Gary Stedman reports from England's most easterly airshow, the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival, held over 27/28 July
After struggling to even see the seafront last year when the fog descended with a vengeance it was back to form this year with ice creams and sun-screen being high on the shopping list.
In a year when military cutbacks have had a significant impact on most major shows, Lowestoft kept most of the major highlights to its programme and was able to tie in many of the military acts into the nearby families day at RAF Marham. 2006 saw the seafront show in its tenth year, and the organisers deserve much credit for this achievement, as well as with their ambition to make it the biggest seafront show in the UK.
The Red Arrows, Typhoon, Harrier and (dare I say it) the Utterly Butterly Wingwalkers are the displays the crowds at Lowestoft want to see, and all four were present on both days. The Reds closed the show on the Thursday, and the seafront is the place to appreciate them as they always seem even more impressive when performing over the beach. Seeing a Harrier at Lowestoft always brings back memories of THAT event back in 2002; no mishaps this year, although it was with some suprise to see a old original GR7 (Thursday only) used and the hover routine certainly grabbed the crowd's attention. The Typhoon - what can you say? On the Thursday it was further up the flying order, but was swapped with Denny Dobson on Friday to become the penultimate act. Displaying with the sun behind the crowd, Matt Elliot put the machine through its paces (during which he asked Lowestoft radio to wish 'happy birthday' to his father who was present!), with his final zoom climb leaving the audience spellbound.
So what other highlights were there this year? Festival regulars, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, were in full strength. B-17G 'Sally B' made her customary appearance, signing off with a poignant final flypast with two engines smoking. In their first year on the show circuit, the 'Blades' left a good impression on the Lowestoft masses. The Blue Eagles are always welcome, but do suffer from displaying in front of a long crowdline. Singletons included the Royal Netherlands Air Force PC-7 and Caroline Grace with her Spitfire T9. Plane Sailing's Catalina was particularly pleasing on the camera and the eye and the venue just cries out for a sea landing, but it's inland waterways only for the 'Cat', sadly. No Sea Vixen this year, but a powerful and spirited display from the RNHF Sea Fury demonstrated a slightly earlier era of naval aviation - a theme brought bang up to date by a single Royal Navy Lynx HAS3.
All in all, Lowestoft came up with a varied and entertaining programme on its tenth anniversary year, which only suffered the one loss from the published list - Mildenhall's 352nd SOG, having pulled out earlier in the week. The rather farcical explanation given for their absence takes me to the only real quibble with the festival, which has become something of an annual joke. Lowestoft - even more than most mainstream shows nowadays - is aimed at the family rather than aviation enthusiast, so the commentary is not what you would expect when compared with most shows, but please, somebody give these guys some accurate information when they do talk about the aircraft! Early indications from the Lowestoft festival is that fundraising at the event once again fell far short of the hoped for target, putting next year's event back into question - but that happens every year, so expect to hear about airshow number eleven in 2007!