REPORT: Torbay Airshow 2016

Just over 48 hours before the weekend of the inaugural Torbay Airshow, I was eagerly anticipating what would have been a busy weekend with plans to attend Throckmorton Airshow as well as Torbay. However, unfortunately the Throckmorton Airshow organisers were forced to cancel their event at late notice. Nevertheless not all was lost, as Torbay was a two-day event, with an added bonus of a pyrotechnic from the Twister Aerobatic Display Team on the Friday night.

With the event’s organisers expecting mass crowds, several measures were put in place – including extra train services and road closures within Paignton. This ensured an easy arrival into the Devon seaside town; but having said that, more spectators were expected for the following day due to RAF Red Arrows appearing on Sunday only. For those like me who arrived considerably early, there was provided entertainment with a military parade, as well as live bands on stage. However it wasn’t long before the 3-hour long flying display was underway, with the Army’s Tiger Display Team from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, opening the day’s flying programme. The team had hoped to have performed their new ‘stack’ manoeuvre on the Saturday, but were challenged by the light rain and low cloud, which fortunately cleared not long after.

On Sunday, the Tigers jumped into the sea, while on Saturday they landed on the beach. Photo: James Connolly

Performing at only its second show of the 2016 season, the stunning De Havilland Sea Vixen provided some welcomed top-side passes – allowing for several photographic opportunities. Owned and operated by the Fly Navy Heritage Trust, G-CVIX is the only airworthy Sea Vixen in the world, and is expected to appear at several other shows this year, including RNAS Yeovilton Air Day and RAF Cosford. The display, piloted by Cdr. Simon Hargreaves, proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend.

The Sea Vixen is one of the largest vintage jets currently flying in the UK. Photo: James Connolly

Another classic jet, which unlike the Sea Vixen appeared on both days, was the BAC Strikemaster Mk.82a. In my opinion, Mark Petrie’s display in the Strikemaster is one of the finest on the UK airshow circuit, with plenty of top-side passes. Mark is currently on a tour of the South West, with the aircraft also being scheduled to appear at Weston Air Festival and Plymouth Armed Forces Day in June.

The ex-Omani Air Force Strikemaster began displaying at airshows in 2015. Photo: James Connolly

Having entertained the crowds on the Friday night with their popular pyrotechnic display, the Twister Aerobatic Display Team gave a solo display on the Saturday. Peter Wells – a well-known name on the airshow circuit, displayed his Silence Twister appropriately registered as G-TWST. It could be said that the use of red, white and blue smoke, provided a patriotic theme, making up of for the otherwise occupied Red Arrows. Being located to the right of Paignton’s Pier as you look out towards the bay, it was quite frustrating that most of the display seemed to be performed more to crowd-left instead of crowd-centre.

The Twisters performed pairs displays on Friday and Sunday afternoon and a solo on Saturday. Photo: James Connolly

Following Peter’s display, was the always entertaining Calidus Autogyro, flown by Peter Davies. Having been given recent permission by the CAA to display down to 75m away from the crowdline, Peter used this to his best advantage. Peter has now confirmed that he intends to sell his autogyro and replace it with a newer version.

Smaller aircraft like the Provost and Autogyro were noticably a long distance from the crowd. Photo: James Connolly

A first for me was the Piston Provost T.1 – flown by Simon Wilson, who pushed the 1950s trainer to its full capabilities. Simon also currently displays the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Swordfish, as well as a range of other historic aircraft owned by the former operators of the Czech Mates’ Zlin aircraft. The Provost was scheduled to have been accompanied by a Waco YMF-5 from Dunkeswell. Sadly the team that operate the aircraft, didn’t receive authorisation in time to display the aircraft. Nevertheless, I look forward to hopefully seeing the aircraft displaying elsewhere at some point this year.

The Yakovlevs have a fleet of six aircraft and have performed all over the world. Photo: James Connolly

Another favourite of mine are the delightful Yakovlevs Display Team who fly one Yak-52 as the lead aircraft, with three Yak-50s behind. The Yak-50 has now become a rather rare and sought-after aircraft, after most of the Soviet built aircraft were scrapped. The Somerset-based team recently attempted sky-typing and in 2012, even managed to break China Central Television viewing figures, when they appeared at the AOPA China Air Day.

The Breitling Wingwalkers have performed in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Photo: James Connolly

A display that was probably more suited to the family-orientated atmosphere, were the Breitling Wingwalkers. Having said that, the team’s Boeing Stearman aircraft produce a delightful sound from their radial engines. Other display teams in the flying programme included the Blades Display Team who are renowned for their synchronised stall-turns as well as their own unique manoeuvre called the Spitfire role – a rather appropriate name when you consider the next display.

Comprised of ex-Red Arrows pilots, the Blades are the only aerobatic airline in the world. Photo: James Connolly

It was good to see the Royal Air Force supporting the South Devon event, with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in attendance displaying a Supermarine Spitfire Mk LF XVIE and a Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc. The pair performed several flypasts with each other, before splitting into their own individual displays. The distant flightline meant that the displays were rather sedate; but regardless of this, the crowd were still able to appreciate how remarkable yet fragile these warbirds are.

The BBMF currently fly just their fighters: all other aircraft are serviceable. Photo: James Connolly

Finishing off Saturday’s flying programme, was perhaps the star of the show – the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4.  Flt. Lt. Mark Long demonstrated the fearsome capabilities of the aircraft in what was a fast and intense display. On the Saturday, Mark closed the show in ‘Gina’ – the aircraft that flew alongside the Spitfire last year, as part of the “Synchro 75 Pair”. Meanwhile on the Sunday, the standard grey Typhoon was demonstrated.

The Tyhpoon’s paint scheme has been carried over from 2015’s Battle of Britain anniversary. Photo: James Connolly

Overall, the Torbay Airshow was an evident success with plenty of positive reviews via social media. I must applaud the event organisers for their efforts with both the flying display and traffic management. I will admit that the display line was rather distant, but it would be rather unfair to lay the blame at the feet of new CAA regulations; instead, this was most likely due to the geography of the bay and Paignton’s pier. The event may not have lived up to the reputation of Dawlish airshow, but with all airshows, it takes time to grow and I look forward to next year’s event.

James Connolly is a student and aviation enthusiast whose future ambitions lie in journalism. He is based in the UK and attends several airshows each year.