Falling out at Lowestoft
Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival 2003 - 31 July/1 August
Gary Stedman soaks up the sun
For the organisers of the annual Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival, the news received on the Wednesday morning prior to the show that their main crowd puller (and usually most reliable of performers) - The Red Arrows - had cancelled for both days must have come as something of a shock. Unlike most shows attended by enthusiasts, the Reds are what the general public come to see at Lowestoft - but, perhaps fortunately, the cancellation came at such short notice that it did not appear to have made a major dent in the attendance. By all accounts, the rain and low cloud on Friday disrupted proceedings enormously, although this seems to be usual for Lowestoft - one day of glorious weather, the less said about the other day the better.
Following last year's appearance, both in and above the sea of a Grumman Albatross, the billed appearance of a Catalina was something special to look forward to. Unfortunately, fate here again played its hand with the amphibian being stranded in Canada with contractual problems affecting a engine change. A shame, as conditions on Thursday were about as perfect as you could get for a sea landing.
Enough of the acts that were unable to appear - what did make it? Opening the festival was the four Extra 300s of the Royal Jordanian Falcons, putting in a admirable display of tight formation aerobatics and white smoke in blue sky. The crowd became excited for a moment when a single 'Red Arrow' blazed across the sky. Unfortunately, it was not a late reprieve, but a welcome appearance by a Gnat.
The planned SAR display by the local Wattisham-based Sea King HAR3A and the Lowestoft Lifeboat was cancelled when both were tasked to investigate a report of a body being spotted some twenty miles offshore. A body was indeed recovered with the Sea King having returned to James Paget Hospital, Gorleston at the time of its display slot.
RAF display aircraft that did seem to make it included the Tucano and Hawk - I say 'seem to' because unless you're a astronomer with a whopping great reflector scope, there's going to be a lot of guess work involved! Maybe its me, but I remember even a few years ago at this event being able to frame even small aircraft with a 300mm lens at what seems a safe distance from the beach. Maybe it's the fall-out from last year's Harrier crash or perhaps because somebody had helpfully parked a towering oil rig at the harbour entrance! Whatever the reason it now seems as if the Dutch have more to worry about than Lowestoft seafront...
Speaking of the Dutch, it was nice to see a PC-7 and in particular the AB412SP SAR helicopter from 303 Squadron, RNLAF. Good bit of play acting from the winchman, whose helmet appeared to be smoking...! The Gremlins made another unfortunate appearance with the Jaguar, who nearly made it to Lowestoft before RTB'ing with a hydraulic leak, fortunately Coltishall being just up the road from Lowestoft.
They're yellow, loud (no, no comments about Norwich FC this year - not with how the other half of East Anglia is performing!), actually display near the crowd (why them!) and are supposedly a crowd favourite (?). Yes, they were back, the Utterly Butterly barnstormers were in town! Listening to them on the scanner is always, at least, worth a laugh or two. Mind you, at this rate they're going to be the only act that we will be able to photograph next year!
There was further vintage heavy metal in the form of the Golden Apple F-86A Sabre and the Red Bull Sea Vixen. Nice to see some top side passes from the Sabre and the Sea Vixen is always impressive, although perhaps not quite able to top last year's appearance. Not sure about the new colour scheme though! Another regular at the Festival was the BBMF, present once again in full strength.
With the Red Arrows absent, it was left to the Army's Blue Eagles to carry the flag for the service display teams. Thankfully, a Lynx has been put back in their line up this year. Denny Dobson once again provided the solo aerobatic slot, also flying a Extra 300.
The pyrotechnics were back with a bang in a big way this year. Supposedly touted as a 'Falklands Scenario' (hard to tell as I could hardly hear the commentary), the coastal patrol boat 'Defender' I imagine was pretending to be the Argentine Submarine 'Santa Fe' while being angrily buzzed by a Wasp and a Scout. No AS-12 ASMs, but lots of bangs, flashes and fireworks as the Defender came in for quite a pounding close to the beach.
Penultimate act was the RAF Tornado F3 solo display, with its usual attention-grabbing display of noise and fast passes, and a crew who made their feelings about RT interruptions clear upon departure! Closing the festival this were the Prince Of Wales Royal Regiment Parachute Display team, making another return visit.
On reflection, this year's festival needs to be taken in context. The loss of the Reds the day before the event could hardly have been expected, and the cancellations during the event resulted in some fairly lengthy gaps in the programme. If all had appeared, then Lowestoft would surely have boasted its best line up yet. As for the future? Funding has supposedly been secured for the event to be held next year, but is lacking beyond then and rumours of internal strife within the Council mean it may well be wise to drop in next year.
My thanks goes to Lowestoft Aviation Society for the use of their excellent festival log.