The quiet and quaint seaside town of Dawlish is one of the smallest yet highly attended airshows of the season. The award winning show put on by Kev Wills and his team brings families and enthusiasts en masse to this natural amphitheatre. Duncan Monk reports from a packed Smugglers Hill.

The Dawlish Airshow has a reputation for pulling out something special, and this year was to be no exception. With a mouth watering line up lead by not one, but two Avro Lancasters, the participation list was teasingly drip fed to the public week by week.

The rugged and spectacular setting of Dawlish seafront pulls the crowds in year on year, with an estimated crowd this year in excess of 70,000. The expectant public were not able to spread out as much this year due to ongoing seafront repairs caused by the winter storms, and the incoming tide rendering much of the beach unusable. The majority of enthusiasts and photographers head to various vantage points along the coastline with the hillside above  the Smugglers Inn being a particular favourite. The expected arrival of a few rotary aircraft at the Smugglers Inn, and the height of the hillside, which gives a stunning view of the aircraft over the sea is why the public make their annual pilgrimage to Devon.

The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, The Red Arrows, in their 50th year were a great addition to the flying program, and to many, the highlight of the day as they put on yet another exemplary display, tearing over and around the Smugglers hill with gay abandon. The massive crowd on the hill burst into a huge round of applause as the Reds completed their display, it certainly was hard to recall a better one!

As well as The Red Arrows, the RAF also supplied a number of other aircraft for the flying display from the dwindling number of displays fielded each year. For 2014, the Shorts Tucano, Grob Tutor and Westland Sea King were present at the show.

With only a limited representation from the current Royal Air Force, it was left to some of the warbird community to provide the fast jet action. The Midair Squadron’s English Electric Canberra PR.9 XH134, in its sleek all silver paint scheme (repainted in anticipation of commercial sponsorship), made it’s Dawlish debut this year with a glorious sweeping routine flown by Flt Lt Mike Leckey, who has over 2700 hours on the Canberra. There were a couple of fantastic topside passes and a lovely high speed dive over the hill which left a smile on most faces.

Being by the sea, you would expect to see the Royal Navy participate and they didn’t disappoint. The Fleet Air Arm provided a Demo from a Westland Sea King HU.5 based at local Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose, and the RN Raiders parachute display team dropped from the Sea King in order to join in the celebrations and launch the show, landing on a very small strip of the Dawlish beach.

Always an airshow crowd favourite, Neil McCarthy brought the Newcastle Jet Provost Group’s Hunting Jet Provost MK T.3A XM479  (G-BVEZ) from Newcastle to the south coast to display to the waiting crowds, who were not disappointed to see Neil putting the JP through another polished performance.

The billed T-6 Texan and Boeing Stearman failed to appear (the former due to a spare parts issue, and the latter due to paperwork problems) but were replaced by the spare aircraft – another duo in the form of a Yakovlev Yak-52 G-CBMI and De Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk Mk.22 G-BARS in the markings of a Portuguese Air Force aircraft. The two conducted a series of formation fly pasts before splitting into individual displays. As with most of the smaller types, the displays were centred on the crowd front down on the beach, but the Yak did give a good departure flypast to the photographers on the hill.

Rich Goodwin provided some excellent high energy precision aerobatics in his red and white Pitts S-2S Special. Entering from stage right with a series of downward corkscrews trailing smoke, he then accelerated along the Dawlish seafront getting the most from his 9 litre Lycoming engined biplane, G-EWIZ, enthralling the crowd on the beach front.

An aircraft the author had never came across before, and displayed superbly at a very low altitude, was the Beech D-18S G-BKGM based at nearby Dunkeswell airfield. The Beech 18 aircraft saw military service during and after World War II with the United States Navy, Air Force and Army. It was also used by the Royal Air Force, Canadian Air Force and – as displayed by this example, the Royal Navy. This Beech 18 was resplendent in the markings of a Royal Navy C-45F Expeditor KP110, which fitted well with the maritime setting of the display.

The Smugglers Inn was used as a landing site for a number of helicopters that came to the show, some for static and one for the flying display, namely the Royal Navy Sea King HU.5. An RAF Bell 412 Griffin HT.1, Civilian Aérospatiale Allouette III (marked as a Swiss Air Force aircraft), Bell Jet Ranger and the world’s sole flying example of the Westland Whirlwind (Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ726) were on the ground as static for the public to see. Red 10 also made use of the Smugglers landing ground, arriving in a Central Flying School Squirrel HT.1 in order to undertake his commentary duties for the Red Arrows display. An additional helicopter landing site was also at the other end of the “showground” – down at Dawlish Warren. For 2014 the main attraction at this location was the Army Air Corps Westland WAH-64D Apache AH.1.

It was the Whirlwind that made for a great one off spectacle. It started up and proceeded into the hover at Smugglers Inn, and the crowd wondered what was about to occur. It soon became apparent as the RAF’s Westland Sea King HAR.3A finished its display on the seafront and flew slowly past the Smugglers landing site, giving the huge crowd and photographers a fantastic and unique sight of two generations of RAF Search and Rescue (admittedly missing the middle Wessex generation, but unique all the same). You would think it would be hard to top such an achievement, but the best was still to come.

At 1710 the two Avro Lancasters – ‘Vera’ from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and ‘Thumper’ from the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, could be seen in the distance approaching over Exmouth, with a Hurricane and Spitfire in tow. They had been slightly delayed as the Hurricane had a brake problem on takeoff, and only managed to catch up to the formation on the run in over Dawlish. It certainly sent a shiver down your spine to see the only two flying examples of the mighty Lancaster approaching. The 4 ship proceeded to run in along the Dawlish coast for their 1715 on top time, and the sight and noise was something to behold. After an initial flypast of all four aircraft, the two Lancasters went off to the hold whilst the Spitfire PR.XIX PS915 and Hurricane Mk.IIc PZ865  went through the tail chase routine, which it has to be said is the better routine, although the author feels it could be a lot tighter. With the fighters complete, the stage was clear for the Lancasters to return and make a series of fly pasts for the appreciative crowd. Whilst the display was relatively high, the late evening light and superb venue made this a sight not to be missed – and as they departed the crowd fell silent briefly in awe of what they had just witnessed, before once again bursting into a well deserved round of applause.

You can see why Dawlish draws such a huge crowd into this small seaside town. The viewpoints are many and varied as is the display itself. Small things like having the helicopters at Dawlish Warren on Friday and Smugglers Inn on Saturday, along with the ‘accidental’ meeting of the Whirlwind and Sea King make this free show such a must see event.

Kev Wills and all of his team, including the army of volunteers, have surpassed themselves this year. Judging by the overflowing donation buckets at Smugglers, it should see this event comes back even stronger in 2015. It should be mentioned that whilst the show is free to attend – as with all UK seafront shows, they do as mentioned rely on donations from visitors to keep themselves afloat. We’d urge anyone who attended to please donate something, so that this superb show can make a return in 2015!