Southport Airshow 2014 – A stormy Saturday

Southport Air Show

As a child I have great memories of going to local air shows but it must be 25 years since I last went to one. My Granddad worked his whole life at BAE Woodford and whenever they had an airshow we would go and watch the displays. So I was very excited to hear about the upcoming Southport Air show.

Merlin HM2 Helicopter entertains the crowds.
Merlin HM2 Helicopter entertains the crowds.

He worked with many aircraft during his time there but the two that always stuck in my mind were the Lancaster and the Vulcan. The former because it was such an iconic plane during WWII and he had many stories from during that time, the later from seeing it in production myself on visits to Woodford.

So when I read that there would be fly-bys by the last 2 flying Lancaster Bombers and the last flying Vulcan I thought it’d make for a great family day out.

BAC Jet Provost T5
BAC Jet Provost T5

The air show ran over the weekend but the Vulcan was only due to appear on the Saturday so this was the day we went. The weather forecast wasn’t great, dull and overcast with a chance of rain…typically British!

Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIb - BE505
Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIb – BE505

With the weather being awful, the sort of conditions that usually I wouldn’t bother  to take photos I knew the images would be a record of the aircraft rather than perfect photographs but I was happy just to be there.

North American P-51D Mustang
North American P-51D Mustang

I used my usual wildlife set-up so a Canon 7D and 400mm 2.8 IS and for most aircraft this was perfect but with the lack of flexibility I couldn’t get all the Red Arrows in frame. I think a good all round lens for an air show would be something like a 100-400mm zoom, to allow some versatility in framing. Having said this on a dull overcast day I was happy to have my prime lens for both the extra light it gathers and the superior focussing under these conditions.

Red Arrows at Southport air show 2014
Red Arrows at Southport 2014

I hadn’t seen a Red Arrows display for over 20 years and when I saw them approaching over the horizon I must admit it sent a tingle down my spine, childhood memories came flooding back. It was great to hear the running commentary from Red 10, Sq Leader Mike Ling he really gives an insight as to what the pilots are thinking, seeing and doing, it added an extra dimension to the display. Pity there were no blue skies but that’s photography for you.

Red Arrows smoke and crossovers
Red Arrows smoke and crossovers

When they did their closest fly past with my 400mm a single aircraft was almost filling the viewfinder, it made for real challenge to keep it fully in the frame at the speeds they were doing.

Red Arrow XX244 makes a close fly past.
Red Arrow XX244 makes a close fly past.

After seeing the Red Arrows display I didn’t think things could get must better but then came the warning over the PA system to prepare the children for the arrival of a loud aircraft. To our left through the murky air there was a small dot… ‘Typhoon’ one of the kids near me said with an excited smile. Within seconds it was no longer a dot but an eardrum bursting fighter jet, the sound was awesome! I looked at my 6 year old with his mouth wide open and hands over his ears but with an overall look on his face that simply said ‘Wow’.

 Flt Lt Noel Rees in a RAF Typhoon
Flt Lt Noel Rees in a RAF Typhoon

It was incredible to watch Flt Lt Noel Rees as he manoeuvred the £70m fighter as if it was a toy. This aircraft is capable of speeds in excess of 1500mph and as it banked round breaking the sound barrier, it’s a sound that just has to be witnessed. He was then able to hold the nose in the air and fly past at such a slow speed it almost looked stationary.

 Flt Lt Noel Rees bank round in an RAF Typhoon
Flt Lt Noel Rees bank round in an RAF Typhoon

As for two reasons that we went, the Vulcan and the 2 Lancaster Bombers, unfortunately the weather across the country meant that the Vulcan was unable to leave it’s base at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster which was a massive shame. Fortunately the Lancaster’s were already airborne and on their way, the weather by this point was terrible to say the least, very poor visibility and and hard rain. Still the sound of 8 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines breaking through the driving rain soon lifted the spirits. As for the photography well you can only work with what you’ve got so I decided on an edit that would compensate for the lack of light and also fit with the age of the aircraft.

The two remaining airworthy Lancaster Bombers
The two remaining airworthy Lancaster Bombers

These are the last two airworthy Lancaster’s, one of which is the Canadian Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, affectionately know as ‘Vera’ after her VRA registration. The second one is PA474 from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and to see them both in the air at the same time is something that I’ll always remember.

The whole day at the Southport air show was thoroughly enjoyable and I’d recommend it for any family or photographer. We’ll definitely be going again next year, fingers crossed for better weather and I hope to see some of you there.

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