The inaugural Haven Great Yarmouth Airshow took place in mid-June and attracted a crowd of 180,000 to the Norfolk coastal town. It was the culmination of more than two years of hard work by Greater Yarmouth Tourism and Business Improvement Area Ltd (GYTBIA) to bring a major airshow to the town. They had more than their fair share of challenges along the way, but with crowd pleasing display favourites and some relatively favourable weather brought together a memorable first event.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
The Haven Great Yarmouth Airshow has been on the radar for two years. It was originally hoped that the town could host its first event in 2017 but a number of factors including the ever increasing cost of security provision forced the organisers to postpone their plans until 2018. Some shows may have folded there and then, but full credit must go to GYTBIA for sticking to their plans and regrouping to stage the event in 2018.
Great Yarmouth is on the coast almost due east of Norwich and on the edge of the beautiful Norfolk Broads. It is a popular tourist destination with its access to the broads plus large sandy beaches. The flying display took place along beaches with the main showground area centred between the Wellington and Britannia Piers. Great Yarmouth has precious few roads coming in and out of the town and therefore the organisers made a big push to encourage visitors onto public transport. There were also two big park and ride car parks outside of the town. This did keep delays on the roads very minimal and the park and ride bus service has received plenty of praise on social media. In fact, after the show there were fleets of buses queued up on the Saturday so least tired spectators did not have long to wait!
Another challenge facing the organisers was environmental. Yarmouth’s sandy and shallow coastline is a recognised breeding area for seabirds, notable the Little Tern. As well as on the beaches at North Denes just to the north of the town, Scroby Sands which are about 4km off the coast is also a sensitive area for bird-life. Organisers and the Civil Aviation Authority worked closely with all the relevant organisations to minimise any disturbance the flying display could cause which included buffer zones around sensitive areas and the way the flying display was designed. For the vast majority of displays, there was little change but a few acts that cover a lot more area during their routines had to slightly alter their display datums and turns to accommodate the buffer zones.
By the 16th June everything was set for the inaugural airshow; even the weather was relatively kind with a reasonably high cloud base and moderate winds throughout the weekend. At precisely 1300 on the Saturday, the show was opened by the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with their standard formation of Avro Lancaster B1 PA474 leading Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363 and Supermarine Spitfire IX MK356. The symphony of six merlin engines was an ideal starting point for the flying display which was an eclectic mix of airshow favourites. Sunday saw the BBMF return, albeit with just the fighter pair. Completing the Royal Air Force contribution to the show were the Red Arrows operating for the weekend from nearby Norwich Airport. Despite being restriction to a rolling show by the cloudbase, the team’s appearance on both days was the highlight for many and a major boost to the show in its first year. Sadly, technical issues prevented the RAF Tutor Display Team from performing at the show, but they along with a number of other units were present in the armed forces village.
The British Army were also represented by the Tigers Freefall Parachute Display Team from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment. We often commented that the team are superb supporters of any event they attend and they certainly seem to enjoy their first visit to Great Yarmouth. After their display on Saturday they even invited some of the watching children to join them for a spot of football in their jumpzone!
East Anglia does boast a long tradition of airshows and therefore there are a number of ‘home acts.’ Local musical businessman Dan Gay took part in the flying display on both days flying his Rutan Long-Ez G-MUSO from nearby Seething Airfield. Dan runs his own musical business involved in teaching and selling musical equipment in Great Yarmouth but has always had a passion for aviation. “I am really proud, and feel privileged, to be part of the new air show,” said Mr Gay who qualified as a display pilot three years ago. Perhaps the best known of the current East Anglian display team are the Wildcats Aerobatic Team flying a pair of Pitts S-2B Specials. The team of Al Coutts and Willie Cruickshank fly a classic pairs of routine of close formation aerobatics in their very smartly turn-out biplanes. The team are a regular fixture at air events in the region, but have also travelled further airfield to airshows in the South West and also Northern Ireland.
Adding further colour were a host of seaside airshow favourites including a very spirited display from the Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers, the ever-precise Blades Aerobatic Team, the incredible antics of Peter Davies in his AutoGyro Calidus plus some eye-popping solo aerobatics from Rich Goodwin in his Pitts S-2S Special.
Yarmouth boasted a varied collection of historic displays joining the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The Great War Display Team certainly caught the attention of the Yarmouth audience with seven of their aircraft flying in from Tibenham and recreating a hectic, swirling dogfight.
A very apt addition to the flying display was Plane Sailing’s Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. The aircraft is marked as a OA-10 Catalina which was used by the United States 8th Air Force during the latter stages of the Second World War. The aircraft was based at Halesworth in neighbouring Suffolk and tasked with Search and Rescue duties over the North Sea and English Channel.
Cold War aircraft were not forgotten with two international acts joining the inaugural event. Making the short trip over the English Channel from Belgium was the Bronco Demo Team. The team’s owner, Tony de Bruyn, gave a punchy account of the North American OV-10B Bronco which certainly catch the eye of spectators.
However, perhaps the most notable participants of the weekend were the Norwegian Air Force Historical Squadron with their de Havilland Vampire FB52 and Vampire T55. Great Yarmouth marked the UK public display debut of the pair of classic British jets in their ‘new’ RAF markings to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the service. The single seat Vampire now carries the markings of VZ305 when flown by 72 Squadron first based at RAF Odiham before transferring to North Weald. The latter airfield is particularly special to the Historical Squadron as it is where they base themselves each summer for UK shows and also is an airfield with strong ties to the Royal Norwegian Air Force as during the Second World War, Free-Norwegian squadrons were based at the airfield. The two seat T55 wears the markings of WZ447, a Vampire T11 assigned to No IV Squadron during the 1950s. The pair of jets gave an elegant series of flypasts along the seafront in close formation accompanied by the haunting note of their de Havilland Goblin turbojets.
Closing each days flying display was perhaps the famous single aircraft at the show, the Old Flying Machine Company’s Supermarine Spitfire IXB MH434. Brian Smith gave a wonderful account of MH434 in Saturday’s early evening sunshine showing off the elegant lines and hints of the Spitfire’s true potential as a fighter.
Social media has been full of praise for the first ever Haven Great Yarmouth Event since the event weekend. Not only was it an entertaining afternoon of flying, but the event as a whole was very well organised and a pleasure to attend for visitors and display crews alike. There’s plenty of potential of the event to develop as a showpiece event for the Norfolk Coast and become an established favourite on the display circuit.