Few seaside shows on the UK airshow calendar are so eagerly anticipated as Dawlish. Set on the picturesque south Devon coast, the event offers a truly unique airshow experience and atmosphere. Shaun Schofield reports.
After a change of date and format in 2012, Dawlish returned to its traditional August slot for 2013. While the two-day format has been retained, the show took place on a Saturday for the first time, with the aim of enticing display acts that are less commonplace at Dawlish.
The Friday built on last year’s success, hosting a range of ground activities, aimed at raising the all-important funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund and the show itself. Dawlish relies fully on sponsorship and donations; without them the show simply wouldn’t be able to take place. Activities including Zumba, Street Fit, bouncy castles and stunt bikes, as well as the traditional Pilot’s Party in the evening, all kept the public entertained, whilst filling the coffers nicely.
Friday also saw its first flying participant courtesy of the Army Air Corps. Making its first appearance at Dawlish was an Apache, a 7 Regiment aircraft from Middle Wallop crewed by Captain Adam Nash and Staff Sergeant Sam Whitmore from 3 Regiment at Wattisham. The helicopter’s arrival during the morning at the Warren caused quite a storm – a sandstorm, that is – with the crew seemingly getting in a spot of impromptu brown-out training, whipping up the sand all around the helicopter as they touched down. The aircraft stayed for a few hours, giving the public an opportunity to get up close and personal to a type rarely seen in these parts, before departing back to Middle Wallop in the afternoon.
In the air, there were plenty of marquee acts to look forward to, but perhaps the most significant participant was the weather! Dawlish has been plagued by miserable conditions for the previous three years, so has been long overdue a good year. Despite the broken cloud, the bay basked in glorious sunshine throughout the day, with the brisk winds taking the edge off the heat, although the off-shore wind provided a bit of a challenge for those flying the lighter aircraft throughout the day. Nonetheless it was more or less perfect airshow weather.
The Royal Air Force has been staunch supporters of Dawlish in past years, and 2013 was no exception. Headlining as ever were the Red Arrows, who, in a break from tradition, opened the show due to other display commitments later in the day. It’s great to see the Reds back at Dawlish with a full complement of nine aircraft, looking superb in the sunshine; there really is no finer setting for their display.
The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made a welcome return to Dawlish, having missed out the last two years due to the inclement weather. Conditions elsewhere prevented the Spitfire from making it down to Devon, leaving it to the Lancaster and Hurricane to perform late in the day. There aren’t many finer sights in aviation than the Lancaster flying low over the clear blue water making its long-anticipated return, it was well worth the wait.
Dawlish has missed out on the RAF Typhoon display since 2008; a change of policy prevented the RAF Typhoon from performing at midweek shows. Thankfully, with the move to a Saturday display, this year saw it return, injecting plenty of noise and aggression into the display, as Flt Lt Jamie Norris threw the jet around the bay with plenty of aplomb, as would be expected from an award-winning routine. A bona fide crowd pleaser, hopefully the Typhoon can become a regular at future shows.
Sadly, the winds prevented the RAF Falcons from performing their parachute display, but further participation from the junior service came courtesy of Flt Lt Andrew Fyvie Rae, whose Mediterranean-schemed Tucano looked suitably at home over the water, and 22 Squadron, who sent one of their Sea King HAR3A helicopters for its traditional search and rescue display in cooperation with the RNLI.
Also obliging with its own SAR demonstration was 771 Squadron, which sent the familiar grey and red Sea King HU5 from RNAS Culdrose. With time against them, we should make the most of seeing the venerable old Sea King and whilst some spectators were heard questioning the back to back scheduling of the Royal Navy and RAF SAR demonstrations, external factors affecting Dawlish participants arriving from elsewhere surely played a part. Further helicopter action was expected courtesy of the AAC Lynx AH7, but due to unforeseen technicalities, the aircraft remained on static display at the Smugglers Inn before departing towards the end of the show.
The rest of the show acts came courtesy of civilian operators, headlined by Vulcan XH558, making her first appearance at Dawlish since her début in 2009 and crewed by Phill O’Dell, Bill Ramsey and local hero Barry Masefield from Torquay. Her popularity with the public is undoubted, and if she helps draw in the crowds and therefore donations, then booking her is a no brainer, but for seasoned enthusiasts who see her at shows up and down the country, there is no doubt that this year’s routine is a little tame. I hate to sound like a broken record, but such a gentle, quiet display left me feeling cold.
Fortunately, the same cannot be said of the Classic Air Force’s gorgeous Meteor T7. Added at the 11th hour, John Corley flew the jet with a degree of grace befitting it’s clean lines, keeping her nice and low over the water and presenting some superb photo passes for the photographers amongst us. By far the most photogenic display of the day, and with the CAF now residing more or less down the road at Newquay, I’m hopeful we can see more of the collection’s aircraft at future shows.
Aerobatics were provided by three very different acts. The Breitling Wingwalkers have become regular attendees in recent years, and returned with a pair routine this year. The winds were visibly causing some issues for the pilots, Dave Barrell and Steve Hicks, but nevertheless they held their formations well in a display that is always popular with the public.
Making their Dawlish débuts were Rich Goodwin, who flew a highly energetic routine in his Pitts S2B, and the RV8tors. The honours of closing the show were left to Alister Kay and Andy Hill, flying their typically polished routine; few acts can hold such precise formation. It was a busy day for Alister in particular, who earlier in the day had performed a solo routine to fill the gap left by the Royal Navy Historic Flight Sea Fury, which unfortunately was weathered in at North Weald.
As ever, Dawlish came up trumps, offering an exciting and varied afternoon’s flying, plenty of ground attractions, and all in fine weather. Of course, none of this would be possible without the tireless work of the organisers and volunteers, who always triumph despite the shoe string budget they have to work with. They deserve all the plaudits they get.
Kev Wills and the team can certainly give themselves a huge pat on the back!