The summer season of seaside airshows opened at the Torbay Airshow. In just four years, the event has established itself as one of Devon’s biggest annual events attracting large crowds into the local area and in particular the coastal resort of Paignton. Held in the early part of the UK season, it also often hosts a few debuts and this year was no different with the first 2019 public display by the RAF Red Arrows and the long awaited return of the Royal Navy Black Cats Helicopter Display Team.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
These are challenging times for UK airshows and in particular the council led seafront events. Ever increasing costs and decreasing budgets have put question marks on several events. After three very successful years, Torbay Airshow was threatened by a significant reduction In Council funding. They very much wanted to host the event, but were unable to cover all the costs of running the event. Fortunately however, local businesses did rally to the cause bringing in enough sponsorship to allow the airshow to continue – a sign of how much the event is valued in the local area.
Torbay is an amazing amphitheatre for an air display. Paignton Green forms the central showground area overlooking the waters of Tor Bay. With Torquay and Thatcher’s Point to the north and Brixham with Berry Head to the south the event has a very picturesque backdrop. The showground itself like many other seaside shows is home to a number of displays from the military and local companies. Like similar shows which are in the main free to the public, Torbay offers some Family VIP areas alongside more traditional corporate facilities allowing casual visitors some extra comfort for modest fee.
Due to commitments by the Red Arrows, this flying display times were very different each day. Saturday saw a more tradition period of flying from 2pm to 5pm whereas Sunday saw flying start at 11.30am through to just before 3pm. Recently, Torbay has become the opening show of the Red Arrows display season. In 2019 the UK and European season is much shorter as the team will spend August, September and early October on tour in the United States supporting by the Department of International Trade and the Foreign Office. Under the leadership of Squadron Leader Martin Pert, the 2019 display is fairly similar to that in 2018 retaining all the favourites. However as twist for 2019 and to mark the 50th Anniversary of Man landing on the Moon, the formation ‘Apollo’ returns to their repertoire. It is fair to say the limited UK season was much to Torbay’s benefit as the seafront was packed during their performance, particularly in Saturday’s fine weather.
Further precision formation aerobatics came from The Blades with their quartet of Extra 300LPs. Wearing their patriotic colour scheme, the team of former Red Arrows pilots are always popular at the seafront events. For Torbay, the team consisted of Andy Evans, Kirsty Murphy, Mike Ling and James McMillan as they performed their new 2019 routine.
Adding a local flourish to the afternoon was Corinne Dennis flying her self-built Pitts S-1S Special. Based out of Bodmin Airfield, Corinne has become quite well known in the South West performing at quite a few different events.
The final civilian display at the show was Mark Petrie flying a solo routine in his BAC Strikemaster Mk82a. Mark and his jet have been regulars at Torbay since the events inception and his displays are always popular with the Torbay crowd.
All three armed service were represented in the flying display. The Tigers Army Parachute Display Team dropped into the water marking their first public display of the season since returning from training in the United States.
Torbay also saw the welcome return of the Black Cats Helicopters Display Team with a solo Leonardo AW159 Wildcat HMA2. The display captain is Lt Chris Rebbeck who has worked up a punchy demonstration of the Wildcat’s agility and performance.
Torbay saw nearly all the Royal Air Force display teams over the weekend. June is a particularly busy month for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as the D-Day 75th Anniversary commemorations got underway in the days following Torbay. It was therefore highly appropriate that they displayed the Douglas Dakota III and Supermarine Spitfire XVI at Torbay given that the Devon coast was used as a training area for the landings.
There were three displays by the modern Royal Air Force. The Shorts Tucano T1 made its first and last Torbay appearance this year. Flown by 72(R) Squadron, the type has been the basic fast jet training aircraft for Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots since the early 1990’s. It will be replaced by the Texan T1 at the end of the year. Flt Lt Liam Matthews has the honour of being the last RAF Tucano display pilot and gave an excellent aerobatic display in the turboprop trainer.
Closing the display with a roar was Flt Lt Jim Peterson in the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 from 29(R) Squadron. Jim had an interesting weekend at Torbay taking a flight with the Blades during the Friday experiencing what a small unlimited aerobatic machine can do. The Typhoon is always a head-turner and a definite highlight of the Torbay show for the crowds pulling incredible vapour clouds out of the atmosphere as it twisted and turned over the blue waters of Tor Bay.
On Saturday at least, Paignton’s seafront saw a large capacity audience enjoying the displays under blue skies. Sadly Sunday saw some poor flying conditions which forced the Red Arrows to abandon their display after they had started. The Chinook enjoyed a rare break in the low clouds and was able to display but much of the other acts were grounded by the conditions. It was a great shame for the event to end in such a way after a superb Saturday.