Making a welcome return to the calendar after a three-year absence was the English Riviera Airshow. Formally known as Torbay Airshow, the event was part of a much bigger Platinum Jubilee programme of events in the resorts of Paignton and Torquay over the extended Bank Holiday weekend. These included the lighting of a Jubilee Beacon, live music, a flotilla of small boats and sailing craft as well as the aerial action on the Saturday and Sunday.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
In late 2019, it was announced that Torbay Airshow was to be renamed the English Riviera Airshow to reflect the importance of the event to wider Devon tourist industry and the brilliant support that the English Riviera BID (Business Improvement District) Company gives to the event. Sadly, shortly after in March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced the event’s cancellation.
2022 however saw the event return to the display calendar and take its place as one of the first major air displays of the UK season. As the show dates fell on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend, the event became part of Torbay Council’s wider Jubilee Weekend. Early visitors were able to enjoy a beacon lighting ceremony on the Thursday while Friday saw a day of live music in the adjacent resort of Torquay. The view out to sea also had the welcome addition of the RFA Tidesurge anchored in Tor Bay for the weekend.
Sadly, the weather slowly deteriorated over the Bank Holiday weekend. Saturday, though very grey, at least saw flyable conditions in which the full flying display could take place. However, Sunday woke to low cloud and mist that persisted for much of the day along the south coast. This eventually led to the complete cancellation of the flying displays.
Saturday’s flying was appropriately opened by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with their signature formation of Avro Lancaster B1, Supermarine Spitfire II and Hawker Hurricane IIc on their first weekend of full displays. The Hurricane appearing at the show was LF363 which was recently returned to the flight after a major service at Biggin Hill. It has also had new markings applied representing V6665, a Hurricane I of 303 Kościuszko (Polish) Squadron during the Battle of Britain.
The English Riviera Airshow was also the first public display of the year for the RAF Chinook Display Team. For 2022, the team are supporting the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund and have teamed up with the Blades Aerobatic Team to highlight the work of the Fund with a special formation that will hopefully be seen at a number of events throughout the display season and made it’s debut over Tor Bay. Following the spectacular formation pass and a break, the Blades and the Chinook then presented their own displays.
As well as the military displays and the Blades, there were a whole host of airshow favourites headed up by Rich Goodwin in his Sabio sponsored Pitts S-2S Special G-JPIT. Despite the overcast, Rich was able to perform a full sequence of his high energy aerobatics. For day 2 of the show, Rich had planned to display his other Pitts G-EWIZ but sadly the weather on the day prevented this.
A regular at previous Torbay Airshows has been the BAC Strikemaster Mk82a from North Wales Military Aviation Services and flown by Mark Petrie. For 2022, Ollie Suckling took the honours flying NWMAS’s newest Strikemaster, G-RSAF.
For those watching from the northside of the pier perhaps the most spectacular moment was the display by the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team. The overcast meant the team performed their low drop but the light wind also meant this was conducted very close to the beach. The team always put on a great show, but this was on another level with the team members performing some spectacular approaches into the drop zone over the beach with colourful smoke streaming from their ankles.
Another standout display was the lyrical solo display by Steve Jones in the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar’s Supermarine Spitfire IX TA805. Set to music from the film ‘Reach for the Sky,’ Steve’s routine of gentle aerobatics and sweeping passes looked absolutely superb between the surrounding headlands of Tor Bay.
The final civilian display of the afternoon came from the Yakovlevs with a pair of Yak-52 and Yak-50. The team are based relatively locally to the English Riviera at Henstridge Aerodrome in Dorset. Pilots Jez Hopkinson and Jim Schofield gave a really tight but elegant routine of close formation aerobatics within the confines of Tor Bay. One of their aircraft had recently had the roundels of the Ukrainian Air Force applied as a salute to team pilot Azat Zaydullin who is back in his homeland in the local defence forces.
The flying displays were closed by the RAF Red Arrows. By the time their display slot came along the clouds had started to lift allowing Squadron Leader Tom Bould to lead a very colourful rolling display along Paignton seafront. The team’s displays for 2022 are being performed with seven aircraft rather than nine but that did not diminish the spectacular for the thousands that crowded onto Paignton Green to watch their display.
It must have been a huge wrench for the organisers and participants not to be able to present a show on the Sunday due to the poor weather. However, despite grey skies Saturday marked a superb return for the English Riviera Airshow. Hopefully the weather in 2023 will be kinder!