The English Riviera Airshow returned in 2023 under gloriously sunny skies to mark the start of the summer tourist season. The show as ever featured a wide range of military and civilian display acts in the beautiful arena of Tor Bay. There was of course the Red Arrows but also Rich Goodwin gave one of his first displays with G-JPIT fitted with its jet engines.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
Airshows seem very popular on the South Devon coastline with Sidmouth and Teignmoutb each holding their own small summer displays each year to boost their tourist season. However, it is Paignton and Torbay Council that host the largest; the English Riviera Airshow. Originally named the Torbay Airshow, the event changed its name over the past couple of years to reflect the increasing support from the English Riviera BID Company and the economic boost the event gives to the whole area.
The show is centred on Paignton Green which hosts a small showground with arena events, traders, military displays and catering. The actual flying displays takes place over the beautiful amphitheatre of Tor Bay with Torquay jutting out on the headland to the north and Brixham to the south. Unlike 2022 which contended with low clouds, 2023 saw gin clear blue skies throughout the weekend allowing for full displays on both days and bringing in huge audiences despite the rail strikes on the Saturday.
Opening the aerial action on both days were the Tigers Army Parachute Display Team. The team are drawn from The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment’s Parachute display team and the Queens Division and have become hugely popular at airshows and other events across the UK and overseas. This year they celebrate their 30th Anniversary. As always, they impressed with their display, particularly a very dramatic down-plane demonstration by the Canopy Relative Work team which drew a very audible gasp from the crowd!
The Royal Navy were to have been represented by the Black Cats Helicopter Display Team with a solo Wildcat display. Sadly, that was cancelled on the days before the show. However, the NavyWings Heritage Flight stepped in adding an additional display to their already impressive line-up. That additional display came from their bright yellow North American (CCF) Harvard IV G-NWHF which gave a very elegant aerobatic routine. The centrepiece to the NavyWings contribution was a duo display by the Fairey Swordfish and the Westland Wasp HAS1. The two historic aircraft from very different eras put on a very pleasing number of formation passes along the display line before splitting into their own solo displays. Rounding off the naval displays towards the end of the flying programme was NavyWings’ Supermarine Seafire XVII which looks superb in the early evening light.
Further historic displays came from some cold war warriors. Tony de Bruyn added some international flavour to the afternoon with his North American/Rockwell OV-10B Bronco. Though designed as a forward air control and light strike aircraft, the OV-10Bs were built for the Luftwaffe as target towing aircraft. Tony’s display highlights the agility of the type which made the aircraft such a valuable asset in operations against ground forces in Vietnam and latterly the first Gulf War.
A regular highlight of the English Riviera Airshow is the BAC Strikemaster Mk82 from North Wales Military Aviation Services. For 2023 they presented a duo of Strikemasters both wearing the colours of the Royal Air Force of Oman. Flying the duo were Ian Brett and Sean Chiddenton with a new sequence featuring both formation and tailchase aerobatics.
Bringing some big formation aerobatics to the show were Team Raven with their six Vans RV8s. They are one of the largest civilian formation aerobatics teams on the UK circuit and have become a very popular display across Europe. Key to their success is their ability to fill the sky with continuous action in front of the audience with various formation combinations.
The display also included two ‘new’ aerobatic acts. Making his civilian air display debut as a solo performer was former RAF Chinook display pilot Paul Farmer flying a Yakovlev Yak-50. Since his time as a RAF Display pilot, Paul has stayed on the air display circuit often supporting Flying Control Committees at various events plus joining the now disbanded Yakovlevs display team. Paul still flies helicopters professionally with the Coastguard in South Wales. Paul’s Yak-50 is a former Yakovlevs aircraft and still wears their distinctive silver and red colour scheme. Paul’s display highlights the superb presence of the Yak with its growling radial engine through a very pleasing routine of linked aerobatic figures including loops, barrel rolls and stall turns.
However, perhaps THE display of afternoon came from Rich Goodwin and his highly modified Pitts S-2S Special G-JPIT – the Jet Pitts. Rich now has completed the testing of aircraft fitted with two tiny Lynx Jet engines and gained all the necessary permissions from the Civil Aviation Authority to use the jets at displays. And what an incredible display it is. Even though those jets are small they pack an amazing punch giving Rich some amazing performance with the Pitts which able to accelerate going straight-up and perform some quite incredible tumbles and gyroscopic figures. The experience is further enhanced by the noise of the jets – again much more than you’d expect – and the occasional whiff of jet fuel. Simply amazing stuff.
The Royal Air Force committed two of its display teams to the English Riviera Airshow. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight presented all three of their major types across the weekend. First to appear on the Saturday were the fighter pair of Hawker Hurricane IIc PZ865 and Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910 who performed the fighter tailchase routine which made for a welcome change. The Avro Lancaster B1 PA474 did suffer a small technical issue which was soon rectified by the BBMF engineers. However, that did delay it getting airborne meaning it was unable to meet up with the fighters, but it did perform a solo display to close the show. Sunday saw the flight able to fly all three aircraft together.
The Red Arrows though were the star attraction on the first weekend of their 2023 display season. This year sees the team as an eight-ship following the difficulties of 2022. With a much smoother period of winter training, the team’s display is greatly improved with a superb mix of formations in the first half of the display and a much more flowing second half of the display. In particular, the crowd greatly appreciated the return of the spear to the famous Synchro Heart.
The glorious early June weather and the promise of some airshow favourites once again brought huge crowds to Paignton for the English Riviera Airshow. There were also some great surprises during the afternoon plus the bonus of a relatively smooth flow of traffic both before and after the event – no mean feat on a weekend of disruption on the railways. As with many of the UK’s seaside airshows, funding remains a critical issue and it was noticeable this year that organisers were seeking donations as well as raising funds through programme and car parking sales. Hopefully that and sponsorship will mean the show can return in 2024 as it really is a delightful venue for an airshow and does attract audiences from across the UK.