Last weekend my lovely fiancé Gareth took a trip down to Bournemouth to watch the Air Festival. Sadly I was unable to make this trip due to other plans but I gave him my camera and asked him to capture the weekend for me that way. He has very kindly written a guest post for my blog detailing the event. The following words and images are his own.
Growing up I always had a fondness for aeroplanes, passed on to me by my parents. As a child, we would often take the dog for a walk around the local airport watching the passenger flights come and go, wondering what far-off destination they were bound for and listening closely to the air traffic control tower on the radio. In addition to this, my dad was heavily involved in the Royal Air Force (RAF) Air Training Corps (which I also joined) and this led us to visiting a number of air-shows in my childhood. I still remember the thrill of visiting RAF Mildenhall for the annual air-show, which was the biggest in Europe at the time but sadly ceased after the fears following September 11th 2001.
Seeing the military planes and watching them roar across the sky at breakneck speed was about as exhilarating as I could imagine at a tender age. I imagined what a thrill it must be to be piloting such a machine but sadly when it came to passenger travel I can’t say I had the same fondness as I’d imagined (borne probably out of the fact that I’m not in control!) My parents have a holiday home on the South Coast and for the past few years they have visited Bournemouth Air Festival. Given my fond memories of years gone by I was desperate to visit and this year the opportunity arose thankfully, with my parents to complete the experience, although I was a little too old at this point to ask for ear defenders.
The Bournemouth Air Festival is currently in it’s 10th year and is set on the beautiful beach front stretching from Boscombe to Bournemouth. Each year over a million people descend on to the town to catch a glimpse of some of the world’s most famous aircraft, old and new. This four day festival is an homage to the armed services; the RAF, Army and Navy but also fantastic organisations such as the Lifeboats. Arriving at the Boscombe side of town, we began walking the 1.5 mile (approximately) walk along the beachfront into the festival. The promenade is littered with stalls highlighting different regiments but also featuring local businesses (as well as MAOAM and Branston Pickle) all advertising their respective products and services.
I have to admit although I love the surrounding areas, Bournemouth isn’t always my favourite beach front due to the sheer numbers of people but it made a stunning backdrop for the festival and despite there being more people than ever before, it certainly felt more comfortable watching the skies rather than trying to lounge on the beach in amongst it all.
Arriving for the first day we basked in the warm sunshine and began looking at the various stalls and what they had to offer. It was around 3pm that the festival officially opened, heralded by the easily recognisable sound of the Chinook. These are one of the more familiar looking aircraft; the giant helicopter with two rotor blades affectionately dubbed the wocka wocka for the sound it makes. As this finished it’s short fly-by, the rain hit and boy did it hit. Being around a mile from the car, my parents, Arden and I had to trek back in what was the heaviest rain I have ever experienced. It was safe to say that by the time we reached the car we could not have been any more soaked through and therefore that was it for the day; although we did catch the Bristol Blenheim, a World War II bomber, just as we left.
The next day could not have been in starker contrast as we woke to glorious sunshine and looked forward to the day ahead. Arriving at the beach front of Bournemouth, we were greeted by the site of a Chinook helicopter parked just off the beach as part of the RAF village and it was both surreal to see it sat in the middle of a town I know well but also a good chance to get a close up look rather than straining your eyes to see it in the sky. The days events began and included troops doing beach manoeuvres with various vehicles but also a Merlin helicopter joining in for reconnaissance with two Hawk jets. The show culminated with the Merlin winching someone (professional) up from the sea and taking him for a swinging tour around the bay as below.
Next up were the Twister Duo display team, which are a pair of specially-designed acrobatic aeroplanes which treated us to a show full of smoke and twists and turns. Seeing the aircraft fly around leaving trails of smoke in loops and twists is really something that gave the onlooking children (and grown-up children) a thrill.
Next up we saw the Chinook make a comeback, this time for a proper show of it’s aerial ability. These are absolutely huge helicopters designed for transport and I regularly see them from my office window doing training missions over London but certainly not like this. The pilot flew into the bay, taking the helicopter almost vertically up and then straight back down and turning almost on a sixpence. It really was a great sight to see such a big aircraft doing such agile manoeuvres.
Perhaps the only disappointment of the day (and through no fault of the organisers) was the absence of the scheduled Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. This is a flight display ran by the RAF, which you will often see at most big events in England and features the most iconic planes from World War II such as the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster bomber. Due to a technical fault these aren’t currently allowed to fly, which meant the schedule had to be tweaked, leading to a number of gaps. Luckily for those who love to watch the Supermarine Spitfire fly (including me), someone treated us to a display in their private Spitfire. I am told Brad Pitt just bought one for somewhere over £2 million if you’re interested in splashing out. The elliptical wings and unmistakable sound of the Merlin engine make the Spitfire perhaps the most iconic aeroplanes in the world; certainly in England thanks to it’s efforts in World War II. It flew alongside a P51 Mustang; what you might call the American equivalent and it was a fantastic sight.
There were a number of different displays throughout the day with various other flight teams and parachutists which kept the watching crowd captivated for hours. Perhaps the biggest attractions as always however, were the RAF Red Arrows. I have great childhood memories of watching these, on many, many occasions and I still love to see them. These are without a doubt the most famous flying team in England and as I mentioned the Battle of Britain flight at most major events above, these are the 9 red jets that usually follow afterwards with their iconic plumes of red, white and blue smoke; very patriotic. Unfortunately they were down to 8 planes due to one of the pilots coming down with food poisoning (interesting they don’t have any ‘substitute’ pilots) but it was nevertheless a perfect performance regardless.
The display is full of twists and turns all accentuated by the red, white and blue plumes of smoke left in their trail, creating weaving patterns and at one point a perfect heart in the sky. As there are 8 or 9 aircraft, they have a number of manoeuvres that include them flying in perfect synchronisation, upside down and even flying at each other, swerving at the very last minute. They really are a fun and exciting display for the whole family and it’s easy to see why they the nation (and my family’s) favourite. After the Red Arrows we headed home after a long and exhilarating day in the Sun.
Having seen most of what we wanted to see, we decided to catch what we missed the following day and I was very happy we got to see Sally B; an American B-17 Bomber Flying Fortress (another iconic World War II plane) which really dominated the skyline and did a display alongside the above mentioned (British) Bristol Blenheim. Unfortunately I did not get a picture but it was a great sight to see. Whilst back at home afterwards we were roused by the sound of jet engines approaching and were treated to a private fly-by of the red arrows as they headed back to Bournemouth Airport for a well-deserved rest.
We ended the weekend by heading down to a spot on the cliffside overlooking Bournemouth to watch the nighttime pyrotechnic displays we had heard much about (and seen on BBC news that morning). The Twister Duo again put on a performance but this time lit up by LEDs along the plane and shooting fireworks from behind them. Following these were Otto the Helicopter, which again shot various fireworks as it flew. Although we were slightly further away, it was a great (and unusual) sight to behold.
Overall I was very impressed with the air festival and would definitely recommend it for anyone who even has a passing interest in that sort of thing. Yasmine could not make it this year but with a World War II inspired vintage fair and various bars and music stages I think I might be able to persuade her to visit in the coming years.