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ZD464 is fished out of the North Sea - picture Crown Copyright

Although eagerly anticipated at virtually all air displays, a Harrier's hover routine over the sea, complete with jetwash, is always good to watch. Having already flown the usual Harrier display on the previous day, this year's display pilot, Flt Lt Tony Cann was in the hover, prior to the expected 'bow' to the crowd on Friday when something went wrong. The aircraft appeared to gradually lose height and a few seconds later Flt Lt Cann ejected from the aircraft, which dropped into the sea, just to the South of the Claremont pier floating for a few minutes before sinking in about 20 ft of water. Despite ejecting in the most benign of circumstances, Flt Lt Cann came down on top of the aircraft, fracturing his ankle in the process. 'The Spirit of Lowestoft', the RNLI lifeboat stationed at Lowestoft, was quickly on hand to recover the pilot, who was reported as being most concerned that his ejection seat had not tumbled into the crowdline.

The remains of the Harrier (20(R) Squadron's blue-tailed display jet, ZD464) was recovered by the Royal Air Force on Thursday 8 August, with much interest being generated amongst the locals as the jet was lifted from the seabed by crane, presumably a write-off. Although the cause of the crash has yet to be established, given the circumstances, engine failure seems the most obvious cause.

Making a splash at Lowestoft

Gary Stedman drops in at the Seafront Airshow, 1/2 August

Splash-tastic!It was probably inevitable that this year's Lowestoft Air Festival would be dominated by the one headline grabbing incident that occured during the Friday afternoon, although, thankfully without serious injury. This was unfortunate, as the festival had attracted what was arguably its most impressive line-up to date. All the old favourites were back, along with a few new gems.

As usual weatherwise, the event's two days were in complete contrast; Thursday started grey and wet, but failed to affect the flying greatly, although it hardly made the beach very appealing! Friday dawned as one of those days that you dream about, virtually cloudless, a great start to what was expected to be a excellent day's flying - where's that spanner?

Morning highlights included a two-ship Gnat display and the Kinloss based Nimrod demonstrating that it is quite possible for a 'heavy' to remain crowd centre if rolled past the vertical on the turns. Unfortunately, the Blue Eagles' four little Gazelles looked a little too light-weight for the venue. Please, beg, borrow or steal a Lynx again - dare we even ask for a Apache? Introduced last year, the Spitfire Tigers freefall parachute team were back again, and made the most of a unlimited ceiling.

AlbatrossMischievously listed in the progamme as 'TBA' was the Grumman HU-16 Albatross. Although previously seen at Waddington, the amphibian was in its element at Lowestoft, performing not one, but three landings and take-offs on the calm sea. A routine that not many visitors could say they have seen before!

First display item after the now customary lunch break (an idea that could perhaps be introduced elsewhere?) was the Red Arrows. Blessed, yet again with perfect conditions at Lowestoft they performed to their usual excellence. Further RAF support was provided by Tornado GR4, Hawk, BBMF as well as the unfortunate Harrier. Following last year's near cancellation, it was good to see 'Sally B' come through with flying colours. Long may she continue to do so. The colourful Stearmans of the Utterly Butterly Barnstorming team performed their usual wingwalking antics, and remain a crowd favourite, as do the Aerostars with their Yaks.

Last moments of Harrier GR7 ZD464Khalifa TeamThe crash of the Harrier during the early afternoon on the Friday (see sidebar) had, as one would expect, a considerable impact upon the rest of the afternoon's programme. To the credit of the Lowestoft Air Festival Commitee - and in common with the incidents at Waddington and RIAT - prior planning meant the effect was minimized as much as possible. The arrival of the 22 Squadron Sea King HAR3A from Wattisham to pick up Flt Lt Cann resulted in a curtailed debut from the Khalifa Jet Team's four Albatros L39s. Having their origins in the 'Team Apache' PC-7s well known on the UK circuit, the team was doubled to four aircraft just in time for Lowestoft.

They all love LowestoftPlanned as the finale, the inevitable delays during the afternoon meant that the De Havilland Sea Vixen was brought forward in the running order due to its fuel state. A powerful sequence of fast runs, tight turns capped by a rolling, climbing departure in perfect conditions left the crowd spellbound. By far the most memorable display of the day.

Despite the rather predictable nature (and ignorance) of the news reports and headlines that followed Friday's show, the organizers can be congratulated for a job well done. The aftermath of the Harrier's crash was dealt with in a thorough and professional manner - a fact that was not lost on the largely non-aviation oriented crowd. The only real downer was the show programme - far greater care needs to be taken during picture selection and captioning as mistakes were in abundance this year.

Next year's event is planned for Thursday 31 July and Friday 1 August, and remember, it's free.

 

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