Moving from its traditional Bank Holiday to a week earlier really paid dividends for the Dawlish Airshow 2015 team, with a cracking line-up that included the Royal Air Force Typhoon and a last minute ‘raise the eight for 558’ campaign that saw the Avro Vulcan XH558 added just two days prior to show day thanks to public donations. Duncan Monk reports from Devon.
With clear blue skies welcoming thousands of visitors to the Dawlish seafront and Smugglers Hill, there was a party atmosphere in the air with high expectations of a great days flying ahead. This was to be dampened somewhat later in the day with the arrival of rain and thunderstorms meaning the cancellation of both the Sea Vixen and Red Arrows displays and the unfolding sobering news of the devastating accident at Shoreham Airshow.
A last minute campaign from the Dawlish organisers to raise £8,000 in just eight days to secure a display from the Avro Vulcan in her last year of flight seemed very optimistic, but in true British style, the public dug deep and achieved the remarkable feat to ensure XH558’s participation.
This year’s new RAF Hawk T2 Role Demo Team had the honour of opening the show, running in low and hard from Exmouth they put on a spirited and energetic display. Despite the lack of pyros due to performing over the sea, the Dawlish Coast seemed to enhance the display as the Hawks swooped and frolicked in unison.
With the military Search and Rescue (SAR) Sea King helicopters in the twilight of their careers, it was to great delight that the Royal Navy provided a SAR demonstration in conjunction with a HM Coastguard Rigid inflatable Boat. The 771 Naval Air Squadron Sea King from its base at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall had been operating from the temporary helicopter landing ground at the Smugglers Inn giving air experience flights to the Sea Cadets prior to launching for its role demo which featured a number of photogenic passes over the flat, calm sea.
The peace and tranquility was then abruptly halted with the arrival of Flt Lt Jonny Dowen in the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. This year’s display is much tighter and more aggressive with lots of impressive manoeuvres ensuring the Typhoon remains close to the crowd for the majority of the performance. One particular ‘energetic’ pass over the top of Smugglers Hill drew a round of applause and much smiling from the massive crowd that had gathered there. Flying in the World War II schemed ‘HurriPhoon’ ZK349, Jonny put on an immaculate display, which was said by many to be the best Eurofighter Typhoon display ever – it would be hard to disagree!
An interesting pairing appeared with the BAC Strikemaster flown by Mark Petrie alongside Rich Goodwin in his Pitts Muscle Biplane G-EWIZ. Such an unlikely pairing worked wonderfully with three close formation passes showing the unique attributes of both aircraft, which also went on to undertake their individual displays – the Strikemaster prior to and the Pitts after their formation display. Goodwin’s trademark sideways entry looked all the more impressive over the sea, and he finished his display in similar fashion to an appreciative crowd.
After a short break, and with the cloud rolling in from the south, the four Vans RV8 and single RV4 aircraft of Team Raven provided the next display but found the cloud base challenging as their first loop saw them briefly disappear. However, they continued with their display, which was well thought out with varying formations that kept the massed crowds on the seafront entertained.
Another brief glimpse of the venerable Sea King was a welcome addition as two Royal Navy HC4 ‘Junglies’ operating from Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Argus trundled past in line astern formation for two fly pasts.
The Royal Navy kept the spotlight as the Black Cats Display Team started their display soon after. Having now said goodbye to their trusty Lynx HAS3s and HMA8s, the Black Cats now display in their replacement, the AgustaWestland Wildcat HMA2. The aircraft are more powerful and capable than the Lynx and are without doubt more photogenic and pleasing to the eye. The display features most of the well-known and loved manoeuvres while the bright white anti-collision light certainly draws your attention. In their natural habitat over the sea, the pair of Wildcats waltzed and wing overed their way through the south Devon skies as the crowds watched on with glee.
You could feel the anticipation of the crowd awaiting the Vulcan display and, with the sight of her holding south of Exmouth, people stood and pointed as the expectation grew. As XH558 ran in to start her display, she accelerated and the unique and spine tingling howl kicked in reverberating around the Dawlish coastline. As she pulled up and powered past Smugglers Hill you felt that this was going to be a very special display. However, the rest of the display appeared distant, high and somewhat subdued. Given that the Vulcan had been holding at Shoreham in the aftermath of the tragic Hunter crash, you can understand why and much respect must be given to the crew for continuing with the booked displays after their cancelled Shoreham slot.
With thunder rumbling over the sea and the sky ever darkening to the south the Czech Mates Zlin 526 appeared from its base at Dunkeswell flown by Si Wilson. Considering the conditions and poor light, the small aircraft put on an exemplary display but it was hard to pick out against the deteriorating conditions.
Word had come through that the Reds were going to cancel due to the thunderstorms about to hit the area just as what would be the final act of the day arrived – the Kennet Seafire. Flown by John Beattie, he was limited to two flat passes and a barrel roll before having to depart early as the thunderstorm finally arrived and unleashed heavy rain on the area.
With the rain setting in there was no option but for the remaining displays to cancel, which meant no Sea Vixen or Red Arrows. It was such a shame to lose two of the highlights of the line up so late in the day, but there was no option given the weather.
The crowd up on Smugglers Hill must have been a record and the seafront itself was rammed to capacity from expectant families. Kev Wills and the Dawlish team need to be applauded for putting together another exhilarating and dynamic line up of aircraft, and along with the ground shows and other events leading up to the show itself it makes this a fantastic day out and all for free.
However it is not often you come away from a great day out at an Airshow feeling flat. But given the news filtering through from Shoreham and the washout late in the afternoon you couldn’t help feeling a little downbeat. Despite that, the RAF Typhoon display will stick long in the memory as will that Vulcan initial pass and howl that had to be heard to be believed!