A year on from its inaugural show, the Weston Air Festival has already grown into one of the larger seaside shows on the calendar. Shaun Schofield headed up the road to check it out. Additional imagery from Kevin Wills.
It’s great to see how far this show has come in such a short time. From a single day event last year with relatively run of the mill participation, this year saw the event held over two days, with a greater numbers and variety of aircraft in attendance.
Weston has long been associated with aviation, playing host for many years to the much missed Helidays, and memories of these old events were evoked at this year’s Festival, with a handful of helicopters once again sitting proudly on the lawns. Grabbing most of the attention was a Whirlwind HAR.10, a rather elusive machine that has been doing the rounds for the past year, seemingly under everyone’s noses! It’s great to see the type on the circuit; hopefully it will get out and about to more events.
In the air, the show featured a strong contingent of RAF types, with all of the display teams, Typhoon aside, on show. Opening the show each day was the RAF Falcons parachute team, which, given the sublime weather conditions, was cleared to jump from their maximum height for a full show.
Sunday’s descent was rather more dramatic than usual, with one of the team requiring medical attention following a hefty collision with a burger van on landing. Unfortunately, a spectator, an 82 year old woman, was also injured in the incident, with both airlifted to hospital. Fingers crossed both make a speedy recovery.
With a busy weekend that also took in shows in the Netherlands and Denmark, the Red Arrows were able to squeeze in an appearance at Weston late in the day on the Saturday, performing yet another polished display.
Viewing from Brean Down offered a different perspective on the display, lending itself to exhilarating close passes, particularly from the synchro pair. Terrific stuff.
The Battle of Britain Memorial flight was also out in force, with their Spitfire IIa and Hurricane IIc performing as a duo, whilst the Dakota operated solo.
These aircraft always sound superb, but with the acoustics of the bay resonating the engine tones, they sounded better than ever!
Representing the RAF’s training arm were both the Tutor and Tucano, whilst on the Saturday, a Chinook made a single flypast along the seafront. Of course, no seaside airshow would be complete without a Search and Rescue demo, with the honours given to ‘A Flight’ of 22 Squadron, which brought a Sea King HAR3 along the coast from Chivenor.
Also displaying on the Saturday only, the demonstration itself seemed rather shorter than those we’ve grown accustomed to, but with the Sea King’s time running out, it was no less of a pleasure seeing this old workhorse put through its paces.
Not to be outdone, both the Army and Royal Navy were in attendance with their respective Lynx displays. It seems that every season in recent years has been the Lynx AH.7’s final year, but it has returned once again, with a familiar routine full of loops, quarter clovers and back-flips, and it never fails to impress. It will be a real shame to lose this display from the circuit when the curtain final falls on the AH.7’s career.
The same can also be said of its naval counterpart, although in the Wildcat, it has a ready-made replacement. The Navy sent its solo Black Cat display to Weston, offering another agile display of the type, albeit with far less stomach-churning display in comparison to its Army brethren.
Pre-show, there was much anticipation over the quality of classic jets scheduled to display. A mouth-watering line up of Canberra, Hunter, Vulcan and Sea Vixen were all included on the Sunday participation list, with a mysterious ‘Big Jet Formation’ also mooted. As it transpired, the Hunter was soon removed, and the Sea Vixen had to cancel due to technical issues encountered in the week prior to the show, its place taken by the Classic Air Force’s Venom.
Fuelling issues with the Vulcan delayed its departure from Doncaster considerably, resulting in the jet formation being whittled down to just the Canberra and Venom. I say just, it was nevertheless a fine, unique sight that hasn’t been seen for several years and more importantly, despite the cancellations, demonstrates the ambition and imagination of the organisers.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Canberra was once the again the star turn, with another excellent display flown on both days of the show. Like the BBMF, the engine noise was enhanced by the acoustics of the bay, reverberating off the hills and cliffs to create a much throatier engine note as it blasted across the seafront, sounding terrific. The aforementioned Venom was also boosted by this acoustic phenomenon during its tidy display in the capable hands of Jon Corley before it was left to Martin Whithers and his crew to close Sunday’s show in the Vulcan, albeit slightly later than planned.
Credit must go to the organisers and Bristol Airport for allowing the show to continue past its allocated time, giving the masses gathered on the beach the opportunity to see the V-Bomber gracefully sweeping around the bay in between blasts of raw Olympus noise.
Another fine addition to the show was B-17 ‘Sally B’. It’s very rare to see this treasure of the UK airshow circuit display down in the West Country, a real treat, and fully deserving of being given the honour to close the Saturday show. On the Sunday, she was joined by another IWM Duxford resident that rarely visits the South West, P-51D Mustang ‘Ferocious Frankie’.
With Nigel Lamb at the helm, the Mustang joined Sally B for a series of loose formation passes before conducting his own solo routine. Nigel really had the Mustang purring as he swept around the bay, the eerie wail of the gun ports in full song.
There seems to have been something of a renaissance of Pitts Special displays in recent years, with several new acts having appeared on the circuit over the last couple of season. No less than three of these were on show at Weston, with Rich Goodwin displaying his heavily modified aircraft on both days in his typical rip roaring style. A little more sedate, but no less precise was Lauren Richardson’s routine, whilst the Trig Team joined her on the Sunday, performing their excellent pairs display.
Civilian duos were also in healthy supply, with the RV8tors and Breitling Wingwalkers both bringing their own brand of aerobatics to the party on the Sunday, whilst the Twister duo did likewise on the Saturday.
All in all, the Air Festival provided a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of flying, giving the local families and day trippers a good day out, whilst offering the more hardened airshow goer a selection of star items to keep them happy. It’s hugely encouraging to see how far this show has come in such a short amount of time; fingers crossed the momentum carries over into next year.