With the COVID 19 pandemic laying waste to the UK display season, the annual Guernsey Battle of Britain Air Display was the last surviving sea front air show venue. The fact that the display was able to take place was down to the island’s eradication of the coronavirus outbreak, mainly due to tight border controls. This meant that no cases had been reported since June and life had returned to normal, with no social distancing in place (which is the main impediment to the events sector).
The quarantine restrictions had presented some challenges for the organisers, with “critical worker permits” required for Barry Neal, the Flying Display Director, Red 10 and all display pilots landing in Guernsey in order to avoid 14 –day isolation. However, all hoops were negotiated and Thursday 10th September saw perfect flying conditions in the St Peter Port display area.
Guernsey is the smallest of the 15 UK sea front display locations and also has the smallest budget, but the 2.5 hour show always includes a number of popular mainland acts and the much anticipated Red Arrows.
The flying display was opened by the crowd rear arrival of a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire and Hurricane (the Lancaster unfortunately having suffered a hydraulic leak earlier in the week, leading its withdrawal). After some pairs work, Spitfire Mk XVI, TE311 and then Hurricane LF363 performed their solo displays before departing back to Bournemouth. Great to have the sound of warbirds back in Guernsey.
Next up were the Extras of The Blades. The four-ship formation were a late replacement for Team Raven, some of whose pilots had unfortunately become locked down in Caerphilly just two days before the event. Andy Evans and his team had moved around their UK corporate booking at very short notice in order to accommodate their first public air display of the year. The Blades are a regular and very popular staple of the Guernsey Air Display and Andy, along with Mike Ling, James McMillan and Kirsty Murphy, flew a faultless routine. Having flown straight into the display from Sywell, the team dropped into Guernsey Airport for a quick gas and go before returning to Northamptonshire, their efforts very much appreciated by the organisers.
A more sedate role demonstration was flown by the locally based Channel Islands Air Search Britten Norman Islander. The brand new aircraft flew a few figure of eights to simulate looking for a “man over board” before dropping a smoke flare onto the target and calling in the inshore lifeboat.
Once this aircraft had departed the display area, it was the turn of a 2-ship Yak-52 display from the Yakolevs. This was a Guernsey debut for the team, although they performed at a private event on the island of Herm the week before. They performed a punchy, close and tight routine which was enhanced by the growl of their radial engines. It would certainly be nice to see their four, or even six-ship team in the future.
The noisy, punchy theme was continued with the arrival of Rich Goodwin in his new blue Pitts S-2S Special, G-JPIT. The planned jets haven’t been attached to the air frame yet, but Rich still rang out the aircraft in the series of aggressive and jaw dropping manoeuvres which have made him a firm favourite with Guernsey crowd.
Another Guernsey debut act were the Vans RV4s of the Fireflies. Andy Durston and Jon Gowdy arrived on the B-axis having flown in directly from Bognor Regis. Having performed their professional series of aerobatics, they departed back to the UK – that’s dedication for you!
The largest aircraft taking part in the air show was the Plane Sailing Consolidated PBY5-A Catalina, which also carried out a round trip from the UK without landing, arriving from Duxford. The beautiful lines of the flying boat were shown off in a gracefully flown display.
As is the custom, the final act was the much anticipated Red Arrows with a full 9-ship of Hawks. Due to the decimation of the European display season, this was only the second RAFAT show of the year (the team having recently returned from the Kauhava Show in Finland) and, following the announcement by Duxford the following day, this was their only UK display of 2020. The team flew in directly from Exeter and arrived over St Peter Port bang on schedule. The Guernsey crowd was then treated to twenty minutes of air display gold in perfect blue skies. Knowing that they were witnessing something unique in this unusual year made the crowd even more appreciative than usual.
All too soon, the red jets were departing to the North West and the Guernsey air Display was over for another year. A lot of work and flexibility had been required to make the 2020 event happen and the organisers and crowd were rewarded with a truly memorable event.
The only sea front air show in Europe – hopefully we won’t be saying that next year.