Lowestoft Air Festival is one of the largest sea front airshows in the UK, featuring two days of varied flying action. Adam Duffield reports for AeroResource on the first day of the 2012 show.

Now in its 16th year, the two day Lowestoft Air Festival has become one of East Anglia’s largest events. Normally held midweek during the school summer holidays in July and August, the 2012 show was moved much earlier in the year and to a weekend in order to avoid clashes with the Olympics. Another significant change to previous shows was the new £3 entrance fee to access the main beaches and attractions of the show.

Over the last few years there has been some doubt expressed over the continued running of the show on donation alone – whilst attendance has always been high, a large percentage of visitors declined to donate to the collection buckets. The show is run as a ‘not for profit’ event, therefore without major sponsors and guaranteed donations on the day from the public it simply can’t continue – and the move to an entrance fee rather than donation should help to keep funds high.

The display line-up has always been varied, with this year proving to be no different. The change in date meant that the Saturday saw clashes with the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day along with RAF Marham’s family’s day, whilst Sunday clashed with the Old Buckenham airshow. Luckily the latter provided a perfect way of sharing a number of the displays between the shows although the same was not true with the Yeovilton show – as such the Hawk, Tornado and Tucano displays from the RAF were only available on the Sunday.

As has been the norm for the summer so far, the weather on Saturday played a big factor in proceeding. Predicted to be the better of the two days, the wind was still strong with heavy cloud cover for most of the afternoon. Conditions at the beach meant the RAF Falcons parachute team were unable to drop and with strong cross winds at RAF Coningsby, the Hurricane and Spitfire displays from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were unable to get off the ground meaning the task of opening the show was left to the RAF Typhoon display. Flown for the 2012 season by Squadron Leader Scott Loughran, the entrance of the Typhoon was certainly a wakeup call to all those sat on the beach waiting for the action to start. With clouds in the background the glowing orange of the afterburners stood out more than usual as the fastest and loudest aircraft of the line-up completed its display. Not to be outdone, the other solo jets also put on some lovely displays with Jonathon Whaley’s instantly recognisable Hawker Hunter F.58 ‘Miss Demeanour’ being a particular highlight – with a series of passes that showed off the beauty of the Hunter design perfectly. Also displaying (replacing the planned Royal Navy solo Lynx), was the lovely Jet Provost T.5 in Central Flying School colours, flown by Dan Arlett.

One of the more unusual visitors was the Antonov AN-2 “Colt” operated by the AN2 club. This aircraft is the world’s largest single-engine bi-plane and has recently over gone a major service in Hungary. The slow speed pass in particular was impressive as the sight of such a large aircraft almost suspended in the air left people wondering how it was possible to still fly at such speeds.

Over the years display teams have always been frequent visitors to Lowestoft and this year proved no exception with 6 civilian teams alone on the Saturday. The Aerostars formation of five Yak 50’s provided a much different aural experience to the Typhoon they followed and visually looked very impressive with tight formations and a range of different colour schemes on the aircraft. The Trig Team in their Pitts S1D’s and RV8tors in Vans RV8’s put on equally impressive displays showing just how capable these small aircraft are. The Breitling Wing Walkers braved the winds with their usual solid display that has become a favourite over the years and this year’s crowd certainly seemed to appreciate the girl’s efforts in the conditions. The Red Hawks Duo in their Fournier RF-4 motor gliders showed that you don’t always need a lot of power to perform graceful aerobatics leaving a trail of lingering red smoke in the sky. The standout display of all the civilian teams however was the Red Bull Matadors. With the Steinbach Extreme 300’s Paul Bonhomme and Steve Jones amazed the crowds with precision aerobatics, close passes and spectacular solo manoeuvres which left everyone wanting more.

Whilst the majority of RAF displays on the Saturday were at Yeovilton the 45(R) Squadron King Air had performed earlier at Marham and proceeded onto its display at Lowestoft. Whilst its ‘party piece’ of the Khe Sanh approach and reverse taxi obviously couldn’t be carried out at sea the display showed off the aircraft well. The location of the show also meant that the RAF Sea King search and rescue crew had an opportunity to show off exactly what they do. In conjunction with the Lowestoft Lifeboat a number of winch manoeuvres were shown, first into the sea to pick up a casualty followed by a reposition and winching to the deck of the lifeboat. Given how strong the wind conditions were it showed just how well trained these crews are as they completed the display with what looked to be relative ease.

The East Anglian Air Ambulance was able to attend the event despite being on standby and showed the aircraft off to the gathered public. Whilst its appearance for flypasts was for entertainment only a couple of hours later it was called into action following an incident in Lowestoft – giving a timely highlight of its true role.

Warbirds always go down well at any airshow and the ever popular B-17G Flying Fortress proved to be a wonderful sight and during a fortunate break in the clouds, ‘Sally B’ gracefully filled the skies with a series of passes that seemed longer than usual displays. Following on was the immaculate P-51D Mustang ‘Marinell’ flown by Maurice Hammond – providing a few minutes of the wonderful Merlin engine noise that is almost as timeless and recognisable as seeing the aircraft itself. It is however a shame that the two couldn’t have combined for a single pass that would have been a photographers dream. The Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Sea Fury T.20 made the trip up from its home base at Yeovilton to provide a British flavour the proceedings and, despite failing to get off the ground due to winds earlier in the day, the Battle of Britain’s Dakota arrived at the end of the display to perform much to the delight of everyone still present.

Of course, the highlight of the show for many was the RAF Red Arrows display. Performing as a 7 ship for the 2012 season they performed to their usual high standards of precision and timing that just cannot be rivalled by any other display team. It is hard to look at this year’s display without thinking of the losses of last year and the true relevance of the 2 missing aircraft. However, the team are a UK airshow staple and this year’s Lowestoft show just wouldn’t have been the same without them.

Despite the winds and forecast weather the Lowestoft beachfront was packed for the Saturday of the show with an estimated 200,000 attending. With only a small number of cancellations in the end the display action was almost constant. There were only a couple of small unavoidable pauses leaving gaps in the proceedings. The addition of the RAF Hawk, Tucano and Tornado displays on the Sunday along with an appearance from local Pitts team – the Wildcats – just goes to strengthen the quality of display acts on offer. For a mere £3 there cannot be that many other displays which can offer the same level of displays as was seen at Lowestoft, and hopefully enough funds will have been raised to guarantee its future.