Gallery: Flying start for Lowestoft Air Festival

MORE than 200,000 people flocked to the coast yesterday as the 13th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival got under way in its make-or-break year.

MORE than 200,000 people flocked to the coast yesterday as the 13th Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival got under way in its make-or-break year.

Organisers promised this year's show would be the “best flying display ever” and hopes are high that enough money will be collected in donations over the two days to ensure next year's spectacular goes ahead as planned.

The rain clouds stayed away for the displays as spectators took up their positions and enjoyed the warm weather.

Paul Bayfield, managing director of the show, said yesterday's attendance of about 210,000 was only 10,000 down on the opening day last year and he was still hoping to smash last year's total record of 430,000.

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He was also optimistic that many visitors to the town were supporting the �2 donation to help keep the show alive.

Mr Bayfield said: “We need some sun tomorrow; no rain and more or less the same amount of people to beat the record. Friday is historically the busier day so we will see.

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“I have walked up and down the seafront several times and there are a lot of blue stickers (given to people who make donations). If we can turn that into hard cash we will be happy. We are cautiously optimistic.”

The beaches and seafront were packed by the time members of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment parachute display team opened the showed. The parachute team is just back from serving in Afghanistan and made a salute on the beach after their display.

The aircraft displays then got under way with a stunning show from The Blades, who are all former Red Arrow pilots.

They were followed by a late addition, the Westland Apache helicopter operated by the Army Air Corps, and Carolyn Grace, the only woman Spitfire pilot, then took to the skies to huge applause.

This year's display has a European and American theme with aircraft from France, Holland and the USA taking part.

However, for many of the huge crowd, the favourites were regular showstoppers the Red Arrows, which appeared just after 5pm, and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

New to the show this year were three special 'oldie' planes brought to the event by the Classic Flight Club, based at Coventry airport.

The club's director Alistair Rivers said: “This is the first time for me personally at the airshow, although some of our aircraft have been here before, but not these particular ones.

“The three planes I picked for the festival are all special. The DH Venom, which is flown by chief pilot John Corley, is the only one on the airshow circuit in the UK and dates from 1954. The Gloster Meteor is the also the only one of its kind that does airshow displays.

“The jet hunting provost flown by John Dodd is an iconic aeroplane and dates from 1960. By the late '50s/early '60s the RAF made the decision that all trainee pilots would have to fly jets, and this was one of them.”

Christopher Cox, 57, from Union Road, Lowestoft, said he and his family were one of the first attendees at the show as they took their place at their beach hut near Claremont Pier.

Mr Cox was with his brother Peter, 55, from St Margaret's Road in the town, friend Michael Bond, 65, from St Peter's Court, Lowestoft, and their friends, the Jenkins' family from Essex, who had arrived at about 5am.

Mr Cox said: "We have been to every one of the airshows. We're looking forward to the Red Arrows. It used to be the Harrier, but that's not here any more."

Mr Cox said he and family had all paid �2 to visit, and hoped that others would follow suit to help raise enough money to keep the airshow running next year.

Trevor Austin, 51, from Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, is staying with wife Linda at a Lowestoft hotel for the duration of the festival. He said: "I got into position at about 9am. This is my third year here and I'm looking forward to seeing the F16 and the Vulcan.

"I've paid the �2, which I think is reasonable."

John and Mary Caddick and grandson Matt Snowling, all from Hadleigh, near Ipswich, were at the air show for the first time. They got the park and ride service from Kessingland, arriving in Lowestoft at about 8.30am.

Mrs Caddick said: "We tried to see the Vulcan at Duxford last year but it did not appear because of the weather. It should be all right today."

As reported, businesses have been gearing up for the anticipated knock-on effect of the festival, which is worth �10m to the local economy.

The two-day event, which finishes today, will be followed in town by the Honda Formula 4-Stroke offshore powerboat grand prix, which follows tomorrow and Sunday.

- The displays are scheduled to start with the Red Arrows at 11.30am today .

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