Beside the seaside

This is the peak season for seaside airshows in Britain.

In the next few weeks there will be events in Blackpool, Eastbourne, Herne Bay, Clacton, Rhyl, Bournemouth, Ayr, Portrush, Guernsey, Jersey and Southport. (There have already been shows this summer in Torbay, Weston-super-Mare, Swansea, Sunderland and Newcastle in Northern Ireland.)

In addition to these big airshows, some other events held beside the seaside around the British coastline over the summer such as carnivals and regattas are set to have an aviation element to them, such as an appearance by the Red Arrows, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight or an aerobatic team.

The Red Arrows displaying at Scarborough in June 2013. Photo: Mark Broadbent


Seaside airshows are popular. According to TSA Consulting the total attendance at the seaside events where they managed the flying display in 2016 was over two million people.

Other coastal towns (Southend, Dawlish, Lowestoft, Margate, Dover and Swanage) have hosted airshows in the past. A new event in Great Yarmouth planned for this year was cancelled and there is a proposal to put on a new show in Devon.

It is little wonder there are so many of these events. Airshows by their nature are a draw for a day out, and are therefore an ideal opportunity for local authorities to promote a town and its surrounding area. There’s clearly a big potential benefit for local businesses, too. I was once told a restaurant in a seaside town got a five-figure boost in income when the airshow was on.

I suspect seaside airshows hold little appeal for some aviation enthusiasts, especially those who have largely spent time attending airshows at airfields. There is a view that seaside airshows, compared to airfield events. are second-rate, an airshow equivalent of fish and chips and a cup of tea compared to a fillet steak and a glass of Malbec.

The Red Arrows performing the Python at the Southport Air Show. Photo: Mark Broadbent


Personally, I like seaside airshows. I enjoy how these events tend to have a variety of displays, ranging from historic aeroplanes to aerobatic aircraft and the Red Arrows. One seaside venue, Jersey, attracts interesting historic aeroplanes that by and large don’t tend to appear at other airshows in Britain.

My opinion is likely influenced by the fact I’ve attended seaside airshows for a quarter of a century, more or less. Looking back on my childhood as an early thirty-something, I have a bank of memories from Southport, which for the best part of 20 years has been the closest airshow venue to home.

I remember vividly the excitement I felt during one Southport in the days when the spear in the Red Arrows’ Heart was made by a manoeuvre called the Cascade, where jets passed through the middle of the heart, descended towards the crowd and then flew directly overhead.

I recall the sight of red and white Royal Navy Gazelles leaving orange display smoke over the sands and these helicopters’ distinctive engine noise, and one year the brightly-painted Stearman biplanes of the Aerosuperbatics wingwalking team (then sponsored by Cadbury’s Crunchie) landing on the beach and parking up.

I have a memory of white smoke trails left by Team Toyota, a trio of an Extra and two Pitts, standing out against a dreary grey backdrop above the sands. (It was a pleasure, years later, to interview that team’s leader, Nigel Lamb, and in a sense complete a circle back to childhood.)

I remember feeling the beach shake from the noise of a Harrier hovering. I recall the ‘massed helicopter approach’, when all ten helicopters involved in the display one year (a Sea King and two Gazelles from the Royal Navy, a pair of RAF Wessex and the army’s Blue Eagles team of a Lynx and Gazelles) arrived en-masse and landed on the beach.

I suppose because going to Southport has left all these impressions, and many others, the idea of a seaside airshow doesn’t feel strange. Such events are, and always have been, part of the airshow furniture for me.

A mix of the seaside, a wide expanse of sky, a picnic, aeroplanes and then maybe a meal and a stroll on the beach?

Clearly, this is not to experience aviation in the way you can at an airfield or when visiting a museum. But I think of these events as simply a day at the seaside with a few aeroplanes thrown in.

To repeat the analogy earlier in this blog, fillet steak and Malbec is great. But fish, chips and a cuppa is nice too. I hope this year’s seaside airshows all do well.

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