still a pleasure to see this aircraft in the air even if only limited to distant fly-pasts, the pilot was still able to display the aeroplane from a range of angles pleasing to photographers.

The next two displays saw an unusual pair of helicopters take to the air. Firstly Peter Troy-Davies flew his Calidus Autogyro through a range of tight twists and turns enhanced by clever use of smoke. The 2nd rotor display was the Schweizer 300C helicopter known as ‘Otto’. Although Otto has been displaying in America for some time, this is its debut season in the UK, the unique ‘choppabatics’ provided an interesting interlude but the light aircraft were clearly impacted upon by the challenging flying conditions.

 

Next, we were treated to two civilian aerobatic teams including the seven ship formation of Team Raven flying Vans RV aircraft through a range of formations and individual aerobatics, including the traditional heart in the sky which drew one of the biggest cheers of the day from the crowd. The Team Twister duo provided a similar display in the elliptical winged twister aircraft reminiscent of the famous Supermarine Spitfire. Both teams did exceptionally well to hold tight formations in winds now reaching over 30mph.

The closure of the show was left to the famous RAF Red Arrows who were able to surprise the majority of the crowd with the characteristically dynamic entry from behind before offering their full display of precision high speed manoeuvres. Firstly the 9 aircraft move around the display line in a range of formations before dramatically splitting into a more dynamic routine involving high speed close passes from the ‘Synchro Pair’ and varied aerobatics from the famous five ‘Enid’ and the 4 ship ‘Gypo’ teams.

An excellent end to a well-organised display which was sadly hampered by the weather, as a free air-show this was certainly well-worth the effort and I am sure that the vast majority of the public will not have gone home disappointed despite a few cancellations and some adjustments to the displays.

 

Review by Lee Chapman

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