With its stunning backdrops and holiday atmosphere, Dawlish has firmly cemented its place as one of the most anticipated events on the calendar. Shaun Schofield made the short trip down the road to enjoy arguably the finest edition yet.
Dawlish truly is a jewel in the crown of the UK airshow circuit. Nowhere else offers such a unique location in which to host a show, with the southern coast of Devon providing a truly picturesque setting for the event. It’s unsurprising then that with a healthy line-up of participants, and a favourable forecast, this year’s event saw record crowds of 100,000 descending on the normally quiet seaside town.
Following on from last year’s success, 2014 saw a repeat of the two day format. On the Friday, there were plenty of ground based activities for the public to get involved in, including BMX stunts, flight simulators and Dawlish’s famed pilots party, complete with the Red Arrows’ pilots completing their own ice bucket challenge!
Friday also presented an opportunity for the stars of the static display to arrive for the show. Dropping into the Warren once again for a short stop were the Army Air Corps, presenting an opportunity for the public to get up close and personal with their imposing Apache attack helicopter. Following suit was the RAF, sending an example of a Griffin HT1, before it relocated to the Smugglers Inn static park, where it was joined by a quaint little Alouette II, the type’s maiden appearance at Dawlish.
Undoubtedly the star of the static however was the immaculate Westland Whirlwind HAR.10. The sole remaining flying example of the type, the aircraft has proved to be somewhat elusive since it returned to the skies last year, with only a handful of airshow appearances under its belt. Indeed, it is rather amusing to see just how many enthusiasts are unaware of its existence, such is the low key manner in which its owner operates it, and as such represented a real coup for Kev Wills and his team.
In the air, there was one clear standout act. When the Canadian Lancaster tour was announced, I’m sure I was not alone in hoping for an appearance at Dawlish, and sure enough that came to fruition after yet more hard work from the organising team. Wherever the two Lancasters have appeared, hordes of people have followed, reflecting just what a momentous event the tour is. No doubt, the chance to see the pair together was a major contributor to the staggering number of people in attendance; there wasn’t spare seat in the house.
In the build up to their show-closing performance, the excitement and anticipation amongst the gathered spectators was almost tangible, and heightened as the aircraft came into sight in the far distance across the bay. As the specks grew larger, the anticipation built further, whilst the aircraft held, tantalisingly, over Exmouth to the east.
Soon though, the glorious sound of nine Merlins and a solitary Griffon reverberated across the bay as the pair, along with the Hurricane Mk.IIc and Spitfire PRXIX made their first pass, to a cacophony of spontaneous cheering and applause. The Hurricane and Spitfire would break away to lead each other in a tailchase before centre stage was left for ‘Thumper’ and ‘Vera’ to gracefully sweep across the bay in a series of passes. Never has an airshow looked and sounded so sweet. It was a memorable moment for many for whom this would in all likelihood be their one and only chance to see the two aircraft together. Ever.
Of course, no show at Dawlish would be complete without an appearance by the imperious Red Arrows, and this year they seemed better than ever. It’s at seaside shows such as this, where the vast majority of the crowd are general public – day trippers, holiday makers and the like – where you can appreciate just how popular the Reds are. From their crowd-rear arrival to their Vixen Break finale, every manoeuvre was greeted by rapturous applause, cheers and, thanks to the synchro pair, occasionally gasps! They are, and always will be adored by the British public.
Further jet noise was provided by two classic aircraft, both making their Dawlish débuts. Neil McCarthy has been a stalwart of the UK circuit for a number of years, bringing his colourful Jet Provost T3 down to Devon for a typically energetic and photogenic display; Neil really knows how to show off the lines of his jet to their absolute fullest.
Upping the decibels somewhat was the Midair Squadron Canberra PR9. The jet has proved a sensation this season, having racked up a healthy number of bookings, and being displayed with plenty of gusto along the way. The show at Dawlish followed a similar pattern, with Mike Leckey displaying the jet beautifully, particularly on the final pass, with the coals well and truly lit – what a noise!
Sea Kings have been a stalwart of Dawlish shows for a number of years now, and once again, the audience were treated to two examples courtesy of both the RAF and Royal Navy. The Navy example had a particularly busy day, performing air experience flights during the morning for the local cadet forces, and providing the jump ship for the Royal Navy Raiders Parachute display team, who raised the curtain for the show, before conducting their display proper later in the afternoon in cooperation with the Exmouth based lifeboat.
Another of the shows highlights was provided by the RAF example. Having completed its own search and rescue demonstration, the aircraft departed over the Smugglers Inn static park, just as the Whirlwind was repositioning, providing an impromptu opportunity to catch a snapshot of the history of RAF SAR over the years as the Sea King passed by. What shame to think that might have been the Sea Kings’ final Dawlish appearance, with SAR privatisation looming ever closer.
Further RAF support was provided by Flt Lt Andy Preece in the Tutor and Flt Lt Dave Kirby in the Tucano, both of whom presented their own polished brand of aerobatics, though it must be said, the spectacle of the Typhoon display was missed this year. Fingers crossed it can return in 2015.
Returning to Dawlish after several years was Andy Foan’s beautiful Beech 18. Based just up the road at Dunkeswell Aerodrome, the aircraft, resplendent in its Royal Navy ‘Admiral Barge’ colour scheme, looked well at home, flying low over the water in gentle, classy display. Andy has recently sold the aircraft, so, sadly, this was the last chance to see the aircraft at a public display.
Aerobatics were the focus for the remaining display acts, all with their own ‘twists’ on the subject. Returning to Dawlish was Rich Goodwin in his ‘Muscle Biplane’, a greatly modified Pitts Special. Rich has really raised the bar for Pitts displays with his frantic, innovative brand of aerobatics, and made quite an entrance at Dawlish, commencing with multiple vertical rolls from height. Just how many I’m not sure, but I lost count at ten! Also returning after a couple of years were the Blades, bringing their imaginative and popular routine to the party, whilst Kennet Aviation’s Chipmunk and Dunkeswell based Yak-52, both drawn in as last minute replacements for the advertised T-6 Texan and Boeing Stearman, performed solid displays, both as a pair and individually.
Dawlish 2014 was undoubtedly another superb event. Huge credit must go to Kev Wills, the organising team and the army of volunteers for all their hard work in delivering a fantastic weekend of entertainment, both in the air and on the ground. Without them, the show simply wouldn’t be the success it is.