Bank Holiday Monday Blues
Garry Lakin reports from a wild and windy Southend-on-Sea
Spring Bank Holiday 2008 carried on from where 2007 left off - the weather forecast leading up to the weekend had you believing that the best day would be Monday. Wrong again; Sunday managed to see a decent show, but unfortunately Monday's low clouds put a big dampener on the flight programme.
Listening to the airshow radio, it was announced that the warbirds in the show would not be taking to the air with the low visibility and low cloud hanging over the seafront. So, no Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, Me 108s, Spitfire or Mustang. A further disappointment was the total absence of jets in the air- the Hawk and Hunter (Miss Demeanour) could be seen on the apron at Southend Airport, along with three Tucanos, although the airport itself had to be closed due to waterlogging. Others listed on the Monday flying programme but not to be seen were the de Havilland Vampire, Gnat, Typhoon and the Red Arrows.
The first flypast was by the Blades, who flew along the seafront to check out the visibility for themselves and the other aircraft to follow during the depleted show in the afternoon. The opening display was by the Swift Team's Extra 300 - Justyn Gorman displayed as well as the cloud level would allow, but this would be the only display in the first hour as the low cloud descended even further to the point where the other side of the Thames Estuary disappeared in the murk. Unfortunately Justyn would suffer at the hand of the weather later in the day when he had to force-land the Extra while en-route to Shoreham, fortunately without serious injury to him or his passenger.
The airshow radio announced that it was hopeful that flying would resume and at 14:50, to everyone's delight, the B-25 Mitchell operated by the Duke of Brabant Air Force flew in from the left and put on a well-received low flying display. Obviously there were not going to be many more participants in the depleted show as the commentator stated that the aircraft had been given all the time he wanted to display. Next the Blades made a return to the seafront, this time performing their low-level aerobatic display, which was good given the conditions.
Plane Sailing's Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina was the next aircraft to show itself over the sea - the amphibian aircraft is always slow and majestic in its display. Fittingly, as this aircraft was used by the RAF Coastal command during the Second World War, it flew over the Royal Navy Destroyer HMS Exeter (D89), which was making its way up the Thames to take part in a media event later in the week.
Low cloud or not, it didn't put off the next act in the show, the girls and Stearmans of the Team Guinot Wingwalkers. The damp and miserable weather did not put off the girls from putting on their best display to all.
The Fleet Air Arm's 'Blacks Cats' were the next flying display, or should that be 'Black Cat', as only one of the Lynx helicopters from the Royal Navy display team flew in from the left. A short display was put on by the solo pilot in front of Maxim's Casino (the main sponsor of the airshow), which left most of the audience viewing the display from a distance only really seeing the aircraft on its entrance and exit.
The next aircraft was not in the scheduled flying display and was a pleasant surprise to many - Atlantic Air Transport Ltd's Douglas DC-6 flew along the seafront, resplendent in the colour scheme of Eagle Airways. An excellent display was given by the pilot in poor conditions and at quite a low level - it was a real blast from the past and evoked memories of Southend Airport's halcyon days of passenger transport in the fifties and sixties.
The final display of the day was given by a Royal Navy Merlin HM1 with a superb display of the helicopter's agility, followed by an air-sea rescue demonstration assisted by the local RNLI.
The weather pulled apart the 2008 flying programme for this Bank Holiday Monday, pretty much the same as happened in 2007. Let's hope the weather Gods are kinder to the airshow in 2009.