Gary Stedman reports on Lowestoft's twelfth annual Air Festival, held during the last week in July
2008 - a milestone that Lowestoft's airshow in recent years seemed unlikely to reach; 2007 was hardly a classic, being hit by a double-whammy of poor weather and reduced military participation, but 2008 saw a improvement in both and the future for the festival looks as secure as any airshow can be in these difficult times. As always, the seafront show relies so much more on decent weather, and to say this was a improvement from 2007 would be quite an understatement, with two days of clear blue skies overhead at the most easterly point of the UK, with just a slight haze on the Thursday causing a few problems to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
The RAF's Typhoon was back for 2008, Lowestoft having been very unfortunate in being dropped from the team's list in 2007, a huge disappointment for both organisers and visitors alike. The show needs some heavy metal, as it's not likely to get the full blown RAF Role Demo, which is a shame as a variation on the usual routine would look spectacular over the beach, and would surely leave many a East Anglian thinking positive thoughts about the RAF for days to come. Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Charlie Matthews was late in the running order on both days, putting the sun behind for a breathtaking and aggressive routine that would be worth the voluntary entry fee (£1!) alone.
Early publicity suggested an Army Air Corps Apache would put in a appearance, and given their proximity to Lowestoft this should not have presented a major logistical problem, especially as the regular Blue Eagles line-up made the trip east from Middle Wallop. For reasons unknown, this fell by the wayside quite early on, which is a shame although in reality, any helicopter display at Lowestoft suffers from a lack of impact on what must be one of the longest display lines around - even something as imposing as a WAH-64 would look lost! More serious was the confusing loss of the Marham GR4s on Thursday, with a pair scheduled to perform a flypast while airborne for the traditional airfield attack at Marham families' day, barely a few minutes flying time from Lowestoft's seafront. They never appeared, despite departing Marham as planned, and left the Suffolk crowd none the wiser for the no-show.
Happily, the return of the Typhoon and the annual performances by the BBMF, Hawk and Tucano solos, topped off in excellent style by the Red Arrows, headlined a varied programme that also included the best the civil side of the UK airshow scene can offer as well - including a certain 'Delta' shape that appears to be causing quite a stir this year...
Lowestoft stalwarts, The Blades, Team Guinot and the Cassutt Racers were all welcomed back again for 2008, and were joined by newcomers 'The Sparrows', consisting of a pair of Chipmunks and Nigel Willson's Suffolk-based Yak-52. Hopefully they'll be seen at other small local events in the future.
The highlight? No real contest unsurprisingly - the Vulcan was always billed as the star item, and along with the blue skies was probably responsible for the record-breaking crowds that flocked to Lowestoft over the two days. For a few days this summer, Robert Pleming and the TVOC had briefly put British aviation heritage centre-stage in the UK media, and boosted airshow attendances throughout the UK whenever the Vulcan was scheduled to make a appearance. Lowestoft was fortunate to get the aircraft for both days, being one of the few shows that was lucky enough to have back-to-back appearances this summer.
Looking back now with hindsight over some of the other, more traditional shows on the UK calendar, the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival in 2008 must be considered a bargain. A two-day programme over one of the best beaches in the UK, in superb weather, all for the requested fee of £1; it's therefore quite disappointing that each year only a minority of visitors find themselves able donate such a sum.
Thanks to Tim Callaway and the Lowestoft Aviation Society for their assistance in this report.