The 2nd edition of the Torbay Airshow took place over the first weekend in June. The event, organised by Torbay Council, takes place in Paignton right in the centre of Tor Bay with the towns of Torquay and Brixham bookending the display lines. As with many other seaside airshows, the afternoon flying display was drawn from a fine selection of eye-catching acts from military and civilian operators.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from the opening day. All photography by the author.
Torbay Airshow was launched in 2016 by Torbay Council as a boost to their early summer events programme along the English Riviera. Dawlish, just to the north of Torbay has hosted a very successful airshow for many years but this came to a (hopefully temporary) end after the 2015 event. The emergence of this new event under a different organisation at least continued the tradition of aviation events on the South Devon coastline.
2017 built on the success and experience of the first airshow. Compared to the very large seaside events at Sunderland, Eastbourne and Bournemouth, the Paignton site is very compact. The Green offers the ideal location for the airshow village containing all the usual mix of military exhibitions and trading. Out to sea, the Royal Navy participated in the event with HMS Somerset moored off Torquay. Show visitors were able to sail out of the frigate for guided tours of the vessel.
The flying takes place over the water in Tor Bay in one of the most picturesque locations on the circuit with the high headlands either side of Paignton offering a wonderful backdrop as the aircraft run from north to south. Being nestled in a bay does mean it is rather a tight location for flying displays, particularly for the faster aircraft. This means the display lines are slightly offset to accommodate for the local topography and Paignton Pier.
Each day saw about three hours of flying displays in the afternoon. Despite some poor weather just inland, each day saw dry weather with sunny spells over Paignton during the flying displays. As with many of the major seaside events, there was strong support from the armed services. Saturday’s event was opened by the Tigers Freefall Parachute Display Team from the British Army. The team, drawn from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, have been great supporters of UK and European airshows over their 25 year history. They are also one of the few teams happy to jump into water as they ably demonstrated at Torbay.
Torbay had the privilege of hosting the RAF Red Arrows first public display of 2017. The team took in Torbay Airshow on their return to the UK after a busy five weeks of training in Greece. Though blue skies were around on Saturday, clouds rolled in during their display restricting them to a mix of rolling and flat manoeuvres. As always, the team have put in a few changes to their routine to keep their display fresh and to mark some important occasions such as the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s 60th Anniversary. The BBMF also made to Torbay with Supermarine Spitfire IIa P7350 and Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363. Both of these aircraft are wearing new markings for the 2017 season marking aircraft flown by surviving Battle of Britain veterans. The display was closed on both days the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 flown by Flt Lt Ryan Lawton who stormed his way around the bay pulling clouds of vapour out of the moist sea air. Sunday’s flying also saw the first public appearance by the Boeing Chinook HC4 solo display demonstrating the outstanding agility of the big transport helicopter.
Classic military aviation also formed a big part of the afternoon flying. The Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina looked right at home elegantly sweeping around Tor Bay. The event also highlighted the development of the Percival Provost family of military trainings. Representing the very beginning gof the Provost family, Royal Navy pilot Si Wilson flew the YeoPro Group’s Percival Provost T1 through a very pleasing aerobatic routine. The ultimate development of the Provost lineage was the BAC Strikemaster as flown by Mark Petrie from North Wales Military Aviation Services. Classic Jet displays over the water are not as restricted as those over land, so Mark was able to give a full aerobatic sequence for the Torbay audience.
Mixed in with the military displays were some colourful displays from some of the UK’s best civilian acts. Top class solo aerobatics came from Gerald Cooper in his XtremeAir XA41 who was joined on Sunday by Lauren Richardson in her Pitts S-1S Special. One of the stars of Torbay was Peter Davies with his Rotorsport Calidus autogyro. Peter’s dispensation to fly in to 75m from the crowd-line really comes into its own at a venue like Paignton where while of the rest of the displays may seem a little more distant, Peter can really come face to face with the audience on both sides of the pier.
As well as the solo acts, there were also some great formation teams. Team Raven appeared with their new six-ship display flying their very smart Vans RV4 and RV8s. The standout moment from their routine is the “Raven Twizzle” which drew spontaneous applause from audience on Paignton Green. Completing the line-up were the four Extra 300/330LP aircraft of the Blades Aerobatic Team with this usual style and precise display of formation and solo aerobatics.
Torbay Airshow may be a new event on the display calendar, but the unique character and beautiful surroundings of the English Riviera make this a very popular event attracting a sizeable audience. It is not hard to see why with its laid back atmosphere and fun flying display.